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!)
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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! 🙂