Advertisements

Blog Archives

The Tranquility of Kumarakom

2013-02-14 16.49.57-1

From Vivanta by Taj Malabar to Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom you can take a boat. Close to an hour either way, we decided to opt for a drive considering we were doing a backwaters boat trip the same evening.I’m glad we took the drive because it was wonderful to see Aditya’s photograph featured on one of the small shops we passed. Part of an old Peter England campaign, he was smiling down at us! Super cool!

2013-02-14 12.29.40

Great start to the day , the day was going to get even better. In the midst of a slice of green heaven the Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom almost merges in with the surroundings. Small quaint cottages banks of Vembanad Lake , private sit outs, bicycles to get you around the property…this property bring s you back to nature but still keeps in mind the luxury needs of it’s guests.We were welcomed in by Prince the F & B Director who we’d previously met when we had stayed at the Vivanta by Taj Maldives. We were famished , so grabbed a quick bite and headed to our rooms. The property is enormous so I’d recommend borrowing a bicycle from their bicycle shed and traveling around the property whenever you need to. It’s fun, it’s relaxing and you get to explore the entire property.

2013-02-15 16.48.36

Our cottage was beautifully furnished and tastefully decorated. With  a massive bedroom, lovely sit out and even an outdoor shower- ‘luxury rustic’ became the way I defined the hotel and my room.

DSC04475

A quick nap later we were off on a gorgeous cruise amidst the backwater. The mangrove plants had made it difficult for the boat to come to the hotel so we took the boat from just across the hotel and marveled at the expanse of the lake which merged into the sea while the sun set.

DSC04490

Prince knows me and penchant for romantic dinners and so a table was set with a special menu created just for Aditya and I on the banks of the lake where we could listen to some live music and eat undisturbed surrounded by just gorgeous swaying palms and listening to the fish as they leapt about in the lake below… The dinner was superb. The chef here is EXCELLENT so definitely come prepared with an appetite! The food is marvelous!

DSC04480

The lake is lit at night thanks to the local Kerala women who are hired by the hotel to light up the lake at sunset…With gorgeous divas the lake looks so auspicious and divine in the night as you walk by the banks!

DSC04531

The following morning after cycling to breakfast we fed some of the ducks and watched as the turtles came to feed on the banks of the lake. I fed a few and I must confess I had never really thought of turtles as hungry or greedy! Cute, very greedy and very friendly…this was a wonderful experience.

Our trip to Kumarakom was short, romantic and an idyllic relaxing getaway. Far away from the madness and noise of the city we found peace, calm, cycles and ducks 🙂 and had the perfect short break!

Cost-:$300 onwards but remember with very limited rooms… book well in advance… They tend to ALWAYS be full up !

Best Times to Travel-: November to February has great weather… we did Valentines day at Kumarakom and we had a pleasant, slightly chilly evening! Perfect!

2013-02-14 16.55.43-2

Advertisements

New Years @ the Vivanta by Taj President

IMG_0144

So I’d always wanted to do a relaxed New Years Eve! Check in to a nice hotel, have a wonderful dinner, party and instead of worrying how to get home and having to hire a river to get you back safely…just take the elevator up and collapse on a plush, well made bed in a room that’s just the right temperature!

So that’s what we did! This last new years eve Aditya and I checked in to the Vivanta by Taj President with my pet cocker spaniel Cookie. Now this is important- because very few hotels in India are pet friendly and it’s absolutely vital for the both of us to not leave Cookie home alone on the loudest night of the year. So bags packed we headed off to the hotel. I must confess we were way more excited about this new year than poor lil Cookie.

IMG_0115

We were checked in immediately and taken to our suite and Cookie , now slowly catching the excitement bug, smiled happily, found a new bed and then went to sleep…. A warm cup of coffee later, I was off to a relaxed tub bath and then had the time to do my hair and make up perfectly before our friends descended on us! We were all partying at Wink, the bar at the hotel and a table had been reserved for the group. As they reached, I headed downstairs, my feet in stilettos thanking me for the very short journey…:)

Wink was wonderful and the sushi perfect as usual and it got me to to thinking that the Vivanta by Taj President has some of the finest eateries in Mumbai. The Thai Pavillion is sublime. The Trattoria serves the most tasty pizzas and pastas and to get good food on New Years eve a long with some very interesting specially created cocktails was quite the treat!

IMG_0149

I did keep checking on my lil Cookie though and tho the hotel has a pet-friendly policy, the staff are still getting used to pets… They are not sure how to react or what to do… but I guess the fact that hotels are learning to treat our furry babies like family is a huge step in the right direction!

The evening was fun, raucous, loud and exhausting but  have to say that on January 1, when all the rest of my friends looked miserable at the trudge across town back home…I was still beaming…After all I was just a quick elevator ride away from my bed, my puppy and sleep!

MUST TRY-: Thai Pavillion for authentic, tasty , light Thai food AND Trattoria for thin crust pizzas with incredible toppings!

COST-: $200- $1400 (all inclusive with spa treatments included) per night…! For New Years, spending the night over at the hotel as opposed to driving home tired, with tons of drunken revelers on the street- the greatest idea ever!

IMG_0139

HongKong-ing to some fun sights!

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!

God’s Own Country!

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!

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 “open” 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 × 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 Caffè 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 Rocking Reds of Ayers Rock/ Uluru!

Another remarkable trip was to Ayers rock, Uluru and to Longitude 131. With just 15 tents, with private sunrise and sunset views of Uluru,in the Kata Tjuta National Park this hotel is incredible! Part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, we had been wanting to see this beautiful hotel for a while!

I am proud to say several Australians haven’t yet been to Uluru. In the Northern Territory it looks nothing like the rest of Australia. No sun, surf and blue …here it’s red, hard and incredibly bright! I loved it!

Uluru is the traditional name of Ayers Rock and how the rock is known to the aboriginal people. It is near another remarkable rock structure called Kata Tjuta which is a collection of 36 variously-sized rock domes approximately 36km to the west of Uluru

To get to Ayers Rock, is a bit of a trek. You take a direct flight from Sydney to Uluru.Other cities take you to Alice springs after which you have to take a 45 minute flight to Uluru. The International Qantas Business class are fabulous , possibly one of the best in the world; but their domestic business class is nothing to right home about and after a long flight from India leaving at 10:30 am the previous day , we arrived at Uluru only at 12 p.m. the NEXT DAY. The Domestic flight seats had almost no recline , were small, hard and we were truly exhausted when we arrived!

The memorable part of our arrival however was being able to see Uluru from the plane….From a  vast emptiness of nothing rose a beautiful red rock glistening in the sunlight and a bit of our exhaustion, just a bit , slowly reduced! Voyages owns  all the resorts in Ayers Rock and you haveback packing grounds, dormitories, 3 and 5 star hotels and then you have LONGITUDE 131– the reason why we made the trip to Uluru in the first place. Aditya and I have always traveled to create remarkable experiences and incredible memories and this hotel had been on our MUST STAY list for a while! And it was worth it! The packages they offer are usually all inclusive with alcohol, meals and even tours included! These are most definitely worth it, because the food is fabulous and the tours are private and wonderful !

Luxury tents rising from the middle of nowhere,several feet of the ground with a sheet glass window facing the glorious rock….it was privacy and luxury at its best! We arrived I collapsed in the wonderfully oversized bed! Later we had lunch at the Dune House. From quick sandwiches to elaborate mains…the food was fabulous!

When in Uluru , you must make trips to see the rocks. On Day 1 , in the afternoon we explored the rock and the history behind it. There were several parables and tales about the rock. We were shown faces of the rock that looked uncannily like snakes and foot prints. These all formed part of the ancient aboriginal culture. They were all stories passed from generation to generation. The aboriginal folk still live in the area and have their own villages which remain undisturbed by tourists. The rock forms religious significance for them still and several festivals, rites of passage etc are still conducted at the rock. They also have several wild pet dogs and animals, so don’t be surprised if you see one wandering around while you are walking. They seem mighty busy and usually in a hurry to grab a drink of water , at one of the natural springs formed near the rock and rush back home. The rock also has a male and female side where only aboriginal men/ women are allowed . You are requested not to photograph the female side at any cost.  This is sacred land and it is asked that you respect the stories, respect the culture, respect the rock.

