Category Archives: Europe
The Leaning tower of Pisa is something I had always wanted to see and when you’re in Florence , Pisa is a measly 45 minutes by train and we knew we just HAD TO , HAD TO go!
If you want to climb the Tower, which is what we wanted to do, it’s better to book online so you don’t have to wait in cues or worse still miss the opportunity completely because the slots are totally full.
So up we were on a gloriously rainy, romantic Florence morning and after a hearty breakfast we took a 5 minute cab drive to the station. Now most of the trains in Italy are pretty wonderful, but the ones that take you to places very close by , like Pisa are just okay. We headed aboard and before we knew it we were in Pisa.
All the websites we had read said that you can see the Tower of Pisa from the station and it was really easy to get there once you arrived.
THIS IS WRONG!
You CAN’T see the Tower from the station. It is NOT a five minute walk a way from it! It is NOT easy to find!
Pisa is a lovely little university town with cobbled lanes and quaint houses. The Tower is quite a walk a way (it took us over 30 minutes) especially if you have no idea how to get there! What is infinitely better is to take one of the many busses which head straight from the station to the Tower and which leave at regular intervals. These are local buses which make a few stops but get you to the Tower or back to the station in approximately 10 minutes. Take these buses! It’s a much less frustrating walk , especially if you had a booking time confirmed to walk up the Tower and we were so afraid we’d miss it!
The Tower is white, perfect, beautiful and very, very tilted!The Piazza del Duomo in Pisa,is also known as the Piazza del Miracoli or the Field of Miracles is where you will find the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Duomo (cathedral), the Campanile (the cathedral’s free standing bell tower/ The Leaning Tower ), the Baptistry and the Camposanto.
We just made it in time to rush into the end of the line and be ushered in.
The narrow winding staircases broken with the occasional small landing where you could see the glorious University town below made for beautiful photographs and though the climb was steep, the steps uneven and the corridors occasionally a little confined because of the number of people going up- the climb to the top was well worth it! The gorgeous clouds almost touched us as we reached the top and you could see why Gabriele d’Annunzio described the adjoining building and the Tower as being part of the Field of Miracles- the beauty was astounding!
In the Piazza below you will see tons of tourist shops with funny t-shirts and lots of small knick-knacks to commemorate your visit to Pisa. You can also stop and have a cappuccino or food at the many cafes in the Piazza.
Once our climb was completed we took a while to explore the beautiful college town and then took a BUS back to the station and was back to Florence in 45 minutes!
The afternoon was beautiful back at Florence and we explored the narrow cobbled roads and the quaint , family-owned cafes and I shopped! The shopping was wonderful, the people were friendly and the city was a from a time lost that I would have loved to be a part of!
It must be said again the Firenze or Florence was my favourite Italian city and when you do go there go climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
Price Factor-: 17 Euros per person! Well worth it!
What to Wear-: A jacket as the weather is a tad confusing- rainy one moment, bright sunshine the next! Wear comfortable shoes as it’s quite a climb !
Best times to travel-: May- October
Florence also known as Firenze is easily the most romantic city (save for Venice that we visited).
I must say the name of our hotel Hotel Rocco Forte- Savoy did not sound either impressive or grand and this was definitely the city I was least looking forward to traveling to! We arrived early in the morning as we were only spending 2 nights and wanted to make the best use of our very short trip! The hotel was barely a 5 minute cab drive away and the streets looked quaint and original… maybe our day could turn out to be pretty great!
We had arrived quite early and with a broken suitcase in tow- not exactly the ideal start to a super 2 days. As we entered the hotel and the room was not ready! Wow after a long train ride, no breakfast and carting a broken suitcase- this day was wasn’t getting any better. And then we went outside- a perfect Piazza (Piazza della Republica) complete with a musical merry-go-round and the nicest cafes surrounded us. With grey skies, threatening to rain sitting in a cafe with a warm cappuccino suddenly Firenze became the most romantic city in Italy- I guess when we were less hungry we actually appreciate the subtle beauty, the calm perfection of this very old yet extremely modern city! We finished a leisurely breakfast and headed to the a multi brand super store, – Rinascente in the Piazza open perfectly early- and lo and behold , we found the perfect suitcase.
