Friday, February 28, 2014

Out of the Blue.....Swiss Food Festival Experience the magic of Swiss Gourmet...Elsie Gabriel

Out of the Blue.....Swiss Food Festival 
Experience the magic of Swiss Gourmet...

Elsie Gabriel

 Out of the Blue in Mumbai, not only teased my taste buds with the finest crafted Swiss cuisine at the Swiss Food Festival but took me back a dozen years to where I had spent  one summertime on the Swiss Alps.
The picturesque Terrace hotel was a quaint little resort in the mountains of Engelberg. A cable car ride to the summit of Mount Titlis up into the high alpine region with its glaciers and eternal ice was a magnificent ride to the world's innovative revolving 'Rotair' gondola, where we took in spectacular sights of the glacier's deep crevasses and gigantic ice boulders.

At the festival,Swiss fondues,  sizzling Swiss skillet, Crispy rostis, Racklet and potatoe cheese soup  took me spinning on that Ice flyer which I had taken a ride on over the Mt.Titlis then...It was indeed a very nostalgic dinner indeed. A special swiss chef was flown in to train the very hands which created these dishes and the sophistication was apparent.

At the top, magnificent views of Mount Titlis and the Alps simply sweep you off your feet.Ensure you have the right pair of shoes on and good warm clothes. Do take a trip into the Ice Grotto,its amazing if not mesmerizing. I took the Ice flyer trip which  got the chilled icy breeze blowing in my face  and I remember with excitement I kept kissing the air while flying around.

 Switzerland is known for its spectacular scenery of mountains and lakes and meadows, along with the world famous Swiss watches, chocolates and cheeses.  Considered to be one of the most famous world travel destinations, it is said that the first cable span carried visitors from the town of Engelberg to the summit of Mt Titlis in 1927.
Experience romance,  arts and great cuisines in Switzerland, a land of great beauty and wonder popular for its tradition and modernism.
A complete Swiss journey awaits you both on your trip to Switzerland and to Out of the Blue.....try it.....
Don’t miss the  plethora of beautifully innovated and designed Fondues, such as the Crack Pepper Fondue, Cettinad fondue, Desi Fondue and our Festive Delight the “Modak Fondue”.

Famous for Gourmet Sizzlers, Trademark Fondues, BBQ’s, Pastas and Risotto’s, the restaurant serves food with a flavor of fun, entertainment  and unforgettable memories.
I washed down my swiss memories with  innovative “Jaljeera Mojitoes”...amazing twist which took me back a dozen years ......

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Stalactites and Stalagmites ! Congo Caves in South Africa-. Spectacular underground ancient wonder

Congo Caves in South Africa-. Spectacular underground ancient wonder.
Stalactites and Stalagmites !

This piece I dedicate to my Teachers Mrs.Sahani and Ms Ranjana.

Offbeat travels by Elsie Gabriel

Time stands still. I catch my breath as the first view of the gigantic ancient stalactites and stalagmites open up before me.  Immensely massive grey-blue limestone ceilings and caverns engulf me.
They bring back a thousand geographic lessons learned in standard six way back in school! It is no harm to fall in love in know? Just a little bit of South Africa has me smitten for sure! Nothing beats a good geography lesson while traveling, specially for your kids. Pass down all your beloved travel memories to your next generation and believe you will have nature live in their hearts forever!
Speechless, I awaken my senses as the guide speaks on. I am really standing in the middle of the Congo Caves which is one of the worlds greatest natural wonders, sculptured by nature through the ages - fascinating limestone formations in a wide variety of colours. An underground wonder world, majestic formation and a natural historic site in South Africa! The finest dripstone caverns, with their vast halls and towering formations, is simply over whelming.

These sparkling ancient African cave tunnel systems in the Karoo, situated in the Swartberg Mountains, 30km north of Oudtshoorn, South Africa are the 20 million year-old Precambrian caves. Africa's largest show cave system is definitely worth a visit just to see the beautiful crystal and flow structures alone.
Although the massive system of tunnels and chambers stretch for over four kilometres, only a quarter of this is open to visitors. You can do a guided standard one hour tour or tackle the more adventurous one and a half hour tour, which include some tight squeezes through very narrow passages.
I did the standard one hour tour which took me down nine chambers. I felt like Alice in wonderland slowly treading through secret looming white translucent chambers. Bewildered and semi lost but loving every moment of it.Listen to your guide.Choose an English speaking one and do not land up with the wrong guide.Be quiet and listen carefully.Absorb the wonder and simply praise God!
Some parts of the caves are lost in absolute darkness, a deep stillness, a constant temperature and high humidity; it is a world with its own unique scenery of calcite masterpieces formed by gently dripping water. Each chamber displays a limestone masterpiece; created by the forces of nature. There are five basic limestone deposits found along this route namely Dripstone, Flowstone, Rimstone, Roof Crystals, and Shelfstone.
Rainwater, seeping through the upper-surface of the cave absorbed carbon dioxide, producing a mild carbonic acid, which is able to dissolve small quantities of the calcium carbonate in limestone, changing it into soluble calcium bicarbonate.

Copyright all pictures@elsiegabriel.

In the cave it encounters air with a lower carbon dioxide partial pressure. To restore its balance, a water droplet discharges carbon dioxide. As the calcium bicarbonate can no longer be retained in the solution, it is deposited in the form of tiny limestone crystals known as calcite. This ongoing process builds up calcite deposits, which in turn produce the cave formations.Some parts of the caves are just a little moist so look out for wet walls and floors.
With slow droplet formation calcite is deposited against the ceiling, resulting in the growth of stalactites hanging downwards. With more rapid droplet formation, water containing calcite in solution falls to the floor, resulting in the building up of a stalagmite from below.
 Stalactites and stalagmites that form vertically opposite each other, may eventually unite to form beautiful ‘Completed Columns’.
 In all, there are almost nine caves with nine landings to which standard visitors are allowed. Each spacious hall vary in size but are approximately over 90 metres long, 50 metres wide at its widest point, and between 14 and 18 metres high.
 On one particular landing my eyes were drawn to a tall, slender stalagmite which rises nearly 10 metres towards the ceilings. One such formation was the Cleopatra's Needle. Still active and growing, the Needle is estimated to be in excess of 150 000 years old am told. 
Stay away from noisy tourists and after hearing what the guide has to inform you,explore and take in the sights.
Further down, again near the base of another staircase stands an impressive formation known as The Pulpit of a Great Cathedral, replete with angel's wings, sculptured by nature's own .The largest, an ancient formation some 500 000 years old, is known as The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Beyond it stands a soaring column some 13 metres high and approximately 250 000 years old,they say.

Fairyland, the next chamber, provides fantasy for the younger generation. Coloured lights illumine the Fairy Queen's Palace . The roof of the Crystal Palace on another chamber is decorated with "Hanging crystal gardens", adorned with ice-like crystals and weirdly contorted helictites. A light to the left reveals a translucent crystal wall. There are several other huge formations like the Madonna and child, The Heavy Stage Curtains, and The Petrified Weeping Willow Tree among many many more. The Cango Caves are an absolute must for all tourists visiting South Africa, if you miss the Caves, you might as well have stayed home.

copyright pics@elsiegabriel
Few guidelines for the Cango Caves
· Wear comfortable footwear and light clothing - it's a warm cave at around 18 degrees Celsius and humid too.
· Arrive early to study the literature and see the display boards.
· Use other personal facilities before you start the cave tour.
· It's a one kilometer walk, with 416 stairs on a full tour, and lasts about one and a half hours.
· The tunnel section at the back called the devil's chimney borders an extreme narrow adventure, only try it if you are extremely slim and fit.
· Take the family only through the first nine chambers, rest is not advisable for small children.
· Take plenty of photos.
· Do not chip or break off any pieces of the stalactites and stalagmite formations.
· Listen carefully to the guide providing useful information.
How to get here -
The caves are approximately 28 km north of Oudtshoorn on the R328. The nearest airport is George Airport in South Africa, approximately 50 km away. Entry to South Africa is of course through Johannesburg international airport which has direct flights from Mumbai and Delhi, here in India.
Best time to visit
The Cango Caves are open throughout the year, except on Christmas Day.
If you are planning for a trip then do think about  South Africa where you will meet the deep, gigantic, pre-historic, amazing caves. Those who are willing to open up the geography books and live the pages within, this spectacular historical wonder is a must visit to South Africa at least once in your lifetime!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Staying afloat! Thailands floating markets. Elsie Gabriel.

Staying afloat!

Thailands floating markets.

Elsie Gabriel.

Lots of chatter and bargaining, fruits, vegetables and fresh produce everywhere, no we are not at a supermarket, we are in the middle of a canal! Water water every where and we are in a canoe kind of boat floating, meandering our way between  many other such boats, shopping in the middle of a waterway! More than a dozen boats passing each other with loads of fascinating indigenous stuff for sale,all on one narrow canal. The whole atmosphere is intoxicating and contagious, I got into the chaotic shopping mood at once bargaining for some incense and coconut carved show pieces. Some shoppers were held captive by vendor boats selling fresh flowers, coconut candy and lots of  tropical fruits. The simple raw Mango’s sliced up in a plastic bag made the most sales....

