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Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Violin- my favourite musical instrument

There are some musical instruments and then there are some others.

One of my personal and perennial favourites is the Violin, often truly called the 'King of the Orchestra'. Going back in time and recalling the effect of it's music on my mind, I clearly recall numerous moments, some of them in some of my all time favourite movies, Thorn Birds, Gone with the wind, Love Story, Dr Zhivago and Junoon, where the violin has been magnificently used to convey a 'completeness and range of emotions, love, tenderness, pathos, sorrow, or then quite simply, happiness and joy.

The violin is a bow string instrument with four strings usually tuned in perfect fifths.It is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the 'viola' and 'cello'.Usually, however, the strings are not plucked; instead a bow is passed over them to make them 'vibrate'.

Spotted at a metro station in Paris

No instrument can do all the violin can do.At different times these are some of the emotions that I have associated with the violin. It has made me feel sad, or then, at other times, warm and good all over. 

By playing slowly or fast then faster,it has sometimes made my heart feel a whole host of emotions that are sometimes quite difficult to define. Because there are simply just so many of them.All at the same time, or then, one following the other, in rapid succession

At times like these, I simply let the music flow over me, taking it in, and can't help but marvel at the skill of the player whose music has such a major impact.

I'm sure I'm not the only one and what are  the chances that you feel the same way too...?

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Magic of Photo Apps and some musings on restaurant staff behaviour

Let's say that I ordered a cup of coffee at my favourite coffee shop last week. If I know one thing about the coffee at that place, is that it's always spot on and made exactly the way that I like it - hot, very strong and with a nice design drawn on its surface. But this time it was even better, for it had a ‘smiley face’ on it. 

So of course the lure of clicking it instantaneously was irresistible, and I succumbed. A few great photographs later, I sat back satisfied, finished the coffee and went on with the rest of the day.

Sometime later that evening, when I looked at it, I remembered that I’d been presented with an iTunes Gift card recently and quickly downloaded a few free photo apps, in addition to purchasing a few. And that was how my journey into the magic world of photo apps commenced. A month lat-er, I must have spent a few hundred hours experimenting with photographs that I’d clicked earlier, with some truly amazing results!

For instance, if I take you back to that original smiley faced cup of coffee, it's now travelled through exotic places such as the Niagara falls, Paris and Australia. Going one step further, I then managed to take that same photograph and put it up on the wall of a conference room where US President Obama and his aides had just settled down to a meeting.

Sounds unreal? Well, let me assure you that all of the above and much, much more is now possible via the magic world of Photo Apps. Try it and once you get a taste of it, I strongly suspect that like me, many of you might get hooked onto it for life! So to help you get started, here are a few of my best ones - iPhoto, Pixlromatic, Pic Collage, Dyptic frames and Adobe PS Express. Of course, there is a whole wide world out there and once you really start with it, you will fine-tune many of your personal favourites. But do remember to write in as I’d love to know more about them too.

Moving onto a subject that I feel very strongly about - the behaviour (or in some cases, the misbehaviour) of service staff on duty at a restaurant. One of the main reasons that we all choose to visit a restaurant is quite simply because we like the ambience, food and the overall feeling of bonhomie around that particular place. But imagine your dismay if you were to visit one of your favourites and find that the atmosphere and, therefore, all the fun that you associated with it earlier has just disappeared because of just one ill-mannered waitress.

What would one do then? Well in my case, it was clear, walk out as soon as possible and make sure that I told everyone I could possibly about keeping away from that place. So here it is all ye managers of restaurants - please do keep a sharp eye on your staff at all times, for you never know what potential sales/customer loss you’d be causing for your outlet just because of that ‘one’ bad apple!

NB- This post was originally written for my column My Take in Muscat Daily

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Christmas Market at Champs Elysees, Paris- A memorable moment in time from my Travel Dream Trail

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” said  Ibn Battuta and I couldn't agree with him more!

The joy of travel is something that was inculcated deep into my soul by my parents who used every opportunity and vacation time that my brother and myself had to travel. With them, we learnt to see, taste and experience the wonders of travel and in return we were rewarded  by a certain knowledge of our country and the world that far surpassed that which could be gained from regular books. 

Did we enjoy it? A definite yes! Those growing years left me with a deep seated conviction in the wonders of travel and soon after my marriage we moved to Oman where we then stayed on for over two decades, this passion for travel was only intensified as we used all opportunities that we could to travel ..and then some!

In fact, my very first book 'A Safe Harbour' was based in Oman as well as India and I was highly gratified when it received some very good reviews. My second book, 'Point of No Return' was set in Istanbul, Turkey after I'd visited it and realised that it made a fantastic setting for a crime thriller. And finally, my third book 'An Autumn Melody' was set in UK and India - another country that I've visited and grown to love over the years.

Art, culture, food and music - for me they are all very important, and since I'm an avid photographer as well, I try to capture all these moments and turn them into memories by clicking photographs and sharing them with the world.

And now, like Ibn Batuta, I'm going to turn into the proverbial storyteller and delve into my store of memorable experiences and share one such delightful  experience with all of you. 

     I succumbed and this sweet little elf is making my packet of Churros 

A  couple of years ago I was in Paris in late November and to my delight I learnt that the famed annual Christmas Market at the Champs Elysees was already up and running.

Without further ado, I decided  to make my way there and check it out.It was a cold, crisp and beautiful evening and the overall atmosphere was one of joie de vivre and good cheer. People of all nationalities mingled with each other and delightful and tempting fragrances floated from every corner possible.

If I was to choose one word to describe my feelings as soon as I got there, would be' Fabulous"! 

It was everything that I'd ever imagined a Christmas fair to be and then some!

The Champs Elysees was transformed into a 'winter wonderland' of sheer holiday fun and gaiety with twinkling Christmas lights, rows and rows of little wooden chalets selling a delightful array of  foods, sweets and all kinds of gifts. It even had a little amusement park with roller coaster and rides for kids. This Christmas Market is set up along both sides of the Champs-Elysées between Rond Point and the Place de la Concorde, but the atmosphere is festive all along the Champs-Elysées right up to the Arc de Triomphe.

The heady fragrance of of mulled wine, coffee, roasting chestnuts, crepes,  Shwarmas, hot dogs, burgers, cheese and anything else that you could possibly imagine hung in the air and it was that which proved to be my undoing. 

First it was the Churros that I  just had to eat, followed by a whole bar of real country made French chocolate. 

                    Christmas is in the air

Champs Elysees, the superb location 

                                       Spoilt for choice

Something to make all the kids happy

What I found particularly fascinating was how men and women come here from all over Europe  and set up their stalls. It was truly a representation of the very best that Europe could serve up on a plate! Must add here that it wasn't only food and drink that was being lapped up by all who were there, the array of Christmas gifts for friends and family was mind boggling as well.

Scarves, small homemade items, soap, cheese, bread, cookies, trinkets-I could go on and on and my list would probably remain incomplete. Sounds cliched, I know, but this is exactly where the term, 'spoilt for choice' is probably what comes closest to what everyone present was thinking. All I could see was people shopping, then taking a break to eat, then getting on with it ..

All over again!

The afternoon passed and evening dawned, I was still there and about 5 hours later, made my way back home, happy and content with the spirit of Christmas having warmed the cockles of my heart and staying right there....

Was I satisfied with just one visit? The answer predictably is 'No'. A few days later I was back there and this time, I had the advantage of knowing exactly what I wanted to check out. 

That particular trip to France also gave me the opportunity to check out some of the finest museums for art and culture in addition to the Louvre where the world famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is placed. Thousands and thousands of people file past those beautiful places everyday and I can say with confidence that all of them go back to their own countries enriched by all the beautiful and memorable places that that they have been privileged to see.

Another quick memory of a delightful cafe in Paris  -A short walk brought us  to this very warm and welcoming scene, a Cafe restaurant la bucherie,  where a friendly waitress took our orders , promising to be very quick to serve.  
I loved the Menu
This little cafe was also the place where I saw the largest cocktail  I'd ever seen in my life and was just beginning to wonder if anyone ever drank something like this, when the guests at two adjoining tables placed orders for one each.Needless to say, two people shared one, but I am still surprised!
The Giant cocktail, a specialty of the house

  1.                  My dinner,  a Croque-monsieur

I'd placed an order for a 'Croque monsieur', and was delighted when it was served !( the name is based on the verb croquer and the word monsieur)
 a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It originated in French cafés and bars as a quick snack. Typically, Emmental or Gruyère cheese is used. Delightful delicious and very memorable

That was certainly one of the best meals I've  ever eaten! 

For me, travel is something which I treasure and enjoy totally. Whether it be a solo trip or one with my family, each of these is special in its own way and the rewards- manifold.

To close, all I'd like to say, " Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer"

I am blogging about my dreams and passions for the Club Mahindra#DreamTrails activity at BlogAdda. You can get a Club Mahindra Membership to own your holidays!