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Category Archives: Australia

The Rocking Reds of Ayers Rock/ Uluru!

Another remarkable trip was to Ayers rock, Uluru and to Longitude 131. With just 15 tents, with private sunrise and sunset views of Uluru,in the Kata Tjuta National Park this hotel is incredible! Part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, we had been wanting to see this beautiful hotel for a while!

I am proud to say several Australians haven’t yet been to Uluru. In the Northern Territory it looks nothing like the rest of Australia. No sun, surf and blue …here it’s red, hard and incredibly bright! I loved it!

Uluru is the traditional name of Ayers Rock and how the rock is known to the aboriginal people. It is near another remarkable rock structure called Kata Tjuta which is a collection of 36 variously-sized rock domes approximately 36km to the west of Uluru

To get to Ayers Rock, is a bit of a trek. You take a direct flight from Sydney to Uluru.Other cities take you to Alice springs after which you have to take a 45 minute flight to Uluru. The International Qantas Business class are fabulous , possibly one of the best in the world; but their domestic business class is nothing to right home about and after a long flight from India leaving at 10:30 am the previous day , we arrived at Uluru only at 12 p.m. the NEXT DAY. The Domestic flight seats had almost no recline , were small, hard and we were truly exhausted when we arrived!

The memorable part of our arrival however was being able to see Uluru from the plane….From a  vast emptiness of nothing rose a beautiful red rock glistening in the sunlight and a bit of our exhaustion, just a bit , slowly reduced! Voyages owns  all the resorts in Ayers Rock and you haveback packing grounds, dormitories, 3 and 5 star hotels and then you have LONGITUDE 131– the reason why we made the trip to Uluru in the first place. Aditya and I have always traveled to create remarkable experiences and incredible memories and this hotel had been on our MUST STAY list for a while! And it was worth it! The packages they offer are usually all inclusive with alcohol, meals and even tours included! These are most definitely worth it, because the food is fabulous and the tours are private and wonderful !

Luxury tents rising from the middle of nowhere,several feet of the ground with a sheet glass window facing the glorious rock….it was privacy and luxury at its best! We arrived I collapsed in the wonderfully oversized bed! Later we had lunch at the Dune House. From quick sandwiches to elaborate mains…the food was fabulous!

When in Uluru , you must make trips to see the rocks. On Day 1 , in the afternoon we explored the rock and the history behind it. There were several parables and tales about the rock. We were shown faces of the rock that looked uncannily like snakes and foot prints. These all formed part of the ancient aboriginal culture. They were all stories passed from generation to generation. The aboriginal folk still live in the area and have their own villages which remain undisturbed by tourists. The rock forms religious significance for them still and several festivals, rites of passage etc are still conducted at the rock. They also have several wild pet dogs and animals, so don’t be surprised if you see one wandering around while you are walking. They seem mighty busy and usually in a hurry to grab a drink of water , at one of the natural springs formed near the rock and rush back home. The rock also has a male and female side where only aboriginal men/ women are allowed . You are requested not to photograph the female side at any cost.  This is sacred land and it is asked that you respect the stories, respect the culture, respect the rock.

 We did the Mala Walk and Kantju Gorge. Now if you are leaving your room during the day to walk anywhere the one thing you will need is a fly mask! There are millions of tiny flies everywhere!!! the mask looked ridiculous to me on Day 1 and I didn’t carry it but after gobbling more than a few flies , one Day 2 I had both the fly-repellant lotion all over and the fly mask on at ALL TIMES! THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION. Flies are a very real issue!

This is approximately 2 km. Here you see fine examples of Anangu rock art and you can experience the sheer vertical walls. This is an easy walk and with all the stories you here goes by too quickly. You also see the beautiful and peaceful Kantju Gorge.

After this we did the 1 km Kuniya walk. We saw the Mutitjulu waterhole, home of a wanampi, an ancestral water snake. Lots of interesting birds were spotted and we enjoyed some more caves with some wonderful rock art!

These walks give you a great idea on the history. We also noticed groups of people walking on the rock. There are treks up the face of the rock. However these are NOT ENCOURAGED. There are several signs asking you to respect the land and its people and not climb the rock. The signs are every 50 metres at some places and so despite the walk looking challenging and the view looking fabulous ; we both felt it was important to respect the aboriginal culture and not stamp on it!

There rare also base walks which are longer and started usually early in the morning as the sun gets pretty hot as they day progresses and the flies increase substantially!

For the sunset viewing of the rock we were taken to a beautiful point where you could quite literally see the rock change colour from reds, to oranges and browns and even a shade of

purple- this was quite remarkable. Hundreds of people gather for that one photograph and it was most definitely worth it!

