Monday, July 10, 2017

Cuba from  my experiences- Part2

Cuba from  my experiences- Part2

The Republic of Cuba is one of the world's last remaining socialist countries. Cuba was a different holiday destination from my all holiday destinations till now. Its a third world country. One needs to have open mind to accept the ways the things work there , should have patience to adjust to different way of living, culture and mind set.
I am not going to lie but I was really not happy the first time I arrived there. It was hot, dirty, was not able to understand the language and in that in my first casa the host was not able to speak a single word of English. So with my limited Spanish vocabulary after 11 hrs. of flight I was really frustrated .   But slowly I started liking it. May be I accepted the way things are or the country and people are so nice that they made me fall in their love. Whatever it was but  later I enjoyed my stay more and more. 
Old Havana is really dirty but the country side of Cuba is really beautiful. For me the country side was more similar to Indian costal area and that made some good connection in my mind. Flowers, fruit trees , poor farmers working in fields without much machinary ....all was connecting me to India. 

Cuba is very interesting country. As part of  a socialist country model in Cuba all the education and medical services are free to all citizens.
Every parent has to send their child to school at least till 9th class. Even in the remote of remote place there is a school. Even if its just one child there is a school and a teacher for him/her. Education even till university and above is free. The literacy rate in Cuba is very high. All students, regardless of age or gender, wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level.
The same with medical services. All the medical services are free to all citizens and Cuba has actually one of the best medical services in the world. They have many doctors in the country. 
But because of the socialist country model of course the salaries for doctors, engineers, teachers are very low. The average salary in government sector is 30-35 $ per month. 
Since few years the government is becoming more open and has started allowing people to have private businesses but of only particular types. Mostly service based. Tourist industry is gaining more and more popularity and also many people in spite of their education as teacher, engineer are changing their profession and coming in tourist industry . Here they can earn much more than as a engineer or teacher.
I did few extra tours and all of my tour guides were actually working as a teacher or engineer before but they all changed their profession and now work as a tour guide and can earn much better than their previous jobs. 
One of my tour guide was even working as a  diplomat at united nationals but after working for many years in this field she decided to come back to cuba and started working as a tour guide. she was really nice lady and told many things about cuba. She said cuba is a poor country but with the problems of first world country. Cuba has currently problem of negative birth rate . Many people still live with their parents as it is expensive to buy house or a car. It is also expensive to afford more children.  Because of low or negative birth rate  the government has increased the age of working for men to 65 years and for women to 60 years. 
In cuba they don't have the concept of income tax for government employees as of course the income is really low . But now as people are allowed to have private business they have developed the concept of income tax for such business. The tax is still very low for them. 
After the fall of soviet union , Cuba's economic system also collapsed and they had a very bad economic period. In this time government decided to be more open and thought of tourist industry. My guide told me that during this period Fidel Castro was good friends with Canada's that time prime  minister and Canadian prime minister first send Canadian tourists to cuba. Till date Canadians tourists are in large number out of all. 
I found very interesting thing in cuba is that they still use horse carriages and cycle riksha along with old American cars as a mode of transport. 

