Category Archives: Hotels

HongKong-ing to some fun sights!

It had been a while since my last trip (when I was a teenager) to Hong Kong. Aditya had visited HongKong last on July 1 , 1997 (his birthday )- the day where the hand over happened of HongKong from the UK to China. We had both had incredibly wonderful and memorable trips to Hong Kong (his more than mine :)) but we had never gone together! It was yet another birthday and we wanted to do HongKong and Macau so off we went on another adventure!

We arrived to the airport and took a train in to the city! They have a wonderful transport system and it was easy to take a quick and comfortable train to the city and then a quick cab ride later we were at the J.W. Marriott! The J.W. Marriott is a wonderful hotel. Calm, statuesque, luxurious and with one of the best Executive Clubs we have ever seen! Incredible views, fabulous food and impeccable service, the gloomy Hong Kong morning had a ray of sunshine for us as we checked in!

The one difference in the Hong Kong that we felt immediately was that Chinese was definitely more spoken and English was a little harder now among the smaller shop workers and in the bazaars. We were given Chinese addresses, for taxi drivers when we did travel and though there was definitely a basic understanding of English- we both felt that the last time we’d traveled to Hong Kong the knowledge of English just seemed a bit more widespread!

I am a Theme-Park junkie and so it was off to Disneyland straight away! The Disneyland though wonderfully colourful and alive is definitely quieter, smaller and milder than Disneylands the world over! There are fewer rides , smaller crowds and more restrained excitement! Not at all comparable to the adrenalin rush you get in California! Still I loved the few roller coasters and made it a point to enjoy every minute of the half day I had allocated for it!

Now if you think I was going to just do a half day theme park and be content- you don’t know me at all. I had people talk about some very scary roller coasters at Ocean Park and so that was where we decided to spend the second half of our day! The roller coasters were definitely more challenging and scary at Ocean Park but the atmosphere less festive and fun! But a mix of the colour of Disney and the adrenalin of Ocean Park made for a fun theme park day!

They should join the two and give us theme-park junkies one unforgettable day!

The next day it was on to the Peak Tram and a trip to the Peak. A misty morning made for a romantic tram ride  and a journey back in time in a wonderfully restored , beautifully kept tram to a cloud-kissed peak! Incredible photographs , warm cups of coffee and a view of a bustling city from an Eagle’s eye view made for a memory of Hong Kong that many do not see… From the top of the world, the frenetic activity melds away and all you see is a beautiful city with an incredible history!

More on Hong Kong (a musical experience,cable cars,restauranting and shopping!) and Macau next week… but now off to a flight (in 2 hours) and to more incredible adventures!

Best Times to Travel-: March- April and October- December- the weather is pleasant and warm though November and December will have a slight nip in the air by the evenings !

Cost-:$500-$600 and the choice is to stay in Hong Kong Island or Kowloon… The difference? Well log on next week and here my thoughts on both!

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!

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!

A day in Amsterdam…!

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

We were right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILL GO BACK…STAY LONGER…SOON!

A Venetian Romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to another trip to Venice …

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

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

Roma- the final day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splendide Roma (Day One Travels)

To do justice to glorious Roma can never take just a single post so bear with me while I go on and on for a bit and then still dream of going back and exploring some more! I’m going to break my trip in Roma up by days , but promise that each post will be completely and totally unique. I also know the next time I go there will be completely different too because that’s what Roma celebrates- the more you see- the more you learn. The more you think you’ve seen it all , the more you’ll be surprised! Roma is a treasure trove for travel enthusiasts and it was one of my creates travel adventures ever!

The Rome trip had been in planning for a while. I had dreamt of the romance of Rome and it’s splendor and to be able to stay in Rome on my birthday (which I did btw), was easily the most special celebration ever!!!

So after a perfect stay in Florence we were up and out early to glorious Rome. Now we were told several times to watch our luggage, watch for crooks, pickpockets etc – but I have to say we did NOT have one single bad experience! The train ride was a quick one 1 hr. 23 minutes and we were in Rome!

This post will only cover Day 1 or the eve of my SUPERB BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION…so you’ll have to keep coming back to see some incredible photographs and hear more about this marvelous city!

Here we stayed at the Spanish Steps at the very quaint Hotel Splendide Royal part of the Small Luxury Hotels. Now I was a little worried about this hotel, what with all my expectations having been so built up in Capri and me not really loving that hotel. But here my worried were unfounded. The Small Luxury Hotels got this very cute hotel just right and it was pretty, charming and very central! Our room had been upgraded to a suite and we had a wonderful sitting room and a charming bedroom and my only complaint was that you got lost in all the reds and golds of the room! It was not very well lit and I often couldn’t find something especially if it by chance fell on the plush carpet or the wonderfully soft, uber plush bed cover! I wish there were more lights in the room! The hotel also has the Mirabelle Restaurant, said to be one of the finest in the city! But best of all is the fact that you’re walking distance form the famous shopping at Via Venetto and the marvelous Spanish Steps.

We checked in and then we were out to explore! The Spanish Steps were a 3 minute walk and the day was perfect. We were on top of the Spanish Steps which made walking down easy and fun! The 138 step climb with shopping later in the day proved to be a little less fun! The Spanish Steps are filled with tourists , young couples and lots of life! Couples hang out on the steps and watch the world go by. Tourists use the steps for fabulous photographs and often a much needed rest stop.  The Steps start from the Piazza Trinità dei Monti dominated by the Trinità dei Montichurch at the top and lead to  the Piazza di Spagna at the base. We had a quick bite to eat at the wonderful , highly recommended Canova Cafe and the most glorious cappuccino and then it was off to walk towards the Trevi fountain!

I was very waylaid in my walk though because I kept finding these incredible boutiques with superbly priced clothing that I just had to , had to , had to have! So what would have been a 15 minute slow walk took us a couple of hours because of my insistence to explore small bylanes and small shops! The clothes however were beautiful, the weather perfect and this for me was the best way to explore Rome- leisurely and allowing a complete indulgence of your senses- because there is so much to smell, see, feel, touch and do!

The Trevi Fountain was glorious! I threw several coins in a fountain believing in the superstition that if you threw a coin in the Trevi fountain you will return! I do hope to go back several times and I wished hard hoping that the Fountain Gods would hear me!

Dinner was at a small cafe in the Theatre district and was absolutely perfect! But an early night Day 1 was almost done and the big birthday blow out was tomorrow! Surprises galore and a trip to Vatican City for a special Papal visit…. but more on that next week!

Till then Ciao!

Price Factor-: Between $ 300- $ 500 but book something CENTRAL …cos the only way to explore Roma is to do it by foot!

Best times to travel-: May- October

Romance in Florence

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

Grand Ol’ Naples

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.

Living, loving and breathing Milan!

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!

And by God it was!

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!

We also saw a poplar tree!

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!

MUST DO’S

  • 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!

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