Advertisements

Blog Archives

The Hill Palace, ChottaNikkara Temple and Tripunithura Temple… the Princess Diaries continued!

DSC04473

And then it was off to the Glorious Hill Palace- a place where both my fathers parents (both of them were cousins) had been born and raised and where the Maharaja had lived from 1914- 1932. My grandfather who unfortunately I never met was born 1921 and my grandmother who died at a very young age (and who also I never met ūüė¶ ) was born in 1926 at the Hill Palace and my Father is lucky to have photographs of them playing together and growing up together in this beautiful, beautiful palace!

I had been really waiting to see the Hill Palace and I was right. It is indeed one of the most magnificent palaces I have ever seen! With layers of Gardens and fountains in front, the Palace , at one time must have stood out as a glorious white swan amidst a lake of green ! With a deer park (huge) which still have beautiful deer and with several building nestled among the lush greenery- the Hill Palace is easily one of India’s most glorious and most underrated palaces. After visiting it, I hope to write to the ministry and I will try and restore my family’s old home to part of it’s former glory. It seems only fitting. It seems only fair.

The Palace is looked after well, considering their obviously limited finances. The Government employees are proud of the Palace and the wood seems to be polished regularly and care has been taken to preserve all the incredible paintings, jewelry and artifacts. But with an entrance fee of Rs. 20, it is difficult to even keep a Palace of this size clean- so restoring it to it’s former glory is impossible. Sponsorships and Funding must come in and we should try and preserve this proud testament to India’s glory days.

DSC04442

The gardens are now but shadows of what they would have looked like. Where the would have been 50 trees, there is now one aged weed and where there would have been brightly coloured flowers there is one token bush. The fountains are dry and chipped…. A new coat of paint and landscaping would easily restore the gardens to their lush beauty.

DSC04465

I entered and immediately i saw my Family Crest carved beautifully in wood. The Family Crest is everywhere – on the top of the Hill Palace,in different rooms, etched in glass everywhere! Immediately we were click happy and I asked to get some photographs taken.

DSC04416In most parts of the Hill Palace, photographs are not allowed especially in the Crown room and where the Jewellery is stored- but because we were family- a wonderful government historian proudly took us around to rooms that hadn’t even been opened to the Public yet; showing us artifacts they were restoring and rooms that would soon be open to Public.

DSC04443

Another interesting thing to note…is like the Taj Mahal in Agra, you must walk thru this Palace barefoot. The Palace is kept clean and the tiles are original and is wonderful to walk on the cool flooring and marvel at the care and attention that had been taken when this palace was built. It was also so far sighted of those that constructed the palace to choose the right materials for the Palace. Even in the humidity and heat of a Kerala afternoon the floors were cold and the windows kept a steady stream of air passing through. With out air conditioning , we were still able to walk a few hours without even breaking a sweat!

DSC04456

And so it was off to the Crown room! And we saw the crown and the throne and the room where the Maharaja would conduct his daily business!The Palace in itself has several buildings with the traditional centre courtyard. The women, families and children would live and play in the other buildings. I’m assuming a simple game of hide and seek could run a couple of days with the amount of space this exquisite Palace has! ūüôā Unfortunately those building have yet to be restored and sadly some of the of them are being used as administrative offices and the rest of them just left vacant.

DSC04430

Achan (Dad in Malayalam) and I posed in front of his great grand father picture (The Maharaja of Cochin) and  I know I was dreaming of being a Princess and roaming this beautiful Palace as my home.

DSC04437

I was snapped out of day dreaming with the stunning light emanating from the rubies and emeralds and the room where all the jewellery and armor is stored. And then we wandered off to see the carriages … beautifully kept and a wonderful memory of a simpler, grander time!

DSC04449

After a quick stop at the Deer park , I sadly said farewell to a new Palace I had just seen but which seemed so familiar to me….! I will come back. I must restore it.

DSC04463

And then it was off to the famous temple ChottaNikkara. Legend has it that my great, great grandmother Parukutty Nethyar Amma ,got married very young. Like all young girls, she wanted many things. Her husband, said to her that if she wants so much, then she should perhaps ask the Devi and so she did. She prayed for fame, fortune and prayed with all her heart. When the Raja abdicated , she was at the temple when the Priest asked her whether she had moved to her new house- the Palace. She went home, to find that her husband had just been named the first Maharaja on Cochin State. The temple is beautiful. With great amount of faith, I went and prayed. I was so proud to just be able to walk the space my great great grandmother had and be able to share some of the faith she had!