They also do a morning sunrise viewing of the rock but honestly I couldn’t make out too much difference in the light in the morning or evening, so if given a choice just do the evening one!

What was fabulous about Longitude 131 was one of its experiences-Table 131° – Dining Under the Stars. Here they set up a beautifultable under the stars with a 3 course meal and a wonderful astronomer! Now I never really understood the wonder of the night sky till we sat down to that dinner! The sky is always romantic and beautiful but that night it came alive! we saw more stars than we ever seen in our lives! We learnt about galaxies and constellations and saw the Zodiac signs in the sky all over a couple of glasses of wine and an incredibly sumptuous meal! The piece-de-resistance was however when we moved to the Astronomers telescope and with just a bit magnification and my naked eye- I saw VENUS! The incredible planet with all her exquisite rings was blazing magnificently in the night sky! I’d always drawn Venus in school with the customary rings but to actually see the planet was an experience  I will never forget!!! The fly mask is not necessary in the evenings giving us even more cause to celebrate!

Ayers Rock just has Uluru with its wonderful stories and remarkable history but Longitude 131 was an experience in itself! The quiet splendor of the hotel and the remarkable calm of glorious Uluru made this the perfect break!

Price Factor-: Expensive ! $2000-$2200 for 2 nights! BUT IT’S ALL INCLUSIVE! Meals, tours and even alcohol is on the house!!!

Best times to travel-: April- September else it gets way too hot!

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Jumping of an Airplane in Sydney

So if you’re a regular reader you probably have tuned in to see whether we actually jumped off the plane or chickened out last minute…!

Well Sydney was wonderful in March and we arrived to very excited….for totally different reasons! Aditya wanted to see ColdPlay and I wanted to jump off a plane– my fun in-joke of taking a leap of an airplane after taking a leap of faith! (p.s.- no worries…my marriage is just fine…despite my numerous attempts to kill one of us off!)

We arrived at Sydney Airport and it took us about 30 minutes to reach our hotel the Taj Blue in Woolloomoolloo Bay (yup quite a mouthful!)! We arrived at what looked like a great large building , more like an office than a hotel! It seemed large and boring! NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY IT’S COVER! We entered the hotel and I was amazed. An old wharf had been converted into the most luxurious 5 star experience and we were just blown away! Also we were told Russel Crowe lived just a bungalow or 2 away…! We were very excited but didn’t get to see him. His Dad tho’ was living in our hotel! A duplex suite awaited us and in a few minutes I was already on the phone with the concierge sorting out my plans for our trip!

Lunch was had at one of the restaurants just outside the hotel. at the edge of the bay there are a series of fabulous restaurants each with master chefs at the held, it showcases Aussie dining at its best! After lunch we headed up to the Sydney Bridge where we had signed up for the twilight Sydney bridge climb!The Bridge climb takes over 2 hrs but most of it is spent in Instructions on how to climb and how to avoid falling! I have to tell you however…you can’t fall even if you tried, you’re hooked on so tight…The actual climbing is only an hour or even less! Is it worth it? Yes for the view and yes for the history….not for how long it takes!

Dinner was had at one of the numerous pubs and cafes at The Rocks! That’s what the area surrounding the bridge is called. It’s young, trendy, fun and lights up at night!

The next morning had easily MY FAVOURITE PART OF our trip! The Breakfast backstage tour of the Sydney Opera house! Nowgoing to Sydney you’ll definitely visit the Opera House ! The Opera House is in Circular Quay which is the bay you will take most of your ferries from. These ferries go to the Sydney Taronga Zoo where I personally recommend the Wild Australia Experience which lets you get up close to the animals. You can also take the ferry to Manly and of course Bondi Beach!

At the Opera House the MUST DO TOUR is the Breakfast Backstage Tour! It is INCREDIBLE!We went to green rooms, props rooms, set holding areas and even the Conductors room where I played the Conductor’s piano! We went on stage, to the lighting console, to each and every theatre and explored the Opera House with it’s magnificent history and stories. Regal,imposing and yet fiercely personal; as a theatre director I was in tears in awe of the sheer magnificence and beauty of the Opera House! MY PERSONAL FAVE TRIP!!!

The Cafe Opera is nice for an Irish coffee and a quick bite so definitely sit for a while and soak in the ambience! ALSO A MUST DO IS THE WONDERFUL CAFE SYDNEY– the rooftop of the Customs house at Circular Quay , it offers stunning views of the harbor and fabulous food!

