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A Suite Anniversary!

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And so before you know it…we’d hit number 7! The seventh anniversary dawned upon us and with my focus being the many shows we’re doing and traveling with this year, and with a show on the night before my anniversary ; we couldn’t really get away (MUCH AS I’D LOVED TO HAVE!)….But if you can’t get away from the city well then you should make a small get away IN your city and so that’s what we did!

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On the Anniversary we checked in to the Spanish Suite at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Straight from our wedding, Aditya and I had checked in to the Taj, and readied ourselves for the grand reception the next day! The Taj Mumbai also played host to my sister’s engagement, my parent’s marriage my in-laws marriage as well! So naturally, but naturally we’d want to check in to what can only be described, as almost a second home to us! My brilliant sister, Nikhila had pulled out all the stops to make this the best most memorable anniversary ever and she never fails to amaze us! The Spanish Suite is known for a beautiful , old chandelier and the beautiful romantic hues of the room. With a glorious view of the Gateway of India…. it was the perfect backdrop to my small afternoon plan of reaffirming our vows! Since we were home, this one time , on our anniversary I thought of doing a small reaffirmation of vows with just family. For me that would make my day just perfect!

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We checked in and were thoroughly surprised(I spent a good 15 minutes running from room to room) to see all the many, many photographs that had been strategically placed of us. It was like the room had been specially kept just for us! We quickly changed and headed to the pool for some sun and i was delighted when almost every staff member greeted me by name and wished me Happy Anniversary. It’s true what they say about the legendary service at the Taj.

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Lunch was at my favourite restaurant in the world 🙂 Souk and then after more sunbathing; we rushed back to the room for me to soak in warm romantic bath that had been prepared. And then before we knew it family had arrived and Nikhila , my sister who had been ordained online performed a quick ceremony and our anniversary was celebrated with champagne toasts and tons of laughter!

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And then it was off to Sea Lounge for the fabulous High Tea! The Sea Lounge has the best high tea in Mumbai . with sandwiches, and chats, pastries and savory items; this is a fabulously filling meal and it was a wonderful evening spent chatting, laughing, reminiscing and relaxing!

The family then left and much as I couldn’t eat another morsel, Aditya insisted that we at least go to the lounge and have a drink! Now it was just the 2 of us and we headed to the lounge where they had prepared a special cake just to celebrate our anniversary!

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I was too exhausted at the end of the day to eat another morsel; so after sitting in the lounge for a bit , it was room service and an extremely comfortable bed for me!!!

Surprise! Surprise! Chef Hemanth Oberoi,  the Grand Executive Chef at The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, as well as corporate chef for the entire Taj chain of hotels; and most importantly the man who designed the menu for my wedding -had sent to our room ; not one, not two- BUT THREE GIGANTIC CHOCOLATE CAKES! Now we had THREE PLUS ONE FROM EARLIER!!!! 🙂

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I awoke on Sunday to a fabulous breakfast in bed. Capuccino’s , croissants and juices… I felt thoroughly pampered. Off for a nice , long relaxing swim and then we ended up at lunch at Masala Kraft , the Indian restaurant!They knew all my favourites and had brought them even before I placed my order!

And then post a cup of coffee; it was time to go home… Though this was a very, very short break- I came home feeling refreshed, energized and still in vacation mode…!

Anniversary or no anniversary – I think I’d like to do this every 3 months or so! Wot say Aditya? 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No photographs are allowed in the temple.

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

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

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Reliving my Royal History in Kerala

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My trip to Kochi was special for so many reasons! As you know my Father’s Great Grandfather was the first Maharaja of Cochin State and though Kingdoms and royalty cease to exist in India any more; many of the places in and around Kochi bear a great amount of historical significance for my family and a great amount of nostalgia for my Father. We visited palaces and homes where his parents were born, prayed at the same temples where coronations took place and walked the same ground my ancestors walked years ago. This was a very special trip.

It was also special because it was the first trip where my parents were traveling with Aditya and I. We all travel so much but with Cookie (my pet cocker spaniel and the love of our lives) at home ; my parents always baby sit her while we travel- hence though my sis has traveled with them lots– us…never! But now that Niks, my sister has a puppy of her own, I finally gave up my parental rights for 5 days and decided to take the leap and travel with my parents and husband to Kerala.

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Now these posts on Kerala are going to be several and documented! The trip was amazing and the things to see are too many to fit in to a single post.

