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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!

Athena with love!

From the lazy,warmth of Santorini we were off to the beauty of Athens! At Athens, my husband had picked the fabulous hotel Grand Bretagne  knowing my love for Classic Luxury and the hotel was all that and more!

The lobby which it’s rich reds and golds reminded me of a palatial entrance and the quiet, discreet care they took with us during check-in was wonderful. If you stayed in the hotel you were not just treated as a VIP- you were VIP! There are very few hotels that have that level of sophistication though I have almost always faced in the older, grand hotels as compared to the newer chains! It’s nice being treated special even if you are just another guest on the roster and I loved that!

The rooms we had booked were Higher category rooms and were comfortable , spacious and had incredible views! Ours overlooked the busy Constitution Square and almost immediately- I was ready to start exploring. Afew hours of walking later- I was ready to take on the Acropolis! Aditya insisted however that we first take in an early night and leave the exploring to the following day, so we headed up to the GB Roof Garden to eat!

The name GB Roof Garden does not do the restaurant justice. With an outside and inside dining option, this restaurant is no cafe or roof garden- it is a fabulous restaurant with great food and directly overlooks the Acropolis. We dined outside obviously enjoying the slight nip in the air and loving the beautifully lit Acropolis in the distance! The food varied from Sushi to Greek food, to pastas and mains! I ate a fabulous fish dish and went to bed excited about what the new day would bring!

The hotel suggested we do a private tour of the sights of Athens. This was very wise. this gave us a taste of history and yet we were not forced to do at the pace dictated by tour operators! We could see what we wanted to see, do what we wanted to do and most importantly stay and take photographs at all the places we wanted to stop at! The morning started at the Acropolis and though the climb seems intimidating, it is actually done quite easily. It is entering the area where the Parthenon , (a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena) stands that’s hard! The crowds there jostle for space to take that one , perfect photograph and the guards try and keep people movingand there are almost no places at all where you can stop, take a breath and just marvel at these incredible structures! We were lucky we had come on a day where cruise ships had not docked and therefore though there were thousands of tourists, I am told that this wasn’t even half of what they usually go through on a daily basis! What I loved were the Greek dogs perched proudly on the steps guarding the entrance to the Parthenon almost like spirits of Greek warriors doing a great duty!

The ruins I loved the best were that of the Amphitheatre- the Theatre of Herod Atticus. This space is still used for Greek theatre and was getting ready for a huge musical performance that night!

The ruins are kept with great amount of care and the locals talk about Greece’s past with so much deference and respect; you almost wish you could get transported into a time of great pomp and splendor, of wealth and beauty, of valor and tradition!

After this it was off to the old Olympic stadium and a couple of laps on the Olympic track! Needless to stay we were star runners ;)!

Then it was off to the Agora or the market place and to the Plaka which are lined with quaint cafes and lovely shops which sell fun tourist memorabilia!

It was there we let go of our guid so we could have a leisurely lunch! The Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch which was the entrance to the city were explored by us at our own pace! The museum was another treasure we discovered ourself. watching historians uncover the past hidden below the present structures of the city was truly fascinating. The fact that an entire city had been built over another city was unbelievable and the glass walkway to the museum was atop one of the recently excavated sites and had historians working on it while we explored treasure of a lost past!

Athens also has great shopping! From the latest gadgets and brands to incredible small local designer boutiques, Athens is a shoppers paradise! I bought an entire wardrobe here and would have gladly stayed on, given half a choice!

The people are warm and friendly and I remember wandering the Plaka in the middle of the evening searching for a restaurant we’d heard so much about and other smaller restaurant owners coming outside just to help us and point the way! Our taxi driver too was mortified he hadn’t taken us to the right address and refused to charge a fare on the entire journey saying that we were guests and he had inconvenienced us!

Athens is a city of culture and passion, a city of ruins and romance, of great beauty and of incredible stories! I heard a few and made of a few stories of my own here and I’d love to go back because Athens is like a great novel…every time you read it, the more you learn!

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