Category Archives: Travelogue

Muriel and Ghost

When the history dates back few hundred years, ghost stories were bound to happen. My day two in New Orleans was spent mostly working out of a conference room. The day was long but interesting and we ended the conference on time at 6:00 PM. We were all reconvening at the Muriel’s Restaurant for a team dinner. The place was few blocks down the street near Jackson square.

The restaurant was rumored for citing ghost. I was intrigued and ask one of the servers to provide his version of the truth. He was an eloquent speaker. We were a team of 40 spread across few tables. He drew the attention of the audience by clinking the fork to an empty wine glass and told us the tale(maybe tall taleūüėú)

The Dining Hall

The restaurant had an interesting history. The foundation of the restaurant was built 300 years back as a small cottage, which was sadly used to house transient slaves brought from Africa through the Mississippi River route before sending them to the Sugarcane fields. 27 years later the modest cottage was acquired by a man of great wealth and Power, Jean Baptiste. He tore it down and built a royal place for his family. The house was later purchased by a Frenchman, Pierre Phillips in the year 1776. He used it as a city home ( compare this to vacation houses we are used to now, away from the city ūüŹ°ūüŹĖūüėÄ) for recreational activities when returning from the plantations located on the outskirts of the city.

In 1788, New Orleans burnt down on a Good Friday. 856 houses burned, including the house owned by Pierre. The place was this time was acquired by Pierre Antoine. Pierre rebuilt the house to original grandeur. He used the place for himself and for his family recreation. He was known for hosting lavish extravagant parties. Everything was going well except for one thing, Pierre was addicted to gambling. In 1814 he wagered his home to a game of poker and lost his most precious possession. Tragically, that evening he took his life, unable to reckon with the loss.

Many things had changed since then, expect the fact that Pierre Antoine never left. He stayed in the form of a spirit. He was known to trouble people who visited the restaurant by doing supernatural things like throwing off glasses, overturning table and blowing uncalled breeze. A seance was called to accost the spirit of Pierre. An agreement was eventually made with Pierre. He was given the room, where he took his life and in return, he was asked not to bother any occupants. Although at times he was seen breaching the decree.

After the second course of our meal, we took turns to visit the room where he took his life. The room was a small ten feet by ten feet closed room. The dark red dip shadows of light were giving a very different aura to the room. We took some pictures. One of my friends asked me to wait for the crowd to go so that we can take some pictures without anyone in the room. I sat royally on one of the sofas and took some smiling captures. We also took a couple of pictures of the empty room. Right after the photo session, we checked the pictures to see how they appeared. And then we noticed something starkly bizarre. Few captures were dark and black. The first visible picture of the empty room came out fine, but the immediate next one had the curtain rising. It was a closed room with no gust of air. It didn’t make any sense why the curtain raised. Scared? Sure we were and we left the room as swiftly as any human could do, treasuring the memories for a lifetime.

Me on Pierre Sofaūüėä

The entrance of the seance room

This is the second picture look at the raised curtain on the left

Click below if you have not read the first part

Adventure in New Orleans

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Shantanu Baruah and ckonfab.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Adventure in New Orleans

I always wondered whether the ‚ÄúBig Easy‚ÄĚ nickname of New Orleans was a cliche. I could easily comprehend the never-ending party scene to exist during the Mardi Gras time, but during the month of June, I thought it would be a little over exploited tourist platitude. But I was proved wrong.

I landed in New Orleans for an offsite meet on the 19th Jun mid-afternoon. I was the first one to arrive and thought of using the quiet afternoon to catch up with the story I was writing for a while. The French quarter style hotel was gorgeous and the weather was pleasant, giving the mind enough fuel to take my story forward. It was around 7:00 PM when I got the call from one of my colleague and we decided to explore the city.

The town was one of the oldest in the United States. 2018 incidentally was the year that marked its 300 years of existence. Spanish and French discovered this place in the spring of 1718 and liked it so much that they decided to settle for good. Soon the sugarcane produce became the crop revolution that history witnessed for the times to come. The architecture of the town was vivid and rich, and it appeared as if the old colonial times had come alive. As I walked down the street I witnessed blend of Greek Revival, Colonial and Victorian Style structures painting the past yore of immemorial history in the richness it possessed.

Our first stop was the oldest cafe place in New Orleans, Cafe Du Monde. Established in 1862 in the French market by the bank of the river Mississippi. The coffee shop was a 24-hour place and served dark roasted Coffee and Chicory, Beignets (French style doughnuts covered with powdered sugar). I am not a coffee person but gave company to my friends enjoying the old style setup the shop offered. Soon we stepped over to the other side of the coffee shop to watch the mighty Mississippi River.