It is very common in Cuba that most of the Cubans try to find some foreigner to marry as that's the easy way to get out of the country. For most Cubans its also not common to travel within the country. Travelling is definitely expensive with a family and the kind of money they earn it is really not easy for them to travel to another country or even within country. 
There are also no traffic jams on highways. While driving on highway I came across many times that people, or horses just cross the highway even when buses, cars are driving on the same road . sometimes they even come in their horse carriage on the wrong side on high way. Well almost similar to India😃
Also at  the road side you can see many people selling  some fruits or veggies and some are even asking for lifts but by holding money in hand to show that they are ready to pay for the lift. 
Another similar thing to India I found in Cuba is having a ration card. Every Cuban has a ration card and names of all family members are written on it. Every person has a quota of food for a month and people can buy that in special ration shops  for very cheap price. 
In Cuba they have 4 official TV channels. One of the channels even show Bollywood movies with Spanish subtitles every night. Many people recognized me as an indian and told that they watch bollywood films.
Many times in Havana I saw some young girls doing professional photo shooting in beautiful dresses. When asked to my guide she told me that this is an old tradition which is still continuing as when girl turns 15 years old they do such a photo shooting . In olden times this was the way to show to the society that girl is now of marriageable age and present it to the society. 😀  Now a days even some boys also do such photo shoot. After all its a time of equality 😀
The best thing in Cuba is in almost every bar, restaurant you will enjoy live music. I really enjoyed this live music everywhere. These people just have this amazing rhythm in their body by default. The country is really rich in  art, dance, music . 
Can't go on without mentioning the cuban food and drinks. I got chance to eat typical cuban food during my stay. Mostly it is meat with either white rice or rice with bean which is my favorite and some vegetables. And my favorite dessert Flan

Meat is mostly chicken or pork. very rarely beef as its expensive. Fish also rare of course because of the cost. In restaurants many times I got nice banana chips as starter. One more very interesting cuban dish I loved is deep fried raw banana cups filled with cheese, meat, shrimps etc... very testy.


During my whole stay for breakfast I always got fresh tropical fruits and fresh fruit juices. that was amazing. Now when I compare the fruit juice I buy from super market with those fresh ones....really feel like flying to cuba  to get that. All the hosts always prepared really good breakfast for us. Once even one host prepared a smiley face fruit plate for us. that was really nice of him. Along with fruits and juices very nice cuban coffee , some eggs. Very good breakfast

Without mentioning cuban cocktails cuban food is incomplete. Most of the cocktails are rum based.  One bar in cigar farm tour even offered the cocktails with extra rum bottle and every one can add rum as much he/she wants in a basic non-alcoholic version. Very much liked the concept. :)

There is one special cocktail from Trinidad that we all had is called Canchanchara. Very testy. Its made of honey, rum, lemon and may be something else I could not recognize. But this is what you should try if you go to Trinidad.
Also in Havana one of my guides told me to test special coconut ice-cream but unfortunately I did not get chance to test this. May be next time ..who knows.
Overall Cuban people are really nice, friendly, good in music , dance, art . Country has really low crime rate and much  safer compared to other Latin American countries. I was a bit skeptical regarding safety before going there but I really had very good experience of all people there. In old Havana I experienced small lanes, a bit dirty but houses really next to each other, people are standing outside their doors , talking to their neighbours, loud, screaming hawkers walking on the road selling some sweets or bread, lively till late night. Very similar picture to some old part of the city in many Indian cities ; at least I have seen this during my childhood times. It was allowed to be loud even at late nights in your own house and no fear that neighbour will call police like in Germany 😀
Somehow I always found some similarities to india at least from my childhood times. For me it was definitely a wonderful trip. Something different than usual Europe, America , Australia etc...developed countries vacations. I recommend everyone to visit this at least once before it changes and looses its old charm.






Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cuba from  my experiences- Part1

Cuba from  my experiences- Part1

2 years ago few of my friends talked about going to Cuba but that was just a talk . As every year I was planning my birthday trip I suddenly though of Cuba. I asked many friends  to join me but as usual every one had some excuse to let me go alone. well I am used to this now. 
Any way I finalised my destination and started googling about Cuba. I was really not knowing much about this country and also had some prejudices. First important thing was to find a right agency to plan a trip. After long search found really good company Cuban Adventures to plan my trip. As I was going alone in this country for the first time I was a bit afraid to do on my own all things. So decided to do a group tour and I must say I chose the right company to do this tour with.   I chose the 8 day round trip which started from Havana followed by vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and back to Havana.
I don't want to write about these places as everyone can google it. I would like to write about people, the country and my experiences. Would like to write about some tips to plan the Cuba trip. 
The very first step was to get a visa which is called a Tourist Card. For Germans we have to apply in Berlin consulate with copy of return ticket, insurance, visa fees  and passport copy and normally in 2 weeks we get the visa. For more info check here:http://misiones.minrex.gob.cu/alemania 
Cuba is not as cheap as you would think. For most of the currencies the exchange rate is 1:1 so you can imagine its not that cheap. It is a better option to exchange euros or pounds than dollars. To exchange dollars you have to pay penalty of extra 10%.
The first new thing for me was 2 currencies. Cuba has 2 different currencies ;one for the tourist CUC and one for locals CUP . Of course CUP is super cheap. 1 CUC =25 CUP. Another important thing to note is you cannot exchange your money with Cuban currencies anywhere except Cuba. So the first thing after getting out of the Cuban airport is to exchange your money. Of course you can get money from ATM, bank or any other money exchange offices there. 
I had a little funny  experience with my credit card although at that time it did not find it funny. 😀
I went to ATM machine to get some money out . I used my credit card and I somehow entered wrong pin at the first time. Normally at the first time when the machine recognised that pin is wrong it should not go further with my transaction but it did took me till end and then asked to enter the pin again and yet again I entered the wrong pin. The machine displayed this message and asked me to enter again my pin. I just pressed cancel button to end the transaction as I was not sure about my pin but It still did not cancel the transaction and stopped the further processing and just swallowed my credit card. I was really freaked out to see my credit card is gone in the machine. Normally after pressing cancel it should just give me my card back but no..... it didn't. Luckily I had my tour guide with me as I was doing rum testing tour with him ; he came in the bank with me and talked with the lady in the bank in Spanish. and then after showing my passport and signing 2-3 times I got my credit card back in half an hour or so. Oh man you cannot imagine how happy I was to see my card. Now I can laugh on it but at that time I was really worried as I did not have enough cash with me and now card is also gone , new country, not knowing language, had 10 more days to go ...what a situation. 
In cuba 99% places you have to pay in cash only . No credit card transactions. That is something we all have to get used to. As we all are so much dependent on card shopping that paying in cash and basically to keep that much cash with you all time was one difficult thing to do. 

We all are so used to have 24 hrs. internet connection that cannot imagine a place without it. But yes its Cuba.  5 years ago when one of my friends went there he told me there is no internet in Cuba at all but now situation has changed. Now they have limited internet. Well people do not have internet at their homes. only important people and may be people like journalists or so have internet at their homes but then analog i.e. dial-up connection which is slow and also keeps telephone line engage. The kind we might have 15-18 years ago. So every one uses an Internet card. We have to buy it at  telephone office which costs 1.50 CUC and it is valid for 1 hour . You can also buy it privately or in a big hotels but then it costs at least 3-4 CUC so better to buy in official telephone shops called ETECSA . that's the network they have. This card has a user name and password and then we have to search for a public Wi-Fi zone . This could be anywhere in middle of a square , or at the end of street , park , outside of a big hotel. Then go there and get connected. It was really new to me. So everything is public, on the road. you can do skype or video chat and it will be on the road ; in public 😀 everyone can hear it , see it  😀
I always had to walk 5-6 mins. from my casa to the next Wi-Fi zone and then use internet. Wherever you will see many people with mobile in hands looking into it you can be sure that is a Wifi zone. it was quite funny. 
This is how the card looks like 
And this is how the public Wi-Fi zone looks like :


One more new thing for me or for any tourist for that matter is use of toilet paper.  We cannot flush the toilet paper in Cuba . We have to throw it in the bin. It took really conscious efforts to remember this . They have a very old pipe system and so paper can not be flushed. 

