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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Istanbullish!

And then there is Istanbul the place where Europe and Asia collide and you can see a whole other continent just across from you! Istanbul is a trip that brings back incredible memoreis- a city of contradictions much like me… fiercely traditional in so many ways, yet modern and forward thinking in so many others! An unplanned trip to combat ridiculously high stress levels and no plan at all we arrived in this gorgeous and friendly city and checked in straight into our hotel the Grand Hyatt. We had chosen this hotel because of it’s proximity to the bustling and wonderful Taksim square , a universal hub of activity every day, through the day and through most of the night!

The Grand Hyatt was disappointing. A business hotel with many rooms, it lacked the warmth of the city and the professionalism of a hotel. The staff seemed underpaid, overtired, curt and inhospitable. IT IS DEFINITELY NOT WORTH STAYING HERE. The room we had been given (despite Aditya being a Gold card member and having requested non-smoking) was a smoke filled mess. It took ages to get ready and though we’d paid for a view- we only had a view of the top of the hotel porch! I have yet to stay in another Hyatt after this horrendous experience!

I would recommend highly the fabulous Ciragan Palace which I recommended to my parents who had a fabulous time there or the converted prison on the banks of the Bosphorus which is now the Four Seasons!

Luckily we were determined to make the trip amazing, so we just dumped our bags and off we went exploring. The first thing we realised about turkey is that the street food- the kebabs were amazing. Fresh , delicious and easy to travel with -we set off to discover Taksim square. With its incredible shops, cafes and restaurants- this lively walking street has a taste of Istanbul that keeps bth the locals and tourists hooked! Lots to do…lots to see…lots to taste! We even found a cafe that we loved, loved, loved- The House Cafe with the most glorious turkish coffee!The afternoon went far too quickly and after a quick change , we headed to a branch of The House Cafe(yes we loved it that much!) which overlooked the Bosphorous! The city was glorious at night and after drinks and dinner , we bundled off into a cab and the chatty cabby took us around the city showing us some of the sights and the football stadium (to aditya’s great delight) where a match was being played! We had a long day the next day and so we quickly headed to bed!

The next day , we headed out to explore the Old City- the historic centre of the city. From the columns of the Byzantine empire, to the Hague Sofia,the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, our private tour guide was exceptional. She made us walk fast and she talked even faster and there seemed more information that we could absorb because all of it seemed so incredible, so beautiful, so historic. It was wonderful going with a private tour guide for just the 2 of us because Turkey is a stop over for many cruise ships and when the cruise ships dock in Istanbul, scores of tourists descend on to the city and try and see all the historic sights and try and get a little bit of Turkish flavour all in a few hours- so if you don’t start quickly and don’t move quite fast , you will be caught behind one of these huge groups.

The Blue mosque is still a place of worship so please dress appropriately here. It is also wise to avoid ‘Namaaz'(prayer) timings and Fridays as the crowds do build and it is difficult to see how beautiful the architecture and the tile work is here.

The Hague Sofia has a column with a hole where if you can place your thumb in the whole and rotate your hand the full 360 degrees you are supposed to be granted a wish. Many people were in line and despite bending , turning and body contortions they still couldn’t do it! Aditya tried to….! I was very lucky though and on the first try , my hand did the full rotation and I received some amazed applause from bystanders… My wish? Well it keeps coming true..? Huh? Well you’ve gotta guess!

And then we were off to the Bazaars- the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar… Like the names suggest…the Grand Bazaar is filled with more curios, maps, knick-knacks and the Spice Bazaar filled with the most incredible, warm spices and flavours…. You can get lost in walking thru these bazaars and in case you’d like to buy something- bargain a little- they expect that!

After an entire day in the Old city -we were off to a romantic dinner to G by Karaf a restaurant on an island a few minutes away from the shore. A boat picks you up and in 5 minutes you are at the restaurant!

After a delicious dinner it was back to Taksim square and the incredibly lively bar 360! With views of the entire city , this buzzing night spot is always full. Great music, great drinks and great food keeps it a favourite with locals, expats and tourists alike!

The following day we explore Istanbul on our own using local transport, trams and discovering new hidden corners of the city. With the friendliest locals we’ve ever met- we always managed to find our way ,minutes after we were lost thanks to some incredibly helpful souls!

Istanbul is a land steeped with tradition and culture , yet gloriously modern, incredibly forward thinking and magnificently proud!

Best Times to Travel-:April to October tho April may be a bit rainy and October a bit chilly!

Cost-: Approx $500 a night! But stay close to either the old city or to Taksim square to cut down travel!

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What happens in Vegas…

It was a quick brush with Vegas on our way back home and back to the drudgery of daily routine and we decided to take a quick 2 day break in Las Vegas!

