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Monthly Archives: August 2012

A day in Amsterdam…!

Amsterdam was the last stop on our best Euro trip ever and we were exhausted! Traveling had been incredible and exciting but we knew Amsterdam would give us the much needed down time that one often feels one needs AFTER a holiday…like the holiday from the holiday!

We were right!

Both Aditya and I had visited Amsterdam before… but when we were kids. This was our first time here as a couple and we were excited!

From Paris to Amsterdam we took the Thallys. Fun, fast, fabulous and modern- this train was a dream! With fast speed internet connection on board, comfortable seats this bright and cheerful train put all of our other train journeys to shame! Travel in Europe- Use Thallys!

After a fabulous, invigorating morning because of a super train ride passing through some fabulous places that I made note of to visit we arrived in Amsterdam! The hotel we stayed at was a Starwood property – part of their Luxury Collection- Hotel Pulitzer.

The hotel comprises of 25 restored canal houses which makes it so incredibly unique with no two guest rooms being the same. Each has their own character and a distinctive and personal. The rooms are small and cosy. Our suite overlooked the canal and was very special because of the large windows which allowed us the luxury of sitting indoors in the rainy weather and watching the beautiful city glisten and glimmer as it bathed in the quick shower! It rains in Amsterdam – it rained all 3 days while we were there. The rains are usually quick and windy but if you’re outside you can feel quite bitterly cold!

Amsterdam is a glorious city. Walk it and you can stop in the many small pathways and find the most amazing shops, the most vibrant of cafes and the most interesting of boutiques. The first morning was spent walking over bridges and stopping at cafes and finding this small , incredible cafe with the best fries ever and lingering over cups of coffee- the perfect unwind!

The mode of transportation is trams or in the smaller roads- bicycles or walking. But know that riding a bicycle in Amsterdam has lots of rules attached and bicycle riders are quite fierce and fast and can give you quite a scare making walking an often safer mode of transportation!

Later in the afternoon it was off to the centre of the city and for a shopping experience like none other. Small boutiques bordered large expensive stores and local cafes stood side by side to fast food chains. Something for everyone and colours everywhere!

The Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are easy to spot… In its spelling itself there is no space between coffee and shop and it is not called a cafe. They serve cannabis and hash brownies among usual coffees and soft drinks and snacks that you’d get at another cafe. I wandered into these more for curiosity’s sake and was pleasantly surprised to see the owner cum server totally knowledgeable and very cautious about what he was selling and even more so how much he was selling. He enquired carefully whether it was your first time and talked you through the entire range of products he had and didn’t push any when I chickened out and ordered a coke and chips instead and focussed on what seemed like a very stoned dog sitting with his master in the coffeeshop!

Anne Frank’s Home is an absolute MUST DO! I was never an ardent fan of the book. I had read it, enjoyed it, but never been really been overly interested in her life. I guess, being born in a different era made what happened seem so unreal, so frightening and a bit unreal to me. Our hotel was a building away from the Anne Frank Home and I decided I wanted to see it. Book tickets online as they only allow a few at a time and the lines outside the house otherwise are very long and to shiver in the rains is not appealing at all! We booked tickets and went in. Suddenly we were transported to an era gone by. With black and white videos, handwritten diary pages and even walls with height marks as to how tall she’d grown- suddenly her life became all to real. Her story told so perfectly and simply through simple diary entries came alive in the small , cramped rooms and the creaky flooring where she’d spent her life hidden in fear. We read about her arrest, saw the records , heard her father speak about her and I wept. Like the tens of others who had walked in with us, this experience became personal, became real and it stopped being about a book. It became about a life- a life lost too early. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful and touching experience that this trip offered me and I was glad I made time to do something that would offer me such a personal experience.

After all the tears I went back to our room for a nice hot cappuccino and we ended up at a fabulous local restaurant which was filled to the brim. With tapas and wine this became the perfect end to a perfect day!

Best Times To Travel-:  June through to October ! But it does get chilly at night and be prepared for rain!

Price Factor-:  $300- $500 a night and do try the Canal House Hotels . They are definitely an experience!

WILL GO BACK…STAY LONGER…SOON!

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Versailles and Paris!

The only day trip we decided to do on this trip to Paris was a trip to the Palace of Versailles. The court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until  1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.

We chose a half day tour on Viator only because we wanted to get back to Paris and stroll and wander and stroll the streets of Paris and while away our time in cafes and restaurants, boutiques and boulangeries and we didn’t want to spend this trip in Paris just doing tour after tour which is what most people (and ourselves the first time ’round) get caught up in doing!

Our arrival was imminent when it seemed the sun was shining off the earth! We later saw the magnificent golden gates, ornate and beautiful and understood why it looked like the sun had stopped to take a break in Versailles! There with a knowledgeable tour guide we were ushered straight into the palace where we were given the interesting histories and stories behind some truly incredible rooms !

With stories being immortalized on ceilings and with the plushest of materials , the most expensive of chandeliers and the most ornate and expensive furnishings, this was the most enthralling account of an era of plenty which quickly gave way to one of the most radical social and political upheavals of the Eighteenth century- the French Revolution.

The Royal Chapel (above) was breathtaking and it was an experience to be  ushered through several of the palace’s very  unique interior rooms, including the King’s and the Queen’s State Apartments where we were that as the King slept all his Court-men were to wait around his bedside till he fell asleep. We also saw some very interesting, curious, hidden corridors where the King could escape to sleep with one of his mistresses if he chose to do so! What was also interesting was that if the King wished to sleep with his Queen, he had to meet her in her own State Apartment.

The Hall of Mirrors was also stunning and I have to admit that this was my favourite room and it was the favorite for several – we spent a lot of time there! I guess vanity hasn’t changed over the century’s!

The Queen’s State Apartment was feminine , floral and a bit ,well over the top…! But much like the rest of the Palace it seemed to fit perfectly!

The Palace was filled with interesting stories, legendary tales and very historic. A Private walking tour made it even more interesting and allowed no time to go to waste!

As we finished with the Palace it was time to explore the magnificent gardens and then we were off for a quick bite to eat and a trip back to the city!

Then ti was back to the city and some much well deserved time spent at Opera (the area near the Opera House). We enjoyed walking Opera, stopping at some poster and music shops before finally walking back via Concorde and ending up at Avenue des Champs-Elysees and then shopping some more…!

Interesting note -: This time , after visiting Rome and Italy, sadly I have to say that the shopping in Italy was far better than in Paris for me! Maybe I expected too much or maybe too many high street brands have taken up the small boutiques that used to dot Champs Elysees on our earlier trip there! I miss those boutiques because well, high street fashion, is high street fashion and well Italy allowed me to find my own style and I loved that!

The adventures were to continue and we were off to Amsterdam …. exciting , exciting, exciting!

More on that next week!

MY RECOMMENDATIONS! Paris sample itinerary-: 

DAY ONE – Walk Champs Elysees and shop, stop, and pause at the Arc di triumph! Day One evening- Book in advance a dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant- the view memorable, the experience – unforgettable!

DAY TWO- Walk the Latin Quarter and the Student’s area – enjoy the bohemian vibe of the city!

DAY THREE- Visit the Louvre and see the Monalisa (though I had built it up a lot more in my head and was left a little let down), wander through Concorde!

DAY FOUR- Do a day trip to Versailles and spend the rest of your day in your favourite part of Paris.

DAY FIVE – Make your own Parisian memory!

My personal Waste of Times & Money- The lido show and the Moulin Rouge… ! With even 10 year olds being allowed into these cramped dimly lit rooms, it is definitely an experience to AVOID! The show is unremarkable and any sub-standard Las vegas show or Cruise show is far better and when you are cramped on tables with cheap champagne and soggy snacks you’re really missing walking the streets of Paris. SO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON SOMETHING BETTER!:)

Parisian Adventures Day 1

And it was off on a Eurail journey again….and my first overnight train from Venice to Paris. Much has been written about this train-the luxury of first class, the food , the convenience.

These are all lies. The train is filthy, cramped, and a totally awful way to cross from one country to another especially from 2 cities as glamorous as Venice and Paris are. The food cart runs out of food minutes after you leave. The waiters are rude, uncaring and probably poorly paid. The rooms have almost no space to sit let alone sleep and most importantly you must not only lock your room at night when you attempt to sleep you must also barricade the door with luggage. Two separate families lost passports, money and handbags on the awful overnight disaster! Since this train makes several stops through the night and since you often only discover your loss in the morning, the perpetrator is usually long gone and there were several exhausted, woebegone faces at breakfast in the morning.

The morning on the train isn’t much better. The coffee is runny and weak, the croissant is hard and unpalatable and there’s no point even discussing the sham of a hole that masqueraded as the bathroom.

This train is NOT WORTH IT! TAKE A FLIGHT- ANY FLIGHT INSTEAD!

Thanks to this awful journey, I arrived very exhausted in to Paris. Now this was our second to Paris as a couple. We decided we wanted to do this trip because the first time we visited Paris we were on our honeymoon! A tour every few hours , staying in a small hotel ( that was all we could afford) and running between one tour and the next trying to cram all of Paris’ sights into a 3 night stay and also relax and enjoy our honeymoon proved to be an impossible holiday. Most of the trip was fraught with arguments and tears because we were so exhausted after doing sooo much! But even in between all the running and madness we fell in love with this beautiful , romantic city. We promised that we’d visit again-with out the tours and the schedules and that’s what this trip was for.

We had taken an apartment at the beautiful Fraser Suites on Champs Elysees. This was because one of the things we learnt about Paris was hotel rooms are terribly tiny. We’d stayed in Fraser Suites in Malaysia and the large bedrooms, huge living room and a wonderfully compact kitchenette! We wanted to stay centrally in Paris and this 5 star part-hotel seemed ideal- even more son once I saw some of the world’s best tennis players staying there with us as they were playing the very exciting Rolland Garros French Open!

We were upgraded to a suite on our arrival. The newer rooms were plush, with new furnishing, facing Champs Elysees and the Arc di Triumph and were large and spacious. Two televisions(not that we got time to watch tv), a large living room with a dining table, a bedroom, 2 super sized bathrooms, a stocked kitchenette and a massive bed and I found a new home in the heart of Paris. This trip was going to be different so Day 1 started with no plan at all and it was wonderful.

The last time we came to Paris , we arrived (like we did this time) on a Sunday and everything was shut! That was six years ago. This  time Paris was bustling on a Sunday- everything was open, everything was crowded, everything was buzzing and alive and it was amazing! We stopped to pick up some croque monsieurs on our way at Champs Elysees and decided to take the underground to the Latin Quarter.

Briefly glossed over during tours , the Latin Quarter with its frenetic activity, quirky shops, arty bars and cafes is a wonderful, bohemian vision of Paris. Each bylane has lots to explore, each cafe has new , exciting food smells and each shop has interesting , quirky things to take away, buy and keep! This area is very filled with students and young couples and is so diverse in culture and colour it was absolutely magnificent walking through the Latin Quarter.

Paris is exciting every time you visit but I believe the more you walk through Paris , the more layers you uncover. Like an onion, you can keep peeling and peeling and discover new and exciting places, people and sites within the city and still realise you have more to see.

Paris is more than the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame–those are exciting and pieces of history that you must see…but walk through Paris,see the architecture, meet the people, sip the cappuccinos….the romance of Paris is all around for you to discover…

We came to Paris first on our honeymoon…but we really fell in love with Paris this time ’round.

More on our Parisian adventures and a special trip to Versailles…next week!

Best Times To Travel-:  June through to October – but expect crowds and tourists! So remember Paris is beautiful but make your own memories….different from the brochure memories that are sold to you! 🙂

Price Factor-:  EXPENSIVE!!! $600- $1000 per night for a 5 star hotel but you must know that you should stay in the centre of Paris for sure (Champs Elysees, Concorde  is great or opt for something more arty like Opera)…then everything is walking distance and everything- amazing!

A Venetian Romance

You haven’t known what romance is unless you’ve been to Venezia….you’ll never truly understand beauty unless you go there. I fell in love in Venezia– it was love at first sight and it was an affair I’ll never forget!

You get out of the train station and Venice is like no other city I have ever seen.Water everywhere and water taxis and Vaporettos waiting to take you to your destination! It was amazing, overwhelming and quite literally magical. You dream about the canals of Venice. You have seen pictures of gondola rides but nothing prepares you for the beautiful energy of Venice, the magical sunlight, the singing boatmen and the energy in the air! There are two stations in Venice and the one that is easier to get to your hotel from is Santa Lucia as this is in the historic centre of Venice as opposed to Venezia Mestre which is in the heart of the mainland.

Our hotel was about 20 minutes by water taxi (which we hired for just the 2 of us…to make our arrival even more special!). There are several Vaporettos (water buses) however that can be easily taken at the station as well.