We dragged that back to the hotel , only to have been met by a very apologetic General Manager. We should have been shown our room immediately, he apologized. After all what was the use of being A Leaders Club Member if we couldn’t be treated special. Room upgrade in place with a fabulous view of the amazing Piazza della Republica , Day 1 was about finding the Statue of David. I had bought these tickets online and this really helped. The day was rainy but the Gallery in the prestigious centre of the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, one of the most ancient lay fraternal orders of the city. This meant we passed yet another beautiful Duomo (Cathedral). The destination was close and in 5 minutes we reached the Uffizzi Art Gallery. The Gallery was a celebration of art and colours and Masters and had an enviable collection of Venetian paintings from Veneto as well, from the Bizantine and Gothic fourteenth century; but I have to admit, I was keen on seeing Michaelangelo’s David.
This was a 10 minute walk the other way (our Piazza being almost a central point) and the line to see David was very long. However since we had our tickets which we’d exchanges at the Florence Accademia there was no line at all and we saw envious glances of those huddling up in the line , cold and wet because it was such a rainy, rainy day!
David was magnificent. Strong, posed and perfect, he stood confident and majestic. The guards there allowed a few photographs but none with flash and I was delighted to have been treated to this remarkable sculpture! On the way out you see a fake David with coloured hair and neon body parts staring at you and you can’t help but be overawed by the simplicity and beauty that you had just witnessed! And then it was time for gelato on a cold , rainy day and some fabulous shopping!
Hotel Rocco Forte is in the centre of the city and surrounded by high-end boutiques and fabulous Italian designers. Spoiled for choice the rest of the evening was about trying clothes, shopping and indulging our little extravagances. A few hours later we found a beautiful restaurant and with a nice warm drink and some bubbly and some impeccably made Italian food we treated ourselves to a personal, perfect romantic dinner.
Florence was perfect. Luxury and romance lived together on perfectly cobbled paths and we fell in love again with not just each other but the most artistic city we’d even been to!
We’d had a long day but we felt more alive in Florence than we ever had! The next day we were off to Pisa…and then we planned to rush back home to enjoy our last evening in this paradise… but more on that next week!
Price Factor-: About $300- $500 per night for a 5 star hotel. But remember most cafes also have a basic cover/sitting charge even if you are ordering a full meal.
Best times to travel-: June- October
Pompeii and Vesuvius are MUST -DO Trips from Naples. They’re not very far – Vesuvius is about 9 km from Naples and Pompeii 8 odd kms from it. The tour we booked was a small group tour on Viator and we found that Viator for the most part, gave us great deals and interesting tours! The tour started post a fabulous, filling breakfast at our beautiful hotel and soon we were on our way. We had barely 8 people on the tour and it was a small, quick bus ride to Pompeii.
I have never been particularly interested in history but had wanted to go to Pompeii and am so glad I did. The few hours that we spent in Pompeii took me to another time. The ruins are so well preserved and the city so incredibly planned , it takes almost no imagination to transport yourself to a forgotten time and to the 7th- 6th Century BC where this city flourished and thrived! Well laid out roads , perfect shop fronts with little houses on top, schools, gladiator training areas and theatres; the planning then was infinitely better than in some of our modern cities even now! Our guide was knowledgeable and interesting and I could imagine the life of a Roman man as he came to work in the city of Pompeii. I stared in awe at the amphitheater and marveled at the Roman spa. I saw holes in the footpath where horses could be tied to ‘park’ them. The vision and foresight was incredible ! I was amazed that a pizza oven even back then looks so similar to a pizza oven now. I also loved how the roads were tilted so that water and dirt could be swept downwards. Should you need to pass there were three rocks at regular intervals for you to walk across. Shopkeepers had a store front facing the road and most lived just above their store. Traders and visitors would come early in the day for trade into Pompeii and after trading through the day , eat lunch in the city. Then it was time for the spa and based on your status in society you’d move to the spa meant for you. Steam rooms and sauna rooms were still preserved and because the day we traveled was a particularly sunny day- I suddenly wished to have a quick plunge myself! They also had mosaic tiles which were still there.Bright and colorful- you could see that Romans really lived life King size!