It was dark enough to explore the party city and we took a short walk to the famous French Quarter on the Bourbon Street. The place had many iconic tales, a party place for all occasions and social signature to remember for. The street had many architecture signs of brilliance that dated back to 1798. Most of the bars had live music with Jazz players making the entire area vibrant and lively. We hopped few bars before deciding to visit the oldest bar in the south side of America. The place was called Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. It was founded in 1775, by Jean Lafitte who was a pirate, spy and a celebrated hero of the battle of New Orleans.

It was 1 in the morning and we decided to retire as our morning session was starting at 8 AM. Moment we planned to disperse one of my friends declare he was hungry and insisted to grab a bite before we could call it a night. We checked a couple of places, but besides liquor, there was nothing else they served past midnight. Frustrated all left except for three of us. I stayed along because my other two friends were drunk and I being the sober one felt the moral obligations to be their savior if the situation worsens.

Then my hungry friend did the most bizarre thing, he queried a local person on the street for help. My friend was slouched and usually, people do insane thing when not in their senses. The person he stopped appeared to be a street peddler. He called upon another friend of his and promised us to get us to a place where we would find food.

I was shit scared and I refused to go forward. I kept telling my friend to come back but he refused to listen. Knowing his state, I had no option but to accompany him.

Nothing untoward happened and he indeed took us to a place which served food at such ungodly hour. Out of courtesy, we asked the two of them to join us. The restaurant owner was alarmed to see them and insisted to look at our IDs before serving food. One of them didn’t have any form of identification and he was asked to leave. We had our dinner and as were walking back to our hotel the person magically appeared. This time he was asking for money. We sensed troubled, unsure of what harm they might bestow upon us. We asked him to walk us to the hotel first. They walked with us until the end and once we were in the known territory we ran inside. It was some experience and luckily we could escape without any trouble.

Next day I experienced the ghost. More in the next post

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Shantanu Baruah and ckonfab.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Wanderer In Me

It is not even two months into the year and I have traveled over 25K miles crisscrossing the country. If I can recollect I have been to Sioux Falls, LA, SFO, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas and San Antonio. That’s nine cities from 6 states. I must tell you I love traveling. The thrill of meeting new people, getting introduced to the new culture and learning new things always excites me.

And today I head out to India for a week. I always look forward to my trips to India. I usually got to India every second month, yet I cannot get enough of India. This is the first trip to India for the year and I am looking forward to it.

Some random travel captures

France Travelogue‚Äč – Cannes Day 2

Cannes

Cannes, oh¬†you beauty. The glamor, nature’s brilliance, historic monuments, and miles of sea blue settings, Cannes had it all.

Ever since France decided to make Cannes as the world’s film and arts center in the year 1946, the place had been sought after by the who’s who of the celebrity world. Be it leisurely vacation or for the shooting of films like the Golden Eye, Cannes had innumerable Hollywood’s memories canvassed all around the place. Like the locals said, if the hotels had ears, there would be untold stories to tell.

We dedicated about 6 hours to explore Cannes. This time we decided to take the train Рa 20 minutes ride from Nice St. Augustine station.  Right outside the train station, there was an information center. You can get all the tour details or a city map if you would like to explore the place on feet.

We made a left from the train station and headed towards the beach,  about 20 minutes walk along the Boulevard de la Croisette.  Once we reached the waters, we made a slight right to reach the main attraction of Cannes РPalais des Festivals et des Congres.

The Petit train ride was one of the best way to explore the city.  The train was about a 40 minutes ride and ran every 30 minutes.  One could board the train right outside Palais des Festivals for 10 Euros, children under 12 could ride for free.  The train offered a running commentary, with headphones and choice of language. I highly recommend listening to the interesting facts while enjoying the ride.

The tour would take you through the beach side-walk showcasing the famous hotels, the old port, arrays of shops and the old town.

Palais des Festivals et des Congres  was the main attraction at Cannes. We stopped by the red carpet that had graced the past and the present celebrities on its famous stairs. We took some time to enjoy the view, strolled around the beachside park and captured some memories. The toy train started right outside the famous red carpet stairs, and we waited for our ride to arrive.

The toy train ride took us through the famous Boulevard de la Croisette. On one side we saw the elegant strip with the display of famous hotels such as Le Grand Hotel,  Majestic Barriere, and Martinez and on the other side, we saw the beautiful beaches of Cannes.