 We did the Mala Walk and Kantju Gorge. Now if you are leaving your room during the day to walk anywhere the one thing you will need is a fly mask! There are millions of tiny flies everywhere!!! the mask looked ridiculous to me on Day 1 and I didn’t carry it but after gobbling more than a few flies , one Day 2 I had both the fly-repellant lotion all over and the fly mask on at ALL TIMES! THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION. Flies are a very real issue!

This is approximately 2 km. Here you see fine examples of Anangu rock art and you can experience the sheer vertical walls. This is an easy walk and with all the stories you here goes by too quickly. You also see the beautiful and peaceful Kantju Gorge.

After this we did the 1 km Kuniya walk. We saw the Mutitjulu waterhole, home of a wanampi, an ancestral water snake. Lots of interesting birds were spotted and we enjoyed some more caves with some wonderful rock art!

These walks give you a great idea on the history. We also noticed groups of people walking on the rock. There are treks up the face of the rock. However these are NOT ENCOURAGED. There are several signs asking you to respect the land and its people and not climb the rock. The signs are every 50 metres at some places and so despite the walk looking challenging and the view looking fabulous ; we both felt it was important to respect the aboriginal culture and not stamp on it!

There rare also base walks which are longer and started usually early in the morning as the sun gets pretty hot as they day progresses and the flies increase substantially!

For the sunset viewing of the rock we were taken to a beautiful point where you could quite literally see the rock change colour from reds, to oranges and browns and even a shade of

purple- this was quite remarkable. Hundreds of people gather for that one photograph and it was most definitely worth it!

They also do a morning sunrise viewing of the rock but honestly I couldn’t make out too much difference in the light in the morning or evening, so if given a choice just do the evening one!

What was fabulous about Longitude 131 was one of its experiences-Table 131° – Dining Under the Stars. Here they set up a beautifultable under the stars with a 3 course meal and a wonderful astronomer! Now I never really understood the wonder of the night sky till we sat down to that dinner! The sky is always romantic and beautiful but that night it came alive! we saw more stars than we ever seen in our lives! We learnt about galaxies and constellations and saw the Zodiac signs in the sky all over a couple of glasses of wine and an incredibly sumptuous meal! The piece-de-resistance was however when we moved to the Astronomers telescope and with just a bit magnification and my naked eye- I saw VENUS! The incredible planet with all her exquisite rings was blazing magnificently in the night sky! I’d always drawn Venus in school with the customary rings but to actually see the planet was an experience  I will never forget!!! The fly mask is not necessary in the evenings giving us even more cause to celebrate!

Ayers Rock just has Uluru with its wonderful stories and remarkable history but Longitude 131 was an experience in itself! The quiet splendor of the hotel and the remarkable calm of glorious Uluru made this the perfect break!

Price Factor-: Expensive ! $2000-$2200 for 2 nights! BUT IT’S ALL INCLUSIVE! Meals, tours and even alcohol is on the house!!!

Best times to travel-: April- September else it gets way too hot!

Jumping of an Airplane in Sydney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxurious dining at its best! The perfect romantic anniversary.

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

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

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

Gold Coasting!

It was my first trip to Australia and yet another anniversary. The trip had been planned (like several trips of ours) over a weekend…I realised , one very boring Friday that I’d like to jump off a plane! Australia seemed the safest option and with an anniversary coming up…it seemed poetic! Take a leap (off a plane!) to celebrate another leap! My husband thought it was just an evil way to try and push him off a plane but Coldplay (his favourite band!) had a concert during the time we hoped to be there and it was the day before I wanted to jump off the plane…so what the heck!

We made a decision to leave for Aussie land on Friday, made bookings on Saturday and Sunday and on Sunday evening realised that we’d have to apply for a visa! After all we were leaving in 5 days, right!??!

We went to the VFS Office as it opened on a Monday, submitted our papers and asked when we might be approved…”10-14 days Madam,”I was told…” It has to go to Delhi!”

But we didn’t have that kind of time…and so decided to ring up everyone I knew to help me make my anniversary dream come true! Take a small leap (14000 odd feet), to celebrate our leap!