IF you want to plan some trips in Cuba definitely check the websites of
Cuban Adventures:  https://www.cubagrouptour.com/ 
profil-cuba-reisen: http://www.profil-cuba-reisen.de/en/
viajeskronoscuba: http://www.viajeskronoscuba.com/en 
cubatravelnetwork: www.cubatravelnetwork.com 

I booked all of my tours from these different companies and I had really good experience with all of them. 
Definitely do a tour of Cuba by night including Cabaret Parisien in famous hotel National, and Hemingway tour . But do not waste your money in Rum tour if offered by any company as its really not worth of its money. You can go on your own to this rum museum in old Havana and get the 15 mins . not so interesting tour including one shot of rum at the end. I wasted my money but that's why you should not . 😀

Another interesting place one should visit in Havana is Fusterlandia. This is the place where Cuban artist José Fuster has decorated his house and also the neighborhood houses in colorful mosaic. 
Something like this:



Also if you have time  and you are staying in Havana between Thursday and Saturday then do visit fabrica de arte cubano for live music shows , art exhibition and to enjoy some night life. One more bar one should visit in old Havana for good cocktails is O’Reilly 304. Really loved the place. The bar man make even simple lemonade look fancy and testy . 


Tobe continued....... 




Thursday, January 1, 2015

Meetup Group: My new friend


Its been really long since i write anything. But now from this year i will try to write something new as much as possible. 
The best topic for the first day of new year cannot be better than my new Best FRIEND : Meetup Group.  It has changed my life for better, had saved me from going into deep depression, had helped to bring out my organisation skills, made me laugh, never left me alone....can never thank enough to this best friend
It doesn’t matter if you are in a new country, city , in your own country or returning to you home country after living few years abroad; there always comes a point when you feel alone, or you try to find like minded people , or people with similar hobbies , interest. In such situation the best answer is joining Meetup Groups.
What is this Meetup group….. well it’s a worldwide organization ,actually an Internet group which connects people from different countries, different cultures but with same interests , same hobbies and help find new friends, learn new people, new cultures.
Meetup group concept born actually after the incident of 9/11 attacks in NewYork. Scott Heiferman, Meetup's co-founder & CEO told the story of Meetup as , after the attacks he had an idea Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities? Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another. A small team came together, and they launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11. And today there are over 19 million Meetup members worldwide, and as of today, New York City is home to a million of them. . it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups, Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups, outdoor meetups, night life meetups… a wild variety of 100,000 Meetup Groups.
Basically it’s a website called www.meetup.com When you go in a new country or city or even in your own city and would like to meet new people or want to know some people having similar interests as you ; you can simply search on Meetup website any such groups within the specific radius of your town, city and then you will get the list of such groups. You can join these groups mostly for free and then continue attending their Meetup events. If the group activity is free or not depends on the owner of the group. 99% times its free. Anyone can start a new group on meetup site as per their hobby or interest and then Meetup site charge them some yearly fee and that’s why may be some owners charge some nominal fee like 1 euro or any other respective currency of that country to cover the charges for each event. Owner can decide if he or she would like to have few organizers for his group and then whole team keep organizing different activities. When the event is announced , all members of the group gets an email and then everyone can decide if they want to join that activity or not by registering for the event which is called RSVP to the event.
In Europe, America , Australia these groups are very popular but in India also its growing. 3 years ago I joined this group , and it changed my life. Although I was living in this city for almost 7 years ; I was feeling alone, not enough friends around sharing my interests. But then I found this magic site and then every weekend or even weekdays was wonderful. There was always someone with me to share my hobbies, interests. I am a member of 3 groups. And also now organizer of one group. It feels really nice when after every event I organize ; I get appreciation from participants, get new friends, get chance to know how many different things people around you are doing…that motivates me a lot. Its sometimes difficult to organize always something new, or reserve places , keep the track of people , events etc… but I really enjoy doing these things. After the successful event , its all worth the pain.
Even in my short stay of 6 weeks in USA; I joined different meetup groups and attended their events. It was great to know new people in new country . After my work when I was completely alone and was not knowing anyone there, I was able to enjoy my hobbies like hiking, partying with bunch of cool people.
So people never feel alone, it doesn’t matter how crazy your hobby or interest is; there is always someone who shares your idea, interest…so come on join the meetup group, be creative, be happy, meet international people, get new friends and enjoy life as much as you can in new country, new city or even explore your own city with new people. Its Fun..

