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Shanghai Nights

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And it was off to Shanghai and to the J.W. Marriott at Shanghai’s hip Tomorrow Square minutes away from the heart of Shanghai’s commercial shopping districts in Puxi! Puxi (is the historic center of Shanghai. Puxi is distinguished from Pudong , which is separated from it by the Huangpu River. Despite the growing importance of Pudong Puxi remains Shanghai’s cultural, residential and commercial centre. The two are divided by the Huangpu river which you can ferry across if  you’d like, take a metro over or cross via car/ taxi over the bridge (which we did!)

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Standing 60 stories tall, you cannot miss this fabulous structure as you drive in to the city. I pointed the building out miles away and was delighted when the driver told us that this was our hotel! As you reach you are ushered in to an elevator which takes you to the 38th floor for check in! With sheet glass windows overlooking Shanghai, it made sense to have the check in , high above the city where you could see this glorious, bustling city as it After that we checked in to our room on an even higher floor of this magnificent structure!

A quick wash and change later we were headed to the world famous Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall , barely 10 minutes away on foot from the hotel! Nanjing Road, known, is flanked by hundreds of huge shopping centers, specialty stores and shops with unique Chinese characteristics and a long history.The 1033-metre-long “Pedestrian Walkway of Nanjing Road” houses the China’s key commercial shops and the colorfully glazed floor tiles,  the fashionable stores flanking the street, the hustling and bustling crowd, the small, lovely sightseeing trains, all make for a fabulous way to shop a lot and see a little Chinese culture while you’re at it!

Shanghai is modern , fashionable , young and fun! High street brands and High couture are well represented in different parts of the city. The Chinese are fashionable and unafraid to take fashion risks, which invariably seem to pay off! You will see them mixing brands and couture with equal ease and Shanghai was easily one of the most fashionable cities! Of course, if you are looking, you can always find the fake bags and belts with impeccable stitching and almost no difference from the original! These are sold in small by-lanes in garage like warehouses. They are more than a bit shady and with language being such a difficulty any way, there was no way I was going to get conned into a garage with a bunch of men who I couldn’t communicate with! Power to the bunch of women I saw rushing in- oohing and aahing… I’d rather pay the extra yuan and not venture into any basements, thank you!

Oh and do keep a check for false currency. We changed our dollars at a reputed money changer and they realised they were giving us fakes and took it back! Scary but the fakes look super real  tho’ you will get in to trouble if you try and pay with them!

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And so in new designer ware , we were off to dinner to the ultra chic- ‘M on the Bund,’ The bund has a series of beautiful buildings lining the river. The ultra chic M with it’s european cuisine is a hit with locals, expats and well-read tourists , who’ve done their research (like us!). Fabulous food and wine and a view to die for… this was a perfect evening!

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Shanghai for us, was about shopping, walking and just relaxing and that’s what we did! The next night we made reservations at one of the highest points of the city- Cloud 9 at the Grand Hyatt! The Grand Hyatt is all the way in Pudong and it was an experience by itself to going thru tunnels and then ending up on Nanpu Bridge. The hotel is intimidating with elevators taking you to the Lobby Level on the 54th floor and then ushering you in to another high speed elevator to take you to the 85th floor! The end result- the view is sublime! The food- tasty, light and flavorful! The experience – a MUST DO!

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Once again remember Chinese names of places and hotels are different and language is a huge barrier – so wherever you travel- GET THE CHINESE NAME OF YOUR HOTEL AND STREET AND KEEP IT WITH YOU!

Best Times to Travel-: Mid september- mid November though we were there in October and it does get rather chilly in the evenings!

Cost-: $300- $500 at Peak season… my advice- STAY FIVE STAR!

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New Years @ the Vivanta by Taj President

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So I’d always wanted to do a relaxed New Years Eve! Check in to a nice hotel, have a wonderful dinner, party and instead of worrying how to get home and having to hire a river to get you back safely…just take the elevator up and collapse on a plush, well made bed in a room that’s just the right temperature!

So that’s what we did! This last new years eve Aditya and I checked in to the Vivanta by Taj President with my pet cocker spaniel Cookie. Now this is important- because very few hotels in India are pet friendly and it’s absolutely vital for the both of us to not leave Cookie home alone on the loudest night of the year. So bags packed we headed off to the hotel. I must confess we were way more excited about this new year than poor lil Cookie.