Our trip started in Kochi at the Taj Malabar. A quick check in and lunch later , we were off on our first adventure.Our first trip was to St. Francis church,originally built in 1503, is the oldest European church in India. Vasco da Gama, died in Kochi in 1524 and his body was originally buried in this church. It is only much later that his remains were moved to Lisbon.

Kochi has many churches and each one more beautiful than the next. But when you walk in to St. Francis church you feel an overwhelming sense of calm. Tour operators are quietly talking about the history, pockets of people are praying and there is a warm goodness in this Church which made it so very personal and special!

And then it was off to Mattancherry Palace. Mattancherry Palace also known as the Dutch Palace. Created in typical Kerala style architecture with a courtyard in the middle, this palace has portraits of the Rajas and Maharjas , palanquins, stamps and other restored artifacts.

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Because of Achan’s (Father, in Malayalam) family name and our history ,we were allowed photographs in a place which usually doesn’t allow any photography at all. With an entrance tarrif of barely Rs. 5 per person, the palace is still spotlessly clean, being restored beautifully and was an absolute treat. Seeing paintings of my Great- great grand father and Stamp paper with his picture on them was wonderful. I have copies at home which are framed, but the fact that they were up there , for the world to see made me proud to be a Palat ( even more proud than I usually am!)

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And then it was a 5 minute walk to Jew town. The roads are peppered with shops which sell incredible lamps, diyas, basins and even life size idols of our Gods and our 5 minute walk almost took an hour as we stopped and marveled at some of the most gloriously restored antique pieces!

A spot of shopping later and a warm cappuccino at Jew Town and we called it an afternoon and headed back to the hotel!

Best Times To Travel-: Winter- November to February….! Beautiful weather

What you’ll love most-: How simple life is, how uncomplicated the people are and how beautiful unspoiled nature can be.

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‘Play’ing around at Taj Deccan

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The Taj Deccan is primarily a business hotel with several long stay business guests and even more guests who keep coming back because of the personal attention they get from the staff who quite literally treat them like family!

We were off to yet another sojourn to Hyderabad for the final leg of our show FourSome which was being hosted by the Taj Deccan. We arrived to be personally greeted and given a warm, welcoming hug by the General Manager, Mrs Gahlot who I am lucky to know personally as a friend. Her eye for detail and care  in terms of guest relations, quality of service is outstanding and she takes a personal interest in the well-being of every guest whether you are staying a single night or for several. You can often see her on her many, many rounds of the hotel- always smiling, never hesitating to stop and enquire whether you need anything at all!

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The Taj Deccan rooms are old style- large ,spacious and comfortable and in preparation for a long few days, I plonked my suitcases down and got straight to work!

The lawns had been done up in the last year and were now divided in to the main lawns and the pool lawns and 2 functions could quite easily exist simultaneously .The beautifully manicured lawns were being done for a wedding the following day and our area was perfectly covered insulating the sound with a beautiful stage. All this was already set.

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After a long drawn out tech meeting with our vendors it was time to visit Syn the Asian bar which serves the most interesting and delectable array of sushi. The chef is a master challenging your taste buds with sushi styles you’ve never heard of but which are so tasty you wish you could keep eating them!

The Taj Deccan also has an incredible Indian speciality restaurant called Spice Junxion. Drawing on it’s Hyderabadi and South Indian routes the Chef creates festivals, menus and dishes that are seasonal and incredibly mouthwatering!

If you stay at Deccan- EAT THE FOOD!

The hotel is perched in the prestigious Banjara Hills. With shopping, business and nightclubs all just minutes away…enjoy a young and vibrant Hyderabadi night life!

I’m a sucker for staying at the Taj Deccan for 2 nights and then traveling to the Old city to the Taj Faluknama Palace for another 2!

How did the show go? …

PHENOMENALLY!

Cost-:$150-$250 a night… a wonderfully placed hotel with INCREDIBLE FOOD!

Best Times To Travel-:October thru to February!

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The Royal Touch at the Taj Faluknama Palace Hyderabad

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The Taj Falaknuma Palace was a hotel I chose to stay on on a whim. It had just opened and I was curious! I had stayed in all the iconic Taj Palaces across the country and this was a hotel I had heard amazing things about…so after a show in Hyderabad , we decided to check in for the night at this iconic hotel!Falaknuma Palace is also known as the ’mirror of the sky‘ because at 2000 feet, it was built in the clouds and reflects the ever-changing moods of the sky.