The train then looped around the Palm Beach Casino, the place where the young and the rich party. The place offered game rooms facing the Lerins Islands, an upscale restaurant, and terrace overlooking the sea.  Shortly after that, the train took us through the branded arrays of shops through the narrow streets of Cannes.

From there the train headed towards the old town, Le Suquet. The town sat on top of a hill overlooking Cannes. The cobbled streets, the narrow pathways and the local restaurants, all provide the distinct flavor of the history of this place which dated back to the 12th century. ¬†The train then climbed the narrow road and stopped by an old fortress – the Notre-Dame de l’Esp√©rance. The fortress was built in the 14th century and offered some stunning views of the old harbor and the city.

The stone roads were laid over 400 years ago and gave the reminiscent history of the old fisherman’s bringing their fresh catch to the old market(Marche Forville) alongside the rue-saint Antonie road.

After 40 minutes of the enthralling ride, we concluded our journey at the Palais de Congres building.

After a quick bite in a close by Italian joint, we headed to the beach. The French Riviera had all kinds of beaches РRocky, pebble, and Sand. Cannes offers mostly sandy beaches. The waves were mild and water was warm enough for us to enjoy the rest of the afternoon soaked in water and sand.

It was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for the Monaco by the Night tour.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

Trip To France – Travelogue‚Äč – Part 1

A recreational trip to France was high on my to-do list. Living the life of a Parisian, wandering the cobbled web streets and bathing my eyes with the time-tested historical monuments was always the vacation I dreamt of.

It was almost end of August when I realized in few weeks the summer was coming to an end. With France on my mind, I booked my trip quite impromptu ‚Äď 3 days in Paris and 3 days in Nice. I had less than two weeks to visit this beautiful place and I did not have any set itinerary. 15 years back I came to this city so many times (for work) that I thought I knew what to do this time around. But traveling for work did not give me the chance to truly explore this beautiful part of the world, and it was not until the last few days when I realized I need to plan my trip.

Like any netizen would do, I turned to the web. There were many web sites with titles like “20 best things to do in France” or “The Must-See Attractions in Paris”, but nothing came close to what I was looking for. Frustrated I turned to my friends, but all I got from them was the list¬†of places I should visit. ¬†I finally figured it out and undoubtedly had a great time.

I wrote this travelogue with a simple objective, help plan your days better whenever you decide to be in this beautiful place.  The first part of my blog is all about the South Eastern part of the France. I will write about Paris in my next blog.

If you had visited France and have something to add, please leave your comments in the reply box.

South Eastern France

Visiting the south of France was one of the best decision I ever made. The pristine French Riviera, the azure of the Mediterranean Sea and breathtaking picturesque mountain view – everything appeared like a leaf out from a picture book.

The rich history of Europe was reflective in every direction your eyes could visibly see. The Greek and Roman-inspired facade, the Russian influenced Cathedral and renaissance of old times breathed from the vast architectural brilliance the place offered.

I was in Nice for three days. Not enough by any measures. With the promise to return back soon, I am writing this travelogue to provide you a round-up of what to do, where to go, and most importantly best way to reach the places.

Transportation

One thing I liked about Europe was the connectivity – The transportation was well thought out and meticulously designed. You could reach any place by train, tram or by the bus. Following were few ways I traveled around:

  • ¬†Private Car:¬†I took this option for a day and I had mixed feelings about it. With a fixed itinerary and a good knowledge of the place, taking a private car could be a great option. In my case, I was dependent on the driver to show me places, and it was not the best way to maximize the investment. The standard rate for a private car was about 60-70 euro an hour. You could negotiate a better rate when you hire them for a longer time. I got 8 hours for 300 euros, which is quite cheap.
  • Guided tour:¬†If you do not want to apply your brain and enjoy a guided sight-seeing experience instead, taking a tour could be the answer. You could get many guided tour options, available in the hotels and public information places. I took one private tour – “Night by the Monaco”. I would let you know more about it in my travel experience below.
  • Point to point ride share: Uber is ubiquitously available all around France. Best way to move around for food, ¬†points of attraction (when legs gave up on you) or to any destination of your choice. a 30 minutes ride could cost you about 18-30 Euros.
  • Use public transportation: all the towns I wanted to visit in and around Nice were well-connected by trains and buses.¬† It was light on the wallet and best way to commute.

Day 1

Places visited:  Antibes, Grasse, and Eze
Mode of Transportation: Private Car
Time spent:  8 Hours

Antibes

We started our journey with a trip to the mountains, to a small town called Antibes. An old Mediterranean village in the French Riviera with civilization traced back to iron age. Our first stop was at Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc. A legendary luxury hotel at the tip of Cap d’ Antibes. The hotel history dated back to 1869. It was a private mansion of  Hippolyte de Villemessant, the founder of French Newspaper Le Figaro, who built it for seeking writing inspiration. In the year 1887, it opened as a Hotel.

The view from the hotel was breathtaking. One could see the tall mountains on one side and the vast spread valleys on the other. The driver insisted us to see Antibes‚Äôs landscape from the capture below and we didn’t regret it. Besides offering regular cabana, the resort also offered independent villas.¬† Rates were overly expensive as it was peak seasons but it could be a great location for leisure in off-season times.

IMG_1948

After a drink at the terrace enjoying the mild summer sun in the open canvas, we decided to head to the Antibes town. The old town was laced with people leisurely strolling around. Arrays of custom shops and restaurants covered the area. We stopped by a Lebanese Restaurant, Le Phenicia. The food was excellent and the place was in a classic Mediterranean setting with the rocky beach ocean on one side and a worn out fort on the other.

We wandered around, enjoyed the view, checked few shops, explored the town square, and before we realized it was time to leave Antibes.

Grasse

Grasse Рthe perfume capital of the world. It was about a 20 minutes scenic drive from Antibes on the mountainous road above the Mediterranean Sea. We were about 1000 meters above sea level,  and it was one of the most popular towns in the French Riviera.

After climbing the serpentine roads and passing through the gorgeous old town we reached the Galimard perfume factory. Galimard is one of the 40+ factories that the region housed. Perfume making was the main business of this small town. 70% of world’s perfume gets manufactured here. The famous brands like Chanel, Dior, Nina Ricci, all chose Grasse for making their perfumes.

Galimard was the oldest and one of the most popular perfume factory in the region. It offered a free tour of the place – taking through the 17th Century perfume making process to the modern days’ advancement.

The bronze containers from the old days to hold the essence,  the carefully crafted fragrance extracting process, the unscripted art of making perfumes and the distillation and condensation Рone could experience it all on this tour.

The place also offered an English-speaking guide, which was very helpful. There were some great things I learned about the perfume business.  I am listing down few titbits that fascinated me.

  • “The person who helps in making perfumes are called NOSES. there are only 200 noses in the world. 40 of them are French and 38 of them live in Grasse! No wonder Grasse is labelled as the perfume capital of the world
  • The big companies work with the noses to launch their new products. They can smell hundreds of different samples and distinctly call it out. A Nose beginning fees is about 8k euro a month. Also, because of the nature of the job they only work 2 hours a day. A dream job indeed, but it is a God gifted skill that cannot be learned.
  • The flowers used to make perfume are Mimosa, Rose, Jasmine, Violet, lavender. All of them grows abundantly in Grasse. However, because of pent-up demand roses are now imported from Turkey and Bulgaria, and jasmine from India.
  • Though flowers¬†are the traditional perfumers choice, recent times has also seen fruity and spicy flavors.
  • It takes 120 KG of rose petals to make a bottle of Essence!! Talk about volume”

Towards the end of the tour, we could experience some of the future perfumes that were getting manufactured and were not on the store shelf yet.  And one could shell out few euros to buy it. The pure perfume (without any alcohol mixture) costs about 60 euro for a 100 ml bottle. Kind of a neat deal.

I highly recommend a tour to Grasse. After all, perfume defines the mood and there is no better way to experience it.

Though Cannes was close by, we planned to come by the next day. The reason was simple we wanted to spend some good time on the beach and we did not have enough time today to pack it up in the Agenda. The next and the final stop for the day was Eze.

Eze

Drive to Eze from Antibes was about 40 minutes. Eze was located at the border of Monaco and close to Nice. With its history dating back to 2000 BC and a view to die for, Eze was one place in the French Riviera I couldn’t have missed.

The village of Eze was on top of a mountain. The Eze of Church is a climb up through the curved paths of the village. Throughout the walks, you could experience the arrays of boutique shops, elegant restaurants, and breathtaking turquoise view of the sea.

The church at Eze is a piece of archeological brilliance. The place history dated back to the 12th century. No wonder the French government has marked it as a historical site of importance.

You could appreciate the scenic view,  climb the hill-top, overhear the local dialect, buy local mementos and eat at a local restaurant РVillage of Eze offered so much of wonder, amazement, and peach

How to reach:  You could take the SNCF train from Nice St. Augustin Train station to Eze, Antibes, and Grasse. Please check the train timings from the information center.

Copyright © Shantanu Baruah

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