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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

A Caledonian Experience

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Scotland - Part 1

King’s Cross Station, London. One of the oldest and busiest railway stations of Europe, located in central London. During the inaugural period(1851) Queen Victoria travelled to Scotland from this station. We took the morning high speed train from here on our journey to Caledonia. Caledonia is the Latin name given by the Romans in early first century AD for area north of their province Britannia. The train sped through the rolling English countryside. And from Newcastle upon Tyne the scene was more breathtaking, as the train ran almost along the North Sea, its beaches and cliffs.  Before coming to Scotland I personally carried an impression that Edinburgh is a quaint little Scottish town, and its rail station is small and compact, like any other wayside stations in England. But as we stepped down on the platform I was stupefied to find a vast complex teeming with people. The station is well connected to the North Bridge, which runs over the station and bridges the new town with the old town. The old town belongs to the Georgian era whereas the new town came up during the Victorian era. The entire Edinburgh, in fact, is steeped in history. If you walk along the main thoroughfare of the city you will find tall buildings on both sides of the street, all around 300 to 400 years old and all of chocolate shades. They are strong and sturdy, impervious of the ravages of time. All these skyscraper type buildings came up when Cromwell’s men filled up the city and had to be accommodated. In fact Edinburgh is considered one of the forerunners of modern day skyscraper. What is appealing is that these buildings are utilized for commercial spaces, hotels, restaurants and even private residences. In other words the modern utilities and furnishings have been subtly integrated in the interiors while retaining the old look on the exterior. Like London, Edinburgh also has a very efficient fleet of double decker buses. Only the colour, instead of red it is chocolate brown. Scottish boasts of sandwiches and there are a lot of sandwich shops in the city. One such shop was right across the street where our hotel was located. I enjoyed cheese and ham sandwich with beer over there. A big poster inside the shop momentarily tempted me for a trip to the Real Mary King’s Close located in Royal Mile, Old town near the station and quite close to our hotel. Real Mary King’s Close happens to be streets found deep beneath Royal Mile, and tourists are taken through a guided tour to explore the past lives of people living there. Unfortunately the vertigo in me made me opt out of this . Next morning was exclusively for conducted trip to Scottish Highlands, Loch and Whiskey. Early next morning we reached Nero’s Caffé, near Edinburgh Castle, for our Scottish Highlands tour. It’s a warm little café with refreshing coffee aroma dominating the space. While waiting for our bus we had cakes and coffee. A small, around 20 seated bus, with proper audio arrangements, so that the driver cum tour guide can narrate while driving on various sites on our way to Scottish Highlands..The first stopover was Forth Rail Bridge, about 10 km from Edinburgh.. One of the first cantilever bridge, built in 1890, after the original Tay bridge collapsed when a train was passing over it resulting in heavy casualty. It is a technological marvel. This two and a half kilometer Iron Bridge across Firth of Forth estuary is one of the safest and heaviest bridges on earth. The dark red iconic bridge has a very strange and complex look .We were also lucky to see a train passing over it.


Concourse of King's Cross main station

An exterior view of King's Cross rail station

Virgin East Coast Train

View from train

View from train

Along the North Sea after Newcastle upon Tyne



The Bridge connecting new town to old town of Edinburgh  
Nero's Cafe

Edinburgh Castle

Forth Rail Bridge

Photographs : Arundhati Sengupta

Plan your trip to Scotland

If you are planning a short trip for a day or two from London, the most recommended option is by train. There are some comfortable, high speed trains run by Virgin East Coast. These trains start from Kings Cross station in Central London and takes around four and a half hour to reach Edinburgh. Since demand is pretty high for these trains, it is suggested to book tickets in advance, which can be done online from any part of the globe through the site   For a comfortable stay while in Scotland book through the link:  

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017


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From Ruby’s Kitchen

Fish – 2 whole pcs (medium size)
Ginger Paste – 1 tsp
Onion Paste – 1 tbsp
Black Pepper(crushed) – 1 tbsp
Olive Oil – 1.5 tbsp
Parsley (finely chopped) – 1 tbsp
Salt – 1.5 tbsp
Vinegar - 1 tbsp
Lemon – 2 pcs
Besan – half tsp
Capsicum, tomato, cauliflower, beans - all chopped into tiny cubes