The most famous of the floating markets is Damnoen Saduak, about 100 kilometers southwest of Bangkok. Check out the floating markets very early in the morning to get fresh stuff as well as avoid the huge crowds later on along with the heat of the day.
 These canal markets are slowly vanishing they say, only to the land adjoining the banks being developed or being replaced by shoppers who frequent the malls. Thailand's remaining floating markets are an enduring symbol of an ancient Thai culture and traditional life,it has to be a must on your Thailand trip. Ask for the floating market trip at any hotel travel counter or even at the airport once you land at Thailand and take the one most convenient to you.

 Every one taking pictures, click click click, its infectious, you just simply want to capture every colour, every hue and every vendors floating local shop filled to the brim.
Don’t look down at the canal water under the boat, its obviously not freshwater and of course do not touch it.But its a country canal alright, they say there are many such canal floating markets in Thailand,some even connecting each other.
You'll experience rural Thai and the countryside all in this very cruise by a long-tailed boat to the markets. See the vendors selling local produce and get an up-close glimpse of everyday rural life in Thailand.
We got off at many points of interval, to take notes on the Coconut Sugar candy factory and another break for some good Thai chop chop. Sweet coconut water and some covered uncut fruit is advisable for the chaste traveler.
Simply any and everything on sale! You can expect to bargain but not more than a couple of bahts.
Coconut sugar candy factory.
Of course for some of you,who want to indulge and surely want to loosen your purse strings for even a little more than just curios , if you are okay with buying remakes of Gucci,Prada, Fendi and more of the international designer bags along side Thai Lichees, Thai mangoes and Thai balms, Thai Oils,all in that order literally, a true mixed jamboree sale afloat! Go ahead. Enjoy shopping sitting on the boat  and exchanging goods for cash over the water, for once away from the plastic malls!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lost on an Island of Sea weed farmers…Elsie Gabriel.

Lost on an Island of Sea weed farmers….

Elsie Gabriel.

I have always been asked that question…If you were ever stranded on an island what would you do….. well watch women work on their sea weed farms, hear the thrill of kids betting on grasshopper fights in a tiny box full of holes, watch fishermen bring in loads of shiny silver fish, dive deep under the sea and live like a mermaid with all the colorful fish in the ocean and only surface to get drunk on fermented coconut water and fresh air!!!!

Hehe..yeah you have to see this Island to actually believe me…

Only 8 square kilometers and there are about 7,000 people living on the island year round. Nusa Lembongan is a beautiful island off the main coast of Bali.Indonesia.What can I say I had a hard time wanting to really come to civilization…..

I got off on an island called Jungut Batu during a Bali Hai cruise and didn’t want to come back…..

Jungut Batu villagers work as seaweed farmers for which they get hefty sums of money from the cosmetic industry. Seaweed is used for medicines, food stabilizer, cosmetic and gelatin for ice cream. The chunk of the  income for the population is derived from seaweed farming. The locals farm ‘Euchema Cottomi’ a specie of ocean algae, by tying the sprouting algae shoots to farming plots with rope and flat wood stakes embedded in the seabed. It takes one month to grow to a size able to be harvested and then three days to sundry. Normally during the harvest the new sprouts are returned to the bed to begin the new crop, and then new sprouts get collected from the seabed. The dried seaweed is kept in large storehouses until it is taken to the mainland and sold for export to America, Denmark, Japan and Holland. 

White stretches of sand as far as the eyes can see, very remote and filled with jungles. Community life comes alive when fishermen come home from the sea. But once on the beach again you can snorkel and dive all day long. I forgot my suntan lotion on that trip I remember and surfaced looking like the Queen of Spades!! So don’t forget your sunscreen and hat……everrrr………… when doing an island trip….

pics copyright@elsiegabriel....My travelfootprints......

I  had to be carried on all fours to get back on the cruise again to the main Bali shoreline!! Jus kidddin, I had my pockets full of sea weed and  feet full of sand……what more could I ask for than a mind full of memories of a lovely island filled with such innocent  children where I guess the digital world would take another couple of years to make them lost techno addicts…..
Really…..I can still hear those crickets chirping inside those bamboo boxes with tiny holes fighting their way to survival…and the eye balls of those little boys hanging out keeping a close watch as to who would win? I wonder what they bet on…more sea weed???

Pics copyright@elsiegabriel