The Australians have a sense of humour and I think mine must have been the oddest reason to want to go to Australia they had ever read! So despite sending in our forms only on Monday , our visa was home-delivered to us on Wednesday! Guess they wanted us to leap off that plane too! (well maybe just me! ;))

And so we arrived to Gold Coast via Brisbane Airport! Brisbane Airport is about 90 mms/ 55 miles from Gold Coast. The airport is very basic and there is no point in arriving for your Return flight too early as often Check in points are closed and there are very few places to just sit and relax! Any way after a long flight in; we decided to head towards our hotel. There are Hotel shuttles which take you to Gold Coast, which we took as ours was so rushed we’d had no time to confirm anything more than just basic bookings! The next visit we were more prepared and had a car meet us! It takes a little over an hour to get to the Gold Coast!

The first time we went to the Gold Coast( i.e. The Anniversary!); we stayed at the Surfer’s Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa. This hotel came highly recommended. It was young, fun and in the heart of the action at Surfer’s Paradise!

All the areas in the Gold Coast have fun names- Surfer’s Paradise, Mermaid Beach, Nobby Beach, Runaway Bay, Rainbow Bay…! 🙂 You get the hint! It’s fun, it’s a young college town and it’s full of life!

Surfers Paradise has the beach, some wonderful shopping areas and some incredible cafes and some wonderful hotels as well!

I recommend the Q 1 Resort and Spa for a fabulous living experience and a view of the Gold Coast worth dying for!

The next time we came we stayed at the Palazzo Versace. This does not have a beach attached but they have created a small beach patch near their swimming pool…;)! A couple of feet of sand and a beach ball or two and a small mini beach takes shape!

The hotel is a tad too gold and a bit gaudy but with the Versace stamp everywhere you are surrounded in luxury!

What is most beautiful about the hotel is the positioning. Beautifully placed on a marina you can take some fabulous boats from the marina and explore the Gold coast via the ocean or sit at the Marina Mirage shopping center and grab a cup of coffee and chocolate at Max Brenner or pick up some doggie accessories at Posh Pets 😉 like we did!

Must do’s and Must Sees!!!!

  • Must do-: The Jet ski safari…It may not sound like anything worth doing …I mean everyone has ridden a jet ski…what’s the big deal?! I mean I totally thought so! But an afternoon plan of ours had fallen thru and this seemed like something we could do…!

Crazy, wild and incredible fun…we went to smaller islands, snorkeled a bit and hit waves at speeds that were do fast 2 Aussie’s fell of their skis

I was super proud that I didn’t and totally exhausted after this ‘lame’ afternoon! IT WAS SO WORTH IT!

  • Warner Bros Movie World-: Both os us are Movie Film buffs and we loooved Movie World. With a Superman ride which is supposed to be the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere and a straight free Batman Drop which still haunts my husband it was easily the best half day we spent! I say half-day because if you go on a day that’s little less crowded you can just do your favourites and move to one of the other incredible theme parks all in the same area… My next favourite park was DreamWorld which also had some crazy thrill rides!!! Again you must understand that for me, Theme parks are all about the thrills and roller coasters so the scarier the better!!! There is also Sea World with dolphins, sharks and polar bears, Wet n Wild World, and White Water World! But I preferred the ACTUAL Ocean to water rides….I mean what’s the point of the glorious sea otherwise! 😉
  • Zorbing-: Quite literally being put into a huge ,plastic ball and being thrown down a hill! Hilarious , funny and absolutely super! So we were first pushed through the mouth and aditya and I I faced each other. Aditya started with some wise words of wisdom on how I should try and focus on one side or close my eyes and in between his lecture(barely had Word 2 finished) we were pushed with a high force of water down a hill! Limbs everywhere , lots of laughter and a definite MUST DO!
  • Currumbin Wild life Sanctuary -: We were not sure what to expect here and expected it to be more like a zoo….but the massing feeling of feeding kangaroos, watching joeys poptheir head out of pouches and pop back in and cuddling koalas was so incredible…we lost track of time! Here the animals are up close and touchable so whether its a greedy ostrich, a hungry kangaroo or a very sleepy koala , you get to interact with them in their own environment! ABSOLUTELY STUNNING! Remember kangaroos eat anything they can see…so keep the paper out of their way and your handbag well out of sight…unless you want a half eaten passport or well chewed coin purse! 😉
  • Have a drink at the Q1 Bar

For adventure junkies like me there’s also the Green Challenge. Climb rope ladders, swing from trees, climb up, rappel down…it’s a wild set of challenges which will work up quite a sweat!