No photographs are allowed in the temple.

And then finally we ended up in the Tripunithura Temple where the kings came after their coronation. Interestingly ,in Gurvayoor the Krishna idol is standing, in Tripunithura – he is sitting and when you go to Trivandrum, he is lying down!The temple has a massive courtyard where the elephants were brought and made to stand! We were overjoyed to see one hungry, very naughty elephant troubling his Mahout as the evening set on this PERFECT DAY!

From Hill Palace, both these temples are very close by and MUST SEES!

DSC04422

DSC04418

Advertisements

Prayers in Kerala and imagining my Royal Past :)

DSC04400

The next day it was an early start and off to Guruvayur Temple. The temple was a good 3 hours ( and a little extra ) away from our hotel and it was important that we got an early start.The presiding deity in the Garbhagraha (central shrine) is Mahavishnu and is supposed to be over 5000 years old! The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna. The temple has an enormous following and is very holy and was one of the main reasons for my trip. The rules of the temple are strict.

  • You must be Hindu
  • Men must wear mundus and go bare chested.
  • Women must wear skirts or saris or salwar kurtas
  • No shoes or footwear is allowed
  • No photographs allowed!( so the one below is off a website!)

The queues are enormous and the time you get to see the deity(the darshan) is very short. But with the amount of faith this temple has among devotees – the lines are never too long and the Darshan always special!

And then it was off to Thrissur where my father was born. My father had spent several years in Thrissur and our Tharavad (ancestral) house was in Thrissur. It was wonderful to relive some of his memories.

We got to see Ratnavilas¬†a palace that my great-great grand mother – Parukutty Nethyar Amma¬†built and lived in after her husband died! My mother had also visited and lived here after her marriage and i too had visited as a baby! Now unfortunately it had been sold to a hotel but even then you could see perfectly beautiful wooden staircases and gorgeous windows- remnants of an incredible time gone by! My parents spent time reminiscing about Ratnavilas and there were so many fun anecdotes and incredible memories- I wished that I’d been a little older when I’d visited just to share some of the history!

DSC04387

And then it was off to the Town Hall built by my great grandfather V.K. Aravindaksha Menon who was the second son of the Maharaja and Chief Engineer of Cochin State. The building from the outside seemed almost as good as new and we were very delighted.

DSC04383

The famous Vadakunnathan Temple is in the middle of the huge Thrissur Circle which has a diameter of a mile. The temple is very powerful and dedicated to Lord Shiva.The statue of Shiva is in the form of a huge lingam and is not visible. It is covered under a mound of ghee, formed by the daily prayers with ghee over the years. A devotee looking into the sanctum can now see only a 16-foot-high mound of ghee embellished with thirteen cascading crescents of gold and three serpent hoods at top. Legend says that Tipu Sultan while he was invading Cochin State tied his horse in front of this temple not heeding the curses and warnings of the priests. As he did so, news came to him that his capital of Srirangapatnam (near Mysore) had been invaded by the British. He left immediately heading back to Mysore and was killed in battle.

Driving thru Thrissur you cannot but help notice the statue of my Great great grandfather the Maharaja in the middle of a busy junction and despite the fact that there was no way I could get out from the car(the roads were that busy)- I kept clicking and clicking!

DSC04396

A quick bite and a lot of shopping later , we headed back towards the hotel happily tired and very nostalgic.

I know I wish I’d been born during the Maharaja’s time. I think I’d be a super Royal :)!

DSC04407

Shanghai Nights

n514042900_227794_9370

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!)

n514042900_227792_8713

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!

n514042900_227793_9045

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!

n514042900_227795_9713

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!

n514042900_227796_52

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!

n514042900_227790_8064

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!

What happens in Vegas…

It was a quick brush with Vegas on our way back home and back to the drudgery of daily routine and we decided to take a quick 2 day break in Las Vegas!

The hotel of our choice was the MGM Grand¬†and this was based on the fact that¬†it was hosting the CSI Experience¬†something I, a huge CSI fan(atic) was very excited about! Sure it had some wonderful restaurants and some other fun activities but in Vegas your spoiled for choice and I wanted to stay closest to what I wanted to do especially since we were only their for 2 days! The MGM Grand is huge and there are 5044 rooms which is ¬†A LOT and not somewhere I’d like to stay because I love the idea of being pampered and looked after in a hotel! We got to the hotel and there were more than 20 desks to cater to your check in and when we were checked in we were asked if it was our first time in Vegas. when we answered to the affirmative, she said well then let’s try and upgrade and a higher floor and lo and behold that was what was given to us!What I loved was that even among the tens of thousands visitors and guests they had that day and every day the MGM staff at every step of the way made us try to feel a little bit special.

