Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Living it up in Paris: For the budget conscious traveller

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Every romantic in the world wishes to visit Paris at least once in their lifetime. The city of love, the city of lights… well, the city is breathtakingly beautiful. The only problem is that the French capital is one of the most expensive cities in the world. While you can probably travel to other areas of France on a cheaper budget, Paris makes sure to drain you of your last euro. But, if you plan ahead instead of deciding in a rush, you don’t have to rob a bank to fall in love with the enchanting city. Here’s my take to discover Paris but on a budget!

The first tip is to decide what you want to splurge on and where you want to stay frugal. Giving an example, I’m a history buff so visiting the Louvre was on my wish list. I require a clean bed to sleep on at night so it doesn’t matter whether I’m in a five-star or a hostel dorm. If shopping or eating delectable deserts is your wish, go right ahead but decide where you can cut  your expenses down.

The second important tip is to book tickets in advance of the attractions on your wishlist just to save time and not stand in the long queue. With internet available everywhere, it really shouldn’t be difficult as Visa and MasterCard is accepted everywhere.

Getting there
You can either fly into Paris or make your way there from other European cities. If you decide to travel by bus (Eurolines), you’ll find tickets that cost less than 10 euros for an overnight journey. The catch: You have to book at least three months in advance. (I got a ticket for 8 euros when travelling overnight from Amsterdam to Paris this summer). If flying in, look for roundtrip deals or promotions which every travel website offers.

Accommodation
It’s lovely to be waking up to the magnificent Eiffel Tower everyday but let’s face it, it’s kinda steep. It’s easy and pocket friendly to be living in the suburbs. The cardinal rule to staying in Paris is book in advance. While hostels and BnB’s are popular, one can get a deal for less than 15 euros a night if booked in advance. I suggest you scour websites like crazy to find a good deal. Important tip is to read the reviews of fellow travellers before booking. If two or more reviews talk about bed bugs, it’s better you give that particular hostel a miss.
The second option is couchsurfing. It’s a fantastic way to get to know the locals and understand their city. I lived in the suburbs of Paris, in Le Pre Saint Jervais, for five days thanks to my kind host Camille. Not only did I make a new friend but also tried to understand the city from the point of view of a local Parisian.

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At Camille’s snugville, just 200m away from Paris!

Travelling within the city
If you’re on a budget forget about the city cards. While the Paris Pass or Museum Pass or any travel pass may give you a list of free museums, sights et al, they are of no use. It’s physically impossible to cover so much in say two days. Decide on the attractions which require payment and then buy a carnet (set of 10 tickets) for the metro. Priced at approx. 14 euros, they are individual tickets which don’t limit you to a respective zone. Once you reach the metro station, get up and walk. It’s a gorgeous city you’ll uncover so many things which you never thought existed.
It’s important to remember that if you’re 26 and under and holder of the international student/youth card, discounts are plenty. Secondly, most attractions offer free/discounted entry for the press. If you’re in the media, make full use of it. DO NOT forget your press card.

When you’re hungry…
Paris is cheap if you know where to look. Coffee and croissant for breakfast, baguette, meat and wine for lunch, then a delectable macaroon for desert after a hearty pasta dinner, the city has cheap eats for under-10 euros if you search. If you’re budget is really tight, I suggest you visit a supermarket to buy cheese, meat, olives, wine and anything else under the sun. Make a sandwich with fresh bread and your lunch-on-the-go is done under 4 euros. Warning: do not miss the nutella crepes for about 2-3 euros near Rue de Montparnasse!

The freebies
We all love free things. And Paris offers so many which will leave your head reeling:
Notre Dame Cathedral
One of the finest examples of gothic architecture, it’s one of the biggest cathedrals in the world. However, there is a charge to go up the towers and the treasury.

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Point Zero
Located outside the cathedral, it’s the official centre of Paris. Gives you a Robert Langdon feeling!

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Cimetiere Pere-Lachaise
Visit the graves of Jim Morrison, Edith Paif and so many others in one of Paris’ most famous cemeteries.

ImageArc de Triumph and Luxor Obelisk
There’s no charge for taking pictures!

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ImageWalk along Champs Elysees
From the obelisk to the arc, this is one of the best streets Paris has to offer. And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of Brad Pitt!

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Jardin des Tuileries
The historic park with manicured lawns and blooming flowers between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde will bring a smile to your face.

ImageCross one of the 37 bridges over Siene
My favourite is the one with locks near Louvre.

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Picnic on the banks of Siene
Pick up crepes, baguettes, beverages or whatever you fancy. Sit on one of the banks and see the world pass by.

Important: Many museums are free all year round. Eg Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris and Musée Carnavalet. However, on the first Sunday of every month, major museums have free entry.

Time to splurge
Louvre
The entrance free is approx 12 euros but it’s a must visit destination. Remember to wear walking shoes and spare a whole day to see the masters.

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The royal medieval gothic chapel’s entrance fee is cheaper so do visit if you get the chance.

ImageChâteau de Versailles
You need extra tickets for the RER to reach the palace. Give yourself a whole day to surround yourself amidst beauty.

Catacombs
For the bravehearts, do not miss the seven million skulls and bones beneath the city.

Eiffel Tower
Many say its unnecessary to spend 14.50 euros to go right to the top but you must. The trick is to go up just before dusk and take the last elevator down. The way the city transforms right before your eyes is breath taking. If you weren’t in love with the city before, you will be once you do this!

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How to see Salzburg in 24 hours

As the train drew into Salzburg Hbf, I looked at my Blackberry. Dot on time. It was 4 am and pitch dark. Making our way out of the dimly lit platform, we saw the train chug away, heading towards Vienna. My sister and I with our backpacks and three or four passengers had descended from the overnight train from Venezia.
Now, on our backpacking journey across western Europe, Salzburg was a must-visit on our to-do list. The Sound of Music had played an integral part during my childhood and I was keen to seen where ‘the hills are alive’… But with only 24 hours to spare before we headed off to Munich, we had to make the most of it. Here’s a quick recap of the things to do if you find yourself in this pretty Austrian city with a day to spare. Agreed, that Salzburg is famous for its salt mines and the Hollywood film. But the city offers so much more which tourists tend to bypass.

THE MORNING
Gaisberg
Reach early and make your way to the mountain top. Hike, drive, bike, the options are open. At 1300m above sea-level, you’re rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise and a postcard perfect view of Salzburg.

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The city below…

12er horn Mountain
Slightly far from the city, you can take a bus or car up to the top for a view of the Wolfgangsee (Wolfgang lake). Named after Saint Wolfgang of Regensburg, the view is breathtaking. Greenery, a crystal clear lake surrounded by mountains. What’s not to like?

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Schloss Fuschl
We all know of the famous Hollywood film but Austrians grow up watching the ‘Sisi’ films. The longest-reigning empress of Austria, Elizabeth or Sisi as she was commonly called, was a very popular royal. The Schloss Fuschl resort and spa has a small museum dedicated to Sisi where one can see her clothes, jewels, handwritten notes etc.

Breakfast
Grab a Leberkäse semmerl for breakfast at any supermarkets. It’s cheap, filling and along with a cup of coffee or cold beverage, you end up spending a maximum of 6 euroes.

THE AFTERNOON
St Michael’s church
Located in Mondsee, Maria and Captain Vontrapp’s wedding was filmed in the church. Situated in the town centre, the surroundings have a very relaxed atmosphere. Don’t forget to grab an ice cream for 2 euros to give you the holiday feeling.

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When Maria walked down the aisle…

Mondsee
Situated in upper Austria, about an hour away from Salzburg. Take some time off in the afternoon, change into your swim gear and jump into the lake. It’s a fine camping ground during the weekends when city folks come up to the lake for a weekend. Try your hand at Slacklining, a favourite pastime among the youth. It’s not as easy at it looks believe me!

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ImageA swim and slacklining… definitely NOT easy

Lunch

Make your way back to Salzburg to grab a Käsekrainer. At 3-4 euros a piece, it’s extremely filling.

THE EVENING
Back in Salzburg after a fun-filled outing; check out the various tourist sights. The city is big enough to stroll around. Start with the St Peter’s cemetery. Dating back to the 17th century, it’s one of the oldest in the north of the Alps. As you make your way out, you come face to face with the town’s oldest bakery where a water mill is still in use. Walk up to the Salzburg cathedral to be enthralled by its magnificent facade. It was one of the first baroque buildings in the north of the Alps. Do check out the crypt if you’re a brave heart. You can also see where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptised. Make your way to Getreidegasse next. It’s the city’s main shopping street and soon you come across a yellow building where the legendary composer was born in 1756. Go in to pay homage or take pictures from outside, your wish.
Cross the Salzach and find the gorgeous Mirabell Gardens waiting for you. A beautiful baroque garden where Maria and the children sang parts of Do-Re-Mi. Though the Pegasus fountain and the hedge arcade along the Grand Parterre seem larger in the film, you won’t be disappointed.
Then, enter the yellowed Schloss Hellbrun to see the famous gazebo where Rolf and Leizel danced to ’16 going on 17.’ (Note: It was rebuilt just for the fans). Don’t restrict yourself to just the gazebo. Play some football, drink a beer, make merry before you find the trick fountains. The goal is to not get wet! Water parks, once a common status symbol among the aristocracy, the archbishop of Salzburg built the water park to keep visitors entertained in the 17th century. The last stop is to reach Schloss Leopoldskron where you can take a picture of the lake where the film’s famous boating scene was filmed.

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Freshly baked bread. Yum!

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Inside the cathedral

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Mozart’s house in Getreidegasse 

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Walking around in Mirabell Gardens

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Where the famous boating scene was shot… Schloss Leopoldskron

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Schloss Hellbrun… Very yellow!

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The aim: Don’t get wet when you find yourself among the trick fountains!

Dinner

Find a good restaurant to taste Austria’s national dish — Wienerschnitzel. A simple meal of pounded veal/pork cutlets, crumbed and deep fried served with a side of salad and lemon slices. Delicious!

Other options
Play dress-up
Go to a traditional clothing store. Dress up in a drindle or lederhosn to feel like a local!

ImageWearing drindles! Men wear the lederhosn

Music
Visit when the music festival is on (five weeks in the summer) to understand the rich tradition of the country.

Tours
Book a ticket for the Sound of Music or salt mine tour which will take up more than half your day. There are 3-4 local operators who have the tours on a daily basis.

So, what are you waiting for? Head to Salzburg at the first opportunity you get!

The flavours of Salzburg

I love the Sound of Music. Yes, I’m a sucker for the songs, scenery and the fairy tale romance. It has a very handsome naval captain with a wonderful voice, the sweet Maria who can’t conform to a nun’s routine and wonderful songs one can sing along to. So, what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, my Austrian friends beg to differ. “They don’t portray the correct picture,” the say. Yes, Hollywood does have a ‘slight’ tendency to borrow or change the storyline altogether to suit the script. But… there was a naval captain with seven children, who married Maria Augusta, and later the family gave concerts through out Europe after losing their money during the depression. But once Hitler entered Austria, the VonTrapps chose to leave their much-beloved country and made their way to the United States.  Alright, fine it’s not exactly how the musical goes but it has such a feel good factor!

This summer my sister and I backpacked across Europe and one of our stops was in Salzburg. Catching a night train from Venezia, we arrived in Salzburg in the wee hours. Now, hats off to Stefan, our host, for coming all the way to the station at 4 am in his taxi! And our adventures started… What we saw and did in 24 hours, well, somethings are better left unwritten!

But here I’ll give an introduction to Austrian cuisine, which believe me, will leave you wanting more. The cuisine is an amalgamation. Swiss, Italian, Turkish, German, Hungarian — they’ve all influenced how Austrians cook, at home or at restaurants.

Do try the delicious Leberkaese for breakfast. It’s found in Austria and parts of South Germany. A direct translation would be ‘liver cheese’ but the ingredients state neither. It has beef, pork, bacon and onions ground finely and then baked till a crunchy crust is formed. My sister and I were at the fag end of our journey when funds tend to dry up. Stefan took us to a supermarket in Mondsee near Salzburg for an authentic breakfast. The meat is traditionally served within a bread roll with mustard. It’s warm so the moment you bite into it, a delicious and satisfied feeling encompasses you. And according to another Austrian friend Julia, this is her comfort food. She looks forward to going back home during University breaks just to eat her mother’s hand made Leberkaese! [ I don’t have a picture because my faithful camera batteries decided it was high time they died the moment I bit into the morning sandwich]

For lunch, we were introduced to Käsekrainer. The delicious goodness of meat and cheese in a sausage! The shopkeeper serving us was a bit surprised because apparently we were her first Indian customers. “They don’t understand that this sausage only has chicken. The visitors assume it’s made from red meat,” Stefan translated as the jovial old lady spoke and added mustard and relish to the roll after placing the steaming hot cheese-oozing sausage in it. Now, my sister and I eat anything under the sun but a majority of Indian travellers abroad stick to vegetarian dishes or food which specifies chicken. There are plenty of Austrian sausages — beef, pork, chicken or a mix — which tickle the fancy. So if you’re ever near the Salzburg University, knock yourself out trying one of each!

PS: The Käsekrainer is a fantastic hangover cure!

For dinner it was time for the traditional Schnitzel. Or the correct usage for the Austrian national dish is Weiner Schnitzel. Stefan’s mother invited us to dinner as we made our way to her beautiful house after a long day. The main attraction were the lightly hammered and crumb coated pieces of pork which had been fried in lard. The golden yellow coloured meat just beckoned, ‘eat me eat me’ they said. Served with a traditional Kopfsalat (salad) and rice along with a sweet-sour cranberry jam, the flavours just exploded in my mouth. With mugs of over-flowing beer, glasses of Spritz and conversations going late into the night, our Salzburg journey came to an end.

I’m sure you’ve all had apple strudel or Apfelstrudel. One piece of advice, do not leave Salzburg without trying the famous delicacy along with a steaming hot cup of cappuccino near the Salzburg cathedral. It will be worth the six-seven euros you spend.

After the summers, our Salzburg friends Stefan and Julia found themselves in Delhi for a month. One evening, Julia made us a very traditional supper dish called Kasnocken. It’s basically Austria’s answer to Mac and cheese. The basic ingredients are flour, milk, eggs, onion, butter, cheese (Gruyère but mozzarella can be used), a dash of nutmeg powder and for the meat-lovers, a lot of bacon. The dish originates from the Pinzgauer district in the Upper Tauern area. Julia cooked the dish over a high flame but it can be baked as well. After about 25 minutes when small pasta dumplings covered with caramelized onions and melted cheese hit the sweet spot, you wished you were back in the land of ‘Do Re Mi’!

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Julia’s delicious Kasnocken!

SPS: A simple google search will show you images of all the dishes I’ve named. Had my camera not died at that very moment, I could have shown you how the local Austrians eat!

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