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The Tranquility of Kumarakom

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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‘Show’ing off at the Taj Club House!

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I had stayed in all the Taj properties in Chennai save for the Taj Club House. I’d been there for my cousin’s wedding prior to it’s opening ….but I’d never seen the rooms or the restaurants or the services so when I got the chance to travel to Chennai and stay at the the Taj Club House on Clubhouse road for a show (FourSome!) , minutes away from Chennai’s historic Mount Road…I jumped at the opportunity!

Modern, young and still looking spanking new…the hotel stands like an oasis pristine towering above Chennai’s noisy, busy roads below. You enter the lobby and immediately you seem cocooned and calm. On the left is a small coffee area with cakes and pastries.

The rooms are the most modern I’ve seen among the new Taj properties. Well spaced, comfortable and wonderfully in tune with a guest’s need, it’s easy to see why this hotel has so many long stay guests!

Go up to the swimming pool and enjoy taking laps across the pool after a quick exercise at the huge , very well equipped gym ; it’s wonderful to enjoy a quick cuppa and watch the city as it slowly starts winding down. Lights come on , the sun goes down and in this mad, mad ,frenetic metro you are left feeling a funny,warm sense of peace!

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The Indian restaurant-Beyond Indus, in the lobby area is exceptional. Interesting kebabs, pre-plated indian meals made for a truly tasty and quite exotic meal..The food was light (unlike Indian food often is), perfectly spiced and truly delicious!

The Moroccan-Lebnanese restaurant on the rooftop, Kefi, is also interesting but not a patch on my favourite Lebanese restaurant back home in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace… SOUK!

But the ones that must be mentioned is the high energy bar Blend serving fun cocktails and fabulous tapas….A couple of years ago Chennai had no nightlife but I have to say Blend started rocking post 10:30 p.m. and continued rocking till the wee hours of the morning!

The fabulous Sunday brunch at the Club House (the 24 hour restaurant) was also sublime! Packed tables, live singing and more live stations than you could count- The Taj Club House easily has one of the best brunches I have ever seen and going by the turnout – you’d better get there early else you’ll never find space!

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A newly opened Jiva Spa gives me one more reason to go back…

See you soon Chennai… see you soon Taj Club House!

It’s annoying I can’t find more photographs… this is definitely a property that deserves many, many photographs! :)…

NEXT TIME!

Best Time To Travel-: November to February…else it does get very hot and muggy!

Cost-:$150- $200 a night…well worth it! Modern, fresh and yummy!

 

 

Times Square in Hong Kong, Felix and Macau- an odd collection of experiences!

Off we went to Times Square (NOTHING LIKE THE ORIGINAL!) for what we though would be a bit of shopping! It’s a mall complex with a couple of shops and we wandered for a few hours settling finally for a warm cup of Starbucks! In New York the loud music and the glaring lights(yes even in the day) of Times Square can sometimes get too much for anybody but I missed it a bit in this stark structure which bore no resemblance to the original!

But we had a whole evening of exploring left and a musical to catch! So we were off to the wonderful ‘Chicago’ a musical so beautifully translated on screen , i couldn’t wait to catch it live! Incredibly plush theatres, fabulous drinks and high end food unfortunately couldn’t save this play tho’. It failed in comparison to the beautifully sculpted, magnificent looking film…but then again that also had Richard Gere!:)

But…when traveling, there’s always more excitement in store and so it was off to the grand Peninsula Hotel for an early dinner! Arriving in to Kowloon, we went straight to the Peninsula. On a bustling street with tons of street shops, Kowloon’s grand hotel stands magnificently proud and gloriously tall! The Lobby was a bit too crowded for my liking…almost like an airport terminal… guess everyone wanted to get a quick look at the Peninsula.. so rather than sitting down and looking ’round the lobby we went straight up to the European fine dining restaurant Felix! This was fabulous- luxurious, with a breathtaking view of the harbour, attentive staff, quiet and just perfect!

Macau was a trip that people had talked to us about so one evening we decided to hop on a ferry with our passports and do 2 countries in one night!It was the birthday eve and this made sense to us travelholics so of we went to the ferry terminal to board a jet to take us to Macau. Now this is crowded , muggy and pretty awful so try and have tickets in advance so you can just get on. The Visa services and passport people are rude and had it not been a birthday eve plan, I would have happily turned back with no regrets! The ferry takes an hour but is very crowded- both with tourists and with avid gamblers…so you really have to jostle for space- NOT FUN!