The hotel of our choice was the MGM Grand and this was based on the fact that it was hosting the CSI Experience something I, a huge CSI fan(atic) was very excited about! Sure it had some wonderful restaurants and some other fun activities but in Vegas your spoiled for choice and I wanted to stay closest to what I wanted to do especially since we were only their for 2 days! The MGM Grand is huge and there are 5044 rooms which is  A LOT and not somewhere I’d like to stay because I love the idea of being pampered and looked after in a hotel! We got to the hotel and there were more than 20 desks to cater to your check in and when we were checked in we were asked if it was our first time in Vegas. when we answered to the affirmative, she said well then let’s try and upgrade and a higher floor and lo and behold that was what was given to us!What I loved was that even among the tens of thousands visitors and guests they had that day and every day the MGM staff at every step of the way made us try to feel a little bit special.

The rooms were nothing to write home about. They were comfortable and functional…but you’re not really in Vegas to spend time in your room and so minutes after check in – we were downstairs and getting lost! The hotel is a maze of activity and everyone just seems so happy in Vegas , automatically you perked up and started to smile! The CSI Experience was amazing. Fabulous sets, interesting themes and even some of the CSI tools used on the show all made for a fabulous and fun walk through. We ‘solved’ one murder and Aditya , who is not even a CSI fan insisted we try out the other two cases and we raced each other to the finish having a truly wonderful time! As we left CSI , a new comedy show was taking viewer feedback. A show, that was to premiere in the fall was doing tests and television buffs that we are , we signed up immediately and went in for a screening on our individual computers after which we did a short survey ! The feedback must have been good because the show is on air and doing rather well… so yay!

It was almost time for the Jay Leno show and we had tickets. A quick change and we waited in line for a cab. The lines for cabs are always enormous and it gets longer as the evening goes in to night!Though the cab lines seem endless, the cabs are also plenty and most places are on the Strip so distances aren’t that bad….but with great new pumps…why walk?!

The Jay Leno show was funny, relevant and a great way to spend the evening. Both of us are big fans of stand up and he was amazing! There are always shows in Vegas and the big ones Lion King, Cirque du Soleil, Rock n Roll etc sell out quickly so book early…the shows are fabulous!

Back in the hotel it was time for some Wolfgang Puck steaks and a bit of gambling. The Lion in the open air enclosure above part of the casino had awoken and people rushed to take pictures of his mighty paws! A bit of gambling and we crashed excited about Day 2!

Day 2 was visiting other hotels on the strip, more exploring, some shopping, a little bit of swimming and then the helicopter visit to the Grand Canyon. This was another MUST DO and I have to say seeing the city all lit up at night from the helicopter above was the perfect ending to my CSI Las Vegas experience.

Disneyland- the happiest place on earth?

Well I’ve been to both…and with the roller-coaster 2 days we had in Vegas, the excitement, the energy, the smiles n shows… Round One goes to Las Vegas… and I am waiting for Round 2!

Price Factor-: $250- $300 per night. THINGS TO REMEMBER- STAY ON THE STRIP! It’s incredible, alive and most happening and when in you’re in Vegas you must be where the actions at!

Helicopter Tours -: Between $350 and $450 depending on whether you want to land and take some stunning photographs or just fly over the canyon!

Best Times to Travel-: There is usually no off season in Vegas but generally there’s a lot of buzz and activities March through to May and September through to November and don’t forget New Years!

Koh samuing!

 

As you know (if you’ve read any of these blogs or any of my personal blogs at my website…BIRTHDAYS ARE A BIG DEAL!

I seem to be planning from one birthday to the next and over the years , the planning has become more focussed towards experiences and travels as opposed to gifts and cake- a much more expensive albeit satisfying change!

So last year, the husband decided to surprise me. I am almost impossible to surprise especially over birthdays because my birthday antenna quickly notices any whispering, hush-hush planning or slight change in schedules but Aditya had convinced me that we were going to have a quiet, family birthday and later there’d be a surprise. Now I have to say I think my antenna was slightly less active because he had mentioned key words like ‘birthday’ and ‘surprise’ so I knew there was something planned and I expected it later…by then I was sure I’d know what it was!

Imagine my surprise when 2 days before my birthday I was told at lunch that we’d have to hurry back to pack. We were leaving tonight to THAILAND and to Koh Samui!To get Koh samui we took a flight to Bangkok and then connected to the island. I have to say , now after flying Thai Airways on multiple occasions- whereas the flights to an from India (Business Class) are rather old and quite uncomfortable; the short flight to Koh samui had fully reclinable seats, fabulous movie options and delicious food. I have now stopped flying Thai (unless ofcourse I’m visiting an island!)!

So in less then 24 hours of my knowing about the surprise, bright and early the following morning I was in Koh Samui. We were staying at the W Retreat, part of the Starwood Group of Hotels and a Category 6 on the SPG Scale! This is one of the highest categories of SPG Hotels and it was supposed to be indulgent luxury. Young, fun and decadent, this hotel was the perfect choice for this quick getaway.

The hotel was a 10 minute drive from the small airport and we entered the hotel excitedly. Though most hotels have wonderful web pages with photographs photoshopped to perfection- nothing can beat this magnificent lobby with it’s gorgeous water body claiming pride of place welcoming you to serenity, luxury and calm! With such a wonderful welcome , I couldn’t wait to see the rooms. Our suite was huge(yes I love my pampering) with a magnificent bathroom, jacuzzi tub et all!We also had a beautiful pool attached which was much, much larger than the usual plunge pools. All this and a private sit out , actually sleep out and we had our own private entrance to the beach!

The rooms were perfect and after an overnight flight, we collapsed on to our day beds for a quick power nap so we’d be ready to bring in the birthday with a renewed energy!

The W is fabulous. Once we woke up and made ourselves a nespresso cappucino (my favourite! and in our room!), we wandered for a walk. The staff then pointed us to the just refilled snack freezer which apparently all W hotels have. They’d just filled in some chocolate ice cream and told us it was fabulous! This is how we discovered the W treat freezer. With cokes and ice creams, there are treat freezers , every few rooms for guests to snack on free of charge any time, all the time- another fun W tradition!

And it was time to enjoy some quick Tapas and drinks at sip and take a quick, much needed plunge in the sea!

A short break later, we dressed up for birthday eve and headed to the W lounge where you are ensconced in tables in between the beautiful lobby pool that we saw earlier. Hidden away in between water and the night, this perfect setting was the most beautiful way to bring in my birthday. Cocktails done we headed to the Kitchen Table for some food. The W only has two dining options but 3 bars…so the focus is more on light eats and tapas and some very heady cocktails!

Exhausted we headed back to the room where a cake was waiting to be cut…. Singing and champagne later we settled in for a very restful night after all the heady travel excitement!

The next day we woke up refreshed and charged.We were only here for the birthday and so we decided to enjoy the calm and luxury of the hotel! I would have loved to have visited the Big Buddha but with such a short trip, we decided to spend our time snorkeling,  If you do visit the Big Buddha, you must also go to Wat Plai Laem another active temple surrounded by a lake which is apparently teeming with fish. If you make a donation, you get a bag of food to feed the fish!

Dress conservatively if you wish to visit a temple to not offend tradition and religious customs!

Else step out of your hotel and there are bars and pubs every step of the way… for a night of partying and revelry- nothing beats an island!

For us however it was spa-ing, pampering and a feast of contemporary Japanese at the elegant Namu. With a private dining hall just for us and a specially created menu by the chef and my husband we had a warm , relaxed evening- the perfect start to an incredibly fulfilling year!

Price Factor-: Rooms are between $200- $300! But choose well…remember to get beach front hotels and my sincere recommendation is to try the W!

Best Times To Travel-: March to August. Then remember to take your diving gear along. Koh samui has some incredible diving sites….if you’re not a diver….maybe Koh Samui is a good place to learn! 🙂

 

 

Universal Studios – The VIP Experience

This was Aditya’s first experience in Los Angeles and in the city of a million dreams and where  everyone either is a star or looks like one it was only fitting that we went to a shrine of filmdom The Universal Studios! This was his birthday gift and we had to do it ‘Divya Style’–first-class all the way! So weeks in advance I signed us up for UNIVERSAL STUDIOS- THE VIP EXPERIENCE! I had been here before and had even seen Bill Cosby walking to ‘work,’ but this was Aditya’s first trip and I wanted it to be magical- The Universal Tour- VIP Experience!

This meant you were taken around the studios with only 10 people, never stood in a line… but here’s where it gets interesting you were allowed access to the prop rooms and sound stages and even a couple of sets which were used for active shooting! To call Aditya a movie fanatic is a complete understatement…He remembers dialogue , the framing of scenes, trivia on the movie and the actors. He can tell you what they wore, what the director ‘said’, what production problems they went through… He LOVES FILM- so essentially this was the perfect gift!

We chose a 10:30 am. time and checked into the VIP section at about 10:15 am. If you drive, they will valet park your car but we weren’t driving. We went to the VIP lounge ordered a quick cappuccino and a juice, munched on a wonderful chocolate muffin and were then given our VIP Access cards- which are just so cool to keep that we knew the day was going to be amazing (yes, we’re silly that way!). And then we were off in our own personal buggy just for the 10 of us where we started our tour with a private tour guide who not only ensured we went through all the attractions of the theme park…he also let us wait just a little longer for that picture perfect moment!