The rooms were nothing to write home about. They were comfortable and functional…but you’re not really in Vegas to spend time in your room and so minutes after check in – we were downstairs and getting lost! The hotel is a maze of activity and everyone just seems so happy in Vegas , automatically you perked up and started to smile! The CSI Experience was amazing. Fabulous sets, interesting themes and even some of the CSI tools used on the show all made for a fabulous and fun walk through. We ‘solved’ one murder and Aditya , who is not even a CSI fan insisted we try out the other two cases and we raced each other to the finish having a truly wonderful time! As we left CSI , a new comedy show was taking viewer feedback. A show, that was to premiere in the fall was doing tests and television buffs that we are , we signed up immediately and went in for a screening on our individual computers after which we did a short survey ! The feedback must have been good because the show is on air and doing rather well… so yay!

It was almost time for the Jay Leno show and we had tickets. A quick change and we waited in line for a cab. The lines for cabs are always enormous and it gets longer as the evening goes in to night!Though the cab lines seem endless, the cabs are also plenty and most places are on the Strip so distances aren’t that bad….but with great new pumps…why walk?!

The Jay Leno show was funny, relevant and a great way to spend the evening. Both of us are big fans of stand up and he was amazing! There are always shows in Vegas and the big ones Lion King, Cirque du Soleil, Rock n Roll etc sell out quickly so book early…the shows are fabulous!

Back in the hotel it was time for some Wolfgang Puck steaks and a bit of gambling. The Lion in the open air enclosure above part of the casino had awoken and people rushed to take pictures of his mighty paws! A bit of gambling and we crashed excited about Day 2!

Day 2 was visiting other hotels on the strip, more exploring, some shopping, a little bit of swimming and then the helicopter visit to the Grand Canyon. This was another MUST DO and I have to say seeing the city all lit up at night from the helicopter above was the perfect ending to my CSI Las Vegas experience.

Disneyland- the happiest place on earth?

Well I’ve been to both…and with the roller-coaster 2 days we had in Vegas, the excitement, the energy, the smiles n shows… Round One goes to Las Vegas… and I am waiting for Round 2!

Price Factor-: $250- $300 per night. THINGS TO REMEMBER- STAY ON THE STRIP! It’s incredible, alive and most happening and when in you’re in Vegas you must be where the actions at!

Helicopter Tours -: Between $350 and $450 depending on whether you want to land and take some stunning photographs or just fly over the canyon!

Best Times to Travel-: There is usually no off season in Vegas but generally there’s a lot of buzz and activities¬†March through to May and September through to November and don’t forget New Years!

Beijing bound!

It was that time of year again- the time when we hadn’t gone for a vacation in far too long to remember and we were each getting on each other’s nerves- that’s the time when we know we have to fly away not just to ee something new but to breathe some fresh air and press the restart button for the both of us! So that’s what we did! I remember going to the Doctor 3 days before leaving . She was furious about some blood test results and was yelling at me like I’d purposely tried to ruin my own health- when my gallant husband stepped in and said- “we’ve had enough. Whatever the problem is, it doesn’t seem to be life threatening so I am going to take my wife and leave. We need a break and trust me everything will look better when we’re back…including her!” I was so grateful for that calm-very- good-looking-head-on-his-shoulders approach to my Doctor and we decided to continue with our travel plans.

This was our first trip to China and we were starting in Beijing!

The Grand Hyatt in Beijing is spectacular and opulent! Right in the heart of the city- it is walking distance from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and that was why it was our only choice and what an amazing choice it was.Part of Oriental Plaza ‚Äď one of China‚Äôs largest commercial complexes and with direct access to the adjacent shopping mall, our first evening was spent exploring the surrounding area despite the fact that we were exhausted! Wangfujing Street, located next to the hotel houses traditional silk shops, tea houses and some fun, cool department stores.

The road outside the hotel is really wide and a hotel employee once told us that this hotel was to serve as a runway if ever the need arose and China was suddenly in an emergency situation or was at war! Crazy, surreal and very prepared- that was also our first impressions of Beijing.

THINGS YOU MUST REMEMBER-: There is a Chinese name and an English name for everything including where you stay…so don’t think you can leave and just say ‘Hyatt’ to the cab driver- TAKE THE HOTEL CARD- it has another name and locals only know the hotel by it’s Chinese name!