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We were checked in immediately and taken to our suite and Cookie , now slowly catching the excitement bug, smiled happily, found a new bed and then went to sleep…. A warm cup of coffee later, I was off to a relaxed tub bath and then had the time to do my hair and make up perfectly before our friends descended on us! We were all partying at Wink, the bar at the hotel and a table had been reserved for the group. As they reached, I headed downstairs, my feet in stilettos thanking me for the very short journey…:)

Wink was wonderful and the sushi perfect as usual and it got me to to thinking that the Vivanta by Taj President has some of the finest eateries in Mumbai. The Thai Pavillion is sublime. The Trattoria serves the most tasty pizzas and pastas and to get good food on New Years eve a long with some very interesting specially created cocktails was quite the treat!

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I did keep checking on my lil Cookie though and tho the hotel has a pet-friendly policy, the staff are still getting used to pets… They are not sure how to react or what to do… but I guess the fact that hotels are learning to treat our furry babies like family is a huge step in the right direction!

The evening was fun, raucous, loud and exhausting but  have to say that on January 1, when all the rest of my friends looked miserable at the trudge across town back home…I was still beaming…After all I was just a quick elevator ride away from my bed, my puppy and sleep!

MUST TRY-: Thai Pavillion for authentic, tasty , light Thai food AND Trattoria for thin crust pizzas with incredible toppings!

COST-: $200- $1400 (all inclusive with spa treatments included) per night…! For New Years, spending the night over at the hotel as opposed to driving home tired, with tons of drunken revelers on the street- the greatest idea ever!

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The Royal Touch at the Taj Faluknama Palace Hyderabad

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The Taj Falaknuma Palace was a hotel I chose to stay on on a whim. It had just opened and I was curious! I had stayed in all the iconic Taj Palaces across the country and this was a hotel I had heard amazing things about…so after a show in Hyderabad , we decided to check in for the night at this iconic hotel!Falaknuma Palace is also known as the ’mirror of the sky‘ because at 2000 feet, it was built in the clouds and reflects the ever-changing moods of the sky.

Driving thru the old city of hyderabad you cannot but help see this magnificent beauty in white perched on a hill staring at the bustling city below. Calm, peaceful and detached – a beautiful painting from an era gone by… The chauffeur pointed out the hotel and it was beautiful just looking at it from afar. As you go to the gates, the car is stopped and you have the option to travel by a golf cart type buggy or horse carriage. We chose the horse carriage and enjoyed the horse hoof patter up the walkway to the entrance of the glorious hotel.

Showered by flower petals on our arrival , we were ushered into our suite….If you do choose to occupy a suite, each suite is completely different from the others and is furnished and upholstered completely uniquely. Ours was plush and comfortable and I sank into the beautiful bed, suddenly exhausted after the previous night’s theatrical performance! Choose a historical suite…it is filled with history and perfect in every way!

A few hours of rest , I found out that I was unfortunately running a fever. The hotel staff was very worried- sending me medicines and home remedies. Never one to stop exploring, we were off to eat a delicious lunch at Adaa the Indian restaurant. Fabulous biryani, succulent kebabs and authentic hyderabadi cuisine at it’s best… I was already feeling a bit better.

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And then it was off to the spa- the Jiva spa calmed me down and relaxed my aches and pains and after a quick dip in the small yet perfect pool, it was off to take a champagne tour of this iconic, historical hotel!The stories were interesting and funny. The rooms were well preserved and iconic. Every wall had a story. Every room had history. The Palace had been commissioned by Sir Nawab Vikar-Ul Umra, a Hyderabadi nobleman but caught the eye of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Pasha, Sir Vikar’s brother-in-law, and Sir Vikar had no choice but to offer the Palace as a gift or ‘nazar’ to the Nizam! Later it was used as a guest house to several royal dignitaries heads of state and my very own Great-Great-Grandfather a member of the Viceroy’s Privy Council and a former President of the indian National Congress ( then a High Court Judge) had been a guest years earlier and it was absolutely wonderful to be able to see his signature (the one in red!) in the iconic comment book. Years ago, he had stood where we stood today !

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After a truly thrilling afternoon, we were off to the verandah to watch live dancing and singing of sufi music and qawallis as the sun set on a perfect day. Dinner was at Celeste the italian restaurant and after a Royal bath that had been prepared for us in our room we were fast asleep cocooned in the soft, plush bed. A very filled but truly memorable day…!

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We slept so soundly ,we almost missed our flight…and I was sad that I hadn’t been that well thru the one day we had spent at this beautiful hotel…!

But as luck would have it… I was back again…soon and this time with my whole family…! They loved it as much as I did and I was able to explore and wander around more of the hotel than I did the previous visit!

Would I go back? In a heart beat….! Hospitality that books are written about, incredible beauty and unforgettable experiences… Taj Faluknama Palace has all of that!

Cost-:$600 – $700 a night…well worth it to be treated like royalty!

Best Time to Travel-: October thru to February when the weather is cool , and slightly nippy else it does get more than a little hot in the summers…!

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J. W. Marriott in Bangkok

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I travel to Bangkok a lot. From one of the dirtiest cities in the world 12-13 years ago, it’s cleaned up become fancier, more welcoming, more modern and just a wonderful shopping destination and a quick flight from Mumbai! I have therefore shifted a lot of hotels- hotels close to the malls, hotels out of the city… My new favourite however has to be the J.W. Marriott Bangkok.

Two MTR Stops away from Siam and a single stop away from central, this wonderful hotel gives me a bit of sanity from the frenetic mall culture of Bangkok! Towering gloriously above the fashionable Sukhumvit district, this hotel has a good mix of clientele ranging from long staying guests, businessmen to shopaholics like me!

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If you do want to stay at the J.W. – I suggest you stay in the Executive Level rooms. For a very small additional charge you get to use the Lounge.The Lounge in the J.W. is tastefully decorated, spacious and has an indoor and out door sitting area as well as an internet area with a Tv and couches for a more relaxed coffee/ tea. Check-in is done on the 16th floor for Executive Level guests and the check-in is quick and efficient and over a cup of coffee and something to eat.

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The Executive Level rooms are nice,though a tad small. You have free internet access everywhere in the hotel and the speeds are wonderful. For a super-connected social networking geek like me…that’s always a big plus!

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Why do I like the lounge? Well firstly it’s large and the food is amazing! Unlike usual Hotel Lounges the tapas and hot meals vary every day!You have an incredible breakfast with a live egg station, japanese counter, cereal, cheese and bread counters and of course your customary cold cuts , sausages etc. If there’s something missing and you want it- they’ll make it for you! After breakfast , in casephoto 1-1 you get hungry by about 11:30 am or so…there’s always some muffins in the oven or some sandwiches and peanuts for you to grab and go with- along with a takeaway coffee or chilled soft drink/ juice. In the evening The Lounge has an array of drinks and wines. It also has salads, hot and cold tapas and wonderful live stations where burgers are flipped, fish is seared, rolls are made and sushi is rolled. Every night is usually a different theme – so after an American burger night with fries and onion rings (from their New York Steak house downstairs), don’t be surprised to go Japanese (from Tsu the Japanese restaurant) the following evening or Italian… The food is tasty, filling and perfect and after a long day on the streets of Bangkok or in the malls- it’s wonderful to unwind over a drink and fabulous food before you let the Bangkok nightlife draw you in!

Cost-: $260 a night approximately for the Executive Level room!

Best Times To Travel-:  For me …any weekend I need to escape… but generally October to Jan are peak months with the weather being significantly cooler…else Bangkok is perfect for those like me who love the heat!

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Traveling Thai!

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So we were off to Thailand… on one of our many quick weekend getaways! And though we usually favour Jet Airways because of the timing it arrives into Bangkok (approx 7:30 am) as opposed to the horrendous 5 am landing of Thai Airways, I read about the new Thai Business Class and wanted to see whether this 4 and a half hour journey could be made a bit better with flat beds and comfortable seats. Jet Business is wonderful usually but the seem to keep their older aircrafts with almost no recline specially reserved for the Mumbai- Bangkok sector and I was hoping for a bit of a change!

The Thai Airways website is difficult to navigate(to say the least). It is not user friendly and till recently did not even allow you to really book online in India. The website is still a bit loud and confusing with too many links and options but nothing really working! Still I had made up my mind and we were going to do it!

We entered the flight and were pleasantly surprised… The seats seemed wider than the previous Thai Business and seemed more comfortable than Jet. The leg room was enormous and with a nice new massage function, the chairs seemed to have an almost complete recline(though a touch too diagonal- I’d have preferred the 180 degree flat bed!). Either way I was happy! A warm towel and refreshing glass of orange juice later I was comfortably settled with an iPad and a blanket and ready to take off!

A menu was offered with a selection of cocktails and drinks and even apertifs and cappuccinos – a huge step up and something that Swiss Air Business Class should definitely take note of! In Swiss you can ask for a cappuccino only if there aren’t too many guests in First Class else they apparently can’t get you one else it’s ‘difficult!’… what are they worried about???—Overworking a nespresso machine, or running out of milk? I’m a caffeine addict… hence I was impressed! No fuss- warm coffee- lattes, expressos, cappuccinos…the works!! The menu was tasty and complete- with salads and starters and amuse bouche’s included with wine pairings through the courses.

We were also introduced to the lovely Suda who was in charge of the flight that evening who took it upon herself personally to check with each guest whether all their requests had been met!

Fabulous service, good food and comfortable seats- I reached Mumbai refreshed and ready to take on the world again! Yay!

I must let you in to a bit of a secret though- the local Thai Business flight that we took to Koh Samui…. was EVEN BETTER… with fully reclinable seats and an entertainment menu that actually made me close my iPad and start watching what they were showing on screen… I’m glad the International flights have also been upgraded!

The flight to Mumbai is 4 1/2 hrs but after traveling the new Thai Business Class…I don’t see myself returning to Jet Airways in a hurry!

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Times Square in Hong Kong, Felix and Macau- an odd collection of experiences!

Off we went to Times Square (NOTHING LIKE THE ORIGINAL!) for what we though would be a bit of shopping! It’s a mall complex with a couple of shops and we wandered for a few hours settling finally for a warm cup of Starbucks! In New York the loud music and the glaring lights(yes even in the day) of Times Square can sometimes get too much for anybody but I missed it a bit in this stark structure which bore no resemblance to the original!

But we had a whole evening of exploring left and a musical to catch! So we were off to the wonderful ‘Chicago’ a musical so beautifully translated on screen , i couldn’t wait to catch it live! Incredibly plush theatres, fabulous drinks and high end food unfortunately couldn’t save this play tho’. It failed in comparison to the beautifully sculpted, magnificent looking film…but then again that also had Richard Gere!:)

But…when traveling, there’s always more excitement in store and so it was off to the grand Peninsula Hotel for an early dinner! Arriving in to Kowloon, we went straight to the Peninsula. On a bustling street with tons of street shops, Kowloon’s grand hotel stands magnificently proud and gloriously tall! The Lobby was a bit too crowded for my liking…almost like an airport terminal… guess everyone wanted to get a quick look at the Peninsula.. so rather than sitting down and looking ’round the lobby we went straight up to the European fine dining restaurant Felix! This was fabulous- luxurious, with a breathtaking view of the harbour, attentive staff, quiet and just perfect!

Macau was a trip that people had talked to us about so one evening we decided to hop on a ferry with our passports and do 2 countries in one night!It was the birthday eve and this made sense to us travelholics so of we went to the ferry terminal to board a jet to take us to Macau. Now this is crowded , muggy and pretty awful so try and have tickets in advance so you can just get on. The Visa services and passport people are rude and had it not been a birthday eve plan, I would have happily turned back with no regrets! The ferry takes an hour but is very crowded- both with tourists and with avid gamblers…so you really have to jostle for space- NOT FUN!

I am told that Macau has wonderful sights and history during the day and that I should go back and spend a few days there! It is very unlikely since my first experience(at the  was pretty awful! We arrived to Macau post dinner and it looked like a version of Las Vegas only not as glitzy or as glamorous. It looked shiny, loud and a little bit too done up! The gambling was fun though and every hotel tried to keep it’s patrons happy with all the games, lots of glitz and glamour and lots of gold! We spent maximum time in the Venetian in Macau which I felt was prettier than the other rather ‘loud’ hotels on their ‘strip!’ We played a few games – I won a bit and then it was back to the hotel for a quick birthday cake to end the night!

Hong Kong was lovely with some fun times and great restaurants and a bad play and I’d love to see Macau again( maybe during the day!)…and travel there via helicopter next time to avoid the awful ferry!

That’s why I must travel again and …soon!

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!

God’s Own Country!

It was the first birthday I started the ‘kidnapping!’ Well in this case the ‘husband-napping!’I told Aditya to take off from work, didn’t tell him where we were going and made all the bookings and payments myself and told him to pack ‘comfortable’ and whisked him away. Luckily airports have just 2 Premiere desks and none with flight destinations attached, and I kept the tickets in my hand so it was all the way till we boarded the bus taking us to the plane that the secret was safe. I was taking him for a quick birthday spa break to Kovalam!

My Father’s family is the Royal family of Cochin and Aditya had never been to Kerala with me. This was our first visit together! My family knows Captain Nair’s family well and Vivek Nair (his son) had helped me create the perfect birthday surprise for Aditya! We were staying at the fabulous Leela Kovalam. We arrived and were met at the runway. 5 suited men escorted my very shocked husband and me through to a car waiting for us! Now my husband who was dressed in shorts suddenly felt very overwhelmed- but Kerala hospitality is legendary and my Father’s family is very beloved and news had traveled- a Palat (me!) was coming home!

The hotel was a short drive away and esconced in palm trees and open space , it was a refreshing change to hear the waves instead of horns and honking and to be slowed down by a cart and people crossing and enjoy the change of pace. That’s what Kerala does. It calms you. In moments, you are allowed to forget the noise and stresses, the deadlines and worries and it allows you to breathe. And when you do breathe all that beautiful, rich, unspoiled air clears away years of pollution and hate and you just automatically relax. The Leela was beautiful. After a wonderfully warm welcome we were shown to our suite. Away from all the rest of the rooms, this little piece of heaven had little gifts for Aditya stashed everywhere!

While Aditya searched for his gifts , I booked some traditional Kerala massages and organised a romantic candle lit dinner for us. We were planning to eat at the beach but after a consultation with the chef and a visit to a very windy, very rainy beach; we decided to do the dinner in our dining area in our suite!

After the most relaxing of massages to have a dinner of traditional Malyalee food, a multi-course degustation menu and to sleep listening to the sound of the waves- it was the best birthday ever for my husband.It also started a tradition of surprising each other on birthdays!

The next few days involved breakfasts in bed, swimming in the eternity pool, quick dips in the sea and more massages- after our short escape to God’s Own Country and Aditya’s personal heaven- it took both of us a while to get our feet back to Ground Earth again!

Best Times to Travel-: September to March… else you might be caught in the very hot summers or the very rainy, but incredibly romantic rainy season!

Cost-: Approximately $300 a night but spend on the massages and definitely spend on the romantic dinner… They will be memories you’ll treasure forever!

Heidelberg on your honeymoon?

It was a day in Germany …part of our whirlwind honeymoon in Europe and we were in Heidelberg! We were staying at Aditya’s friends’ home and were being taken to Heidelberg by a friend of his Moms…so it wasn’t exactly the romantic-couple honeymoon trip that day… but…I’m always up for adventure and so off we went!

It was a cold morning and I slept in. After a late brekkie , we were picked up at 12 p.m. on the dot and driven to the student town of Heidelberg for lunch. We weren’t very hungry (late breakfast to blame!) and we said we’d be fine just walking. She seemed a bit peeved but maybe I was just being too picky and it was a bit chilly, so we started walking to the University.The lanes were pebbled with little shops on either side and seeing my very red nose she suggested a warm cup of coffee and these little cookies that were supposed to be shared by those in love! Maybe she wasn’t so mad at us after all. The coffee was much needed and the cookies DELICIOUS- though she said we should eat while we walk.I wasn’t sure what the hurry was but I was excited about seeing the University. Grand and imposing you knew as you stepped in to the university that it had incredible history and wonderful stories. She took us to the Student karzer – a jail like detention centre where for years students used to be sent. Writing on the walls, painting , notes dated back to the 1800’s and it was scary to think of student having enough time to write not only messages and paragraphs but paint drawings and do sketches. In this scary , once dark cell it must have been lonely and scary to have been imprisoned like a criminal. Not really romantic, for our honeymoon,I thought…but very interesting!

Studentkarzer over we made our way to the Heidelberg Castle. Perched on a hillock it had a glorious view of the entire town. Now I was hungry as was Aditya. However we were told “Time for lunch has passed.” And thus ended that discussion. Hungry, we trudged on!

The wine cellar of the castle houses the biggest barrel in the world, holding 55,345 gallons of wine and I was delighted that I could purchase a bottle of wine in my Dad’s name as a gift for him. He’d understand the significance and he loves his glass of wine! I’m not sure how it actually tasted or whether he ever opened it even but I think it made for a nice tourist stop and a great , personal gift to take home!

After loads of history and walking around this beautiful castle , it hit 4 p.m. and we were ‘allowed’ a coffee break in a nearby restaurant overlooking the castle. I swapped coffee for soup despite her rather cross glare and finally I had ‘lunch!’

Much of travel is about the memories you make while traveling…!”The time for lunch has passed!” makes for one of my most fond, funny memories of this little, German woman who kept us on the clock!

Best Times to Travel-: Use the summer months- May to September

Cost-: Only very few 5 star hotels and they cost approx $400 a night…I’d say maybe make Heidelberg a day trip from one of the several very close German cities…. BUT DO GO- THIS QUAINT  TOWN, LOST IN TIME…IS DEFINITELY WORTH THE TRIP!

 

Istanbullish!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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