Reminiscing the holiday season – Toronto Christmas Market

We are moments away from the burgeon of spring and the blazing sun. The cold will soon be vanquished by bursting clusters of flowers dripping from balconies. The mellow, cloudy mornings and flurried side walks, snow peppered rooftops and tree branches sheathed in ice….the harbingers of winter will  depart for their temporary hiatus. Soon, sunshine will storm through diaphanous curtains and light will flood. It is a good, beautiful thing, I know. That doesn’t mean however that the gray skies aren’t…
It has dawned upon me that I have warily erased the memories of the magical Toronto Christmas Market and since I’m caught in a race against time, we now travel back to the holidays.
It was a calm winter morning, a few gentle flurries here and there, when the husband and me boarded bus 121 to visit the market. The temperatures had just begun to dip and it was a freezing -2 degrees C. The venue, Distillery District, with its usual rustic red bricked charm had undergone an obvious transformation. “Possibly into the North Pole”, I mused!
Winter may seem long but the holiday season tends to vanish in the blink of an eye. Amid quivering chills and bustling winds, they tend to be a much coveted warm hug. The ornamented ferns and conifers, the gleaming shades of crimson and emerald, the cinnamon and peppermint infused lattes and teas, the food, the festivities, the sugar & smiles. It’s best to give in to its thrall and captivity. Best to enjoy the dalliance. So we did!

A colossal Christmas tree stood in the centre of the square, bedecked with ribbons and shimmering festoons. Swarming visitors hogged a portion of the tree whilst they had their pictures taken for the quintessential Christmas photo. I wasn’t one to shy away. The tree, however large, was only a miniscule portion of the magic. The organizers had gone the whole nine yards in enthralling their visitors. Twinkling lights danced along red bricked walls & glimmering decorations hung from every corner while wafts of sweet apple cider, cinnamon & chocolate tickled the olfactory senses. Soaking in the boisterous, festive cheer was mandatory here. The air beckoned an escape, an escape to wonderland, to childhood even.

Little gingerbread houses lined the sidewalks, complete with white rooftops. They were really, makeshift shops that allowed visitors to indulge in food & drink & make merry. The husband & me had deliberately skipped breakfast and after a quick prayer to the calorie Gods, we devoured delicacies  like there was no tomorrow.
Grilled cheese was an essential, of course. Warm, melted cheddar spilling generously from sour dough bread deserves a heaven of it’s own. Hot chocolate was gulped following the cheesy expedition. Fortified by carbohydrates we marched into SOMA. Soma chocolatiers makes them as hot chocolate should be….warm but not hot, mildly sticky and recklessly loaded with dark chocolate. The sugar on the other hand is subtle, leaving one hankering for more. What they also do is go the extra mile and make it intense with the addition of spices like cinnamon and ginger. Almost bearing a mystical quality . As we huddled in a dark, cosy corner of the store and sipped our drinks, I realised, that everything was in fact, perfectly all right with the world! Hot chocolate tends to do that.
A man bundled in a fluffy jacket and two woollen scarves smiled at us as he watched his little mini doughnuts rise up the bubbling oil. It was a welcome. One we wouldn’t deny. Six doughnuts occupied a little cardboard box and they were deluged with a luscious, ruby red strawberry sauce. The cold sauce helped balance the heat from the doughnuts and rendered a tart sweetness. It was Toronto’s smashing answer to the -2degrees.Imaginably we scarfed them down in no time.

” We need souvenirs”, we thought as we ambled along the streets of the old distillery, now an outdoor mall for gourmet foods, couture clothing and art galleries. Little cookies dressed vibrantly in royal icing was an ideal take- home token that could soon be coupled & enjoyed with the afternoon tea session.
Distillery District houses an antique store and is studded with old typewriters, weathered albeit pretty cupcake pans , teacups stained with vintage rose patterns and more. It was a safe haven from the chiding weather outdoors & people gave in to the warmth & coziness as they rummaged through shelves & shelves of used homeware. Nestled among these ancient treasures are BOOKS.
Tattered pages and battered leather bindings but brimming with life and stories from the past. I wondered about the past owners of this antique book and if I may possibly stumble upon notes or letters hidden in the crevices. I gently parted book after book with my fingers, ensuring they were handled with care and picked up Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes. As we boarded bus 121 to head back home, I was smiling ear to ear as a  little secret wish had materialized itself, that of adorning my bookshelf with an antique book. All in all, a magical day.