The Forbidden City was a 10 minute walk from the hotel and was remarkable. Caught up in the history we didn’t even realise how quickly time flew by! The thrones, the chambers, the halls, the history- all so well preserved , each with a fascinating story as the Palace served as home to the ming Dynasty continuing right up to the Qing dynasty!

And then it was time for the flag lowering ceremony where the People’s Liberation Army of China march in the evening to Tianmen Square and lower the flag! What an incredible sight and how we rushed to keep up! Unreal, an ABSOLUTE MUST DO!

The Hyatt Pool beckoned and we went in to this indoor heated pool with ‘palm trees’ and an almost island type atmosphere and ended the cold Beijing evening with a delightful dip!

The next day we started with a car ride to the Great Wall.Depending on where you’d like to climb the Great Wall from it takes about 1.5- 3 hrs to get there. Once at the wall, we climbed up with moderate amount of effort (based on the location we’d chosen to walk from – the Great Wall can be reached from different locations and the level of climb varies from easy to hard) and enjoyed the rough path, the steep climbs (at times) and the stunning view. But after a couple of hours of walking and some remarkable photographs, we opted to go down the wall via toboggan which was unbelievable!

With a bit of shopping and some incredible chinese tea , we enjoyed a day more in Beijing and it was off to our next adventure!

Best Times To Travel-:  March through to September- else it does get a bit chilly!

Price Factor-:  $250- $500. STAY 5 STAR AND REMEMBER CARRY THE HOTEL CARD EVERYWHERE!

Living, loving and breathing Milan!

Italy has always been on my MUST-VISIT list of destinations! I added it to my ‘Oprah-Visualisation Chart’ and romanticized it, dreamt of it, read about the hotels and the language and so when we finally decided to go to Italy- I was really, really excited! now I must confess, I always wanted to go to Rome and Venice ! They seemed glorious and romantic and that for me would’ve completed my Italian experience !Or so I thought! I was so wrong! I was able to schedule some work finally in Italy and schedule some meetings and theatre performances and this May was finally my chance to see Italy. Luckily my partner in crime, Aditya convinced me to see the whole country- from North to South …”Let’s really explore 1 country fully,” he said! And the excitement of doing the Multi city Euro Trip that I had longed to do since college but had never done took over and before we knew it we were off on ADITYA & DIVYA’S EURO TRIP 2012!!!! It was going to be fabulous!

And by God it was!

We arrived in Milan. We were staying at the glorious Grand Hotel et de Milan, a part of the Leading hotels of the World¬†in Montenapoleone –¬†the heart of the fashionable district ¬†of what is arguably the most fashionable city in the world and a stones throw away from the glorious Duomo. Now the Duomo is a Cathedral and you will see many in Italy though none as glorious as the one in Milan. We arrived late in the evening at 5 p.m. and it took us 45 mins or so from Malpensa Airport to our hotel. The scenery changed from stark, to more modern and then to glorious , old heritage buildings and I was delighted to see our hotel was one of these fabulous, fashionable structures!

The hotel was beautiful, preserved and luxurious. We were quickly shown up to our suites and in true-blue Euro Luxury Trip fashion, we washed up and headed off to explore this gorgeous , fashionable city!

The hotel is walking distance from the Duomo so we decided to bundle up( it was pretty chilly) and walk to the Duomo. To get to the Duomo from our hotel, you walk by the historical Teatro alla Scala which had people getting out of their cars to see the Opera. I couldn’t believe we were so close to such incredible history. And then we saw it…the magnificent¬†Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II a beautiful¬†double¬†arcade¬†in the¬†connecting¬†Piazza del Duomo¬†to Piazza della Scala. Piazzas are squares and the one in front of the Teatro alla Scala was naturally the Piazza della Scala. It joined the Duomo square. We walked through this magnificent, bustling arcade on a Sunday evening and witnessed sheer perfection- the Duomo! The square was being used to host a concert and people was sipping coffees and listening to beautiful music while basking in the splendor of the sun setting over the Duomo. This was my definition of the perfect life!

We ordered a pizza (I HAD TO!) and a cappuccino and relaxed in the glory of a beautiful, musical and mellow Milan.

It was off to Lake Como the next day and the train tickets had been booked!

The Milan train station is sensational. Milano Centrale , the central train station is a heritage building , has hundreds of trains coming in and thousands of passengers but also has shops like Armani Jeans, Zara, Guess, Berhka, Desigual…to name a few! Guess fashion starts in Milan as you arrive!!!We arrived a bit early to the train station as it was our first train of this trip and got so caught up with the shopping, we’re lucky we made it in time at all!

