Monday 28 August 2017

When in Switzerland, drink like the Swiss

Hi girls! Having come back from a wonderful two week family vacation in Switzerland, while I was spoilt for subjects/places that I could base my blog on, I decided on a slightly off-charter but a very interesting one to initiate - The water fountains of Switzerland!

Just to set the background, we took our flight from New Delhi since we got a great deal flying out of there. So we booked our domestic Mumbai to Delhi flight separate from the international one. Even with the deal, the flight ticket booking was just the start of our realization that Switzerland is one of the costliest countries in Europe (possibly the world!). Fast forward to our trip, our next realization was that food easily takes up a major chunk of your daily budget while travelling (just as a comparative – while a milk coffee costs about €2 in Germany, it easily costs more than CHF 4.50 in Switzerland). Although, in most cities in Europe tap water happens to potable, one might not have access to that, except when in hotels/ restaurants. So other than buying bottled water, there are not many viable options if you plan to be outside throughout the day during your vacation (which would be about 95% of the time, right?)

So it came as a pleasant surprise, when we were informed on our first day itself in Basel, Switzerland that we could drink water safely from any of the public fountains across the country. Water supply across Switzerland comes directly from the mighty Alps. Even the rivers, lakes, creeks and all small and big water bodies that we encountered have such crystal clear blue-green waters that you can sometimes see the rocks on the bed!

Coming back to the water fountains, not only is the water potable but it is refreshingly cold – almost like snatching up a bottle from your refrigerator! After a while we even stopped refilling our water bottles from the hotel bathroom taps, as it was just not comparable to the cool glacial fountain water.

The fountains are ample in quantity and can be found in almost all the city squares and piazzas, so we really did not have to worry about limiting our water consumption in fear of not finding a fountain nearby.

But the feature that caught my intrigue the most was that these are not just utility taps but works of art. Each one is vintage, decorated with flowers and carvings and almost unique. I don’t recollect any two fountains being similar to each other in terms of their looks! So not only are you getting cool Alpine water to quench your thirst but you are also being treated to a visual feast of old-world sculptures without visiting any museum!!

So the next time you are in the paradise that is Switzerland, just keep an empty water bottle handy and treat yourself at the numerous charming works of art. Now if only Lindt could pick up a hint from this, right? ;)
Gauri Patwardhan
for So-Saree

Sunday 20 August 2017

My first Blueberry U-pick trip in Canada!

My first Blueberry U-Pick trip in Canada!

British Columbia is such a beautiful province, and I’m so happy to call this place my new home. This is my first summer in BC and I have come to realize that if there’s a time you want to visit BC then it must be the summer. It has just about everything for great outdoor escapades; beautiful mountains, scenic lakes and magical rainforests. It’s the best time to be out there enjoying the nature. Of the countless reasons, why I think summers are the best in BC, the one topping the charts these days is the fresh fruit and berry season. I love berries and honestly, who doesn’t! Being able to pick them out yourself is a unique expedition! For those who have lived around BC for a while, berry picking is a common summer activity. While I grew up in the city of Mumbai, the pleasures of plucking/picking fresh fruits from the farms was only limited to the time we visited our native place during summer vacation. Which wasn’t very often for me!

Luckily enough, a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to a BC Blueberry U-pick trip with a group of bloggers at @Emma Lea Farms in Delta, BC. It was my first ever Blueberry U-pick trip in BC and I was totally excited about it. A fellow blogger friend was kind enough to give me a ride to the farm. It was a perfect sunny day and my first impression of the farm was, WOW! It looked beautiful. The ice-cream shop serving farm fresh berry ice-creams, an adjoining patio, a big play area for the kids and a farm full of fresh berries was a perfect arrangement for a day picnic. There’s also a farm store where you can buy freshly picked fruits of the day.

Just after a short introduction by the owners of the farm, we started on our berry-picking expedition. They directed us to the blueberry u-pick area and gave us a few tips on how to pick the berries in the most effective and quick fashion, without causing too much waste. On our way to the u-pick area we learnt a few things about the varieties of berries that exist and the different ways in which they’re grown to get the best out of the fruit.