Darling Harbor is the other harbor you must visit while in Sydney! Here you can visit the Sydney Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world, catch a movie at the IMAX Theatre. When you are there grab a bit at Eat, Love ,Pizza or if you’re a Meat and Wine lover well then there’s nothing better than The Meat&Wine co.

Sydney has a Free shuttle service which runs every 10 minutes. The service operates in both directions on a loop from Central Station to Circular Quay via Elizabeth and George Streets and is very useful when you are a tourist and are living primarily out of Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and the shopping districts of Elizabeth and George street!

Post the Opera House we were off to the Concert! Coldplay was fabulous as usual but the Acer arena too far! It took us approx 2 hrs to get there by car, so we decided to take a train back! It’d be quicker we were told! But as the concert ended, the crowds were enormous and we had to wait quite a bit. Once at the station back in town, there were no cabs and we had to walk back almost to the hotel! An evening which started out amazingly turned out to be quite a trek in the end! TIP! KEEP THE CAR if you’re going to a concert!

The following morning was the BIG SKYDIVE with Sydney Skydivers ! A drive took us 60- 90 minutes away from the center and to an amazing field. We were actually going to jump! As we arrived we were sent to gear up and well line up to get on a plane to jump! The plane was no more than a steel death trap and suddenly I was worried!Okay so we were jumping in tandem (with an instructor) but we were still jumping from 14400 feet!!!! What if this wasn’t a leap of faith but a leap testing my faith in God and a test on whether the ground really was as hard as it looked! I looked nervously at Aditya who offered to jump first…! No! This was my stupid idea and I was going to see it through! The plane moved its way up rattling along the way and one of the instructors pointed way down below…”That’s the Blue Mountains,” she said, joyfully! Why were they below us??? Aren’t mountains supposed to be tall? What the heck were we doing!!!?? And before I knew it, the back of the plane opened and we had to jump! The man in front of me almost had his nails ripped off the way he clung to the top of the plane for dear life! I wasn’t going to do that. This was my idiotic idea and I was stubborn enough to see it through! I JUMPED.There were no butterflies or sinking stomachs. A calm enveloped me as I flew downwards almost like a fairy looking at the earth from above! I’ve done this before I felt and suddenly there was a serenity and calm that I cannot even begin to explain. I felt free. I felt at peace and I felt unbelievable! And then almost too quickly( 8 mins or so later) a parachute pulled me back and suddenly I was heading towards people rushing to meet me and a landing zone! I couldn’t believe I’d done it. I couldn’t believe it was over. I couldn’t believe the incredible adrenalin rush! I do remember calling everyone back home saying I’d jumped off a plane. At 5 am India time, I think the FAMILY WAS WONDERING why I was still calling them if I’d indeed jumped off?! Only my Grandmom asked me a very pertinent question” Why did you do such a thing?”! I cannot explain it… but it made perfect sense!

On the anniversary , my very understanding husband asked that in case we did survive to try and do one romantic thing on the Anniversary. No, he said a leap to our ‘possible death’ (his words not mine) was not even vaguely romantic even if it did have a ’till death do us part’ ring to it. So on the anniversary we headed up to Rose Bay to take a Sea Plane over Sydney and get dropped off at a restaurant where a delicious 5 course meal was waiting for us! Perfect and romantic, the water was clear and we had the most stunning views of the harbor and were dropped off at a wonderful restaurant where we had pre-ordered our favourites!

Luxurious dining at its best! The perfect romantic anniversary.

A bit of music, a heck of a thrill and a great view– my idea of the perfect trip and the perfect marriage….so Sydney turned out just PERFECT!

Price Factor-: Hotels – $350-$450 a night; Skydiving– $250-$300 with the DVD and photos et all, Bridge Climb $200-$300 depending on the time you book,Seaplane rides with lunch $400-450 per person….expensive but uber romantic!

Best times to travel-: Aussie land…so I recommend October– March however whittles season starts in May- November where you can see the gigantic beasts swim gracefully in the Sydney Harbour.

Gold Coasting!

It was my first trip to Australia and yet another anniversary. The trip had been planned (like several trips of ours) over a weekend…I realised , one very boring Friday that I’d like to jump off a plane! Australia seemed the safest option and with an anniversary coming up…it seemed poetic! Take a leap (off a plane!) to celebrate another leap! My husband thought it was just an evil way to try and push him off a plane but Coldplay (his favourite band!) had a concert during the time we hoped to be there and it was the day before I wanted to jump off the plane…so what the heck!

We made a decision to leave for Aussie land on Friday, made bookings on Saturday and Sunday and on Sunday evening realised that we’d have to apply for a visa! After all we were leaving in 5 days, right!??!

We went to the VFS Office as it opened on a Monday, submitted our papers and asked when we might be approved…”10-14 days Madam,”I was told…” It has to go to Delhi!”

But we didn’t have that kind of time…and so decided to ring up everyone I knew to help me make my anniversary dream come true! Take a small leap (14000 odd feet), to celebrate our leap!

The Australians have a sense of humour and I think mine must have been the oddest reason to want to go to Australia they had ever read! So despite sending in our forms only on Monday , our visa was home-delivered to us on Wednesday! Guess they wanted us to leap off that plane too! (well maybe just me! ;))

And so we arrived to Gold Coast via Brisbane Airport! Brisbane Airport is about 90 mms/ 55 miles from Gold Coast. The airport is very basic and there is no point in arriving for your Return flight too early as often Check in points are closed and there are very few places to just sit and relax! Any way after a long flight in; we decided to head towards our hotel. There are Hotel shuttles which take you to Gold Coast, which we took as ours was so rushed we’d had no time to confirm anything more than just basic bookings! The next visit we were more prepared and had a car meet us! It takes a little over an hour to get to the Gold Coast!

The first time we went to the Gold Coast( i.e. The Anniversary!); we stayed at the Surfer’s Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa. This hotel came highly recommended. It was young, fun and in the heart of the action at Surfer’s Paradise!

All the areas in the Gold Coast have fun names- Surfer’s Paradise, Mermaid Beach, Nobby Beach, Runaway Bay, Rainbow Bay…! 🙂 You get the hint! It’s fun, it’s a young college town and it’s full of life!

Surfers Paradise has the beach, some wonderful shopping areas and some incredible cafes and some wonderful hotels as well!

I recommend the Q 1 Resort and Spa for a fabulous living experience and a view of the Gold Coast worth dying for!

The next time we came we stayed at the Palazzo Versace. This does not have a beach attached but they have created a small beach patch near their swimming pool…;)! A couple of feet of sand and a beach ball or two and a small mini beach takes shape!

The hotel is a tad too gold and a bit gaudy but with the Versace stamp everywhere you are surrounded in luxury!

What is most beautiful about the hotel is the positioning. Beautifully placed on a marina you can take some fabulous boats from the marina and explore the Gold coast via the ocean or sit at the Marina Mirage shopping center and grab a cup of coffee and chocolate at Max Brenner or pick up some doggie accessories at Posh Pets 😉 like we did!

Must do’s and Must Sees!!!!

  • Must do-: The Jet ski safari…It may not sound like anything worth doing …I mean everyone has ridden a jet ski…what’s the big deal?! I mean I totally thought so! But an afternoon plan of ours had fallen thru and this seemed like something we could do…!

Crazy, wild and incredible fun…we went to smaller islands, snorkeled a bit and hit waves at speeds that were do fast 2 Aussie’s fell of their skis

I was super proud that I didn’t and totally exhausted after this ‘lame’ afternoon! IT WAS SO WORTH IT!

  • Warner Bros Movie World-: Both os us are Movie Film buffs and we loooved Movie World. With a Superman ride which is supposed to be the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere and a straight free Batman Drop which still haunts my husband it was easily the best half day we spent! I say half-day because if you go on a day that’s little less crowded you can just do your favourites and move to one of the other incredible theme parks all in the same area… My next favourite park was DreamWorld which also had some crazy thrill rides!!! Again you must understand that for me, Theme parks are all about the thrills and roller coasters so the scarier the better!!! There is also Sea World with dolphins, sharks and polar bears, Wet n Wild World, and White Water World! But I preferred the ACTUAL Ocean to water rides….I mean what’s the point of the glorious sea otherwise! 😉
  • Zorbing-: Quite literally being put into a huge ,plastic ball and being thrown down a hill! Hilarious , funny and absolutely super! So we were first pushed through the mouth and aditya and I I faced each other. Aditya started with some wise words of wisdom on how I should try and focus on one side or close my eyes and in between his lecture(barely had Word 2 finished) we were pushed with a high force of water down a hill! Limbs everywhere , lots of laughter and a definite MUST DO!
  • Currumbin Wild life Sanctuary -: We were not sure what to expect here and expected it to be more like a zoo….but the massing feeling of feeding kangaroos, watching joeys poptheir head out of pouches and pop back in and cuddling koalas was so incredible…we lost track of time! Here the animals are up close and touchable so whether its a greedy ostrich, a hungry kangaroo or a very sleepy koala , you get to interact with them in their own environment! ABSOLUTELY STUNNING! Remember kangaroos eat anything they can see…so keep the paper out of their way and your handbag well out of sight…unless you want a half eaten passport or well chewed coin purse! 😉
  • Have a drink at the Q1 Bar

For adventure junkies like me there’s also the Green Challenge. Climb rope ladders, swing from trees, climb up, rappel down…it’s a wild set of challenges which will work up quite a sweat!

The Gold Coast is absolutely fabulous for families and kids! It was wonderful for us (mostly because I’m still quite a kid!)! There’s lots to do, lots to see and lots to be entertained with!

It’s light, fun and one of the only places in the world where you can actually cuddle a koala…and that makes it WORTH IT!!

Did I sky dive? Did Aditya survive…? More on that next week…! 😉

Price Factor-: $200 to $500 per night approximately in the summer! For theme park tickets look at MyFun to get online deals and discounts!

Best times to travel-: I recommend August – February. We went the first time in end March (Anniversary time) and the weather was tricky! Rain cancelled lots of plans and storms on neighboring islands made the weather quite unpredictable and muggy! The next time we went in October and it was brilliant!

The Great Ocean Road and Yarra Valley(the MUST DO Day trips from Melbourne!)

As promised last week I’d finish writing about the Must-do Day trips from Melbourne, so here goes!

The Great Ocean Road and Apollo Bay with the 12 Apostles ARE FAAAAR from Melbourne! It’s comfortably a 4 hr to 5 hr drive so don’t look at seeing both and returning the same day unless you want to get stuck on a God awful tour bus for an entire day!

I’d recommend renting a car and driving their. AVIS has an office at the Grand Hyatt in the center of town and you can very easily rent a car. All you need is a Valid License written in ENGLISH! You don’t even need an International License! I opted to get an International Drivers License because I didn’t want to take a chance and that was very easy to apply for, took a day in processing and made my trip stress free (for me!!!) The husband’s never stressed when I’m at the helm … cos I’m the lister, the planner, the organizer , the madly OCD one! 😉 It works!

So off we went …I drove (yes you can make all the jokes you want about Women drivers!!! But I drive well… and I had the license! So that’s that!) With a GPS System that was far too chatty for our liking and was continuously ” re-calibrating!!!!” in a terribly annoying nasal drawl; we headed off out of Melbourne!

The minute you leave the city limits , you see the changes. Roads and highways now start moving past undulating hills, small townships and quaint coffee shops. Buildings are few and far between. There are more cottages and homes…more gardens and bicycles! And then you take the turn on to the Great Ocean Road and everything stops! A wide road on a cliff edge in front of a panoramic ocean is all that lies in front for miles and miles. Cars drive, stop and park on the left and take photographs of the incredible 180 degree view and every time you think you have the greatest photograph, you’ll find one that’s just a bit better a few minutes ahead!

My advice is to drive along and stop on the way….a cuppa coffee, a seat on a cliff edge… or just a run in the sand… that’s what Australia is all about…and that’s what a vacay should be all about too… Relax, unwind and breathe!!!

We stopped for coffee at about 5:30 p.m at Lorne ( we only left Melbourne just after lunch). The coffee shop was nondescript. I was tired. The coffee was superb!

Charged it took us another hour or so to reach our destination. We were stopping for the night at Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant and Villas. This is not a very luxurious place to stay but has a beautiful view. We were barely staying there for a few hours, so we ate a comfortably-sized well made dinner and went to our villa to sleep.  The villa had wonderful views of the bay but was strictly okay. Sure, if you have a family and want to use a kitchenette and washing machine and want to make your own food; this might be a good option but it was bitterly cold with colder floors and small rooms and I was glad I was here for just a night. Driving for so long, I fell into a dead sleep.

We loaded our car and headed off to the helicopter point where we had booked a helicopter ride to see the 12 Apostles!

Now this was beautiful! I got some incredible photographs and we also learnt something very interesting. There were only 9 rocks that jutted out from the sea but as 9 Apostles wouldn’t attract that much attention it was decided that this would be called 12 Apostles. One rock however had now fallen, and there were only 8. The breathtaking view of the sea front and of these magnificent rock structures in the morning made the looooong trip worth it!

And then it was back home to Crown Towers and back home to Melbourne!!!

Yarra Valley is only about an hour away from the city and it was definitely easier to get to and infinitely less tiring! We left after breakfast to the Domain and Chandon Vineyards where we were taken on a fabulous tour across the winery. This tour is free and you just need to sign up at the reception when you get there. To do special tasting and wine and cheese pairings you do pay a bit extra but if you’re a wine lover (like my wonderful husband is) then a connoisseur will take you through the history of each wine , the thought behind it’s creation and fill you will fun facts and interesting stories of how the wine came to be and more importantly how it is being appreciated!

Yarra Valley has several vineyards…so you can stop at one and move thru all. They’re all barely 5 minutes away by car!

After the vineyards you could grab lunch at the wonderfully pretty Sweet water cafe at the beautiful Chateau Yering a historic house converted into a boutique hotel, with beautiful rooms each with a personal touch!

And since you’re in Yarra you must taste the cheese! A coffee and a plate of cheese at the Yarra Valley Dairy  is a perfect way to sober up, end the afternoon and head back into town!

These are both trips I recommend you do yourself so you can personalize it the way you prefer and don’t need to do the plain , simple , mass produced lunches that tours usually thrust on you! You can stop along the way- taste the cheeses, enjoy sea breezes, take your own photographs,decide on the perfect wine and just laze or go as fast as you need to!

Do these day trips at your pace…your way!

And along the way try out my faves, I know you’ll love them too!

Price Factor-: 12 Apostles Helicopter rides are approx $190 for 2 people and take about 10 minutes. Domaine Chandon wines are available by the glass from $8 or by the bottle from $22.00.

Best times to travel-: Southern Hemisphere …so once again I recommend August – February. We went end March and tho Yarra was just perfect, Apollo Bay was super chilly already!

Melbourne- a perfect symphony of youth and age!

I must admit that Melbourne was never on my map- never a city I dreamed of visiting and actually a city I had avoided once or twice during travel. It just seemed so city-ish, plain and boring and if there’s one thing I love about travel – it’s new experiences and the wonderful joy of experiencing new rhythms!

But last year during our anniversary we were encouraged by Tourism Australia to add Melbourne on our itinerary ! “You’ll love it!” They promised and skeptically I went ahead with it!

They were right. I was wrong!

Post my first trip I have been to Melbourne several more times and the last time stayed for over a week on work and just really explored the city….and LOVED IT! In this post , I am just giving you an idea of some of the must do’s in Melbourne, some of the must-see’s and some of our most memorable , fun experiences!

We arrived in Melbourne to an afternoon of glorious sun! The Crown Towers is a fabulous hotel, beautifully placed on the banks of the Yarra River! It stands tall, imposing and modern overlooking the wonderful, youthful city of Melbourne with it’s beautiful old world charm! I say youthful and old world because several old building – the Old treasury Building and the Post Office have all been remarkably kept and preserved from the outside and yet inside you have young entrepreneurs with shops and boutiques, coffee shops and funky shoes- a beautiful symphony of old meets young! Watch the Crown Towers at night tho…. with fire roaring from it sides and the casino coming to life- it’s definitely the place to be!

Day 1 quickly turned to evening and off we were on a romantic carriage drive to THE PRESS CLUB!  The Press Club is the flagship venue for chef and restauranteur George Calombaris. I have a huuuuuge Australia’s MasterChef geek and for me this was a place I wanted to my homage to a place I’d heard so much about! 

The Press Club was beautifully placed and comfortably lit; though a tad small for the number of diners! The majority of the diners were Australian so it is obviously very, very popular in Melbourne as well. What amused me tremendously was a couple on the nearby table (and all the tables were a bit too close !) photographing every dish as it arrived and then photographing it as she ate it bite by bite! Tedious, a bit nuts…but that showed the amount of fans The Press Club has. The food was a bit heavy for us and I do not know how it is possible for anyone to eat the entire Degustation menu unless you’ve not eaten for days! But all in all spectacularly plated, wonderfully attentive service and tasty food though a tad too heavy for me / or for the weather!

The next morning we set off walking across the bridge towards the yellow building that we would later come to know as Flinders Street Station. We were supposed to meet our guide there who was going to take us on a Hidden Secrets- Streets and Arcades tour of Melbourne. Now despite the fact that I hate tours and touristy traps-  I decided that this seemed an interesting tour! The best way to get the feel of a city is by walking and that’s what the tour promised! Our guide was fabulous  and knowledgeable and suddenly we were opening doors that you might have missed in lanes that you may never have visited and like Alice in Wonderland finding new exciting world’s underground, in “closed” buildings and in lanes you’d never have visited! 3 out of our group of 8 were actually Melbournians who’d heard about thetour and wanted to explore these tiny bylanes, these quaint shops and these fascinating secrets!

What I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED were the beautiful graffiti streets. Commissioned graffiti is done by local artists and displayed on these streets. Bright, striking and always changing- this was the perfect was to brighten a small lane and take the usually taboo graffiti and make it wonderful street art!

We stopped for a coffee at Koko Black at Melbourne’s historic Royal Arcade which has a Gaunt’s Clock which is flanked by two giant statues of the mythical figures of Gog and Magog. Since its implementation in 1892, the two mammoth statues have struck chimes at every hour, and can be heard resounding throughout the arcade. It was a wonderful break point with games shops, ancient doll shops , sweet shops and even shops on Wicca! Aditya signed a few autographs here and we took a few photographs with a couple of fans who had followed all of his music videos and ads and had a fabulous cup of coffee with the most incredible piece of chocolate and knew that this would be one stop we’d keep returning too!

The tour was definitely the high point of the day- though I strongly urge you NOT to sign up for their lunch! The lunch is bland and disappointing and with so many fabulous cafes and small restaurants in Melbourne DO NOT get stuck in a tasteless Mexican (?!) place!

Instead eat at this quaint cafe behind the GPO- Cafe De Vin! The most delicious pizzas and coffees and so , so, so cute!

After that incredible lunch, I suggest you spend the rest of the day exploring the lanes at your leisure! Do not forget to stop by Myer Melbourne….a one stop shop for some fabulous local designers!

Another really awesome thing about Melbourne is that opposite Flinders Street Station is the Tourism Office where you can travel on FREE Visitor Shuttles and trams which give you information about the city AND also stop at all the major landmarks. You can listen to the commentary, get off at a stop and get back on a couple of hours later!

The trams are incredible- a network of efficient , comfortable and beautifully historic. The tram stops focus more on the history of Melbourne and you can get some incredible photographs! Take the Free shuttle though if you want to shop and some of the more popular tourist stops or visit the well known Queen Victoria Market!

The Queen Victoria Market is massive. You can get everything from pet supplies, to baby clothes, to meat! The price is right and the choice is aplenty! But remember the soft toys may have their flaws and when you get 3 for a dollar don’t expect them to be soft or flawless ! It’s a place to pick up tourist souvenirs and keepsakes but for anything luxury or more fancy I’d recommend you stick to the main Bourke Street!

Another wonderful trip of ours was to Fenix Restaurant– Gary Mehigan’s restaurant (another MasterChef judge!)…. you see I AM obsessed! This was a trip we took one day for lunch! Almost 45 minutes outside of the city via tram, I’m assuming because of all the stops and because it took us time to find the correct route; we arrived late at the restaurant! Seeing our harried , worried faces; they thoughtfully seated us immediately and promised they’d do their best to ensure we get our orders in DESPITE us not having been able to keep our reservation! I ordered a grilled fish and Aditya a chicken. the meal was delicious. Light, almost airy, perfectly seasoned and finger licking good ; we were so glad we found the restaurant! Fenix , unlike Press Club has tons of natural light coming in. It is white and bright! The service was spectacular and the food was worth the change of trams and the route confusions!

Another restaurant I recommend is Jacques Reymond! This is a converted home and part of the Relaix and Chateaux chain of luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. The restaurant was probably the living room of an old home, beautifully restored and retaining the essence of luxury and comfort. The food was phenomenal and we could see Jacques pottering in and out of his kitchen making us feel like we were guests at his home!

What I also love about Melbourne is that the city is forever on Celebration mode- whether it’s an Arts Festival or a Theatre Festival or a Comedy Festival – there’s always something happening and it’s always soooo , soo fun! The last time I was there I was participating with my team in the Melbourne Theatre Fringe Festival and half way thru the festival another one started celebrating Angels and Demons (!?)  with some fabulous art work across the city!

This entire post has covered Melbourne’s food scene but for a true Melbournian life is in the cups of coffees and the fabulously plated food! With over 300 coffee shops in a few kilometers you will understand the Melbourne obsession with the perfect brew and the perfect meal!

In between the hundreds of fabulously brewed cups of coffee we did take the car out to the Great Ocean Road and to Yarra Valley…! But more on that next week!

Price Factor-: Melbourne , like the rest of Australia is a tad expensive for food and hotels with 5 star hotel prices averaging $200- 500 for some of the better 5 star hotels! But with so much the city has to offer for tourists FOR FREE, it is definitely a city where the Tourist rules! Tourism is made easy and uncomplicated!

Best times to travel-: Southern Hemisphere …so remember March- July is more than a BIT COLD!!! August- Feb is fabulous…a DEFINITE WINTER VACAY Destination!