Our hotel deserves an entire paragraph. The Luna Baglioni , a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, was undoubtedly the BEST HOTEL we stayed at in Italy! I guess they quite literally saved the best for last! a minutes walk away from St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco) the Luna Baglioni is on the waterfront. It is right in the heart of Venice facing the San Marco Basin and the island of San Giorgio and was the perfect choice. Our room …oh my Goodness our room could inspire poets. With walk-in closets (yes more than one), a magnificent drawing room, a plush bedroom and 2 bathrooms ,we were ensconced in plush fabric and ultimate luxury . Then we saw our own private terrace. Over looking the water with some beautiful sun beds , this was easily the finest position to catch the most glorious of sunsets and suddenly I was sad because we were only in Venice for a night.

I will go back. I must go back and I would only stay at  The Luna Baglioni.

Venice for us was about winding down, relaxing and just staying in the moment and if there’s one place you can do that…it’s Venice. We wandered the cobbled pathways, stopped in numerous cafes and shopped for Murano glass jewelry to my hearts content. Now most hotels will offer you a free boat ride to the Murano glass factory but as that would taken a few hours what with going there and back and then seeing the factory, we both felt our time would be better spent just enjoying Venice at our own leisure. The jewelry was beautiful though and I picked up some necklaces which I absolutely love. I loved climbing the little bridges and walking through every lane and bylane. Exploring new corners of Venice… every time you turned , you could create another picture perfect moment!

Piazza San Marco is glorious. The Piazza is dominated by the Church of St. Marks and a glorious ,old clock tower!  With lots of cafes, some of which have live artistic performances and with fabulous food- Venice is an explosion of your senses. There is beauty absolutely everywhere and inspiration in every step you take. I’d have loved to have visited the Doges Palace which stands so perfectly regal but we had no time and too mush to absorb! There’ll always be next time..that is one thing I’m sure of.

After a leisurely lunch and a warm cappuccino , we decided to enjoy a romantic gondola ride as the sun was setting. With a glass of champagne and a very musical boatman…we headed into the glorious canals of Venice. Hundreds of tourists , tens of gondolas and yet you felt like yours was the only story that mattered, the only ride that counted…Venice can do that to you. It can you feel special again and that’s what the gondola ride did… it made me feel special!

A beautiful sunset followed by a glorious sunrise, Venice is beautiful even when the world sleeps… I can see why realms of poetry and hundreds of sonnets has been written about this remarkable gem….

Here’s to another trip to Venice …

Best Times To Travel-:  May through to October – it’s summer and it’s wonderful…but prices also peak at this time!

Price Factor-:  EXPENSIVE!!! $400- $700 per night for a 5 star hotel and expect to pay at least 30-50% more on food, cappuccinos etc as compared to any other Italian city

Roma- the final day

The rest of the birthday was spent doing the Crypts and Catacombs tour and exploring the fabulous underground city that Romans had built over again and again and again! The tour we took was a Viator tour and a small walking tour. We walked into the very eerie Capuchin Crypt and was amazed by the Domitilla Catacombs and the Church of San Clemente. No photographs are allowed and care has been taken on the restoration. It is a marvelous tour, though a little scary and very difficult if you are claustrophobic or asthmatic.

And then it was off to dinner at L’archaelogia a fabulous fine dining restaurant on the Appian way. With a wonderful interior section and an even more romantic exterior seating area…we chose sitting outside and watching the sun set. One of Rome’s most famous restaurants, this was full of locals and had the most incredibly delicious, filling warm food and a fabulous wine selection! The evening ended gloriously with fine food and with a special sweet surprise from the chef!

Our last day in Rome was spent walking, stopping at the glorious monuments, taking in the culture and history of Rome at our own pace. The only drawback for me in Rome was that the city has hundreds of thousands of tourists and even more people trying to sell things to tourists that in between the madness, the beauty of the city gets lost. The grandeur of the Colosseum and the intricate artistry of the Trevi fountain make for a city rich in history, culture and jaw dropping  beauty!

Rome is about the old city, the magnificent history, the breathtaking ruins and the tiny cobbled path ways. Rome must be explored on foot and with time on hand. And even after all the tours and after hearing all the stories on all the sites you know that there’s so much more to hear, so much more to learn, so much more to see….!

But the time had come to leave Roma and travel to glorious Venezia and my first visit to Roma was completed.I was exhausted, exhilarated and already planning my return!

Best Times To Travel-:  May through to October though early May is preferable as you avoid the heavy tourist season and get to see a bit of the city at your own pace.

Must Do’s-:  Walking tour of the city, visit to the Vatican ( Papal Audience), eat and sit at the local cafes and enjoy the local cuisine.

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