“Look past the silk-smooth chocolate, cuckoo clocks and yodelling – contemporary Switzerland, land of four languages, is all about epic journeys and sublime experiences.”
Lonely Planet

Switzerland, SwissMade GrandTourSwiss Made Grand Tour. 7 days. Road trip. Driving through the Swiss country. Hired cars. 6 cities, maybe more, hosted by Switzerland Tourism, organised by NDTV Good Times. Like a dream which kept getting better and better.Switzerland, SwissMade GrandTours

No watertight schedules. Tailor made. Something for everyone. Great company. Delicious food. Gorgeous views. Stunning architecture. Clockwork precision. Beautiful people. Adventure sports. Rolling meadows. Cow bells echoing. Bales of hay. Spires, churches, steeples that dot the entire country and are fascinating by design. Architecture inspired by the French and German that changes as you drive from region to region; every frame knocks your breath away. As you long to hang on to the wings of time, there is even more jaw dropping beauty ahead. For me, non stop gasps, endless shooting, obsessive camera overdrive. {Warning : Image heavy post ahead}

Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursDidn’t just end there. Filmed while experiencing the tour, sometimes quite hilariously, the show will be aired maybe around September, 2015 on NDTV Good Times. We stopped at beautiful hotels for the night, woke up to lavish breakfast spreads for those who chose to indulge, quick healthy deliciousness if ‘light’ was your call.Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursLunched by lakes, water bodies that magically appeared around the corner within 20 minutes of each other. We drove through the countryside because that’s what the Swiss Made Grand Tour is all about. More on the app here.Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursIt was a ‘pinch me, am I dreaming?‘ moment when I first got an invite to the Swiss Made Grand Tour. Completely unbelievable. I was told it was a scam, a ploy to kidnap me, an April fool gone late and a million bizarre such suggestions! After all you don’t get to experience a dream road trip in Switzerland everyday. Seemed like an unreal thing, out of reach. But guess what? It happened.

Sunshine country. Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursNow I cannot believe it happened. Did we really live those last few days? Yes we did, captured in a million and more images that will live with me forever! Best company ever! This time I was just so glad I am a compulsive shutterbug, an obsessive ‘picture taker’.SwitzerlandVisas arrived a day before, the IDL never materialized, no itinerary, muddled head. The unsure journey began as we all met for the first time at Delhi airport headed for Zurich, traveling business class on Swiss Air. Complete strangers. A bunch of 3 bloggers, names not disclosed, a team from NDTV, and bags wildly stuffed in panic made for a strange unsure scene. A few luxurious hours later we landed in Zurich where the very sweet and fun Ritu from Swiss Tourism Mumbai joined us. We took a connecting flight to Geneva where the journey was to begin.Geneva , Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursChecked in at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental, getting our first glimpses of culturally rich and beautiful Switzerland. Geneva, lies at the southern tip of expansive Lake Geneva. It’s the city we had our first meal together, where strangers broke bread! Back slapping and in comfort zone over a gourmet picnic, an inspiring meal on the lawns of Hôtel du Parc des Eaux-Vives, showcasing the finest local food and wine. Got our first experience of the clockwork like, very efficient public transportation in the city, armed with the amazing Geneva Transport Card. The card is a norm across Switzerland; very handy to hop on and off public transport. Geneva must sees include the iconic landmark,“Jet d’Eau”, Old Town, Reformation Wall among others. Mandarin Oriental Geneva, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursUp the next morning to a beautifully set up and delicious breakfast, one of many to come, it was time to get those cars! Yes, the road trip beckoned. Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursFrom here on, we would explore this stunning country via roads, driving off piste, stopping when and where we desired. Driving here is left hand like the rest of Europe. For me, a first time ‘left side driver’, it took ten minutes or so to rewire my brain and get used to the mirror like driving. What did help is that I’ve been on the wheel for over 30 years, am a sticker for rules, and have been driving an automatic. Still it took me a while to grab the wheel, but more about that later.

SwitzerlandAfter much futile racing around at the courts in Gurgaon, I didn’t get my International Driving License and was sorely disappointed. I kept just one day in hand. Not enough. Make sure you have 2-3 days in hand. On the brighter side, Switzerland doesn’t really require one. A valid license in English is good for short durations. Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursThe cars we hired – a snazzy VW black convertible {how could we not}, and an Audi Q3. Vroooom, vroom … we were ready to go.

Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursThere is something special about driving off the motorway, through winding village roads, narrow streets, rolling meadows. Oh the countryside, the houses, the landscapes, the shimmering blue lakes, the Alps, the lifestyle. Every corner you turn in picture worthy, every frame tells a story. It isn’t a country in a hurry. Every region has it’s own beauty, and even though the next few days whizzed by like a dream, I am now recounting the journey through images.Driving through Brienz, SwitzerlandHere we go. Our beautiful drive from Geneva to the canton of Vaud, in pictures {far above and below}. First glimpses of steeples, spires, geranium filled window boxes, vineyards, meadows, cattle, cars, dogs, culture, cuisine, lifestyle. Also literally how picture perfect the country is, nothing out of place. Even dilapidated abandoned houses fit right in!Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursVaud – part of the French speaking region of Switzerland, foothills of the Alps, by Lake Geneva. We explored Montreux and Lavourne, and a bit of Vevey, home to the milk chocolate giant Nestle, and where the Charlie Chaplin Museum is. We stayed at the well located Hotel Astra. Vevey,  a 5 minute crisp walk to the gorgeous waterfront, was brimming with activity because it was Swiss National Day. Live music, food stalls, celebrations … then later spectacular fireworks to mark the event.

Vevey,  Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursAug 2nd, still had Swiss National Day celebrations on. Travel cards rule! A 15 minute bus ride to the main square at Montreux which has a strapping huge Freddie Mercury statue overlooking Lake Geneva. Montreux is known for the Montreux Jazz Festival held annually every July since 1967.  It’s a beautiful walk along the lake. We were on our way to the Chillon Castle but stopped because of this …Montreux, Switzerland. Swiss  National Day, SwissMade GranTouts NDTVGoodTimesAn unplanned hop off as the festivities and colourful armies beckoned, the medieval army one of my favourites. The ease of the marches, the national pride, the ‘chilled out attitude’ to the photo crazy tourists milling around, is reflective of the Suisse community. So relaxed, friendly and accommodating, we felt like one of them!

Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursBack to our original destination, Château of Chillon, a Swiss heritage site with over a 1000 years of history. It isn’t Switzerlands most popular castle for nothing. One of the most visited in Europe,  this is possibly the most important historical monument of the country. Stunning architecture, well preserved, like a page out of history, almost every window gives you a marvelous view of the lake.Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursThe underground dungeons of the castle inspired Lord Byron to write the Prisoner of Chillon, in 1816, a poem which chronicles the imprisonment of a Genevois monk, François Bonivard, from 1532 to 1536. Written in typical Byron style, the narrative describes the trials of a lone survivor of a family who has been martyred. The character’s father was burnt at the stake, and out of six brothers, two fell at the battlefield while one was burnt to death. The remaining three were sent to the castle of Chillon as prisoners, out of which two more died due to pining away. In time only the narrator lived.

Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursThe castle itself is a window into the daily life of the Court of Savoy, as also of the Bernese bailiffs. Three courtyards, huge banquet halls, a spartan Bernese chamber and much more. You can spend hours exploring each corner. We had barely an hour, soon hopped on to the boat back to the square, some shopping, coffee ice cream, posing with Freddie Mercury, walk in the lake. It was time to head for the vineyards and lunch with the rest of the gang for an amazing gastronomic experience in the vine district of Lavaux, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Lavoux Vineyards, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursIt’s vineyards as far as the eye can see, over 10,000 terraced vineyards held together by ancient stone walls built by monks over 500 years ago. Thanks to Lake Geneva and the many walls, they say that there are three suns in Lavaux: the one shining in the sky, the one reflected in the lake and, during the evening and night, the one coming from the heat accumulated within the walls during hot summer days.

Auberge de la Crochettaz,Lavoux, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursThen a sublime lunch overlooking beautiful Lake Geneva, and run by a chef from our own Mumbai. Was an unusual experience to have delicious hot zucchini pakodas by the lake. We guzzled Rivella on the side, a local soft drink produced from milk whey, a by product of cheese making. It’s interesting to see how environmentally conscious the country is. Nothing goes to waste; innovation rules! Lunch for me was fresh fish fillets, filets de perche meunière, sourced from the lake, and my, was it delicious! It’s a local specialty and you can find a recipe here. I love that right across Switzerland  they celebrate local seasonal produce. Also, you will find the freshest of salads with greens and micro greens on the menu. Potatoes form an inherent part of the menu – fries, rosti, hash browns etc.Lavoux Vineyards, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandTours Thanks to the three suns, the wine here is special and different. It is made for local consumption as the vineyards are small family business, each producing their own limited editions. We stopped by for a wine degustation along a cobbled village road tasting two crisp white wines from the locally grown Chasselas, and a red wine too. My favourite was the Grand Cru Dézaley, though I failed miserably at pronunciations.Lavoux Vineyards, Switzerland, SwissMade GrandToursWe bid adieu to the canton of Vaud and headed further north towards Interlaaken.

That’s another story. Until then, please meet the crew, our very generous host and the 3 bloggers. Loads of hidden stories!

Mandakini Malla aka Mandy– NDTV. Director. Hill girl. First among equals. Boss. Perfectionist. Knows what she wants. Gets it done. ‘Wicked’ the tee reads. Is not. Nature lover. Animal lover. Great fun once the shot is canned! Walking encyclopedia. Colourful footwear.
Neha Dixit – NDTV. Anchor/Host of Swiss Made Grand Tours. Hill girl, eco warrior. Animal lover. Thoroughly professional. Polite to the core. Never ruffled. Sharp, hilarious, nonsensical tongue at comfort levels. Workaholic. Great company. Peppy. Colourful! Very sporting. Also sports this odd little plait.
Ritu Sharma – Deputy Director, India. Switzerland Tourism. An Indian quite Swiss. Chilled out wonderful company. Rarely ruffled, but when she is, ouch! Knows Switzerland like the back of her hand. Hat ‘forgetter’. Punctual. Knows where to find the best food and wine. Loves black.
Jalaj Kathuria – NDTV. Senior camera person. Calmest in the group. Quiet. Thorough gentleman. Never an animated moment other than a sudden hearty laugh at the stupidest of jokes. Supportive to the core. Hears it all, never says a word. We heard there is another side. Yet to see it.
S Arun Kumar – NDTV. Strong shoulders camera person. Social media activist. Drama Queen King. Hilarious when in the mood. Ready for encore. Baby face. Bee bitten. Loves Indian food.
Dheeraj Hellan – NDTV. Omnipresent camera person. Call me ‘D’. That says it all. Then again. Charming to the core. Loves to drive. Couldn’t this time; that’s another story. Great behind the camera, even better in front. Fun all the way. Hindi, urdu, english…words roll off the tongue like butter. Chillon? Another story. He knows!
Siddhartha Joshi – Travel blogger. Dreamer. Cracker of a guy. Can get you to spin a tale. Peoples person. Quite the wanderer. Hyper. Super sporty. Super fun. Nonsensical banter person. Predictably unpredictable. Thorough gentleman. Great company. Selfie lover. Self ‘in the air’ portrait lover. Full LS paisa wasool!
Rachit Hirani – Auto Blogger. Vroom Vroom. Calm, composed, mature. Knows evrything that walks the road! Been there, done everything. That’s until you scratch beneath the surface. 1000 watt smile. Baby face. Parsi accent. Thorough gentleman. Mumbai lad. Super hero. Car selfie addict. Patient as can be, and great company.

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“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”
Anthony Bourdain

Ptasie_mleczko or Birds Milk Cake Ptasie_mleczko or Birds Milk Cake …my adaptation. With a name as intriguing as that, I quickly jotted it down as my Ukranian friend translated it out of her mothers cookbook in Sydney earlier this month. There is an eternal charm in handwritten recipes of times gone by, this recipe book is from the 1960’s. Neat, and well explained, the recipes all written In Ukrainian, talk to you, explaining each step. The measures are often in glasses from the Old Soviet Union, standardised at 200ml, a measure my sweet friend continues to use as her mother once did.

Ptasie Mleczko (Polish) is a soft chocolate-covered candy filled with soft meringue (or milk soufflé). In Russian it is called ptichye moloko (птичье молоко) and in Romanian lapte de pasăre. All these names literally mean “bird’s milk” or crop milk, a substance somewhat resembling milk, produced by certain birds to feed their young. However, this is not origin of the name; rather, ptasie mleczko is also a Polish idiom meaning “an unobtainable delicacy”. In Poland, Jan Wedel, owner of the E. Wedel Company, developed the first Ptasie mleczko in 1936. Wedel’s inspiration for the name of the confectionery came from his voyages to France, when he asked himself: “What could bring greater happiness to a man who already has everything?” Then he thought: “Maybe only bird milk.”

Ptasie_mleczko or Birds Milk Cake This must be one of the quickest birthday cakes I’ve ever made. And yet another very very delicious one. You can find my coffee take on it at the bottom as Ulyana decided to bake one for us the night before we were due to fly out. No pictures of the cake in Sydney as we were racing against time. I didn’t get too many pictures of the cake I baked here too as coming home after a vacation is always far too busy. It was however tasty as hell!!

Sydney 2015

Sydney 2015 Our trip Down Under was great fun! All trips there always are! Sydney has been one of our fave places to go when possible, and this was our fourth trip. Like every earlier trip, this too was packed and flew by like a heartbeat. This trip was short, just a week ‘long’, but we had a great time. With hosts as good as ours, the days went by driving from mountains to beaches, with great food and drinks thrown in. Mindless banter, endless shopping what with the daughter with us, too much food,  overindulgence … ad before we knew it, time to fly back.

Sydney 2015 We flew in comfortably, sleeping all the way on Cathay Pacific, with a short stopover in HKG. There too the daughter shopped till we dropped for 3 whole hours.Hong Kong Hurriedly dug into some delicious street food, raced back to the hotel, showered and hopped onto the Sydney flight. A long 9 hour flight, some great food, Aussie wines too, Pamela’s book kept me entertained and nostalgic as we landed there into a crisp 4C at 6am. We were really blessed to see great weather the few days we were there.

Blue Mountains, Sydney 2015

Blue Mountains, Sydney 2015We’ve done most of the iconic must see places on the earlier trips covering The Rocks, Opera House, Botanical Gardens, Tiranga Zoo {to date one of my sons fave places}, Butterfly Park, Harbour Bridge, Harry’s original van at Wooloomooloo, the Blue Mountains … and so much more. Yet a visit to the Blue Mountains is a quintessential part of Sydney for us, and that’s where we headed pretty soon. It as a freezing COLD day but we managed to stop by some breathtaking spots, taking in the gift that only nature can offer. Knocks your breath A W A Y!

Blue Mountains, Sydney 2015 We went off piste, little walkways dot the Blue Mountains, each with a signboard telling you how long it takes to get to the destination, level of ease …and more! There’s loads to do. Did I mention stunning beaches? Yes those too!Maroubra Beach, Sydney 2015Beautiful beaches, birds, crabs, shells, nature, left over pizza from the Italian pizzeria from the night before, chilled beer though not as chilly as the cold winds, great company … couldn’t have asked for more.Maroubra Beach, Sydney 2015 Of course I shopped some too. It’s always good to know the ‘right’ people, who in turn know the right places…and a Sunday morning market later, I was back a happy camper. There was loads I could have gladly bought to ‘prop’ up the blog, but sense had to prevail. It was a struggle I tell you!Food Prop shopping, Sydney

Food prop shopping Sydney 2015No trip to Sydney for me is complete without a visit to Victoria’s Basement. Though short on time, we did a quick walk through, a near impossible task in itself given the treasure trove you can find under a roof! I shopped a wee bit more here and there, constantly thinking of how much I could stuff back into suitcases. You know! Oh the choices we have to make!

Sydney 2015With travel comes food, and most good memories are tied to taste! Knowing the right folk is great! It’s satiating to explore a country through it’s cuisine, and then comes the added bonus of exploring the flavours they brought from their native lands. So we were spoilt. Ukranian cusine filled our days alongside Aussie quintessential. Gourmet sausages on the barbeque that made the tastiest hotdogs, slow cooked {read dropping off the bone good} lamb-shanks with chickpeas and spinach, Caesar salad galore, smoked Polish sausages and cold cuts, Ukranian potato latkes with garlic and sour cream, artisan pizzas, more Aussie reds, red wine too, pancakes for breakfast with whipped cream and local preserves, cheese in every avatar to die, then more local artisanal unripened cheese as if that was not enough …Ptasie_mleczko or Birds Milk Cake Sweet stuff too, though no pictures. Fresh cherry strudel, macadamia and caramel ice cream, divine coffee gelato, berry gelato too, and then of course this beautiful Birds Milk Cake flavoured with the organic lemon from the yard the night before we flew out. I dreamt of the cake as I slept on the flight back home. I knew I just had to make one soon, my pet flavours dancing in my head.

Ptasie_mleczko or Birds Milk Cake That’s just what I did the next day for the son’s birthday. As we melted into a sizzling North Indian summer at 45C, desperately trying to hang on to memories of 12C, the crisp and beautiful Aussie winter we left behind, Ihit baking mode. This cake bridged the gap beautifully, and that is what good food & travel is all about. Makes you come full circle, flavours and memories sharing a plateful! What a delightful {and delicious} journey this food business is!

Recipe: Ptasie_mleczko or Birds Milk Cake
your picture

Summary: Ptasie_mleczko or Birds Milk Cake finds it’s roots possibly in the Old Soviet Union. A preparation for the light as air filling quite as intriguing as the name ‘birds milk’, it’s a moist and delicious cake that takes well to added flavours. Make ahead and chill for the flavours to mature. It tastes wonedrful as a fresh tray bake as originally intended to be too. Serves 8

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour {plus cooling and chilling}

  • Cake
  • 130g butter
  • 200ml / 1 glass brown vanilla sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 200ml / 1 glass all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • Filling
  • 150g butter
  • 400ml / 2 glasses milk
  • 100ml/ 1/2 glass sugar
  • 3 tbsp semolina /suji
  • 2tbsp instant coffee
  • 1 tbsp Kahlua {optional}
  • Topping
  • 50g dark couverture chocolate
  • 100ml low fat cream
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • White chocolate shavings to garnish


  1. Cake
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line 2 X 8″ round baking tins with parchment paper.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt. Reserve.
  4. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one, ten the vanilla extract.
  5. Slowly fold in the dry mix. Turn batter into tins and bake for approximately 30 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Cool in tins for 15-20 minutes then cool completely on rack.
  6. Filling
  7. Make this while the cake is baking {or a few hours before too}
  8. Place the sugar, semolina, coffee and milk in a heavy bottom pan. Stir over low heat until the mixture thickens. Leave to cool completely.
  9. When the cake is ready and cool, make the remaining filling.
  10. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the coffee semolina and Kahlua if using.
  11. Assemble
  12. Place one layer on serving platter and keep in place with an 8″ dessert ring. ladle over half the filling and top with second layer. Top with remaining filling, cover and refrigerate for a few hours {or overnight} for flavours to mature.
  13. Take the ring off gently, top with chocolate ganache {recipe follows} and white chocolate shavings.
  14. Chocolate Ganache
  15. Place ingredients in a heat proof bowl and microwave 1 minute at a time until the chocolate has almost melted. Stir until smooth and glossy. Cool to room temperature before use.

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“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
Anita Desai

Pune DiariesThe sweet Cookaroo stopped by the other day to meet Coco, our little cocker spaniel. She carried some Misal Pav with her. Misal Pav is a traditional Maharashtrian dish usually made with sprouted moong dal/lentils, served with a local bread, pav. Like a blast from the past, the flavours took me back to a visit to Pune a couple of years ago. We were a bunch of food bloggers en route to Baramati invited to visit the Four Seasons Winery. That trip was special as we hit it off well. A common factor tied us together… food! Wine too actually.

Four Seasons Vineyards, Baramati, Pune, India With a burgeoning number of affordable hotels in Pune, it’s worth a visit especially if you go in season. Also known as the Queen of the Deccan or Oxford of the East, the cultural capital of Maharashtra offers you a glimpse into a different side of India. For me, the old world charm tempts me to go back. It’s a city I’ve been to a few times, the first visit almost 5 years ago. At the time, Pune was awakening to the IT scene, and change was noticeable.

Pune DiariesIt was a visible energetic young IT crowd versus the retired services crowd that chose Pune as the destination for their sunset years. Zippy cars wrestled for road space with vintage fiats, heralds and ambassadors, old Parsi couples strolled with oblivion as chatty groups of youngsters raced by queuing up for the seasons fresh Alphonso ice cream. The city embraced the past with ease as it marched into the promising future.

Pune DiariesPune is now both a holiday destination and a bustling business hub. For me as a tourist, the old world charm still rules. A stopover at the Mall Road is a must. It is fascinating to see the old Badhani Waferwala still holding fort with glitzy cafes springing up around. Cheese & Widow Wafers sell as much as burgers and pizzas!

Four Seasons Vineyards, Baramati, Pune, India As times have gone by, the city has grown. So have hotel options including several affordable budget hotels in Pune. It is amazing to see the variety of properties you can choose from these days from 3 star hotels in Pune to high end properties and resorts. The city has them all!

Dabeli, Pune DiariesFor a foodie, Pune offers some of the most fun food, especially street food. That brings me to Misal Pav. Bedekar Tea Stall is famous for its Misal Pav and is quite a star attraction. If you are even more adventurous, then do try some ‘real’ street food too, quite literally off the street!. The sweet lady in her make shift cart pampered us with goodness. She made us the most yummiest Vada Pavs ever, so typical of this region.

Pune Diaries Pune is quite warm during the day. We guzzled down loads of fresh coconut water. Few steps down the road, and cartloads of summer fruit greeted us … strawberries, mulberries, fresh figs and more. We bought them by the kilos the day we were due to fly back home. It is near impossible to find such luscious gorgeous fruit back in the plains of North India!

Pune DiariesWill quickly touch on a few spots around Pune which were memorable. The Turf Club for its nostalgic ambiance, a legacy that the British left behind. And as I mentioned earlier, a quick trot up and down the Mall Road of course. I discovered a small shop tucked away in a corner selling vintage collectibles! My spoon collection took wings!!

Shinde Chhatri, Pune DiariesAnother beautiful spot to stop by is the Shinde Chhatri, a memorial dedicated to the 18th century military leader Mahadji Shinde of the Maratha army under the Peshwas from 1760 to 1780. With exquisite architecture and intricate carvings, it is one of the most significant landmarks in the city reminiscent of the Maratha rule.

Four Seasons Vineyards, Baramati, Pune, India And if you have a couple of extra days, might I suggest a day trip or so to the vineyards that surround outer Pune? We visited the Four Seasons Winery in Baramati and it was a fantastic experience. Just one look at the images and you know the promise a visit to the winery holds!

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