Driving thru the old city of hyderabad you cannot but help see this magnificent beauty in white perched on a hill staring at the bustling city below. Calm, peaceful and detached – a beautiful painting from an era gone by… The chauffeur pointed out the hotel and it was beautiful just looking at it from afar. As you go to the gates, the car is stopped and you have the option to travel by a golf cart type buggy or horse carriage. We chose the horse carriage and enjoyed the horse hoof patter up the walkway to the entrance of the glorious hotel.

Showered by flower petals on our arrival , we were ushered into our suite….If you do choose to occupy a suite, each suite is completely different from the others and is furnished and upholstered completely uniquely. Ours was plush and comfortable and I sank into the beautiful bed, suddenly exhausted after the previous night’s theatrical performance! Choose a historical suite…it is filled with history and perfect in every way!

A few hours of rest , I found out that I was unfortunately running a fever. The hotel staff was very worried- sending me medicines and home remedies. Never one to stop exploring, we were off to eat a delicious lunch at Adaa the Indian restaurant. Fabulous biryani, succulent kebabs and authentic hyderabadi cuisine at it’s best… I was already feeling a bit better.

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And then it was off to the spa- the Jiva spa calmed me down and relaxed my aches and pains and after a quick dip in the small yet perfect pool, it was off to take a champagne tour of this iconic, historical hotel!The stories were interesting and funny. The rooms were well preserved and iconic. Every wall had a story. Every room had history. The Palace had been commissioned by Sir Nawab Vikar-Ul Umra, a Hyderabadi nobleman but caught the eye of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Pasha, Sir Vikar’s brother-in-law, and Sir Vikar had no choice but to offer the Palace as a gift or ‘nazar’ to the Nizam! Later it was used as a guest house to several royal dignitaries heads of state and my very own Great-Great-Grandfather a member of the Viceroy’s Privy Council and a former President of the indian National Congress ( then a High Court Judge) had been a guest years earlier and it was absolutely wonderful to be able to see his signature (the one in red!) in the iconic comment book. Years ago, he had stood where we stood today !

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After a truly thrilling afternoon, we were off to the verandah to watch live dancing and singing of sufi music and qawallis as the sun set on a perfect day. Dinner was at Celeste the italian restaurant and after a Royal bath that had been prepared for us in our room we were fast asleep cocooned in the soft, plush bed. A very filled but truly memorable day…!

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We slept so soundly ,we almost missed our flight…and I was sad that I hadn’t been that well thru the one day we had spent at this beautiful hotel…!

But as luck would have it… I was back again…soon and this time with my whole family…! They loved it as much as I did and I was able to explore and wander around more of the hotel than I did the previous visit!

Would I go back? In a heart beat….! Hospitality that books are written about, incredible beauty and unforgettable experiences… Taj Faluknama Palace has all of that!

Cost-:$600 – $700 a night…well worth it to be treated like royalty!

Best Time to Travel-: October thru to February when the weather is cool , and slightly nippy else it does get more than a little hot in the summers…!

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Istanbullish!

And then there is Istanbul the place where Europe and Asia collide and you can see a whole other continent just across from you! Istanbul is a trip that brings back incredible memoreis- a city of contradictions much like me… fiercely traditional in so many ways, yet modern and forward thinking in so many others! An unplanned trip to combat ridiculously high stress levels and no plan at all we arrived in this gorgeous and friendly city and checked in straight into our hotel the Grand Hyatt. We had chosen this hotel because of it’s proximity to the bustling and wonderful Taksim square , a universal hub of activity every day, through the day and through most of the night!

The Grand Hyatt was disappointing. A business hotel with many rooms, it lacked the warmth of the city and the professionalism of a hotel. The staff seemed underpaid, overtired, curt and inhospitable. IT IS DEFINITELY NOT WORTH STAYING HERE. The room we had been given (despite Aditya being a Gold card member and having requested non-smoking) was a smoke filled mess. It took ages to get ready and though we’d paid for a view- we only had a view of the top of the hotel porch! I have yet to stay in another Hyatt after this horrendous experience!

I would recommend highly the fabulous Ciragan Palace which I recommended to my parents who had a fabulous time there or the converted prison on the banks of the Bosphorus which is now the Four Seasons!

Luckily we were determined to make the trip amazing, so we just dumped our bags and off we went exploring. The first thing we realised about turkey is that the street food- the kebabs were amazing. Fresh , delicious and easy to travel with -we set off to discover Taksim square. With its incredible shops, cafes and restaurants- this lively walking street has a taste of Istanbul that keeps bth the locals and tourists hooked! Lots to do…lots to see…lots to taste! We even found a cafe that we loved, loved, loved- The House Cafe with the most glorious turkish coffee!The afternoon went far too quickly and after a quick change , we headed to a branch of The House Cafe(yes we loved it that much!) which overlooked the Bosphorous! The city was glorious at night and after drinks and dinner , we bundled off into a cab and the chatty cabby took us around the city showing us some of the sights and the football stadium (to aditya’s great delight) where a match was being played! We had a long day the next day and so we quickly headed to bed!

The next day , we headed out to explore the Old City- the historic centre of the city. From the columns of the Byzantine empire, to the Hague Sofia,the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, our private tour guide was exceptional. She made us walk fast and she talked even faster and there seemed more information that we could absorb because all of it seemed so incredible, so beautiful, so historic. It was wonderful going with a private tour guide for just the 2 of us because Turkey is a stop over for many cruise ships and when the cruise ships dock in Istanbul, scores of tourists descend on to the city and try and see all the historic sights and try and get a little bit of Turkish flavour all in a few hours- so if you don’t start quickly and don’t move quite fast , you will be caught behind one of these huge groups.

The Blue mosque is still a place of worship so please dress appropriately here. It is also wise to avoid ‘Namaaz'(prayer) timings and Fridays as the crowds do build and it is difficult to see how beautiful the architecture and the tile work is here.

The Hague Sofia has a column with a hole where if you can place your thumb in the whole and rotate your hand the full 360 degrees you are supposed to be granted a wish. Many people were in line and despite bending , turning and body contortions they still couldn’t do it! Aditya tried to….! I was very lucky though and on the first try , my hand did the full rotation and I received some amazed applause from bystanders… My wish? Well it keeps coming true..? Huh? Well you’ve gotta guess!

And then we were off to the Bazaars- the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar… Like the names suggest…the Grand Bazaar is filled with more curios, maps, knick-knacks and the Spice Bazaar filled with the most incredible, warm spices and flavours…. You can get lost in walking thru these bazaars and in case you’d like to buy something- bargain a little- they expect that!

After an entire day in the Old city -we were off to a romantic dinner to G by Karaf a restaurant on an island a few minutes away from the shore. A boat picks you up and in 5 minutes you are at the restaurant!

After a delicious dinner it was back to Taksim square and the incredibly lively bar 360! With views of the entire city , this buzzing night spot is always full. Great music, great drinks and great food keeps it a favourite with locals, expats and tourists alike!

The following day we explore Istanbul on our own using local transport, trams and discovering new hidden corners of the city. With the friendliest locals we’ve ever met- we always managed to find our way ,minutes after we were lost thanks to some incredibly helpful souls!

Istanbul is a land steeped with tradition and culture , yet gloriously modern, incredibly forward thinking and magnificently proud!

Best Times to Travel-:April to October tho April may be a bit rainy and October a bit chilly!

Cost-: Approx $500 a night! But stay close to either the old city or to Taksim square to cut down travel!

Versailles and Paris!

The only day trip we decided to do on this trip to Paris was a trip to the Palace of Versailles. The court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until  1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.

We chose a half day tour on Viator only because we wanted to get back to Paris and stroll and wander and stroll the streets of Paris and while away our time in cafes and restaurants, boutiques and boulangeries and we didn’t want to spend this trip in Paris just doing tour after tour which is what most people (and ourselves the first time ’round) get caught up in doing!

Our arrival was imminent when it seemed the sun was shining off the earth! We later saw the magnificent golden gates, ornate and beautiful and understood why it looked like the sun had stopped to take a break in Versailles! There with a knowledgeable tour guide we were ushered straight into the palace where we were given the interesting histories and stories behind some truly incredible rooms !

With stories being immortalized on ceilings and with the plushest of materials , the most expensive of chandeliers and the most ornate and expensive furnishings, this was the most enthralling account of an era of plenty which quickly gave way to one of the most radical social and political upheavals of the Eighteenth century- the French Revolution.

The Royal Chapel (above) was breathtaking and it was an experience to be  ushered through several of the palace’s very  unique interior rooms, including the King’s and the Queen’s State Apartments where we were that as the King slept all his Court-men were to wait around his bedside till he fell asleep. We also saw some very interesting, curious, hidden corridors where the King could escape to sleep with one of his mistresses if he chose to do so! What was also interesting was that if the King wished to sleep with his Queen, he had to meet her in her own State Apartment.

The Hall of Mirrors was also stunning and I have to admit that this was my favourite room and it was the favorite for several – we spent a lot of time there! I guess vanity hasn’t changed over the century’s!

The Queen’s State Apartment was feminine , floral and a bit ,well over the top…! But much like the rest of the Palace it seemed to fit perfectly!

The Palace was filled with interesting stories, legendary tales and very historic. A Private walking tour made it even more interesting and allowed no time to go to waste!

As we finished with the Palace it was time to explore the magnificent gardens and then we were off for a quick bite to eat and a trip back to the city!

Then ti was back to the city and some much well deserved time spent at Opera (the area near the Opera House). We enjoyed walking Opera, stopping at some poster and music shops before finally walking back via Concorde and ending up at Avenue des Champs-Elysees and then shopping some more…!

Interesting note -: This time , after visiting Rome and Italy, sadly I have to say that the shopping in Italy was far better than in Paris for me! Maybe I expected too much or maybe too many high street brands have taken up the small boutiques that used to dot Champs Elysees on our earlier trip there! I miss those boutiques because well, high street fashion, is high street fashion and well Italy allowed me to find my own style and I loved that!

The adventures were to continue and we were off to Amsterdam …. exciting , exciting, exciting!

More on that next week!

MY RECOMMENDATIONS! Paris sample itinerary-: 

DAY ONE – Walk Champs Elysees and shop, stop, and pause at the Arc di triumph! Day One evening- Book in advance a dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant- the view memorable, the experience – unforgettable!

DAY TWO- Walk the Latin Quarter and the Student’s area – enjoy the bohemian vibe of the city!

DAY THREE- Visit the Louvre and see the Monalisa (though I had built it up a lot more in my head and was left a little let down), wander through Concorde!

DAY FOUR- Do a day trip to Versailles and spend the rest of your day in your favourite part of Paris.

DAY FIVE – Make your own Parisian memory!

My personal Waste of Times & Money- The lido show and the Moulin Rouge… ! With even 10 year olds being allowed into these cramped dimly lit rooms, it is definitely an experience to AVOID! The show is unremarkable and any sub-standard Las vegas show or Cruise show is far better and when you are cramped on tables with cheap champagne and soggy snacks you’re really missing walking the streets of Paris. SO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON SOMETHING BETTER!:)

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

Cuddling lions in Sun City!

When you shoot for shows on television or get to shoot for or in a film, you often get to see places that are truly amazing and sometimes places that you never thought you’d actually visit! This is what happened when during the second season of ‘Making the Cut,’ we traveled to Sun City, South Africa!

Now Sun City is about 2 hours away from Johannesburg Airport. Jo’burg Airport is nothing to write home about. The Arrival area is simple, efficient, crowded and quick. After a long, night flight; knowing that I would be starting work as I arrived to the hotel, I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and headed into a waiting car.

The drive to Sun City was spectacular in it’s sparseness. There is almost nothing on the road, except for massive estates every few kilometers guarded fiercely with electric fences, high walls and FBI-worthy security. These estates are usually opposite huge hills which I was told were mineral deposits. The ride was otherwise unspectacular and the roads eerily empty in broad daylight! Jo’burg has a very high crime ratio and rape ratio and that  was the reason we were told! A very scary start indeed!

Luckily I had the very beautiful Celina Jaitly as company and we talked about the wonderful man in her life Peter (now her husband!) and a 2 hour trip didn’t seem so long after all- Thankfully girlish gossip can make time fly ;)!

We did pass a village with some makeshift houses made out of tarp and wood and saw ‘Doctor’ scribbled on what I had to assume was a room. This showed the  huge disparity between the rich and the poor and suddenly the high crime ratio seemed to make some sense. In India you see poverty and huts often, but the small village with its one room and burnt tires on a small patch of green was more poverty than even I had ever seen. The gaunt , young children standing at the edge of the road playing with a stick is a memory that will remain etched in our minds forever.

And then suddenly, as if from nowhere, gates- similar to those from the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ rose from the ground. An island , a mirage, a vision of great beauty stood in front of us! Welcome to a land of splendor and beauty! We were welcomed into Sun City, an oasis in the midst of what can only be described as nowhere!

Sun City has four Hotels- The Cabanas, the Cascades, Sun City Hotel and the Palace of the Lost City.