 

The Wonders of Kangaroo Island aka My Best Vacay ever (thus far)

Writing about memorable anniversaries would be incomplete without writing about my Anniversary last year where we did a spectacular tour of Australia. Most notable among the places we visited was Kangaroo Island native name Karta or Island of the Dead! Not a particularly exciting name, I really wasn’t initially looking forward to this particular leg of our trip! The hotel we were staying in was called Southern Ocean Lodge , another cause for serious concern. In India you NEVER stay in a Lodge….I mean it’s not even a hotel or a Guest House. A lodge here is a surefire recipe for YECH! I put up a fight but was too bogged down with work to really work on getting my way….A good thing I didn’t….This turned out to be my most memorable vacation ever and my favourite place in the world thus far!

To get to Kingscote, the only airport on Kangaroo Island you need to take a flight from Adelaide. The flight is barely 30 minutes and though you have a seat belt sign and an announcement saying you may move/ switch on electrical equipment when the sign goes off- it never really does go off and barely have you reached a cruising altitude you are on your way down.

The airport is small and basic and we were greeted by a car from the Lodge. The drive to the Lodge takes about 45 minutes but it often takes longer as you see Kangaroos crossing, wallabies in the middle of the road and ever so often and eagle swooping down and sitting poised in the centre of the road. This was where I first fell in love with the island. The island is straight out of a novel. With narrow roads ,shaded by beautiful, think, green foliage your car moves slowly towards an unknown destination. You see very few cars, several animals and have just a driver to keep you company as he explains the history behind the island. The drive reminded me of all the Agatha Christie novels I had read and suddenly I was more than intrigued to see our final destination!

The Southern Ocean Lodge is TRULY SPECTACULAR. Almost like a diamond placed on the edge of a cliff, when you walk in you are suddenly struck by the quiet fabulousness of the Hotel. It is beauty at its most natural best! The lobby has fabulous ceiling to floor windows which overlook the sea and the entire hotel is perfectly placed at the edge of a cliff. All of only 21 luxe suites the Lodge looks after each guest like they are family and our check in was warm and comfortable. It was like I was coming home!

And what a home! The rooms are spacious and large. Each room overlooks the sea and has the same huge bay windows as the lobby. When you book at Southern Ocean Lodge, you book ALL INCLUSIVE Luxury stays and the tasty treats included in our room were a delicious welcome!

All Inclusive has always been another thing that worried me. What if the tastes were different? What if the chef wasn’t good? How do you know you like the food? And are you paying too much extra for meals you may not even have!? These questions were unnecessary. The food at SOL is made from the finest local produce and from fresh salads to fresh cheeses and the tastiest of sea food; every imaginable choice was given to us! The chef at the Lodge is remarkable and every meal was a gastronomical delight! Also the special snacks that were in our room daily including the fabulous chocolates and brownies, ensured I’d never be able to look at food the same way again!

SOL organises itineraries for each guest and these are remarkably comprehensive and great fun to do! Right at the start of our stay we were given a personal itinerary and every day was packed with nature walks, trips and more Exclusive experiences! The trip to Seal Bay was easily my favourite. Being an animal lover, or even if you are not–watching seals in their natural habitat with their big brown eyes and floppy feet was the best way to spend a morning! Watching a baby cry to find his mother and then watching 4 mothers rush over was funny, delightful and so so touching!

The other must do trip is the Wonders of Kangaroo Island trip. A 4 hour trip , you get to see the Remarkable rocks, more seals and even spot some fabulous koalas in their natural habitat! A photographer’s dream, this is an exceptional tour! I’m not one for 4 hour tours but here I made the exception and I’m so delighted I did!

The Kangaroos and Canapés is another wonderful way to spend the evening. Watching tens of wild kangaroos graze, stare and even box each other while we drank champagne and ate some fabulous food was a perfect end to a day at SOL!

The evenings have cocktails at the fire place and it was fun to meet with fellow guests, discuss sightings and tours and just generally bond! With such few guests and staff who address you by name every time it’s like joining a new family or just extending yours!

The suite we booked didn’t have a TV and the phone connections were terrible, at best! But cut off from the rest of the world, I have never felt so at peace and oddly enough so connected! I talked. I listened. I saw. I experience. I touched. I felt. I came alive!

My greatest trip ever!

 

Best Times To Travel-: October thru to March when the weather is a lil less chilly… tho honestly I would return ANY DAY, EVERY DAY IF I COULD!

Costs-: EXPENSIVE! $ 3000+ for 3 nights with all the experiences thrown in…! Kangaroos, wallabies, canapies… and a once in a lifetime vacation…!Worth it! YES!

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