And then while other Universal Studios visitors headed back into the park..we were taken past the CSI Shooting Stages and down Wisteria Lane (where Desperate Housewives was shooting)and into a sound stage where we met technicians and saw where sound is mixed for some of the most wonderful films we have seen.

Then it was off to the Prop Room….though it’s more like a building of props where you have everything from ET masks, to cutlery, to the head of a sphinx and even a Ganesha!!! Fascinating, wonderfully kept and logged and so incredibly comprehensive it’s no wonder that every show and every film can have such an individual flavoring and styling!

We were also then shown the coveted Oscars that Universal Studios had won and then it was time to wander around one of the sets…We then visited and walked around a plane that had been used for War of the Worlds.We saw a small town shooting lot in what could be used for a Western.We walked in to the empty ‘bar,’saw the shop fronts and walked in and around the sets and then went to an active stage being used for the TV Show parenthood. The house with its many rooms and with each room’s individual detailing was a trip to see! It was wonderful how they used perspective and painting to show the other houses on a lane while just shooting in a single, individual stage!

After a hectic morning, it was time for a VIP lunch of salads and fries, pasta, burger and sides. While a musician serenaded us with show tunes we enjoyed a restful lunch and cappuccino ( yes I do love my coffee!) . It was then on to rides and more fun!

The Simpson ride was my personal favourite and after the tour and the rides since there was still a few more hours till closing , I proudly flashed my VIP Badge and got access to the ride once more before we left!

I loved the Revenge of the Mummy and am a sucker for a good roller coaster… The day started on an incredible high and with the VIP Tour just went higher after that!

It’s an experience that I definitely recommend for any movie buff and an experience absolutely catered to you!

Tour Cost- $270 so it does cost a bit… but for a once-in-a-lifetime super personal experience it’s wellllllll worth it! Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY!

Christmas kisses in Singapore!

Singapore is my quick-break stop. The city with it’s glorious shopping,perfect order and love for tourists always makes me come back again and again and again! Singapore is the only place where an airline executive after checking in with an excess of 32 kgs ( because I just had to shop for an entire room and 20 light fittings) looked at my delighted but now very worried face and charged me an excess of 5 kgs because she ‘understood’ and loved my ‘love for Singapore and it’s incredible shopping!’

Singapore is glorious any time of the year because of its warm weather and it’s vibrant night life! It is also very special because it seems like the city is always celebrating something! From Chinese New Year to Christmas the city is always beautifully decked in lights!

Christmas in Singapore is wonderful….With Xmas trees and more sales than usual Singapore has one of the warmest whitest Christmas’ in Asia! Here are some incredible ideas for your next Singapore trip (if you haven’t done them already!). If you have, like me, maybe you want to do them all over again!

  1. Go to the zoo! Even if you’ve been to the zoo before! Go to the zoo and breakfast with the chimpanzee…the breakfast is strictly okay- the chimpanzee AWESOME!
  2. Go the zoo- YES AGAIN! Feed an elephant, pose with birds and even get kissed by a seal if your lucky!
  3. Go to Sentosa early in the morning and kiss a dolphin and get kissed as well! Yes! Too many kisses! Go on…you know you’d love to get kissed by one! Get kissed by a dolphin!
  4. Learn how to dive if you haven’t already and sign up to dive with the sharks! It’s amazing the silence and the calm you feel while diving and the incredible marine life at the aquarium takes you back to being a kid again. With wide eyes this experience takes your breath away- quite literally!
  5. Eat and spend the evening at Clark Quay. With new restaurants and new experiences always opening up, Clark Quay and Boat Quay are always fun places to spend the evening!
  6. Shop, shop and shop more on Orchard Road ! 22 shopping malls, 5 department stores…over 5000 brands to choose from this is every shopaholics Mecca… And trust me, even if you come to Singapore , not a shopper (like I was)– this city will show you colors and styles that you will want to buy! And so you should!
  7. Visit Universal Studios! Great fun and you get to be kid for a day …all day!
  8. Eat at Ku De Ta or get a drink at the Sky Bar!
  9. Buy a packet of Royce Chocolates…Trust me… there’s nothing in the world like Royce!
  10. Eat at TWG Tea at high Tea with the sandwiches and the muffins and pastries and definitely, definitely order a Jasmine tea!

My Hotel of Choice is the Marriott!I have stayed at the Four Seasons, the Hyatt and several others but with it’s convenient location at Tangs and it’s large Club rooms and incredible Club lounge with finger licking cocktail snacks and all day service… the Marriott allows me to shop, drop my bags and pick up a cuppa without missing a beat!

Price Factor-: Rooms are between $250- $350! If at the Marriott upgrade to a Club Level suite. The additional amount is definitely well worth it!

Best Times To Travel-: NOW! In fact the weather gets slightly cooler October through to January so expect pleasant evenings with a slight , perfect nip in the air!

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