The Gold Coast is absolutely fabulous for families and kids! It was wonderful for us (mostly because I’m still quite a kid!)! There’s lots to do, lots to see and lots to be entertained with!

It’s light, fun and one of the only places in the world where you can actually cuddle a koala…and that makes it WORTH IT!!

Did I sky dive? Did Aditya survive…? More on that next week…! 😉

Price Factor-: $200 to $500 per night approximately in the summer! For theme park tickets look at MyFun to get online deals and discounts!

Best times to travel-: I recommend August – February. We went the first time in end March (Anniversary time) and the weather was tricky! Rain cancelled lots of plans and storms on neighboring islands made the weather quite unpredictable and muggy! The next time we went in October and it was brilliant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do these day trips at your pace…your way!

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

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

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

Melbourne- a perfect symphony of youth and age!

I must admit that Melbourne was never on my map- never a city I dreamed of visiting and actually a city I had avoided once or twice during travel. It just seemed so city-ish, plain and boring and if there’s one thing I love about travel – it’s new experiences and the wonderful joy of experiencing new rhythms!

But last year during our anniversary we were encouraged by Tourism Australia to add Melbourne on our itinerary ! “You’ll love it!” They promised and skeptically I went ahead with it!

They were right. I was wrong!

Post my first trip I have been to Melbourne several more times and the last time stayed for over a week on work and just really explored the city….and LOVED IT! In this post , I am just giving you an idea of some of the must do’s in Melbourne, some of the must-see’s and some of our most memorable , fun experiences!

We arrived in Melbourne to an afternoon of glorious sun! The Crown Towers is a fabulous hotel, beautifully placed on the banks of the Yarra River! It stands tall, imposing and modern overlooking the wonderful, youthful city of Melbourne with it’s beautiful old world charm! I say youthful and old world because several old building – the Old treasury Building and the Post Office have all been remarkably kept and preserved from the outside and yet inside you have young entrepreneurs with shops and boutiques, coffee shops and funky shoes- a beautiful symphony of old meets young! Watch the Crown Towers at night tho…. with fire roaring from it sides and the casino coming to life- it’s definitely the place to be!

Day 1 quickly turned to evening and off we were on a romantic carriage drive to THE PRESS CLUB!  The Press Club is the flagship venue for chef and restauranteur George Calombaris. I have a huuuuuge Australia’s MasterChef geek and for me this was a place I wanted to my homage to a place I’d heard so much about! 

The Press Club was beautifully placed and comfortably lit; though a tad small for the number of diners! The majority of the diners were Australian so it is obviously very, very popular in Melbourne as well. What amused me tremendously was a couple on the nearby table (and all the tables were a bit too close !) photographing every dish as it arrived and then photographing it as she ate it bite by bite! Tedious, a bit nuts…but that showed the amount of fans The Press Club has. The food was a bit heavy for us and I do not know how it is possible for anyone to eat the entire Degustation menu unless you’ve not eaten for days! But all in all spectacularly plated, wonderfully attentive service and tasty food though a tad too heavy for me / or for the weather!

The next morning we set off walking across the bridge towards the yellow building that we would later come to know as Flinders Street Station. We were supposed to meet our guide there who was going to take us on a Hidden Secrets- Streets and Arcades tour of Melbourne. Now despite the fact that I hate tours and touristy traps-  I decided that this seemed an interesting tour! The best way to get the feel of a city is by walking and that’s what the tour promised! Our guide was fabulous  and knowledgeable and suddenly we were opening doors that you might have missed in lanes that you may never have visited and like Alice in Wonderland finding new exciting world’s underground, in “closed” buildings and in lanes you’d never have visited! 3 out of our group of 8 were actually Melbournians who’d heard about thetour and wanted to explore these tiny bylanes, these quaint shops and these fascinating secrets!

What I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED were the beautiful graffiti streets. Commissioned graffiti is done by local artists and displayed on these streets. Bright, striking and always changing- this was the perfect was to brighten a small lane and take the usually taboo graffiti and make it wonderful street art!