One of the interesting facts that I leant was why most of the berries found at Supermarkets aren’t sweet. Most of the fresh produce in the city of Vancouver comes from different parts of BC or Mexico. To reach the stores while they’re still ripe, the berries are prematurely plucked off the plant and not allowed to ripe on the plant. Having said that, the prematurely plucked berries continue to ripe while they’re being transported to the stores, however they lack the desired level of sweetness which makes them sour. When you go to a farm you only pick the ones that are ripe and has full flavours.

Now you know why you should buy your favourite berries from the local farms or a farmer’s market in the city. There are lots of farmer’s markets in Vancouver during summers, just look for the closest one.

It was lovely to see little kids holding their small pails and enthusiastically trying to pick their berries. They looked so happy and content after filling the pails to their heart’s content. It’s a perfect fun filled summer activity for kids. At this point I quickly made a mental note to bring my nephew Ayaan to a U-pick berry trip when he’ll be visiting me in Vancouver. Something that he would probably never get to do in Mumbai.

It wasn’t difficult to pick the best blueberries as most of the produce was fresh and big. The task would have been easier if I had a small bucket instead of tiffin boxes. A lesson learnt for next time! After almost two hours of my little excursion at the farm I picked enough blueberries that would easily last me for a week or more. The berry prices at the farm were so reasonable that I couldn’t resist the temptation of buying some cherries from the farm shop. I must admit these were the best blueberries and cherries I had this season.

Picking your own berries from the farms is such an authentic BC thing to do and I’m glad I got to do it this summer with this bunch of enthusiastic mom’s and bloggers. I’ve been looking forward to great blueberry recipes shared by these awesome moms on their blogs and the one’s that I’ve already come across are so innovative and unique. Do watch out for my next blog post about 'what I did with the blueberries I picked on this trip'.

The trip ended on a sweet note as we treated ourselves to some delicious berry-flavoured ice-cream at the farm. 
I had a chocolate ice-cream with mixed berries (the berries were buried under the scoop) 

I am already planning my next u-pick trip before the end of the berry season this year!! Have you ever been to a u-pick berry trip yet?? Would love to know your experience. Please share in the comments!

Special thanks to Aziz Dhamani Photography for capturing some of our special moments on this trip!

SOnali for So-Saree Canada 

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Travel Post: Day trip to Whistler, BC, Canada

Hey, I’m back with another blog post about my life in Canada. This time I’ll be sharing with you my dreamlike experience at Whistler.

It’s a known fact that Canada is the most beautiful country in the world as all its 10 provinces are blessed with stunning natural beauty. British Columbia is not just one of the most beautiful provinces but also has the mildest temperature as compared to the other provinces in the country. This is one of the most important reasons why I decided to live in BC. On my very first day in Vancouver I witnessed a few glimpses of it’s incredible beauty! The sight of the ocean and the beautiful snow clad mountains from downtown Vancouver left me astounded.The view was exceedingly gorgeous, as if someone painted the most beautiful city in the universe and placed me right there to devour it all. The mountains surrounding Vancouver are well-known for their epic snowfalls. So much so that the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games were hosted by Vancouver. The venues stretched from the streets of Metro Vancouver to Whistler, a world-class ski resort that is consistently ranked among the best on the planet.

Of all the beautiful destinations that the locals spoke about, Whistler was the most recommended touristy destination. It’s home to Whistler Blackcomb, one of the largest ski resorts in North America. It’s spectacular setting offers a vast array of outdoor adventures during summers and winters, such as hiking, camping, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding to name a few. Naturally, Whistler made to my ‘must visit’ list in BC.

Although summer arrived quite late in Vancouver, it was in full swing by the mid of June. It felt like a perfect time to visit the mountains. Due to its proximity and easy accessibility from Downtown Vancouver, I planned a day trip.The2-hour ride from Vancouver to Whistler is one of the most scenic routes in Canada. Most people chose to drive as it’s an easy route and gives you the flexibility to stop by at various viewpoints like Squamish, Shannon Falls etc. and cherish the panoramic views. For those who don’t own a vehicle, car hire options are easily available in Vancouver. Also, there are plenty of reliable and affordable bus shuttles that offer round trips from Vancouver to Whistler.