Lake Como is 33 minutes by train and can obviously be driven to as well, but being that we had just arrived we didn’t really want to start driving so soon! Lake Como is picturesque, calm and beautiful. It’s a wonderful place to grab lunch or coffee and just let life pass you by! You can walk to the lake from the train station and walk up to some lovely cafes by the edge of the lake and have a truly beautiful and memorable afternoon! The two hands installation was a photo op for every person who seemed to pass the wonderful park on the way to the lake!

But I needed to go back! I’d fallen in love with Milan and I wanted to explore! So off we went- back to explore and back to shop! I had a couple of meetings with actors and performers and some work with Creative directors and then it was back to walking the city !

The shopping is fabulous! I bought my first Giorgio Armani and I loved the Armani store and I loved the chic boutiques with fabulously coloured beautifully ,draped clothes! I shopped till my soles wore out and then bought new shoes! After that we did Apertivos at the uber stylish D&G Store.

Apertivo is something that happens thru all of Italy! Genrally Apertivo happens between 7 and 9 p.m. and roughly translated ‘Apertivo’ means a¬†pre-dinner drink, meant to ‚Äúopen‚ÄĚ the palate. It gives you a chance to relax, and nibble on some wonderful tapas as dinner is approaching. the tapas in each restaurant is different and you get a selection as you order a drink! And truly it is one of the most beautiful ways to unwind! We connected, talked, planned and laughed as the sun set on a busy yet thoroughly enjoyable day!

And the next day we opted for a walking tour of Italy. Walking from the Duomo, we listened to it;s history and sensed the excitement in our Guide’s voice as she talked about the impending Papal visit later this year. We walked down the Galleria to the Scala square where we posed in from the Leonardo da Vinci statue and listened to the guide wax eloquent about the operas at the Scala theatre. From there we walked to the Castlello Sforzeco which had children playing in the gardens, families walking and enjoying the history and tourists like us capturing some unforgettable images!

We also saw a poplar tree!

Now this is important because whenever I walked in Milan I’d see this white , cotton wooly substance floating in the air. at first I assumed it to be dandelions but when seeing this tree I was informed that the tree was the cause for this white billowy substance! Go to Milan , you’ll see what I’m talking about!

And then we walked to our final stop – to see the piece-de-resistance – The Last Supper painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Now, I had no idea what i was to expect.I assumed it to be small, preserved, protected and was sure I’d have to push thru crowds to barely get a glimpse of it. But I was wrong. The painting is 15¬†feet √ó 29¬†ft (so huge!!!) and covers an entire wall of the dining hall at the monastery of¬†Santa Maria delle Grazie. They only allow about 30 people into the room at a time and you can sit or stand any where…You just can’t miss it! It is spectacular!

I prayed fervently in the church and have a slight feeling God was right there listening…and then it was off via tram to Duomo square , some more incredible shopping and a quick change of outfit at our hotel! And then like a fashionable Milanese we strutted to the Bvlgari hotel for Apertivo and then topped off this delicious day with the most tasty sushi I have ever eaten at Nobu!

MUST DO’S

  • A coffee at one of the oldest cafes in Milan¬†The¬†Caff√® Cova –¬†a¬†wonderfully quaint¬†pasticcerie founded in 1817.
  • A walking tour of Milan…that truly is the best way to see the city!
  • See the painting of the Last Supper. See Leornado da Vinci’s masterpiece with all it’s secrets and stories and be mesmerized!
  • Splurge on shopping ! The Italian designers are more reasonable in Milan and the clothes don’t get cut better than here!
  • Do an Apertivo or do a few apertivos! Travel the city. Scour the tastiest tapas and the most beautiful restaurants and enjoy the evening like the Italians do!

Fabulous fashion, incredible beauty and truly delicious- Milan was easily the most glorious city I have ever been to! She is a beautiful lady – fun , flirty, feminine and delightful- not in any way the industrial , boring city it’s described to be. It was by far the perfect start to a legendary trip!

Price Factor-: Expensive ! 500-800  Dollars a night , make sure you get something close to the Duomo and the Fashion District! My recommendations are Grand Hotel et de Milan and the beautiful Bvlgari Hotel!

Best times to travel-: May-September but remember as holiday season hits abroad (May end) expect the city to be filled with tourists. We went in the second week of May and tho there were some tourists , it was still largely empty, local and a lot more fun!

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! ūüėČ 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 РFebruary. We went end March and tho Yarra was just perfect, Apollo Bay was super chilly already!

%d bloggers like this: