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The Vivanta by Taj Malabar

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Set amidst luscious palms with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour is the glorious Vivanta by Taj Malabar. The heritage wing awaited us and in true Kerala fashion – without any fuss – we were shown to our room. Soon enough all the senior hotel members arrived- all to say hello to my father, a frequent visitor and suddenly after my Dad made the introductions- Aditya and I were also welcomed , in true Taj fashion , as family!

The rooms are modern, spacious and comfortable. The Heritage rooms with their gorgeous view of the bay and the balcony’s are easily the best rooms in the hotel! We quickly freshened up and headed to Pepper, the all day restaurant for lunch! The buffet was wonderful. I am not a fan of buffets, but this buffet had not only a wide selection but the taste of the different cuisines was also authentic- a refreshing change from buffets which often either have a limited selection , or only focus on one type of cuisine.

What I loved about this hotel was also their tea service which happened every evening where tea, cakes and some snacks were offered to all their guests on the lawn while you could watch the sun set in the bay. This is complimentary and from tasty, strong south Indian coffee, to coconut water, green tea and even the cappuccino – they give you your choice of beverage and always have some tasty snacks. after a long day of sightseeing this was always a high point in the evening!

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And then ofcourse there is the Jiva Spa. With it’s traditional Ayurvedic massages and services- this Jiva Spa looked after the wellness of the guest completely. A session was not just limited to an hour. The session consisted of a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, treatments, massages and a follow up. It is not surprising therefore that people from across the world come here for 10 and 15 days for weight loss and wellness Ayurvedic programs at the Jiva Spa.

With an eternity pool that almost dissolves in to the bay and in the midst of the swaying palm trees and silence of nature- it’s easy to get lost in the magnificence of Kerala, the beautiful serenity, the meditative calm and the glorious beauty of God’s own country.

It was good to be home.

Best Time To Travel-: Winter… else Kerala does get very hot during the summer… December , Jan and Feb are ideal unless of course you are like my husband and love watching the glorious Kerala monsoon in June and July where the trees come alive…. (but you can do little else!)

Cost-:$200 onwards. But remember HERITAGE ROOMS- and you MUST TRY THE JIVA SPA!

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Christmas kisses in Singapore!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Jumping of an Airplane in Sydney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxurious dining at its best! The perfect romantic anniversary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do these day trips at your pace…your way!

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

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

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

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