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monte Negro- Country of black mountains

This year I wanted to go to some new, different place for holidays. Just got bored of usual typical holiday destinations in Greece, Spain and Italy. And suddenly remembered of Monte Negro. I heard this country first time when I watched the James bond movie Casino Royal. Since then I wanted to see this country. But it’s not that popular holiday destination and so was difficult to get information about this country.
Finally started to Google Monte Negro. And got the email id of MonteNegro tourism office. I emailed them and got all the information about when to go and how, best tourist city etc… They gave me email of their travel agent and I must say this travel agent from Monte Negro was really good. Very friendly, very helping. Always answered all my emails very patiently. Offered a very good deal of hotel, different tours there.
This country is actually very new. Very small but very beautiful country. Monte Negro was a part of former Yugoslavia and now since 2006 they got independence. Since then county is definitely facing some financial challenges but they are hoping to get better in next few years.
This is a very beautiful country with long costal area at the south surrounded by black mountains. The name of the country itself means Black mountain. This is an Italian word. Monte Negro was ruled by many years from Turkish people, Italian people.
We decided to fly with Monte Negrian airlines. I must say that was not the very best experience. :( They have really old aircrafts; seats are not so clean and not enough leg space inside. Well it was just a two hrs. flight from Frankfurt. So was ok. Plus it was very cheap. :)
 When we landed in Podgorica airport, the first impression was good. Very small airport even if Podgorica is a capital city of Monte Negro. When we came out the first thing I saw was advertisement of our german bank…. Sparkasse. :) was very happy to see something written in german. :)
The travel from airport to our city Budva was just 86 k.m. but it took more than 1 hour. They still do not have very good infrastructure. Also the road is not that easy. Very small roads and that too from the mountains. 
In our stay there, we always experienced the hospitality of Monte negrian people. They are very helpful, always answering with smile, even if some people we asked help for on the road; were not able to speak English or german still they tried to explain us always with signs, tried to help us as much as they can.
The main industry in this country is tourism. They still have to develop it a lot but they are trying.
One day we did a hiking tour up in the mountains. It was only two of us , high mountain and very narrow road, lot of spider nets on the way, plus some small snakes. I was really afraid but Jens as usual with his "all is good attitude", made me do this trek. The view of the city of budva and island of St. Stefan from the top was just amazing. When I saw that I was really happy and thought it was totally worth to walk this way up. This island St. Stefan was actually a fishermen’s town in former times and now they turned it into a hotel. The complete island is a big hotel and of course very expensive. One big hotel chain from Singapore bought and renovated all and now a big, expensive hotel. No one other than hotel’s guests are allowed to go inside. If you want to see the hotel from inside then you have to pay 25 euro entrance fee . Just to go inside and have a drink in their very stylish restaurant ,25  euro.... hmm not very impressive.
One day we did a tour of MonteNegro with the bus. It was really cheap , just 45 euro per person with bus, tour guide and food. Wow just cannot imagine this price in Germany for any such a big tour. That was one of the best thing there , everything is really cheap. In this tour we visited a city of Kotor. It is a very old town . They have preserved it very nicely. This is a city of very reach people thats what our tour guide told us. We also went with the bus on the top of the mountains to have a lunch in a very small family restaurant. That was amazing. Seating outside on benches, having a spectacular view of the whole valley. just gr8! There we saw the original small room where they do the best smoked ham. They are doing this since almost 50-60 years. We also ate that ham . very delicious.