Then there were also the brothels where in case you didn’t understand the language images were painted on the walls and you could choose what you’d like to do with the prostitute of your choice! An incredibly interesting time and an even more eye-opening experience for me!
What was also really fun were the drinking water taps all carved with Gods and Goddesses with the taps becoming the mouths- they also served as road names and helped in directions for the city. it was also interesting to see the water wells had a small indent for the left hand allowing you to drink with your right.It’salso interesting to note that the water can still be drunk and is drinkable even today!
Molds of people who died during the eruption can also be seeing which gives you an idea of how truly horrible that explosion was!
We saw temples and Piazzas(squares),remnants of a time once forgotten but so ahead of it’s time in planning and in structure, you couldn’t help but imagine what if? What if Vesuvius hadn’t erupted? What if the city hadn’t been lost? A tragic loss.I was privileged to have been able to gain just a little bit of insight into history. This is an absolute MUST DO on any trip to Naples!
And then after a quick pizza it was off to Mount Vesuvius. Here the tour got a little less interactive. You were now advised to trek on your own and meet back in an hour. Vesuvius is an active volcano and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. The climb is steep and the black volcanic mud makes climbing tricky. They offer sticks to help climb- take them! Even if you think you can do without them – they help you keep your footing firm. I didn’t take them- I regretted it! The climb is long with very few (almost none) stops to catch a breath. It gets hot. So wear comfortable clothes and very comfortable shoes. The walk down is also tricky because the black sand slips and moves quite a bit. You can also see a black river of ash from Vesuvius which gives you an idea of how the ash and steam moved down from the volcano! Truly terrifying!
An active volcano, a lost city, a dramatic past- history came to life for me that day!
Price Factor-: About $120 for the day trip! Absolutely worth it!
Dress-: Comfortably with very , very comfortable shoes and carry lots of water.
Best times to travel-: August to October.
We arrived to Naples via the 45 minute hydrofoil (thankfully on calm seas) on a glorious sunny afternoon and checked into the exquisite, beautiful and fabulously historic Grand Hotel Vesuvio!As a Leaders Club member we were shown up to our suite immediately! The suite with its luxurious living room, oversize King bed and views of the Bay of Naples from all its rooms was a real treat! Built in 1882 the grandeur of the hotel was visible in it’s beautiful staircases, charming lifts and wonderfully large suites. There are also some remarkable photographs of Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelley, Woody Allen and Luciano Pavarotti to name a few that grace the walls of this charming hotel.The hotel is on the sea front as a no-car zone unless of course you are a guest and need to get dropped or picked up from the hotel. At all other times and most specially in the evenings the huge road in front of the hotel and in front of the bay is filled with children, balloons, bicycles and joggers. There are small cafes across from the hotel and they are frequented by young couples holding hands , gazing soulfully into each others eyes. But then again , living among such beauty it’s easy to fall in love again!
The reason why I am talking so fondly about this hotel because it really reaffirmed a membership that I had recently acquired. Aditya and I travel alot and we decided to spend on purchasing a Leaders Club Membership from the Leading Hotels of the World. Now for all those who travel, and enjoy pampering and luxury as much as I do- this is a membership you MUST GET! The hotels are each unique, as we have found but they all have the quiet luxury, the understated opulence and the finest service. Grand Hotel Vesuvio was once again a gem that we may have missed had we not been part of the Leader’s Program.
We checked in and as much as I wanted to just collapse and enjoy my fabulous room and all its wonderful amenities , it was off on the road again for the both of us. We had decided to drive to Sorrento and were both very excited!