Method of Preparation.
Clean fish and keep it soaked for about one hour in vinegar, lemon juice (two medium sized fresh lemons) and 1 tablespoon salt. After that wash the fish thoroughly and then dry it with towel napkin. Marinate the fish with onion paste, ginger paste, salt and parsley, preferably for about two hours. Once marinated, apply a thin layer of Besan coating on the entire fish. Then place the fish in one table spoon oil on a frying pan, cover it with a lid and let it fry in low flame for, say 10 minutes,. Next, flip the fish to the other side, apply half teaspoon black pepper and continue the frying process for 10 minutes. After that turn the fish again, apply rest of the black pepper on the the exposed side, raise the flame, place all vegetables in the frying pan and fry each side of the fish for two minutes. Try to keep the pan covered with lid when frying takes place. Pour rest of the lemon juice once the frying is over, and your fried sardine is ready. Bon appétit!

Cheesy Variation

Cover the fried fish with one tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of crushed black pepper. Place the lid for one minute to allow the cheese to melt over the fish. Serve the dish with toast. Bon Appétit!

The Process Pics

 Photographer : Arundhati Sengupta (Recipe & photographs are from her Kitchen Diary)


Friday, 20 October 2017

Cinque Terre

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Simply enchanting! A sight that provokes a longing to return again and again. As our train passed through a series of tunnels after La Spezia and was about to enter Riomaggiore station, the openings in the tunnel walls provided a fleeting view of the precipice leading almost vertically down to a spectacular expanse of blue Mediterranean.Crystal blue, totally different from colours of seas I have seen so far. So distinct that this shade of blue has come to be known as Mediterranean Blue. Riomaggiore is one of the five villages on the rugged portion of Italian Riviera. The other four villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. All these five villages and the surrounding hillsides dot the Riviera and belong to Cinque Terre (meaning ‘five lands’) National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since almost thousand years from now, residents of these villages carved terraces on the rugged and steep rocky lands right upto the cliffs. These heavily terraced hills were used to cultivate grapes and olives. And today this region flourishes for its vineyards, some of the best Italian wines, olives and fishing.

Riomaggiore Rail Station

Mediterranean Sea

A view of the Riviera

Cinque Terre

Blue sea

Tunnel leading to the beach at Riomaggiore

Shop for water sports equipments

Water sports equipments are available on rental for tourists




Mediterranean Blue

Map of Cinque Terre National Park, UNESCO World Heritage site

Cafes and shop selling souvenirs and local wares

Riomaggiore beach area

Houses at Riomaggiore

Cinque Terre


Photographs : Arundhati Sengupta

How to get to Cinque Terre from Florence ( Firenze )
There are several trains run by Trenitalia from Florence to Pisa and from Pisa to La Spezia. In order to travel to Riviera and Cinque Terre from Florence, one can plan out a comfortable day visit. Buy a ticket at Florence Rail Station for your journey to Riomaggiore. Florence is a very friendly station and buying a ticket is an easy task. Change trains at Pisa and La Spezia. Florence to Pisa takes less than an hour, while Pisa to La Spezia takes around one hour and La Spezia to Riomaggiore about ten minutes.

As Cinque Terre region is heavily terraced upto the cliffs no motorable roads came up over the centuries due to ruggedness and complexities of the Italy’s landmass along the Mediterranean Sea. In absence of such corporate development, the region has retained its pristine beauty. But Italian Railways has done a great job in providing connections to these five villages which otherwise was largely cut off from the larger world. Prior to rail service, boat was the only lifeline linking the isolated communities to the larger world. Railways have made properly guarded pathway around the cliff walls for a spectacular view of the Mediterranean lapping úp against the rocky shores, and also a tunnel running parallel to train tunnel for tourists to take a shorter and easier route to sea level.There are three to four cafes on the riviera where one can enjoy delectable seafood and Italian wine. Washrooms are located near the cafes and at Riomaggiore station where entry fee per person  is one euro. The other shops located at the shore end of the tunnel cater to water sports products like kayaks,scuba diving equipments etc. on rental, nice souvenirs and local products.If you plan your stay in La Spezia or any of the Cinque Terre towns you may click the following link to book your stay.