We also visited the old capital city of Monte Negro called Cetinje. Now there is just one palace of their former king which has turned into a museum. the tour guide told us one interesting story as in olden times they had a tradition to decide the marriage of the children when they were very young and then when they become 14-15 they used to get married. I mean woman around 14-15 and man 19-20 years old. Their king was married when he was around 19 and queen was that time 14 years old. In very young age they had to take the responsibility of the country. I was surprised and told to her that in India also many years ago there was this kind of tradition. 
Monte Negro had their own currency but after many wars etc.. their currency’s value got totally damaged. Was a big inflation and then they got into some kind of contract with Germany that they could use german Mark as their currency. And so automatically when Germany changed their currency to Euro Monte Negro also had to change to Euro. Even though they are still not in European Union they are using Euro as their currency. They have to work hard and improve many things in the country to be a member of the European Union but they are hopeful and think in few years they will be up to the European standards. Currently lot of investment is going on in tourist industry. This is the best time to buy land in this country as prices are lot cheaper than other European countries and in few years one can sell it for really high price. Because in few years they will need more land for hotels, and villas and other touristic attractions. So those who have surplus money, I think the best thing is to buy land there now.
We also visited the Tara River canyon in the north of the country. The north side is not much developed as compared to south of the country. On the north there are only high mountains. No sea. But its equally beautiful. They have made a plan to develop this part of the country as Eco tourism area. The life there in the  mountains is really simple and quiet. People do not earn much there but they still live happily with whatever they earn. Mostly all people have some cattels, and little farms around their houses. Also try to get some extra cash by searching good raspberries, mushrooms, some herbs from the deep forests there and sell it.
This Tara river canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world. The road to go there from the mountains is amazing, beautiful and difficult to drive. These mountains there are paradise for hikers. This road goes through the national park Durmitor. The water of Tara river is very clean. Crystal clear. 
We have a plan to do once a big hiking tour of 6-7 days that starts from north of monte negro and ends to the deep south in Albania; a neighbouring country.
There are four national parks in Monte Negro. We did once hiking in another national park called Lovcen. This hiking tour was good too. The road later was very narrow and just at the age of the mountain. So if you miss one step then directly in the valley. But again the view of the city from their was too good.
One day we visited the biggest lake of the Balkan “Skadar Lake”. When we cruised through this lake, we went to one small family restaurant in one village. The owner of this hotel and restaurant was really a nice person. An old man with hat and white beard. Very friendly . The interesting thing is he goes every morning in the forest and collects some very good herbs and makes a packet of it for each lady customer who comes in his restaurant to eat and gives as a gift to each lady. Something to remember by. Very sweet gesture. The food was good too.
 In this whole holiday we always had really good food. Every evening had a good dinner by some sea side restaurant with fresh fish and seafood, good local Wien, beautiful view of the sea, smiling waiters. Was perfect.
Many people there told us  that , financially ;the time of Yugoslavia was much better for them .  Since the freedom, many factories just got closed , so people have to go far away from their families to find a job and also do not earn much now. But they have to live with it now and can just hope for a better time.  
This is still not a very hot and popular holiday destination in Europe but the way they are trying to improve their tourist industry , in next 4-5 years it will be definatly one of the most popular holiday destination. And I just hope they will still be able to keep their charm and will not become one of those typical commercialized holiday spot. So till that time one should really plan holiday in Monte Negro.

fresh fish to choose for dinner









Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas is in the air

Since childhood I was very much attracted to Christmas. In those days , in children story books I saw many times nice pictures of Santa Claus , Christmas tree with gifts around , snow and a table full of cakes and cookies....I was really fascinated by these pictures and always wanted to celebrate Christmas.
In year 2000 few days before Christmas me and one of my friends went to a mall in Camp area, pune near Westend cinema. It was all nicely decorated for Christmas and shops were full with gifts in very attractive packing....whole environment was very beautiful. Me and my friend were drinking coffee there and I told to my friend, it will be so nice if we get a chance to celebrate the Christmas in a real Christmas celebrating country like Somewhere in Europe or America. And to our surprise, next year my friend got married and went to USA and celebrated Christmas there and I got job in Germany and got a chance to celebrate Christmas there :) seems like Santa really heard our wish and apparently fulfilled it too. :)
In 2001 first time I got a chance to experience the real Christmas, its preparation, snow and all fun. But still I was not very happy as I didn't celebrate it with any family.
Soon I got familiar with the German Christmas market concept. Every year 4 weeks before Christmas, in every German city and town starts the Christmas market. Its fun to go there with friends and drink Glühwein which is a warm spicy traditional German winter drink made from warmed wine. Eat special traditional food, enjoy small shopping. My favorites in Christmas market are Glühwein, Schupfnudel, rosted chestnuts, and warm waffles. Going to Christmas market every year is like tradition for me and my husband. :)
In year 2004 I celebrated Christmas with my real German family...well that was my husband's family. :) First time I also got my gift kept under the Christmas tree. It was really a fun to celebrate it with family.
In our family this 2 and half days of Christmas are celebrated traditionally with the whole family and close relatives. Normally in catholic families Fish is cooked on 24th Dec. for the dinner. Well in my family nobody is very religious but still my mother-in-law cooks very testy fish with different cooked vegetables and salad on 24th dec. After dinner all the relatives gather to have fun, give gifts, drinking good wein, eating christmas cookies and special small breads cooked by my mother-in-law specially for christmas. My mother-in-law decorates her Christmas tree every year very nicely. We all keep our gifts under the tree and then in the night the gift opening starts. That’s the best part :)
Remaining 2 days we all gather together at my in-laws house and just eat and eat and drink and chat till late night.
In these two days my mother-in-law and her sister cooks really good food. Normally for lunch some very good and rarely cooked meat like a deer or rabbit is served with soup, salad, special German noodles called 'Spätzle', Knödels and different sauces. These Knödels are normally made in two different types. One from the bread and another from the potato. My favorite is potato knödle . My father-in-law cooks it very good. Different wines, beers and small shots increase the test of the food.
After this heavy lunch we all go out for a long walk in the forest behind the house. After coming home from the freezing cold ; coffee and Christmas sweets are must.
Normally in the evening very light dinner is served. Normally for dinner we eat different salads, different types of breads, cheese, Asparagus rolled in ham.
After these Christmas days then slowly everybody starts to pack back to go back home with the decision to make diet for next few days which hardly happens :)
This Christmas is exactly like I always saw in the pictures and movies....
For me the biggest attraction of Christmas was the snow but now after living almost 10 years here, I can definitely say that I really hate the snow now. But still I love to have white Christmas. Christmas without snow is not a real Christmas. I wish to have snow for Christmas but then after that wish to have nice warm, sunny weather. :) I hope Santa Claus  will hear my wish and hopefully fulfill it too :)
But till then Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all. Have a white Christmas with lots of gifts and fun.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Halloween at Burg Frankenstein

The German word Burg means Castel. Burg Frankenstein is about 5 km south of Darmstadt in Germany. This castel was first built in 1100 and expanded in the 14th and 15th Centuries. In 1976, American soldiers stationed in Darmstadt founded an annual Halloween festival at the castle, which has grown to become one of the biggest Halloween festivals in Europe. There are few stories about this castel.

