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!
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!
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!
As you know (if you’ve read any of these blogs or any of my personal blogs at my website…BIRTHDAYS ARE A BIG DEAL!
I seem to be planning from one birthday to the next and over the years , the planning has become more focussed towards experiences and travels as opposed to gifts and cake- a much more expensive albeit satisfying change!
So last year, the husband decided to surprise me. I am almost impossible to surprise especially over birthdays because my birthday antenna quickly notices any whispering, hush-hush planning or slight change in schedules but Aditya had convinced me that we were going to have a quiet, family birthday and later there’d be a surprise. Now I have to say I think my antenna was slightly less active because he had mentioned key words like ‘birthday’ and ‘surprise’ so I knew there was something planned and I expected it later…by then I was sure I’d know what it was!
Imagine my surprise when 2 days before my birthday I was told at lunch that we’d have to hurry back to pack. We were leaving tonight to THAILAND and to Koh Samui!To get Koh samui we took a flight to Bangkok and then connected to the island. I have to say , now after flying Thai Airways on multiple occasions- whereas the flights to an from India (Business Class) are rather old and quite uncomfortable; the short flight to Koh samui had fully reclinable seats, fabulous movie options and delicious food. I have now stopped flying Thai (unless ofcourse I’m visiting an island!)!
So in less then 24 hours of my knowing about the surprise, bright and early the following morning I was in Koh Samui. We were staying at the W Retreat, part of the Starwood Group of Hotels and a Category 6 on the SPG Scale! This is one of the highest categories of SPG Hotels and it was supposed to be indulgent luxury. Young, fun and decadent, this hotel was the perfect choice for this quick getaway.
The hotel was a 10 minute drive from the small airport and we entered the hotel excitedly. Though most hotels have wonderful web pages with photographs photoshopped to perfection- nothing can beat this magnificent lobby with it’s gorgeous water body claiming pride of place welcoming you to serenity, luxury and calm! With such a wonderful welcome , I couldn’t wait to see the rooms. Our suite was huge(yes I love my pampering) with a magnificent bathroom, jacuzzi tub et all!We also had a beautiful pool attached which was much, much larger than the usual plunge pools. All this and a private sit out , actually sleep out and we had our own private entrance to the beach!
The rooms were perfect and after an overnight flight, we collapsed on to our day beds for a quick power nap so we’d be ready to bring in the birthday with a renewed energy!
The W is fabulous. Once we woke up and made ourselves a nespresso cappucino (my favourite! and in our room!), we wandered for a walk. The staff then pointed us to the just refilled snack freezer which apparently all W hotels have. They’d just filled in some chocolate ice cream and told us it was fabulous! This is how we discovered the W treat freezer. With cokes and ice creams, there are treat freezers , every few rooms for guests to snack on free of charge any time, all the time- another fun W tradition!
And it was time to enjoy some quick Tapas and drinks at sip and take a quick, much needed plunge in the sea!
A short break later, we dressed up for birthday eve and headed to the W lounge where you are ensconced in tables in between the beautiful lobby pool that we saw earlier. Hidden away in between water and the night, this perfect setting was the most beautiful way to bring in my birthday. Cocktails done we headed to the Kitchen Table for some food. The W only has two dining options but 3 bars…so the focus is more on light eats and tapas and some very heady cocktails!
Exhausted we headed back to the room where a cake was waiting to be cut…. Singing and champagne later we settled in for a very restful night after all the heady travel excitement!
The next day we woke up refreshed and charged.We were only here for the birthday and so we decided to enjoy the calm and luxury of the hotel! I would have loved to have visited the Big Buddha but with such a short trip, we decided to spend our time snorkeling, If you do visit the Big Buddha, you must also go to Wat Plai Laem another active temple surrounded by a lake which is apparently teeming with fish. If you make a donation, you get a bag of food to feed the fish!
Dress conservatively if you wish to visit a temple to not offend tradition and religious customs!
Else step out of your hotel and there are bars and pubs every step of the way… for a night of partying and revelry- nothing beats an island!
For us however it was spa-ing, pampering and a feast of contemporary Japanese at the elegant Namu. With a private dining hall just for us and a specially created menu by the chef and my husband we had a warm , relaxed evening- the perfect start to an incredibly fulfilling year!
Price Factor-: Rooms are between $200- $300! But choose well…remember to get beach front hotels and my sincere recommendation is to try the W!
Best Times To Travel-: March to August. Then remember to take your diving gear along. Koh samui has some incredible diving sites….if you’re not a diver….maybe Koh Samui is a good place to learn! 🙂
The 23rd of May this year was more special than ever. Birthdays have always been a big deal for me…but this birthday had been in the planning for a couple of years (almost 3 )!We were up and out of the hotel by 7 :30 am for our Vatican Visit. Why visit so early because every Wednesday the Pope himself would greet the crowds, pray with them, bless them and talk to them and this year WE were part of that incredible crowd!
My birthday fell on a Wednesday and divine help with a little extra nagging my husband allowed me to take the trip I had been dreaming about. I am not Catholic. And yet that day will still etched as one of the most incredible days of my life!
Vatican City is not far. It was barely a 20 minute bus ride. The tickets for the Papal audience are FREE but it is wiser to book through Viator or another agent so they can pick you up from your Hotel and organise the tickets for you once you get there. Our bus stopped at a Tourist shop but we had already been warned that if you’d like something to be blessed by His Holiness you might as well buy it elsewhere as prices were sky high for even the smallest of trinkets.
Tip-: Find a seat close to the barricade because the Pope’s car drives by there and you will be inches a way from him.
Grab a seat and then wait. The Papal Audience generally starts between 10 am and 10:30 and you will probably get in at least an hour and half to two hours before with your Tour Bus so do carry water and something to snack on as it is a very warm sun and quite a long wait!
The crowds are enormous- thousands of people- children,newlyweds, nuns, priests, tourists and many locals all gather for the Papal Audience. This is an occasion where His Holiness speaks to the crowds and blesses the scores of people who are here to listen to him!
I also particularly loved the Swiss Guards who were there to guard the Pope. Their colorful uniform just added to the excitement of this visit!
And then His Holiness gets driven in and thousands clap , cheer, hoot and pray! He smiles benevolently at all and does 2 whole rounds before going to the Pulpit and addressing the audience. The next hour is about blessings and prayer and no matter where in the world you are from or what faith you follow- the lessons are wonderful, the prayers perfect and the moments you spend during at the Papal Audience ethereal.
During the blessings different Christian groups from countries all over the world are acknowledged and blessed and the blessings are in several languages so no culture or country is left out. The Pope is cheered on like a rock star and you’ll hear shouts of “Benedicto! Bendicto!” still ringing in your ears long after the Audience with the Pope finishes.
The morning was so spectacular because of the incredible positivity you felt engulfed by. Even far away from my home and family, I was surrounded by love. What could be better than that?
Price Factor-: About $40 for a Papal Audience visit- should include a pick up from your hotel and a drop back to the centre of the city (if not to your hotel).
Papal Audience days-: Wednesdays
Dress Codes-: Ladies must have shoulders covered and ensure that all outfits are longer than knee length. No shorts permitted for men or women. Bring hats, sunscreen and water as it does get hot in summer!
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
So anyone who knows me at all…and all those who don’t know me but have read stuff that I’ve written- you’d probably know that it doesn’t take much for me to want to travel…I can make occasions out of almost anything and in my mind celebrations are occasions and are the perfect time to do something different, to travel, to explore, to dream and to make dreams come true!
It was the husband’s birthday last year and in true Divya-mystery style , I told him to take leave from work- ” I was going to kidnap him!” is what I said! And that’s totally what I planned! The Ultimate Kidnap! Nothing was bought via his Credit card. Bookings were done on email and via the phone and Aditya who was delighted about the kidnapping stayed happily oblivious to all my intricate plans!
Now Aditya had only been very briefly to Rajasthan once when in school. It had been quick , short and unmemorable and he’d always talked of wanting to go back- to see the palaces. I have spent more than a few vacations in the Palaces of Rajasthan but this was a trip and a surprise I wanted to give him…so it was up to me to try and ensure that the trip catered to HIS very specific tastes and so I went ahead and did my research! The Palace I chose was the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur.
The Taj Lake Palace has always been one of my favourite palaces. A white , carved beauty almost arising like a lotus from the lake- the Lake Palace was a palace used by the Royals for dancing, music and merriment. The Lake Palace stands proudly amidst Lake Pichola with the beautiful Aravalli range helping create the most picture-perfect backdrop!
The flights from Mumbai are limited and the one we took was rather early in the morning (3:30 or 4 am ish) so despite it being a short flight; both of us were quite exhausted! Udaipur airport is almost a shell structure with only basic facilities and I was happy to quickly get out!
All our exhaustion vanished the minute we stepped outside! A beautiful, heritage car had come to pick us up and Aditya was almost jumping in glee as he carefully examined the beautiful car! The car ride was full of ‘I don’t believe it’s’….and ‘What’s next?’s’ and before we knew it we were at the pier ready to take a boat to the fabulous Palace that stood gleaming majestically in the early rays of the morn!
The trip I had planned would be a trip fit for a King! After all my wonderful husband is my King and he deserves nothing less…so as we arrived we were ushered into one of the Palace suites! The suite was beautiful- a two level suite with all our bedroom windows overlooking the beautiful lake. The room was perfect- opulent , rich and comfortable and the minute our heads hit the bed we were off to sleep!
But there had been much planning that had gone into this Celebration and so in a few hours I woke my husband to take him off for a special Spa session. Aditya loves spas, food, water and a relaxed break and I’m usually the total opposite- loving cities, noise, adventure and fun BUT this was Aditya’s celebrations and the plans were geared to him the time of his life! And the spa treatment did just that. With an outdoor spa bed overlooking the lake as the sun started setting, even I had to admit that there was no way that city noise could compete with the beautiful serenity of that moment! We relaxed. We talked. We de-stressed.
After some fabulous green tea, we grudgingly left the spa but started exploring the hotel. As soon as we found the beautiful pool we couldn’t hold ourselves back! We jumped in! A refreshing swim later- it was back to the room to dress for dinner!
Now with the help of the hotel I had chosen some Unique Royal Dining Experiences for Aditya and me and our first was at the beautiful Lily Pond. A table had been set and our personal butler escorted us to our table where a musician regaled us with live music as we had traditional Rajasthani food sipping champagne under a beautiful moonlit sky! When we returned back to our room, our Butler had thoughtfully put out a cake, some more champagne and lit up the room so wonderfully – it must have taken him our entire dinner to have been able to make the room look so spectacular ! We cut Aditya’s birthday cake and finally called it a night!
Breakfast on the birthday morning was very special as well. I had pre-ordered breakfast and this was brought to a small garden outside our room and set up just for us! After a late night and with plenty of exciting plans today- this was a wonderful start for us!
Breakfast over we headed back to the Pier where we had a Vintage car waiting to take us on a tour of the city. Stopping at a few select stores , we took a long break at a collection of the Maharaja’s cars. All restored. All spectacular. All drool worthy ! Now it was back to the hotel and a short heritage walk around the Palace. As that ended we were escorted back to the Upstairs spa ( my request after seeing how calm Aditya had been the previous day) and a new spa treatment. Equally relaxing and fabulous…this time we chose to just let the moment take control and slowly drifted off only to be awakened at the end of the treatment with warm tea.
Now it was time for my HUGE SURPRISE and the reason why i had chosen we come to Udaipur! The Lake Palace owns and looks after the boat that was seen in the Bond movie Octopussy- the Gangaur! Aditya is a film buff and I knew it would be worth the extra expense to give him a birthday surprise he’d never have dreamed possible- dinner on the boat!The boat is kept in the middle of the lake and holds 10-20 guests but I booked it for just the 2 of us! A magnificent multi course meal on the lake had been booked while my Bond enjoyed the sunset, starters drinks and meal that I had pre-planned for him! The boat was decked exquisitely. With red carpets and 10 butlers , we were looked after like royalty. Both of us headed to the upper deck where a gadda (comfortable , padded mat) had been placed with cushions and we surveyed the whole city as it lay before us.
As drinks finished and the sun set, the boat had maneuvered around some ruins on the main land under the City Palace. Suddenly they came to life and were lit up with beautiful girls doing incredible dances among the ruins. Fabulous music, dances with fire and we felt like Maharjas (I too felt rather King-like!) watching courtesans dance as they might have done decades ago. This had been done especially for us and I was delighted when I saw Aditya’s happy surprise! The meal was served upstairs as we were so comfortable relaxing despite having seen a beautiful , intimate table set up downstairs on the boat. The food was a collection of kebabs, dals , biryanis and curries -each more delicious than the next, each more decadent than the next!
And then as the boat turned once again we saw the beautifully lit Mohan Mandir ( the temple island) and as it turned again Birthday fireworks erupted in the air once again especially for us! The excitement in the air was electric and we were really privileged to have been part of such a wonderful, well thought out experience. As dessert was served (once again a medley of all Aditya’s favourites) we wound down to live Indian music being played by our very own musicians on the boat (once again a special experience just for us!).
And then like a dream the evening ended and we floated back to our suite dreaming of the Rajasthani Royal past and grateful that we were able to have some of the experiences!
My husband felt like a King and I was proud to have been able to make him feel like that! Udaipur is the crown among Royal Rajasthani palaces and the Taj Lake Palace- the Kohinoor!
Price Factor-: Udaipur as a city is inexpensive for traditional Rajasthani handicrafts and materials. The hotels however are expensive and are traditionally between $320- $ 420 per night.
Best times to travel-: Dessert climes…so October thru to March is great to travel in though we had a wonderful time last July as well!