I am told that Macau has wonderful sights and history during the day and that I should go back and spend a few days there! It is very unlikely since my first experience(at the  was pretty awful! We arrived to Macau post dinner and it looked like a version of Las Vegas only not as glitzy or as glamorous. It looked shiny, loud and a little bit too done up! The gambling was fun though and every hotel tried to keep it’s patrons happy with all the games, lots of glitz and glamour and lots of gold! We spent maximum time in the Venetian in Macau which I felt was prettier than the other rather ‘loud’ hotels on their ‘strip!’ We played a few games – I won a bit and then it was back to the hotel for a quick birthday cake to end the night!

Hong Kong was lovely with some fun times and great restaurants and a bad play and I’d love to see Macau again( maybe during the day!)…and travel there via helicopter next time to avoid the awful ferry!

That’s why I must travel again and …soon!

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!

A Venetian Romance

You haven’t known what romance is unless you’ve been to Venezia….you’ll never truly understand beauty unless you go there. I fell in love in Venezia– it was love at first sight and it was an affair I’ll never forget!

You get out of the train station and Venice is like no other city I have ever seen.Water everywhere and water taxis and Vaporettos waiting to take you to your destination! It was amazing, overwhelming and quite literally magical. You dream about the canals of Venice. You have seen pictures of gondola rides but nothing prepares you for the beautiful energy of Venice, the magical sunlight, the singing boatmen and the energy in the air! There are two stations in Venice and the one that is easier to get to your hotel from is Santa Lucia as this is in the historic centre of Venice as opposed to Venezia Mestre which is in the heart of the mainland.

Our hotel was about 20 minutes by water taxi (which we hired for just the 2 of us…to make our arrival even more special!). There are several Vaporettos (water buses) however that can be easily taken at the station as well.

Our hotel deserves an entire paragraph. The Luna Baglioni , a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, was undoubtedly the BEST HOTEL we stayed at in Italy! I guess they quite literally saved the best for last! a minutes walk away from St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco) the Luna Baglioni is on the waterfront. It is right in the heart of Venice facing the San Marco Basin and the island of San Giorgio and was the perfect choice. Our room …oh my Goodness our room could inspire poets. With walk-in closets (yes more than one), a magnificent drawing room, a plush bedroom and 2 bathrooms ,we were ensconced in plush fabric and ultimate luxury . Then we saw our own private terrace. Over looking the water with some beautiful sun beds , this was easily the finest position to catch the most glorious of sunsets and suddenly I was sad because we were only in Venice for a night.

I will go back. I must go back and I would only stay at  The Luna Baglioni.

Venice for us was about winding down, relaxing and just staying in the moment and if there’s one place you can do that…it’s Venice. We wandered the cobbled pathways, stopped in numerous cafes and shopped for Murano glass jewelry to my hearts content. Now most hotels will offer you a free boat ride to the Murano glass factory but as that would taken a few hours what with going there and back and then seeing the factory, we both felt our time would be better spent just enjoying Venice at our own leisure. The jewelry was beautiful though and I picked up some necklaces which I absolutely love. I loved climbing the little bridges and walking through every lane and bylane. Exploring new corners of Venice… every time you turned , you could create another picture perfect moment!

Piazza San Marco is glorious. The Piazza is dominated by the Church of St. Marks and a glorious ,old clock tower!  With lots of cafes, some of which have live artistic performances and with fabulous food- Venice is an explosion of your senses. There is beauty absolutely everywhere and inspiration in every step you take. I’d have loved to have visited the Doges Palace which stands so perfectly regal but we had no time and too mush to absorb! There’ll always be next time..that is one thing I’m sure of.

After a leisurely lunch and a warm cappuccino , we decided to enjoy a romantic gondola ride as the sun was setting. With a glass of champagne and a very musical boatman…we headed into the glorious canals of Venice. Hundreds of tourists , tens of gondolas and yet you felt like yours was the only story that mattered, the only ride that counted…Venice can do that to you. It can you feel special again and that’s what the gondola ride did… it made me feel special!

A beautiful sunset followed by a glorious sunrise, Venice is beautiful even when the world sleeps… I can see why realms of poetry and hundreds of sonnets has been written about this remarkable gem….

Here’s to another trip to Venice …

Best Times To Travel-:  May through to October – it’s summer and it’s wonderful…but prices also peak at this time!

Price Factor-:  EXPENSIVE!!! $400- $700 per night for a 5 star hotel and expect to pay at least 30-50% more on food, cappuccinos etc as compared to any other Italian city

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!

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