Winter’s Tale

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When the last leaf falls, the tree is heartbroken. It raises its bare arms skywards and beseeches heaven above. All it gets in return is bitter cold, howling wind, snow and ice. The tree stands steadfast, with arms raised in supplication, as though in penance. The wind whispers to it  that even the skies cannot undo what has been done. Snow covers the fallen leaves and frost glistens on every twig like tears. The tree must resign to its fate.

 

 

 

 

When spring comes, and the snow melts, the tree sees that the grass at its feet is still green. A tender leaf appears.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

I did a food and culture tour of the Greenwich Village with visiting friends recently. It got me thinking of the wonderful food tours I could take people on around Ratan Nagar. I know you are wondering, so first off Ratan Nagar is the lane I grew up on and is the whole universe and *the centre of it as far as I am concerned.  One end of this wonderful lane opens up in the Four Bungalows Market, while  on the other end is Seven Bungalows. I could do two tours really, one on either side.

Bholenath Bhelpuriwala aka Bhelwale Bhaiyyaji

Both tours could start with Bhaiyyaji’s Bhel/Sevpuri. I remember him from the time I was not more than 5 or 6 years old. Back then, he was a travelling bhelwala and would come with his basket on his head.  Us little ones were not allowed to have geela bhel as it was deemed too spicy for us,  we were only allowed sukha bhel or shing. Soon he got a stand and became a permanent fixture outside our apartment complex. Age has slowed him down considerably, but nobody in all of Bombay can beat his sev puri.

From here on, we split our tastings into two tours – the Four Bungalows Tour and the Seven Bungalows Tour. I warn you, it’s a lot of food and it may not be wise to cover all of it in one tour.

The Four Bungalows Tour

Meet me at Pishus

Meet me at Pishus

Our next tasting could be  at  Anupam. I love so many things here, that it is hard to pick – flavourful kothimbirvadi,  those tiny  garlicky batata vadas, that yummy (indo) chinese fried roll or just the soy sticks. They sell pani for Panipuri here and it’s the best in the world. Maybe we could just grab a Frankie and move on, next on the list is Vada Pav at Shankar tea stall. This is where you get a chance to share a bite with Mumbai’s notorious autowalas. I would have loved to do a tasting of the very satisfying potato stuffed toast at our sandwichwala but the last time I was there he had graduated to grilled sandwiches, speaking of which we could go to Pearl or there is a grill sandwich shop tight behind our sandwichwala, but  we won’t do either. Pearl used to be a staple when we were in engineering college, but the grill has changed hands and it is just not the same anymore. From here we walk up the market to the dabeliwala and dosawala and conclude our tour with either the best strawberry milkshake ever  at Pishu Juice Centre or lassi at Punjab Dairy Farm,  a full glass of both of which could easily be a light meal in itself. Pishu has grown and has branches now, but my fondest memories are from the days they operated out of a tiny box like shop. They were regularly frequented by aspiring models and starlets, who would ask for their juice “with fiber and not strained”. Pretending to be equally health conscious, but secretly just trying to look cool we would do the same.

I’ve missed out our family favourite – Sweet corn soup from Peter Cook, but let that be our secret. Growing up, Sunday dinners were never complete without soup from Peter Cook and a VCR movie.

The Seven Bungalows Tour

Love is ..sharing a plate of Panipuri

Love is ..sharing a plate of Panipuri

The best start to this tour would be  panipuri at Chandru’s.  Panipuri is much like an gustatory explosion of opposites in your mouth- sweet and spicy water ; crunchy puri and mushy filling; hot chana and chilled water. After this we could allow ourselves to be enticed by the mouthwatering smell of  pav bhaji  wafting from Appointment, a few doors down. From here we walk a bit to Jewel Shopping Centre and be introduced to a mindboggling variety of dosa by dosawala outside. When I say mindboggling, I mean it.

Nostalgia is Pav bhaji at Appointment

Nostalgia is Pav bhaji at Appointment. Picture Courtesy Srini, the latest entrant into our madcap family

We are now faced with two options, (Indo)Chinese at Stomach, the restaurant so beloved to us in our high school and junior college days, the place we honed our chopstick skills, or their competitor down the road and our engineering college days choice, Discovery. I think I’ll go with Discovery because the last time we ate at Stomach the quality was just not up to the mark. Discovery also beats Stomach and most other places hands down on quantity. Legacy of China is very good too.

For desserts, we could walk up to Sancha’s for their ambrosial  icecream. Lore has it that the founder was a brother of the man who owns the Natural Icecreams chain and a partner in the business, who then split to start his own shop.  Another option would be to head back and have dulcet kulfi from the thela(hand cart) outside BonBon, however this thela seems to have been pushed out by a veritable mini khau galli under the Versova Metro Station.

* To be more precise, the centre of the universe is Sahayog co-operative  housing society, the apartment complex I grew up in. The stories I could tell you would convince you that it takes all kinds to make up the universe, and they all can be found here. A vast majority atleast.

Notes-

  1. wala -man/seller/service provider, e.g – Icecreamwala – Icecream seller or Autowala- Autorickshaw driver. Not to be used without a goods or service prefix.
  2. Indo-Chinese – the Indian equivalent of American-Chinese, simply called Chinese in India.
  3. khau galli – row of food stalls
  4. I have tried to find wiki-links that explain what these foods are but it has not been possible for all items listed. Google them if you want to find out more.

Montreal

Photo Courtesy - Ganesh Sankaran a.k.a the husband

Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran a.k.a the husband

I’m a little miffed that the husband won’t let me use the only thing I can say in French, ” *Je ne parle pas Français. Parlez-vous Anglais?” Everytime someone speaks to us in French, which is everytime someone speaks to us here, he sums it up succinctly in a cheery “Hi!” They always get the point.

After leaving the Ice Hotel, our GPS helped us locate a delightful fondue place for dinner. Our waiter knows enough English to take our order, but is stumped when we ask questions. Not one to give up easily, he excuses himself and returns with a young boy who speaks, much to our astonishment, French, English and Hindi! Our hunger satiated with wonderfully warm and lightly flavoured fondue, we walk back to our car. Light powdery snows falls on our faces like a thousand kisses. We consider skiing the next day.

the old fashioned way

the old fashioned way

The next morning we wake up to pristine sheets of snow. It has stopped snowing but it is drizzling. Skiing is out of question. We enjoyed our self -tour  so much yesterday, that we decide to do the same today. We note down the names and addresses of the places we want to see and set out.

It's baking day! at St.Viateur Bagel Bakery

It’s baking day!
at St.Viateur Bagel Bakery

The husband is keen on having bagels for breakfast. He drops me outside  St. Viateur Bagel shop and goes to find parking in the narrow snowed filled streets. By the time he gets back, I have witnessed the entire process of bagel making, right from taking the flour out of the bin to bagel sales. While I chat up with the workers at the shop, I see the husband drive by the window. I run out on the streets and follow him, waving my hands wildly. I can tell we won’t get parking and it makes so much more sense that I just pick up the bagels, but I don’t have my wallet or any Canadian currency on me. Luckily, he finds a spot, and I don’t have to run too far.  Montrealers take their bagels rather seriously and we are about to find out why.

We came home with half a dozen bagels.

Oratory of Joseph

Lord hear our prayers! at the Oratory of Joseph

The first attraction on our list is the Oratory of Saint Joseph. We didn’t know it was a shrine till we entered. There is a certain amount of peace inside, adding to the beauty of the structure. There are more pilgrims than tourists, so it feels odd taking pictures. I am so sure that at any moment someone is going to walk up and admonish me for my sacrilegious behavior.

The brochure did say Level 4 had the Heart of Brother André  and display on his life, but I was not at all prepared to really see his heart in a glass case. It is fascinating in a very macabre  way. When we walk into the basilica on the top floor, mass is in progress. We stay for a bit and then creep out as unobtrusively as possible.

the innate beauty of nothingness

the unexplainable beauty of nothingness

Next on our list is Mount Royal Park. Vast expanse of smooth unbroken snow, bare trees, each twig covered in ice, softly reflecting the ambient light on this sunless day- this place is a veritable winter wonderland; a fairytale world. There is so much beauty in nothingness. I could stay forever, but my toes feel otherwise.

 Basilica of Notre Dame

Basilica of Notre Dame

We drive down to the Notre Dame Basilica. This place is not to be missed. Don’t take your pictures outside this imposing building and move on, step inside and be wowed.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus ..at the Notre Dame

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus ..at the Notre Dame

The rain puts a damper on  my plans of ice-skating at the Old Port. We decide to skip the science center and drive on to the Olympic Stadium. As a holiday special, they are offering free rides to the top of the tower. Normally this would costs $15. Ultimately, we don’t do it because of the poor visibility. This stadium was the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Sadly, there is no stadium tour. We go to the Bio Dome where we spot Canada’s  national animal – the beaver,  and do a quick walk through the Planetarium.

****Je t'aime toujours

***Je t’aime toujours

It’s time to go home, but we would love to come back for skiing. **Au revoir, Montreal. À bientôt.

P.S – more pictures can be seen on our FB page.

*Je ne parle pas français. Parlez-vous Anglais? – I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?

** Au revoir, Montreal. À bientôt – Goodbye Montreal! See you soon.

***Je t’aime toujours – I will always love you

Ice Hotel, Quebec – A Dream Come True

Last on our list was the Ice Hotel. We had seen signboards for it on the way to Wendake, so we knew we were not far away, but our GPS insisted otherwise and took on a wild goose chase. At one point, we just gave up and walked into a bar in the middle of nowhere to ask for directions. The bartenders and patrons, all looked at us most curiously before enquiring about the reason for strangers to walk into their bar in strongly accented French.

A few *merci beaucoups later we were on our way.

The Ice Hotel has been on my bucket list ever since the internet came to our home, way back in the 1990’s. Back then when everybody had  hotmail and yahoo e-mail addresses that they would now be too embarrassed to acknowledge, I received a forward with pictures of the most magical looking place ever. An unbelievable hotel made entirely of ice. Unlike the cramped and bare like the igloos we drew in geography, it was full size and glamourous, glinting and glimmering in blue and purple lights. Everything from the external structure to the internal furnishings were made of ice, even the cutlery. Beautiful ice sculptures graced the walls and corners. The moment I set my eyes on those pictures I knew I wanted to see that place someday. Back then, I didn’t even know where Quebec was. In my mind, I put it away as somewhere around the North Pole. Years later, I realized Quebec was in Canada, but I still thought it was far up North, in the Arctic Circle. Where else could this place of wonders be!

ganesh1

The icicles formed in my heart broke and stabbed my gut when I read that Hôtel de Glace would open on January 5th,(2015) one day after we leave the province. Sensing my disappointment, the husband asked the front desk at the Place Royale museum if they had any information on the opening of the hotel, and I was elated when they said,” Today. They open today.” When we reached we found that it was just the soft opening, and some work was still in progress, The grand opening was scheduled for January 16th (2015). I was a little disgruntled because it didn’t live up to the images I had carried in my mind for all these years, but nevertheless the place was marvelous. Each room had a different theme.  For a ridiculous sum of money, you can stay there overnight, sleeping on a bed made of ice, surrounded by objects made of ice,  in a room made of ice. I’m glad we don’t have that kind of money, I was freezing inside. I needed to step out into the snowy night just to feel my fingers again; my toes were beyond redemption, and my feet and slowly my ankles were turning into ice too. They had an outdoor Spa, and a Chapel in which you could get married, as well.

To Warmth!!

To Warmth!!

The bar was open, and we got our **drinks in ice glasses. I could barely hold my glass, and the bartender had no gloves on!

*merci beaucoup – Thank you very much

** I got the signature drink and the husband got the next one on the list, recommended to him by the bartender. Both were delicious.

Québéc City – Très Charmant!

Québéc City is a  two hour drive from Montreal. Since we have our car, we opt to skip the bus tour and instead drive in and about Québéc City. Using the free wifi and stationary provided by our hotel, we scour the internet and itineraries listed by various tour operators to  plan our day trip painstakingly. We had made sure we had a  GPS loaded with Canada maps, before we entered Canada this time, so finding our way around would be quite simple and hassle free.

old quebec

**Vieux-Québec – Très Charmant!

Our first stop is the Plains of Abraham. As we pull over, by the snow to park, we finally comprehended what the hotel manager meant when he said, “There is street parking, but you need to be able to read the signs and understand them correctly.” The signs are in French.  The big red P with a line across it and my rusty French tells me that it’s a no parking from Monday to … I can’t tell what day. All I can recall is, Ven is not Wednesday. Logic tells me it ought to be Friday, but  hey its French! It could be Thursday. Wednesday is Mercredi. There’s a Juedi (which I think is Friday) and a Merdi (Tuesday, I think) Which day is Ven?  I catch hold of some passing tourists, and after confirming they know some rudimentary French, get their help in interpreting the sign. ‘No Parking from Monday to Friday’. Yes! It all comes flooding back .. Lundi, Merdi, Mercredi, Juedi, Vendredi. Ha! I still can’t recall Saturday and Sunday, but a few signs later I know it’s Samedi and Dimanche. If you are visiting the Québéc province, brush up on your French. Almost everyone knows some English, but French is the first language.

At the Citadel

At the Citadel

The Seven Years’ War, between the British and the French in Quebec ended with  the defeat of the French General Montcalm in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759. It must have looked quite different then, but today the rolling plains were covered in snow. Inside my tall boots and woolen socks, I can feel my toes freezing, but outside there are people running for fitness. Mankind is truly unbelievable. We hurry back into the car and drive past the Parliament building. My toes begin to thaw and the burning sensation is excruciating.  We step out of the car at the Citadel, but scramble back in when we hear that the guided tour would be mostly outdoors and is usually an hour or so long. This fortress is located within the ‘Historic District of Old Québec’, which  has been  a  UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

Notre Dame des des Victoires

Notre Dame des Victoires

Narrow streets lined with stone houses no more than 2 stories tall, lovely old church – Old Québéc is as  pretty as a picture. Some may call it touristy, we decide it is – *charmant! Almost all the remaining attractions on our list  – Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, Notre Dame des Victoires, Place Royale, Quartier Petit Champlain and the Old Port, are in Old Québéc. We parked at Old Port and walked through this unmistakably quaint town. In the plaza bordered by the church of Notre Dame des Victoires and Place Royale (museum) there is a boy selling maple taffy. It’s a rip off at $2 a piece, but we just have to try it.

Maple Taffy

Maple Taffy

The people at the front desk of the Place Royale Museum are very sweet. When we tell them we would like to go to Wendake to experience the life and culture of the First Nations, they advise us on where to go to for an authentic experience. They even look up the details for us. We drive down to the Huron Traditional Site, but unfortunately we reach just as they closed. If we ever go to Quebec again, this is one I would like to do.

Quebec City Plans

the old fashioned way

 

 

*charmant! – charming!

**Vieux-Québec – Très Charmant! – Old Quebec City – Very Charming!

Lundi, Merdi, Mercredi, Juedi, Vendredi – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

Samedi and Dimanche – Saturday and Sunday