For obvious reasons, I was excited about my trip but I didn’t really build high hopes, as I truly believe, raising the bar too high often leaves you disappointed. I have been too lethargic to get my driving license done and had to pay the price, I was left with no choice other than taking a bus ride. A couple of things I booked in advance were the round-trip bus tickets and the Peak to Peak Gondola day pass which I got at a discounted price on Groupon.

The bus ride was impressive, dreamy coastline on the left and high mountains on the right put me in a dilemma as to which side to look at and while I was doing my best to keep up with both the sides time flew and I was already at the Whistler’s Gateway loop. It would be an understatement to say that the place is stunningly beautiful. I made my way to the Whistler’s information center, it’s amazing how organised these centers are. The lady I spoke with was very helpful and gave complete information about Whistler and the wide array of activities it caters. She also gave me a map and marked the significant spots on it. By the end of my conversation with her, I was already cussing myself as I didn’t do my home work about the summer activities I could indulge in and came unprepared. I had imagined Whistler to be a touristy spot with more of sightseeing to offer, but I was so wrong, there is so much to do that one needs to spend at least 2 days if interested in a couple of outdoor or adventurous activities. Whether its summer or winter, this quaint village offers everything from relaxing spas and scenic strolls to adrenaline pumping activities and breathtaking views.

Let me take you to on a pictorial tour of my experience at Whistler Blackcomb.
At Whistler’s Gateway loop where the bus dropped me.

Some live music
After talking to the woman at the Information center I was almost certain that I would be falling short of time to explore Whistler in a day. So, I rushed towards the peak to peak gondola ride entrance, I wanted to make the most out the time I had. Little did I know that the quaint little shops on my way would lure me into an unplanned shopping spree. It was only after an hour of shopping souvenirs and other needless stuff, sanity was restored and I was back on track.

Outside the shop
As I reached my destination, a long queue was awaiting me.
This world record breaking PEAK TO PEAK Gondola ride offers a 360-degree stunning view of the Whistler Village, mountain peaks, lakes, glaciers and forests. The ticket includes various open-air chairlifts and gondolas that take you to the top of the mountains and from one to the other. Undoubtedly this is the most popular activity and a must do if you go to Whistler.

To kill some time while standing in the queue.

Eventually I got into the ride that was supposed to take us to the peak of Whistler mountain.
The view on our way up was breathtaking!

.As we got closer to the peak the snow got denser.

At the peak of Whistler mountain.
Enjoying my fish and chips at the Roundhouse Lodge restaurant on the peak of Whistler with a gorgeous view of the snow-clad valley.
Couldn’t resist the temptation of having an ice-cream even on the mountains.

After taking a few more pictures at the peak of Whistler mountain I moved on to take the Gondola ride to the peak of Blackcomb mountain. The ride between the 2 peaks was exhilarating.


View of the forest and river between the 2 mountains.
The view from the Blackcomb mountain cannot be described in words. You have to see it to believe it.

One of my fav pics of the day.
How can you resist taking pics at this beautiful location?
Spotted a few marmots (large squirrel like species) on the peak. They live in mountainous areas like these.
Fun fact: The Whistler ski resort got its name in the late 1960s to represent the whistling calls of the marmots, which are also known as "whistlers", that live in the alpine areas of the mountain.

One of the most adrenaline rushing experience of the day was the Open-Air Chairlift ride to the
Whistler Mountain Inukshuk. The mountain climb was real steep which gave me the shivers, and the open chairlift makes you feel as if you’re flying.

The Iconic Statue of Inukshuk was created for Whistler as a Symbol of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games held in BC. The stacked stone statue of a human form stands on a rock precipice, overlooking all of the Whistler valley, Black Tusk peak, and the Whistler summit.
The Inukshuk .
The view of the Black Tusk peak from Whistler mountain.

After an eventful day of true alpine mountain experience, it was about time to take the gondola ride back to the base of the mountain. Although it was quite an amazing experience I do regret not being able to indulge in adventure activities. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Whistler which will be planned around activities like Zipline, Hiking and Bungee Jumping.
Grabbing a quick bite before I could get onto my 8pm shuttle back to Vancouver.
Vine and Dine at La Bocca Restaurant, Whistler

 For So-Saree Canada


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