Every year there is a big famous halloween event at the castel for 3 weekends near halloween. On these weekends , there are different horror shows, enactments of some horror plays and party. Last year one of our friends told us about this and we decided to attend this halloween show and party this year.
It is necessary to buy the tickets well in advance as the tickets are limited and many people attend this shows.
Well i was very excited to go there as this was my first Halloween party ever. One day of this halloween weekend is for children above 7 years and other day is for adults above 14 years of age .
The event organisation was really good. We all have to park our cars at the bottom of the castel and from there goes a shuttle bus every half an hr. or so till the top of the castel taking all people.
When we went at the top of the burg, we saw monsters , witches , zombies , ghosts walking around , getting ready for the show.
Exactly at 7 p.m. the door to the horror world opened. We all went inside and it was really cool .....There were many graves, some torture chamber, fireworks, flaming swords . It was all dark and the people wearing masks and dresses of monster, witches, werewolves, Vampires, spirits , ghosts , orks were coming suddenly in front of us and try to horrify us. The place was full with screaming and laughfing . The special effects of lights and music increased the horror effect.
While walking, we saw there was a group of few witches and monsters who used to select randomly any person walking by and keep him/her inside an empty box and close the box for few seconds till the person inside screams .... most of the time young, blond , thin girls used to be the target :)
Once a werwolf came in front of me and pressed my nose :). One monster tried to kill me :)
At one spot there was a device called guillotine. This is a device used for carrying out executions by decapitation. It consisted of a tall upright frame from which a blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body and people were allowed to go there to get decaptivated just for fun. And one monster was controlling this decaptivation event :)
Soon we reached the main show area. First they started with enactment of a story of a devil and two prists as exorcists. Then there was modern dance of witches and monsters. While we were watching this, some vampires and monsters were walking among us and trying to horrify us. some people were screaming, some were clicking photos with them.
After this first show we went to other part of the castel where another show was going on. Where some witches and werewolves were fighting with eachj other and then the looser was hunged up and killed :) Then there was another show where 2 orks and some witches were fighting with each other with swords.
All these shows are repeated 3 times at different times. so that all people can see it. Every weekeend there are different shows.
After a long time we had a really interesting saturday evening. I am not sure if i could enjoy this every year but its definately worth watching once.
This was very exciting and interesting Halloween I had after a long long time.








                                                                                                                                     

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Patisserie Course

Yesterday I attended a Patisserie course at crown plaza hotel. Till now I always used to wonder this dessert buffet at crown plaza . Always used to think that it must be something that only professional cooks can do but never thought its actually really simple to make even at home.
This was my first time to attend such course here in germany. We were almost 13 people in the course. course timing was at 14.00hr. and exactly at 14.00 hr. the head cook with his 3 assistants came where we were seating and introduced him and his team to us. Perfect german timing..... :) Everything was well organised. the whole staff there was also very  friendly. We all got one cocktail as welcome drink. when we heard this one of our team member asked oh...is it possible to cook after drinking alcohol? the chef said....well professionals like me can manage it better after 1,5 promillo but u should not :)  well he was kidding. But we all got anyway alcohol free cocktail. then we all got a nice  apron and cooking hat , a booklet with all recipes that were planned for our course. We all were instructed to wash hands first and then put some disinfection lotion on hand and only then we could enter the kitchen. All perfect planned and hygienic. I really liked this.
It was a good experience for all of us to see this big kitchen and all big machines these people are using there and also meet the kitchen staff. There was a little buffet of sweets and small starters for us to eat during our course .
We were divided into 2 groups and two of the assistants headed each group. These two assistant girls were also very friendly and explained us very well and also answered all of our questions. We all also got chance to do things own our own. It was really enjoyable.  We made Creme brühle, Shoko creme brühle, Hessisches tiramisu, Himbeer cream, Cappuccino trüffel. All are my favorites and really easy to make.

It was good to know how stressful the cook's job is in such a big restaurants. the head cook told us in such hotel chains, everything has to be perfect and so we all have to concentrate a lot while cooking . They all have long hrs. of work and gets only 1 hr. of  break during the work. Most of the time they cannot even seat at one place and have proper  lunch . Mostly they all eat some small stuff during the work. Take short break and eat and then again on the work. Its really funny , the person who cares for other's good health with healthy and perfect cooking cannot really get time to look after his /her own health. He was further saying because of stress many of the cooks are also smokers. Its also now a days really difficult to find good cooks as many of the students from hotel management colleges are not really willing to work in the kitchen. Only people who can really take this much stress and can really enjoy the cooking work can stay longer here. These people also get less time for family. Mostly during festival times , they can not take holidays as they have to serve us. It was really interesting information to hear.
I also met new people there , learned how to make these delicious desserts, got a chance to know more about cooking job, work in this big resturant's kitchen. Now I feel even safer to go to crown plaza and eat in their restaurant as I have seen it now how they really work there.
Now planning for my next course also at crown plaza for christmas baking and I am sure it will be also a good experience like this and can surprize my family this christmas with my desserts and christmas cookies :)