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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Bridge on the River Kwai - Revisited

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River Kwai

I first saw Bridge on the River Kwai when I was just a school boy in Lucknow.I remember seeing the Academy Award winning movie at Mayfair theater on Hazratgunj. The film was superb in all respect. Legendary Director David Lean with great casts like Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins – shot in entirety in Sri Lanka; superb real life photography and based on a true story on construction of a Bridge by POWs(prisoners of war) of the Allied force, held in cramped swampy rain forest camps set up by the Japanese army during World War II. The bridge was the most infamous section of about 250 miles Siam railroad track from Bang Pong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma, and was built to support the Japanese Imperial Army’s forces in Burma (now Myanmar). The film shows the travails of POWs engaged in construction of the Bridge in 1942–43.There were many deaths in these camps during construction period owing to the squalid conditions the POWs were forced to live, and work in mosquito,insect and snake infested rainforest around the river.The railroad nicknamed ‘Death Railway’ because of heavy casualties during construction of the Bridge, is in reality located in Thailand. When we got down at Kwai station and crossed the famous Bridge on foot, the feeling was strangely that of déjà vu. More so when Colonel Bogey wafted over the River Kwai from the other end of the Bridge. A fidler was playing the tune with remarkable semblance to the original.

On way to Thonburi station

Thonburi station

Thai countryside from the moving train

Passing Kanchanaburi

Kwai station

River Kwai Bridge station

The real bridge on the river Kwai

A closer view of the bridge

Another view of the bridge

On the iron bridge built by the POWs

The Bridge overlooks floating cafes, eateries along the river

The engine of the train used by the Japanese Imperial Army

Gallery inside the War Museum

Picture Gallery in the War Museum

A monastery on the other side of the Bridge

War Museum near the River Kwai station  The war cemetery of  POWs who died serving as labourers for construction of the Bridge and the Death Railroad is located at Kanchanaburi about 5km from here.

Train from Nam Tok end crossing the Bridge on the River Kwai

Train returning from Nam Tok enters Kwai Bridge Station

The trains are like the ones seen in western cowboy movies. One can have nice and exciting views standing at the rear end of the train.

Standing here reminded me of another war movie 'Von Ryan's Express'.

A picturesque junction station on way to Kanchanaburi

Chao Phraya River In order to come to Thonburi Station one has to cross the river.

BTS sky train 

Photographs by: Arundhati Sengupta 

How to get there?

We wanted to take the morning 7.50 train from Thonburi.

Since we stayed at Sukhumvit, we caught the early morning sky train from the

nearest BTS station Phrom Phong. We got down at the next BTS station Asok, walked down to the connecting metro Sukhumvit station. From Sukhumvit station we took a metro up to the terminal station Hua Lamphong. This station connects to the main railway station in Bangkok. From here we hired a Tuktuk to Bangkok Noi (now known as Thonburi station), about 6 km from Hua Lamphong. Alternatively, one can take a ferry from the Chayo Praya river and cross over to the other side and then take a Tuktuk or taxi for Thonburi. Tuktuks in Bangkok is very fast and well maintained. When we returned we took a taxi to Bang Wa BTS station on Silom line. The station is on the Thonburi side. Got down at National Stadium, changed to Siam line and took another train to Phrom Phong.
There are only two trains from Thonburi to Nam Tok. The morning train is at 07.50 Hrs. Takes about 3 hours to Kanchanaburi / Kwai. Fare around 2 USD. Cute little train, clean and comfortable with vendors selling food items on the running train. If you want to have a hearty breakfast before boarding the train you can enjoy Hamburger and Ovaltine at cafes in the market opposite Thonburi rail station. The train chugs through the picturesque Thai countryside and if one is interested to continue to the terminal station Nam Tok, one can enjoy crossing the Bridge on the train and also see Wampo Viaduct and Hellfire Pass ( also constructed by the POWs during World War II). 

Book your stay now. Pay Later.