We had been warned about bad driving in Naples but what we hadn’t been warned about was cobbled roads which made the ride a tad more bumpy than it should have been! Coming from India, we didn’t really feel the driving was that bad- maybe we just drive a lot worse! 🙂
Driving the coastal roads to reach Sorrento is just beautiful. Relax, carry a duo of coffee and some munchies- stop on the way, photograph, take in Italy at its finest and enjoy the ride!It takes a little over an hour and it is one of the nicest drives ever! Once you reach Sorrento, look for parking! Parking is a major problem but there are parking structures hidden in the small lanes , so quickly find one and then enjoy this beautiful quaint town!
We did coffee and dessert in Sorrento. Lively, bright, full of life and even more full of tourists, Sorrento is filled with cafes and bookstores, shops and restaurants. Walk and get lost in the hustle and bustle of vacationing folk enjoying their vacation! Sorrento is a perfect break on your perfect Naples vacation!
Would I have spent more time in Sorrento?Well maybe lunch and the afternoon and then coffee and apertivo but would I spend the night there? Probably not. It was a lovely quaint town but it was easy to experience and to see in a few hours. If I had come to Italy just to relax , then sure I’d have spent a night but I came on a quest to see, experience and feel and i was able to take in the best of Sorrento in just a few hours and it was perfect- leaving me wanting just a bit more!
Before we knew it the sun was setting and it was time for more photographs and time to get back ‘home’ and luxuriate in our jacuzzi bath tub before our tour of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvious…!
More on that next week…!
Till then let me reminisce on the gorgeousness of Naples and the sunshine-smile of Sorrento!
Price Factor-: 250- 1000 Dollars a night …Naples has affordable luxury- but book smartly and book in advance!
Best times to travel-: End May-September.
And from Rome , it was off on the Trenitalia all the way to Naples a long 4 and a half hour journey and then a 45 minute hydrofoil to the brilliant and blue Isle of Capri! The First Class was comfortable and the wifi free IF and only IF you had a local number because you had to put in your local phone number and a code would be smsed to you! Since it was a long train journey at speeds of over 300 km/hr, we watched the country side, watched as we passed Rome and Florence (couldn’t wait to be there!) and then surfed social networking sites having been kindly given an access code by the Ticket Conductor.What was interesting was the colour of the ‘ORANGE’ Juice! It was RED! Later I learnt that the Orange Juice in many places in Italy is just as red 🙂
We arrived at Naples and took a taxi to the port which is about 5-10 minutes away. There we bought tickets to the hydrofoil and boarded.There are regular hydrofoils to and fro from the island. they are large boats seating approximately 300 odd passengers and take 45 minutes to get to one side.
The sea was incredibly rough and the boat incredibly large and unwieldy and unfortunately our ride to Capri was filled with passengers with green faces, some throwing up, most about to and lots of screams and shouts! It is a 45 minute boat ride and as much as I love the water I couldn’t wait to be back on land again!
And what a beautiful land. When you arrive in Capri, you are stunned by the bluest of blue waters, picture perfect views and the most glorious bay! A car from the hotel picked us up and in minutes the boat trip was forgotten and we were on our way to Anacapri. Ana means higher and so this is a point higher than Capri and looks over Capri and the bay.
The hotel we had chosen had was on a 1000 foot cliff edge with stunning views of Mount Vesuvious and the island and was the winner of 2012 Best European Hotel. It was called Hotel Caesar Augustus. The winner of numerous travel and luxury awards, this was the hotel I was most looking forward to! The hotel was beautiful- personal, private and with the most stunning views of the bay and of Mount Vesuvious. It seemed like a home converted into a luxury hotel and soon enough we met the owners who still actively run the hotel! We were shown to our suite and were enthralled by the balcony which had yet another spectacular room!
The day was windy unfortunately and the sea was rough and cold so after our long trip over there was little left to do but to laze in the hotel and completely relax!