Do take a tour of this beautiful market through the husband’s pictures…

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Diaries from an Italian Summer – When in Rome…

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 11th, 2016
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
– Giuseppe Verdi
Despite worn down by jet lag, I am buoyed by the spirits of travel & pull out my journal to begin this much sought after Italian love affair. Time waits for none, nor does an exhilarated mind. Let me clarify, while the art & history mighty impresses us, it’s the devotion for authentic Italian food that is consigning our brain on an overdrive. We’re determined and on a mission…..to feast on pizzas laden with bubbling, greasy mozzarella that stretches itself longer than a foot, to gorge on plates of gnocchi smeared with pesto sitting on a pool of olive oil, to dive into luscious tomatoes & creamy burrata drizzled with balsamic vinegar, to devour the plethora of flavours of sugary, sloppy gelato without the perils of petty shackles also known as calorie count and to sip on white wine as the blazing sun goes down.
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We saunter along narrow winding lanes & choked alleys studded with flagstones & Vespas, past the stupendous Piazza Venezia , amid trees crowned with cloud like bushes and make our way to Piazza Navona. Like we were aptly informed, the Piazza is scrambling with tourists and their selfie sticks. The husband encourages me to experiment with the camera. I give in and discuss angles & frames fearing I may not follow through. No I’m not a quitter, nor am I devoid of passion but my heart fails to stay in two places. I may fail to breathe in the sweet summer breeze, I may fail to silently people-watch , I may just fail to close my eyes and soak it all in. That said, it’s probably not the worst dilemma to be caught in….
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Afar, Bernini’s Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of Four Rivers(1648-1651) is standing undauntedly amid St. Agnes Church & Fountain of the Moor(also by Bernini). While an Egyptian Obelisk soars high from the center, Bernini’s intricately sculpted & bearded statues around represent the four major rivers from the four continents, Ganges from Asia, Nile from Africa, Danube from Europe & Rio De La Plata from the Americas. The fountain came to be in spite of protestations from the public. After all, the public paid for it in the midst of an ongoing famine!
I’m well aware that my knowledge of European history is but a tiny speck however landing here has piqued my curiosity beyond limits and my heart yearns to be be transported to a time when Bernini & his army hand sculpted this marble marvel of Baroque architecture. Yet another epiphany, yet another realization that learning how to extract teeth during day & memorizing anatomy during night was the biggest mistake of my life….
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The only intact Roman Temple in Roma, The Pantheon.The elephant grey concrete outside  is beguiling and one can be unprepared for the massive, startling interiors. Colossal, fit for the Gods, humming with silence despite swarming people & sealed by a tenacious dome that apart from being a perfect hemisphere, is also mammoth & perfectly in tandem with the lower structure. The haze of sunlight streaming through the central oculus lights up the air and everything in it, somewhat in an attempt to bringing the place back to life. The Pantheon is also a tomb.
Among many colonnades & sarcophagi rests Raphael, the renaissance artist whose frescoes have bathed the Vatican Palaces with colour, splendor & history.
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Rome’s romance with fountains ushers us to the Trevi Fountain. If truth be told, a horde of people lead us to it so much so, I bravely switch off the GPS on my phone. We arrive close by to hear the sounds of gushing waters and rush to see Nicola Salvi’s alluring masterpiece in Baroque art. The fountain is an homage to the God of Sea. On either side are two horses that depict the two natures of the ocean – calmness & agitation. In the center, rises the God of Ocean himself, overlooking the waters. On the right is an enormous vase aka Ace of Cups. Legend says that a barber managed to irritate & criticize Salvi to such a great extent  that he sculptured this vase to as a means to protect & hide his work. The entire creation is a dance, a dance of imaginary creatures & nature, all harmoniously blending with the blue waters.
The husband, with enormous difficulty scours for a spot for himself and his tripod while I fend for an inch of space on the encircled, severely crowded metal seats to rest my weary legs. Surges of people arrive by the second but no amount of chaos & frenzy is strong enough to drift my mind away from the calm of this enchanting fountain. I sit for hours while the husband gets his heart fill of pictures and not a second am I weighed down by manacles of boredom.
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For all my life, I’ve wanted to live a Parisian life. Accepting that it’s too far fetched, I resorted to being a tourist someday. But, when the husband casually popped the question, “Where in Europe?”, I caught myself blurting, “Italy”. I realized Dan Brown & Robert Langdon had gotten in my head way more that I can imagine.I now speak of Bernini & Michelangelo like they’re old friends. Speaking of books, I owe a ton of gratitude to my father. Daddy as I call him, introduced me to the world of books, case in point, Asterix & Obelix. As Goscinny & Underzo  painted pictures of an old Rome, I reveled in adventure after adventure whilst taking in comical drawings of the Pantheon, the bush like trees & Emperor Caesar, with no clue that many years later I would reminisce these days as I walk the Roman flagstones.
To be continued….