We stopped for a coffee at Koko Black at Melbourne’s historic Royal Arcade which has a Gaunt’s Clock which is flanked by two giant statues of the mythical figures of Gog and Magog. Since its implementation in 1892, the two mammoth statues have struck chimes at every hour, and can be heard resounding throughout the arcade. It was a wonderful break point with games shops, ancient doll shops , sweet shops and even shops on Wicca! Aditya signed a few autographs here and we took a few photographs with a couple of fans who had followed all of his music videos and ads and had a fabulous cup of coffee with the most incredible piece of chocolate and knew that this would be one stop we’d keep returning too!

The tour was definitely the high point of the day- though I strongly urge you NOT to sign up for their lunch! The lunch is bland and disappointing and with so many fabulous cafes and small restaurants in Melbourne DO NOT get stuck in a tasteless Mexican (?!) place!

Instead eat at this quaint cafe behind the GPO- Cafe De Vin! The most delicious pizzas and coffees and so , so, so cute!

After that incredible lunch, I suggest you spend the rest of the day exploring the lanes at your leisure! Do not forget to stop by Myer Melbourne….a one stop shop for some fabulous local designers!

Another really awesome thing about Melbourne is that opposite Flinders Street Station is the Tourism Office where you can travel on FREE Visitor Shuttles and trams which give you information about the city AND also stop at all the major landmarks. You can listen to the commentary, get off at a stop and get back on a couple of hours later!

The trams are incredible- a network of efficient , comfortable and beautifully historic. The tram stops focus more on the history of Melbourne and you can get some incredible photographs! Take the Free shuttle though if you want to shop and some of the more popular tourist stops or visit the well known Queen Victoria Market!

The Queen Victoria Market is massive. You can get everything from pet supplies, to baby clothes, to meat! The price is right and the choice is aplenty! But remember the soft toys may have their flaws and when you get 3 for a dollar don’t expect them to be soft or flawless ! It’s a place to pick up tourist souvenirs and keepsakes but for anything luxury or more fancy I’d recommend you stick to the main Bourke Street!

Another wonderful trip of ours was to Fenix Restaurant– Gary Mehigan’s restaurant (another MasterChef judge!)…. you see I AM obsessed! This was a trip we took one day for lunch! Almost 45 minutes outside of the city via tram, I’m assuming because of all the stops and because it took us time to find the correct route; we arrived late at the restaurant! Seeing our harried , worried faces; they thoughtfully seated us immediately and promised they’d do their best to ensure we get our orders in DESPITE us not having been able to keep our reservation! I ordered a grilled fish and Aditya a chicken. the meal was delicious. Light, almost airy, perfectly seasoned and finger licking good ; we were so glad we found the restaurant! Fenix , unlike Press Club has tons of natural light coming in. It is white and bright! The service was spectacular and the food was worth the change of trams and the route confusions!

Another restaurant I recommend is Jacques Reymond! This is a converted home and part of the Relaix and Chateaux chain of luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. The restaurant was probably the living room of an old home, beautifully restored and retaining the essence of luxury and comfort. The food was phenomenal and we could see Jacques pottering in and out of his kitchen making us feel like we were guests at his home!

What I also love about Melbourne is that the city is forever on Celebration mode- whether it’s an Arts Festival or a Theatre Festival or a Comedy Festival – there’s always something happening and it’s always soooo , soo fun! The last time I was there I was participating with my team in the Melbourne Theatre Fringe Festival and half way thru the festival another one started celebrating Angels and Demons (!?)  with some fabulous art work across the city!

This entire post has covered Melbourne’s food scene but for a true Melbournian life is in the cups of coffees and the fabulously plated food! With over 300 coffee shops in a few kilometers you will understand the Melbourne obsession with the perfect brew and the perfect meal!

In between the hundreds of fabulously brewed cups of coffee we did take the car out to the Great Ocean Road and to Yarra Valley…! But more on that next week!

Price Factor-: Melbourne , like the rest of Australia is a tad expensive for food and hotels with 5 star hotel prices averaging $200- 500 for some of the better 5 star hotels! But with so much the city has to offer for tourists FOR FREE, it is definitely a city where the Tourist rules! Tourism is made easy and uncomplicated!

Best times to travel-: Southern Hemisphere …so remember March- July is more than a BIT COLD!!! August- Feb is fabulous…a DEFINITE WINTER VACAY Destination!

 

%d bloggers like this: