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Roma- the final day

The rest of the birthday was spent doing the Crypts and Catacombs tour and exploring the fabulous underground city that Romans had built over again and again and again! The tour we took was a Viator tour and a small walking tour. We walked into the very eerie Capuchin Crypt and was amazed by the Domitilla Catacombs and the Church of San Clemente. No photographs are allowed and care has been taken on the restoration. It is a marvelous tour, though a little scary and very difficult if you are claustrophobic or asthmatic.

And then it was off to dinner at L’archaelogia a fabulous fine dining restaurant on the Appian way. With a wonderful interior section and an even more romantic exterior seating area…we chose sitting outside and watching the sun set. One of Rome’s most famous restaurants, this was full of locals and had the most incredibly delicious, filling warm food and a fabulous wine selection! The evening ended gloriously with fine food and with a special sweet surprise from the chef!

Our last day in Rome was spent walking, stopping at the glorious monuments, taking in the culture and history of Rome at our own pace. The only drawback for me in Rome was that the city has hundreds of thousands of tourists and even more people trying to sell things to tourists that in between the madness, the beauty of the city gets lost. The grandeur of the Colosseum and the intricate artistry of the Trevi fountain make for a city rich in history, culture and jaw dropping  beauty!

Rome is about the old city, the magnificent history, the breathtaking ruins and the tiny cobbled path ways. Rome must be explored on foot and with time on hand. And even after all the tours and after hearing all the stories on all the sites you know that there’s so much more to hear, so much more to learn, so much more to see….!

But the time had come to leave Roma and travel to glorious Venezia and my first visit to Roma was completed.I was exhausted, exhilarated and already planning my return!

Best Times To Travel-:  May through to October though early May is preferable as you avoid the heavy tourist season and get to see a bit of the city at your own pace.

Must Do’s-:  Walking tour of the city, visit to the Vatican ( Papal Audience), eat and sit at the local cafes and enjoy the local cuisine.

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Picture perfect Capri

And from Rome , it was off on the Trenitalia all the way to Naples a long 4 and a half hour journey and then a 45 minute hydrofoil to the brilliant and blue Isle of Capri! The First Class was comfortable and the wifi free IF and only IF you had a local number because you had to put in your local phone number and a code would be smsed to you! Since it was a long train journey at speeds of over 300 km/hr, we watched the country side, watched as we passed Rome and Florence (couldn’t wait to be there!) and then surfed social networking sites having been kindly given an access code by the Ticket Conductor.What was interesting was the colour of the ‘ORANGE’ Juice! It was RED! Later I learnt that the Orange Juice in many places in Italy is just as red 🙂

We arrived at Naples and took a taxi to the port which is about 5-10 minutes away. There we bought tickets to the hydrofoil and boarded.There are regular hydrofoils to and fro from the island. they are large boats seating approximately 300 odd passengers and take 45 minutes to get to one side.

The sea was incredibly rough and the boat incredibly large and unwieldy and unfortunately our ride to Capri was filled with passengers with green faces, some throwing up, most about to and lots of screams and shouts! It is a 45 minute boat ride and as much as I love the water I couldn’t wait to be back on land again!

And what a beautiful land. When you arrive in Capri, you are stunned by the bluest of blue waters, picture perfect views and the most glorious bay! A car from the hotel picked us up and in minutes the boat trip was forgotten and we were on our way to Anacapri. Ana means higher and so this is a point higher than Capri and looks over Capri and the bay.

The hotel we had chosen had was on a 1000 foot cliff edge with stunning views of Mount Vesuvious and the island and was the winner of 2012 Best European Hotel. It was called Hotel Caesar Augustus. The winner of numerous travel and luxury awards, this was the hotel I was most looking forward to! The hotel was beautiful- personal, private and with the most stunning views of the bay and of Mount Vesuvious. It seemed like a home converted into a luxury hotel and soon enough we met the owners who still actively run the hotel! We were shown to our suite and were enthralled by the balcony which had yet another spectacular room!

The day was windy unfortunately and the sea was rough and cold so after our long trip over there was little left to do but to laze in the hotel and completely relax!

The hotel was stunning but very unlike the other 2 Australian Relais and Chateaux that we have stayed at (Qualia and Saffire Freycinet) the rooms though comfortable were rather tiny and the hotel, though beautifully placed was more of a fabulous home with a warm homely feel as compared to these 2 properties which were luxury at it’s finest. Personally I love staying at the Leading Hotels of the World because you always know what to expect- an old world charm, a historical beauty and the finest of service. I was hoping that Relais and Chateaux would also have a certain common ground with their choices but though all the hotels are beautiful, I much preferred the space and professionalism that the Australian Hotels offered. When I travel, I don’t want to go to a home, no matter how beautiful it is. I’d like to stay in a hotel.

Must Do’s

  • A ten minute walk from the hotel is Piazza Vittoria and a chair lift which takes you to the highest point on the island. This is definitely a ride worth taking! It takes about 15 minutes up wards and 15 minutes down and will give you some of the most incredible photographs you will ever take. Have a warm Irish Coffee as you reach the top and be mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the island!
  • Spend a little time in the shops at Piazza Vittoria. Very reminiscent of Santorini for me, these small shops and cafes are stocked with local paintings, bright prints and fun gifts to take home! Don’t forget to eat a gelato while walking the white pebbled roads. This is a great place to while away an hour or so!
  • A tour of the Blue Grotto or the Grotto Azzura. The Blue grotto is so called because it is a cave with a very small opening with allows just enough light to illuminate the water such that the entire cave is lit up in the most brilliant of blues. Now the Blue Grotto is often shut based on the wind and water issues of any particular day and for our short trip it was closed because of a sudden dip in temperature accompanied by storm winds. However on our last day as we headed towards the hydrofoil we met the ‘President’ of the Blue Grotto who informed us that it was now open! Aditya and I ran to find a boat that would take us to the Blue Grotto and in minutes we were on our way!Once you reach the Grotto however, it is a wait for at least an hour as you must disembark from the boat you are in and move into a small , low boat which holds no more than 3-4 people. Then you must lie flat as you enter else you’ll be hit pretty badly on the head as you enter the grotto . And once you are in, you realise the wait was worth it. Bright blue, radiant and completely unique- this is a MUST DO on any trip to Capri!

Capri was my break in an otherwise super packed Italian Tour, it was beautiful, unexpected and relaxing.

Should you stop in Capri overnight….definitely – to relax, to unwind, to breathe and to do this Sapphire Beauty justice- stop over , relax and SEE the BLUE GROTTO!

Price Factor-: Expensive ! 400-600  Dollars a night …but can you put a price on complete relaxation.

Best times to travel-: End May-September. As it approaches June , the weather gets less unpredictable and a lot warmer….so if you’re traveling in May opt for the last few weeks!

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!

 

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