To read the previous part of this journal entry, please visit HERE
Ciao!

Diaries from an Italian Summer- Touchdown, Rome

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 10th, 5pm
The afternoon sun blazes in all his might with no respite for weary pedestrians. The deluge of light is blinding. We don’t have the luxury of complaining though, come December we look high and low for the slightest hints of warmth.
We trudgingly haul our suitcases to spot the usual “sea of blue”that engulfs Bremner on summer afternoons. Torontonians donning Blue Jays jerseys and basking in the glory of the baseball team is akin to India worshiping Sachin. Cautiously, we snake the wheels of our luggage amid many sneaker laded feet and hasten to get away. Familiar wafts of grilled hot dogs fill the air and although I’m a vegetarian, it dawns upon me that I might miss this present home in the coming few days.
We’re rushing to embark Toronto’s glossiest train ride to the airport, the UP Express. We’re headed to Rome.
The husband’s roaring snores & Mindy Kaling’s ‘Who’s Hanging Out With Me & Other Concerns’ keeps me company as the aircraft jets across skies for eight long hours.The thud of landing is accompanied by a boisterous applause & an even louder cheering…For a tourist, this gesture says much about the country that one is about to enter, the people that one is about to meet. The heart begins to relax as all anticipations vanish and we happily disembark…

The Air Bnb apartment that we opted for, instead of a regular hotel room requires me to walk up seven flights of stairs. While I don’t mind the walk, the husband doesn’t mind the ridiculously claustrophobic elevator with it’s walls lightly but eerily grazing his arms. We meet at the doors of apartment knowing fully well that this will be tradition for the next three days in Rome. I am never getting into that elevator!

Marissa & Maurizio, the owners, have done beyond a splendid job with the apartment space. The roof is slant and at times may require a “bend and walk” routine but I’m not complaining because it effortlessly lends a fairytale like aura to the space. Vibrant morroccan cushions and table cloths are strewn about in the neatest fashion and dainty flowers in little white vases have made a home on the coffee table. Maurizio, while giving us the tour saves the best for last. The apartment occupies a tiny space on the terrace, the rest of the space embedded with green lawn grass, white patio chairs and pots bursting with pink & lavender flowers. The magic however is the view.(More about that later.)

The kitchen is equally thrilling. An espresso maker, that I fathom will come of use owing to the jet lag,  a checkered tablecloth and a basket of fruits & pastries steal my attention while Maurizio introduces us to it’s ultra modern fittings. I catch a quick glimpse of the Ikea colander and pasta pots huddled together and feel an idea bubbling in my excited mind.
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The idea of cooking pasta in Italy, using local ingredients is invigorating to me and after a spot of sightseeing, we make a pit stop at the grocery to forage for the freshest tomato & basil. The glorious wall of pasta there makes me want to squeal like a child in Disneyland. At the apartment, while my sweet sous chef assists me, I crush canned tomatoes and gently pluck gorgeous cherry tomatoes from their vine. As they bubble up, I drink in the aroma of basil and toss them into the sauce. Sprinkles of fresh ground pepper & sea salt make their way. Half a pound of cooked spaghetti is then dunked in. The process and the result are divine however, I take no credit. The juiciest, incredibly luscious tomatoes and the heavenly aroma of basil are the real superstars here.IMG_7217

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The terrace beckons us to move our dinner outdoors.The marble dome of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore rises high into the sunset sky painted in rich tones of orange.The church bells ring and the aroma of basil lingers in the air. A silent breeze brushes against us as we smile, we are savouring more than just spaghetti. We’re in Italy….