The hotel was stunning but very unlike the other 2 Australian Relais and Chateaux that we have stayed at (Qualia and Saffire Freycinet) the rooms though comfortable were rather tiny and the hotel, though beautifully placed was more of a fabulous home with a warm homely feel as compared to these 2 properties which were luxury at it’s finest. Personally I love staying at the Leading Hotels of the World because you always know what to expect- an old world charm, a historical beauty and the finest of service. I was hoping that Relais and Chateaux would also have a certain common ground with their choices but though all the hotels are beautiful, I much preferred the space and professionalism that the Australian Hotels offered. When I travel, I don’t want to go to a home, no matter how beautiful it is. I’d like to stay in a hotel.
- A ten minute walk from the hotel is Piazza Vittoria and a chair lift which takes you to the highest point on the island. This is definitely a ride worth taking! It takes about 15 minutes up wards and 15 minutes down and will give you some of the most incredible photographs you will ever take. Have a warm Irish Coffee as you reach the top and be mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the island!
- Spend a little time in the shops at Piazza Vittoria. Very reminiscent of Santorini for me, these small shops and cafes are stocked with local paintings, bright prints and fun gifts to take home! Don’t forget to eat a gelato while walking the white pebbled roads. This is a great place to while away an hour or so!
- A tour of the Blue Grotto or the Grotto Azzura. The Blue grotto is so called because it is a cave with a very small opening with allows just enough light to illuminate the water such that the entire cave is lit up in the most brilliant of blues. Now the Blue Grotto is often shut based on the wind and water issues of any particular day and for our short trip it was closed because of a sudden dip in temperature accompanied by storm winds. However on our last day as we headed towards the hydrofoil we met the ‘President’ of the Blue Grotto who informed us that it was now open! Aditya and I ran to find a boat that would take us to the Blue Grotto and in minutes we were on our way!Once you reach the Grotto however, it is a wait for at least an hour as you must disembark from the boat you are in and move into a small , low boat which holds no more than 3-4 people. Then you must lie flat as you enter else you’ll be hit pretty badly on the head as you enter the grotto . And once you are in, you realise the wait was worth it. Bright blue, radiant and completely unique- this is a MUST DO on any trip to Capri!
Capri was my break in an otherwise super packed Italian Tour, it was beautiful, unexpected and relaxing.
Price Factor-: Expensive ! 400-600 Dollars a night …but can you put a price on complete relaxation.
Best times to travel-: End May-September. As it approaches June , the weather gets less unpredictable and a lot warmer….so if you’re traveling in May opt for the last few weeks!
Italy has always been on my MUST-VISIT list of destinations! I added it to my ‘Oprah-Visualisation Chart’ and romanticized it, dreamt of it, read about the hotels and the language and so when we finally decided to go to Italy- I was really, really excited! now I must confess, I always wanted to go to Rome and Venice ! They seemed glorious and romantic and that for me would’ve completed my Italian experience !Or so I thought! I was so wrong! I was able to schedule some work finally in Italy and schedule some meetings and theatre performances and this May was finally my chance to see Italy. Luckily my partner in crime, Aditya convinced me to see the whole country- from North to South …”Let’s really explore 1 country fully,” he said! And the excitement of doing the Multi city Euro Trip that I had longed to do since college but had never done took over and before we knew it we were off on ADITYA & DIVYA’S EURO TRIP 2012!!!! It was going to be fabulous!
We arrived in Milan. We were staying at the glorious Grand Hotel et de Milan, a part of the Leading hotels of the World in Montenapoleone – the heart of the fashionable district of what is arguably the most fashionable city in the world and a stones throw away from the glorious Duomo. Now the Duomo is a Cathedral and you will see many in Italy though none as glorious as the one in Milan. We arrived late in the evening at 5 p.m. and it took us 45 mins or so from Malpensa Airport to our hotel. The scenery changed from stark, to more modern and then to glorious , old heritage buildings and I was delighted to see our hotel was one of these fabulous, fashionable structures!
The hotel was beautiful, preserved and luxurious. We were quickly shown up to our suites and in true-blue Euro Luxury Trip fashion, we washed up and headed off to explore this gorgeous , fashionable city!
The hotel is walking distance from the Duomo so we decided to bundle up( it was pretty chilly) and walk to the Duomo. To get to the Duomo from our hotel, you walk by the historical Teatro alla Scala which had people getting out of their cars to see the Opera. I couldn’t believe we were so close to such incredible history. And then we saw it…the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II a beautiful double arcade in the connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. Piazzas are squares and the one in front of the Teatro alla Scala was naturally the Piazza della Scala. It joined the Duomo square. We walked through this magnificent, bustling arcade on a Sunday evening and witnessed sheer perfection- the Duomo! The square was being used to host a concert and people was sipping coffees and listening to beautiful music while basking in the splendor of the sun setting over the Duomo. This was my definition of the perfect life!
We ordered a pizza (I HAD TO!) and a cappuccino and relaxed in the glory of a beautiful, musical and mellow Milan.
It was off to Lake Como the next day and the train tickets had been booked!
The Milan train station is sensational. Milano Centrale , the central train station is a heritage building , has hundreds of trains coming in and thousands of passengers but also has shops like Armani Jeans, Zara, Guess, Berhka, Desigual…to name a few! Guess fashion starts in Milan as you arrive!!!We arrived a bit early to the train station as it was our first train of this trip and got so caught up with the shopping, we’re lucky we made it in time at all!
Lake Como is 33 minutes by train and can obviously be driven to as well, but being that we had just arrived we didn’t really want to start driving so soon! Lake Como is picturesque, calm and beautiful. It’s a wonderful place to grab lunch or coffee and just let life pass you by! You can walk to the lake from the train station and walk up to some lovely cafes by the edge of the lake and have a truly beautiful and memorable afternoon! The two hands installation was a photo op for every person who seemed to pass the wonderful park on the way to the lake!
But I needed to go back! I’d fallen in love with Milan and I wanted to explore! So off we went- back to explore and back to shop! I had a couple of meetings with actors and performers and some work with Creative directors and then it was back to walking the city !
The shopping is fabulous! I bought my first Giorgio Armani and I loved the Armani store and I loved the chic boutiques with fabulously coloured beautifully ,draped clothes! I shopped till my soles wore out and then bought new shoes! After that we did Apertivos at the uber stylish D&G Store.
Apertivo is something that happens thru all of Italy! Genrally Apertivo happens between 7 and 9 p.m. and roughly translated ‘Apertivo’ means a pre-dinner drink, meant to “open” the palate. It gives you a chance to relax, and nibble on some wonderful tapas as dinner is approaching. the tapas in each restaurant is different and you get a selection as you order a drink! And truly it is one of the most beautiful ways to unwind! We connected, talked, planned and laughed as the sun set on a busy yet thoroughly enjoyable day!
And the next day we opted for a walking tour of Italy. Walking from the Duomo, we listened to it;s history and sensed the excitement in our Guide’s voice as she talked about the impending Papal visit later this year. We walked down the Galleria to the Scala square where we posed in from the Leonardo da Vinci statue and listened to the guide wax eloquent about the operas at the Scala theatre. From there we walked to the Castlello Sforzeco which had children playing in the gardens, families walking and enjoying the history and tourists like us capturing some unforgettable images!
Now this is important because whenever I walked in Milan I’d see this white , cotton wooly substance floating in the air. at first I assumed it to be dandelions but when seeing this tree I was informed that the tree was the cause for this white billowy substance! Go to Milan , you’ll see what I’m talking about!
And then we walked to our final stop – to see the piece-de-resistance – The Last Supper painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Now, I had no idea what i was to expect.I assumed it to be small, preserved, protected and was sure I’d have to push thru crowds to barely get a glimpse of it. But I was wrong. The painting is 15 feet × 29 ft (so huge!!!) and covers an entire wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. They only allow about 30 people into the room at a time and you can sit or stand any where…You just can’t miss it! It is spectacular!
I prayed fervently in the church and have a slight feeling God was right there listening…and then it was off via tram to Duomo square , some more incredible shopping and a quick change of outfit at our hotel! And then like a fashionable Milanese we strutted to the Bvlgari hotel for Apertivo and then topped off this delicious day with the most tasty sushi I have ever eaten at Nobu!
- A coffee at one of the oldest cafes in Milan The Caffè Cova – a wonderfully quaint pasticcerie founded in 1817.
- A walking tour of Milan…that truly is the best way to see the city!
- See the painting of the Last Supper. See Leornado da Vinci’s masterpiece with all it’s secrets and stories and be mesmerized!
- Splurge on shopping ! The Italian designers are more reasonable in Milan and the clothes don’t get cut better than here!
- Do an Apertivo or do a few apertivos! Travel the city. Scour the tastiest tapas and the most beautiful restaurants and enjoy the evening like the Italians do!
Fabulous fashion, incredible beauty and truly delicious- Milan was easily the most glorious city I have ever been to! She is a beautiful lady – fun , flirty, feminine and delightful- not in any way the industrial , boring city it’s described to be. It was by far the perfect start to a legendary trip!
Price Factor-: Expensive ! 500-800 Dollars a night , make sure you get something close to the Duomo and the Fashion District! My recommendations are Grand Hotel et de Milan and the beautiful Bvlgari Hotel!
Best times to travel-: May-September but remember as holiday season hits abroad (May end) expect the city to be filled with tourists. We went in the second week of May and tho there were some tourists , it was still largely empty, local and a lot more fun!
From the lazy,warmth of Santorini we were off to the beauty of Athens! At Athens, my husband had picked the fabulous hotel Grand Bretagne knowing my love for Classic Luxury and the hotel was all that and more!
The lobby which it’s rich reds and golds reminded me of a palatial entrance and the quiet, discreet care they took with us during check-in was wonderful. If you stayed in the hotel you were not just treated as a VIP- you were VIP! There are very few hotels that have that level of sophistication though I have almost always faced in the older, grand hotels as compared to the newer chains! It’s nice being treated special even if you are just another guest on the roster and I loved that!
The rooms we had booked were Higher category rooms and were comfortable , spacious and had incredible views! Ours overlooked the busy Constitution Square and almost immediately- I was ready to start exploring. Afew hours of walking later- I was ready to take on the Acropolis! Aditya insisted however that we first take in an early night and leave the exploring to the following day, so we headed up to the GB Roof Garden to eat!
The name GB Roof Garden does not do the restaurant justice. With an outside and inside dining option, this restaurant is no cafe or roof garden- it is a fabulous restaurant with great food and directly overlooks the Acropolis. We dined outside obviously enjoying the slight nip in the air and loving the beautifully lit Acropolis in the distance! The food varied from Sushi to Greek food, to pastas and mains! I ate a fabulous fish dish and went to bed excited about what the new day would bring!
The hotel suggested we do a private tour of the sights of Athens. This was very wise. this gave us a taste of history and yet we were not forced to do at the pace dictated by tour operators! We could see what we wanted to see, do what we wanted to do and most importantly stay and take photographs at all the places we wanted to stop at! The morning started at the Acropolis and though the climb seems intimidating, it is actually done quite easily. It is entering the area where the Parthenon , (a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena) stands that’s hard! The crowds there jostle for space to take that one , perfect photograph and the guards try and keep people movingand there are almost no places at all where you can stop, take a breath and just marvel at these incredible structures! We were lucky we had come on a day where cruise ships had not docked and therefore though there were thousands of tourists, I am told that this wasn’t even half of what they usually go through on a daily basis! What I loved were the Greek dogs perched proudly on the steps guarding the entrance to the Parthenon almost like spirits of Greek warriors doing a great duty!
The ruins I loved the best were that of the Amphitheatre- the Theatre of Herod Atticus. This space is still used for Greek theatre and was getting ready for a huge musical performance that night!
The ruins are kept with great amount of care and the locals talk about Greece’s past with so much deference and respect; you almost wish you could get transported into a time of great pomp and splendor, of wealth and beauty, of valor and tradition!
Then it was off to the Agora or the market place and to the Plaka which are lined with quaint cafes and lovely shops which sell fun tourist memorabilia!
It was there we let go of our guid so we could have a leisurely lunch! The Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch which was the entrance to the city were explored by us at our own pace! The museum was another treasure we discovered ourself. watching historians uncover the past hidden below the present structures of the city was truly fascinating. The fact that an entire city had been built over another city was unbelievable and the glass walkway to the museum was atop one of the recently excavated sites and had historians working on it while we explored treasure of a lost past!
Athens also has great shopping! From the latest gadgets and brands to incredible small local designer boutiques, Athens is a shoppers paradise! I bought an entire wardrobe here and would have gladly stayed on, given half a choice!
The people are warm and friendly and I remember wandering the Plaka in the middle of the evening searching for a restaurant we’d heard so much about and other smaller restaurant owners coming outside just to help us and point the way! Our taxi driver too was mortified he hadn’t taken us to the right address and refused to charge a fare on the entire journey saying that we were guests and he had inconvenienced us!
Athens is a city of culture and passion, a city of ruins and romance, of great beauty and of incredible stories! I heard a few and made of a few stories of my own here and I’d love to go back because Athens is like a great novel…every time you read it, the more you learn!
Now the husband is the more sane among us but has a terrible weakness for traveling and when this was suggested on a particularly lazy Sunday, he thought it was a fabulous idea! I did not expect him to agree but nonetheless YAY!
So off we were to Santorini ! Katakies was our hotel of choice in Santorini In the beautiful village of Oia pronounced as “Ia,” this is in the northern part of Santorini and is known to have the most beautiful sunsets and we were looking forward to the romance the evening would bring! This is part of the Small Luxury Hotels and I was really looking forward to a quick, yet very much needed break!
Santorini is a short beautiful flight from Athens! With azure waters interspersed with lush green isles , it is a truly a vision to behold! Our hotel was the other side of the island and a good 30 minutes by car. The car ride was phenomenal with stunning views and picture-postcard scenes! And almost before we could take a breath we were at the hotel. the hotel like the majority of structures in Santorini was a fabulous cave like whitewashed structure reminiscent of hotels in Cappadocia!
On the side of a cliff , the hotel overlooked the Caldera, the cauldron like volcanic structure surrounded by the ocean!The rooms were tasteful, large and ours had the stunning view of the bluest, blue sea! It was perfect!-a quiet , serene getaway to nothingness!
The hotel had just a few rooms and fabulously personal service. Breakfast was in the room every day and with the cheeses and local fruits and produce, the food was light, delicious and supremely healthy! We could eat outside overlooking the glorious ocean and remain undisturbed in the privacy of our own space!
The hotel had 3 pools, each more glorious than the other but my personal favourite was the Cave Pool….something I had never seen before! But where swimming was concerned- when in Santorini head to the beaches! And that’s what we did! I’m a free spirit but I have never been the kind of girl who drives around a foreign location with absolutely no idea what she’s doing… but that’s EXACTLY what we did here! We rented an ATV with an International Drivers Licence that i had brought and we were off! They do take any license in Roman English though so I could have got by with my Indian driver’s license as well! And off we went….to well….EVERYWHERE! It was a day time of adventure. We stopped. We shopped. We got lost.And then we got found!
We found black sand beaches, white sand beaches, azure waters and great cafes! We stopped and swam everywhere! We took our postcard photographs and really explored the island. We visited the beautiful villages of Fira and Firostefani, walked on the black pebble (huge pebbles) beach of Kamari and I felt rejuvenated and alive! Sometimes you can find purpose in life by just losing your way and that’s what we did…we got lost all day- but found our sanity, our happiness and our peace!
The sunsets at Oia are fabulous and walking on the cobbled paths , avoiding donkeys and stopping to see the fabulous Greek wares peddled on the sides of the paths- you rediscover happiness! Staring at the sun and sets in Santorini, there is a sense of inner peace that I have never felt before.