The Palace

Traveling through Sun City we passed beautiful fountains and entered Sun City Palace – The Palace of the Lost City. Walking through the domed lobby the best way to describe this hotel is opulent. Carved furnishings, large , magnificent chandeliers, gold and ornate pieces of art…it truly looked like a Palace! The shoot was starting in the evening…so I got down to work immediately and started exploring the grounds with my camera team to ensure we got the best possible locations for the shoot the following days!

What a spectacular hotel! With beautiful fountains, exquisite sculptures and even babbling brooks, exploring the hotel was truly wonderful. It had so many locations and we were truly spoiled for choice!

Playing around!

The crew, models and designers were staying at the  Cascades Hotel and in the Cabanas both 2 of the hotels part of Sun City.These hotels are younger and more casual but I know I would never have been happy except in the Palace! I am that kind of girl, after all!

There is also a lovely entertainment centre which can be approached via the Free shuttles which leave from the hotels on request. The entertainments centre has everything from Indian food, to fast food to a casino! Needless to say the models loved the Entertainment centre and if for any reason we couldn’t find one of them…that’s where they’d probably be!

There is also a fun complex called The Valley of the Waves where families can enjoy themselves being bombarded by waves! I’m not particularly crazy about the idea…but it always seemed full…so I guess it worked especially for kids!

The shoot was hard and long. The finale was in a beautiful amphitheater which had been used years earlier for the Miss World Contest and was absolutely spectacular. There was almost no time to enjoy the locations or relax till the shoot was over each day and by that time I had no energy to do more than fall in to bed! The evening our shoot ended I enjoyed a cappuccino on the terrace of the Tusk Bar while I watched a monkey sit on a nearby ledge waiting and hoping that we’d share more than just a cup of coffee!

That’s the thing with Sun City. There are so many monkeys and birds, it’s spectacular! We were told to keep our balconies shut because monkeys often entered rooms! And I must confess that one evening as I trudged back to my room I remember two monkeys gleefully helping themselves to the chocolates on the Housekeeping cart as the hotel staff was doing a turn down service for one of the rooms in the evening!

Crystal Court

The rooms are large and comfortable. Meals are served in the main restaurant downstairs in the Crystal Court which also serves a high tea or you can opt for an Italian dinner at the Villa del Palazzo. The high tea is good but the rest of the food unfortunately is not! It is bland and tasteless and for the first time I found myself missing just a simple tikka roll!

And so he walks...

Bobbing heads!

Walk on!

The shoot took us to the Cultural village which was fun and informative and to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve which is an experience I will never forget! Driving down the dusty road, we saw the bobbing heads of giraffes, the grazing zebras and the magnificent elephant! The African elephant is huge and causes a great amount of damage in the forest often knocking down everything in its path and we saw a herd grazing quite a distance away. I looked at them and then turned to Aditya and said-” he’s coming our way…Ganesha is coming

"He's Coming to us!"

our way.” And right on cue a magnificent , male elephant walked towards our van.  Still hundreds on metros away I kept my hand on the camera trigger and kept clicking- ” he’scoming to us…I know he is.” I said my prayers as the rest in the van slowly started moving to the other end. Whispers grew louder and then slowly people started screaming. I kept clicking and he kept coming forward. My Ganesha walked to me and to my position in the van, looked me straight in the eye and thenwithout causing any harm despite the screaming models in the background, slowly and magnificently walked away! This was the closest I came to God- I saw complete purity and innocence in the eyes of one of God’s most glorious of creatures. I was blessed!

Staring at Ganesha!

Watching your back!

We also got to see a pck of 3 rhinos each guarding each other’s back! It’s funny how animals are often more humans than humans are! Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them….instead of always having to watch our own backs! 😉

It was only after the shoot that I got a day to relax! And we packed that day in beautifully! Sun City has an International Golf Course and Aditya and I explored that via segway! I had never driven a segway before and I have to confess that I am easily one of the most unbalanced (in movement not in the head 😉 ) people in the world and though it took me a little while to grasp ; in about 30 minutes I was riding like a pro!

Bottle feeding!

And then it was on to the Pilanesberg Game reserve corner at the Lion Park, where we saw lions who had been abandoned by their pack at child birth or strayed away from their elders getting rehabilitated! Babies were still fed via bottle and as they grew older they learned to feed on carcasses and then were once again let into the wild where they would have to fight a male pack member to stake his claim in the jungle and create his own pack. A chance at freedom and a chance to rule the jungle the way they ruled our hearts!

Cuddling lions!

 

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