More cobblestone walks, ambrosial food & enormous history coming very soon….

A Love Story with New York City – 1

The grey, cracked & decrepit sidewalks, the swarm of people scurrying past, their minds as crammed as the streets. The million food trucks & hot dog stands suffusing the air with wafts of warm food that  admittedly I’m not a fan of, being a vegetarian but saw myself yearning for the same warmth in the crisp New York winter. The roads choked with teeming traffic, the sunshine-bright-chrome-yellow taxis not just driving but blazing by, they probably imagine they’re part of a race car event. The subway stations: the most efficient of labyrinths so much so, we’ve ended up in the wrong destinations at times more than once. Having said that, they make for the best escape from the winter winds & will let you revel in the best musical entertainment in those few minutes of wait time. The steam grates aka plumes of steam arising from manholes. Throw in some rain, a man in a hat & trench coat and voila!, you’re on the sets of a 1950’s suspense thriller. Later I learnt that the steam is actually the by product of electricity generation. The Pizzas, oh the Pizzas!, slices as big as the  paper plates they come in but sinful, cheesy, greasy & divine.
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The glorious Empire State Building (West 33rd & 34th street). Aside from standing proud amid all the hustle bustle, also the reason for an everyday ritual at our home in Jersey City: spotting the colors it drapes on itself, red, pink, purple, the Indian tricolors on August 15th. If it happened to be a lucky day, then fireworks lit up the skies against the backdrop of the glittery New York skyline. We didn’t just admire it from afar, we rid the elevators to the 86th floor one afternoon & treated ourselves to sweeping views of Midtown Manhattan, the green of Central Park, the blue of the Hudson River, ant-people & toy-cars. Along with a burgeon of skyscrapers that compete to see “Who’s the tallest?” & conjoined with a sparse breathing space, there are some that stand out with hardly any effort aka, the ornamented spire of The Chrysler Building.
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If you’re visiting/live close to NYC, then you go to Central Park. You go in the 100 degree Fahrenheit summers to get some respite in the calming lush of greens. You go to ride the bicycle along it’s vast expanses and realize it’s so much bigger than your imagination can fathom, you realize by the end of it you’ve arrived at another corner of the city. You walk, jog, get some exercise and then go to listen to musicians whilst gulping ice cream after ice cream. Then, after 3 months of hot & humid, fall arrives and you had no clue the beauty of this place could triple in a trice. Seas of ochre & sienna brushed dried leaves cover the ground and the slightest breeze can beguile you into being on the sets of a Karan Johar movie.
(On a side note, if you to appreciate jaw dropping views of Central Park, watch Gossip Girl!XOXO)
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Image Source: Google
Summers in New York City are synonymous with outdoor movies at Bryant Park on the 40th Street. A weekday evening, with a couple of friends we sat back, relaxed & watched Audrey Hepburn in the Roman Holiday. Although, I have to confess, we arrived late because we had to have the Margarita Pizza from Pronto’s (obviously!) and were forced to sit way back. We spent the next 2 hours craning our necks trying to comprehend bits of the movie but we still had our fun and made a plan to visit again. Never happened. 3 years later, I watched the movie on my laptop & fell in love with Audrey.

The Grand Central Station on 42nd Street  as the name perfectly defines has never been a train terminal for us but rather a place to delve in grandeur & history. We would go to repeatedly admire the sprawling blue astronomical ceiling with stars & constellations,to whisper in the Whispering Arch, where whispers from afar can be heard crystal clear.( To learn more about the the secrets of the Grand central, go HERE )
One of these casual visits, we also witnessed a romantic proposal, the man organizing a mini flash mob to woo his lady into marrying him…needless to say, she said YES!
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Clearly, I can’t stop! The little things, the big things, there’s so much more. I can go on & on & I will…Stay tuned for Part- 2.

Where all the lights glisten…Times Square, NYC

“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
The lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,
New York”
Jay Z & Alicia Keys have hit the mark in ‘Empire State of Mind’! Manhattan was a mere five miles from home (Jersey City) & we didn’t really have to wait for the weekend for a rendezvous. I’m sometimes a victim of frayed memories, remembering the special moments & willingly omitting the rest but never with Times Square. The  unremitting burgeon of lights, the glamour, the electrifying joy….every bit is firmly etched in my mind. I admit, natural beauty, silence & calm have their perks & have a way of rejuvenating but there are times when a blast of euphoria helps too. Sometimes, all you need to cheer up is to watch happy people, drown in the deluge of glinting lights, devour greasy food and shop till you drop, all of which one can easily indulge in at the Times Square.

Here’s what I brought back…..
I remember having a celebrity moment when I saw myself up a mammoth screen draped atop a store. Although, I have to confess, giggling & jumping about waving hands, doesn’t really scream “celebrity”.

I remember shopping like a maniac at 2:30 AM with a bunch of cousins at Forever 21. It was more the thrill of being able to shop at midnight rather than actually wanting something. But, we girls do that, right?

I remember cuddling with the husband on the neon red steps after being shot from all the walking. Not that I needed a reason but the crisp New York autumn breeze sure helped.

I remember taking a picture with a shaggy Red Muppet. I come from the land of Amar Chitra Katha & Malgudi Days, ignorant of who a Muppet is. But he looked adorable & so what if his woolly costume was a little old?

I remember Batman rescuing me from a couple of villains. Let me rephrase that. I remember a guy pretending to be Batman, imploring us to take pictures and swinging me right into his arms.I’m not complaining, this is as close to Christian Bale as it’ll get.

I remember a perpetual yearning to visit the Starbucks reveling in the midst of all the action. The throngs of people striving for a cup of coffee in a moderately claustrophobic environment constantly put me off. Maybe another time?

I remember venturing into the world of M & M’s despite having a clear distaste for them. But, let me tell you, I’m a big fan of cheesy photographs with round, smiling faces! I also  sanctimoniously revere organizational & color coding skills that assuage the OCD side of me, which happens to be in abundance here.

I remember the luminous billboards & marquees, NYPD in navy blue riding sturdy horses, the thrums of people handing out pamphlets for comedy shows, the sounds of laughter & glee, the frenzy, the lights , the lights, the lights…..
Take a look,

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Highline Park, New York City

New York City is not just a place, it qualifies to be a phenomenon. One visit and one can’t help but fall in love….And with that, I once again begin my NYC Series in the blog. (“Once again” because the Toronto winters had prompted me to long for the the Cherry Blossom in Brooklyn.)
The glitz & glamour of Times Square, the romance of the Empire State Building & the magnanimity & allure of Central Park can wait because this post is about a less spoken, much needed,  interesting asset to the city, The Highline/The Highline Park. The Highline in the West Side of Manhattan is a 1.45 mile linear park, 30 feet above street level & WAS in fact a railway line. The railway line has been entirely transformed into a public park since 2009, replete with benches, prolific greens & flowers, live music & the primary requisite of all parks, an ice cream shop to aid in dousing the summer heat! Although the park is owned by New York City, it is operated & maintained by Friends of the Highline, who are in fact responsible for protecting the line from demolition. Continue reading “Highline Park, New York City”

The Niagara – A song of ice & fire

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”, said John Keats. I’m no expert in the literary arts but I can safely proclaim that the most cliched line from this famous poem, perfectly extols the Niagara Falls. One glimpse and it’s a revelation that something so mammoth & magnanimous is capable of exuding grace in equal measure. Having experienced the phenomenon from New York & Ontario, I can safely say that despite mesmerizing views from both countries, the experience remains constant, in other words,  extraordinary.USA or Canada, I didn’t flinch before thanking the creator for no beauty stands before nature. When Dan Brown describes the Hagia Sophia in Inferno, he says, “a physical space so imposing that that those who entered felt dwarfed, their ego erased, their physical being and cosmic importance shrinking to the size of a mere speck in the face of God….an atom in the hands of the Creator.” The cascading waters of the Niagara can put into effect a similar starking reality.  Continue reading “The Niagara – A song of ice & fire”