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A date with History- Pompeii and Vesuvius

Pompeii and Vesuvius are MUST -DO Trips from Naples. They’re not very far – Vesuvius is about 9 km from Naples and Pompeii 8 odd kms from it. The tour we booked was a small group tour on Viator and we found that Viator for the most part, gave us great deals and interesting tours! The tour started post a fabulous, filling breakfast at our beautiful hotel and soon we were on our way. We had barely 8 people on the tour and it was a small, quick bus ride to Pompeii.

I have never been particularly interested in history but had wanted to go to Pompeii and am so glad I did. The few hours that we spent in Pompeii took me to another time. The ruins are so well preserved and the city so incredibly planned , it takes almost no imagination to transport yourself to a forgotten time and to the 7th- 6th Century BC where this city flourished and thrived! Well laid out roads , perfect shop fronts with little houses on top, schools, gladiator training areas and theatres; the planning then was infinitely better than in some of our modern cities even now! Our guide was knowledgeable and interesting and I could imagine the life of a Roman man as he came to work in the city of Pompeii. I stared in awe at the amphitheater and marveled at the Roman spa. I saw holes in the footpath where horses could be tied to ‘park’ them. The vision and foresight was incredible ! I was amazed that a pizza oven even back then looks so similar to a pizza oven now. I also loved how the roads were tilted so that water and dirt could be swept downwards. Should you need to pass there were three rocks at regular intervals for you to walk across. Shopkeepers had a store front facing the road and most lived just above their store. Traders and visitors would come early in the day for trade into Pompeii and after trading through the day , eat lunch in the city. Then it was time for the spa and based on your status in society you’d move to the spa meant for you. Steam rooms and sauna rooms were still preserved and because the day we traveled was a particularly sunny day- I suddenly wished to have a quick plunge myself! They also had mosaic tiles which were still there.Bright and colorful- you could see that Romans really lived life King size!

Then there were also the brothels where in case you didn’t understand the language images were painted on the walls and you could choose what you’d like to do with the prostitute of your choice! An incredibly interesting time and an even more eye-opening experience for me!

What was also really fun were the drinking water taps all carved with Gods and Goddesses with the taps becoming the mouths- they also served as road names and helped in directions for the city. it was also interesting to see the water wells had a small indent for the left hand allowing you to drink with your right.It’salso interesting to note that the water can still be drunk and is drinkable even today!

Molds of people who died during the eruption can also be seeing which gives you an idea of how truly horrible that explosion was!

We saw temples and Piazzas(squares),remnants of a time once forgotten but so ahead of it’s time in planning and in structure, you couldn’t help but imagine what if? What if Vesuvius hadn’t erupted? What if the city hadn’t been lost? A tragic loss.I was privileged to have been able to gain just a little bit of insight into history. This is an absolute MUST DO on any trip to Naples!

And then after a quick pizza it was off to Mount Vesuvius. Here the tour got a little less interactive. You were now advised to trek on your own and meet back in an hour. Vesuvius is an active volcano and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. The climb is steep and the black volcanic mud makes climbing tricky. They offer sticks to help climb- take them! Even if you think you can do without them – they help you keep your footing firm. I didn’t take them- I regretted it! The climb is long with very few (almost none) stops to catch a breath. It gets hot. So wear comfortable clothes and very comfortable shoes. The walk down is also tricky because the black sand slips and moves quite a bit. You can also see a black river of ash from Vesuvius which gives you an idea of how the ash and steam moved down from the volcano! Truly terrifying!

An active volcano, a lost city, a dramatic past- history came to life for me that day!

Price Factor-: About $120 for the day trip! Absolutely worth it!

Dress-: Comfortably with very , very comfortable shoes and carry lots of water.

Best times to travel-: August to October.

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!

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.

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!

 

Living like a Maharaja in Udaipur!

So anyone who knows me at all…and all those who don’t know me but have read stuff that I’ve written- you’d probably know that it doesn’t take much for me to want to travel…I can make occasions out of almost anything and in my mind celebrations are occasions and are the perfect time to do something different, to travel, to explore, to dream and to make dreams come true!

It was the husband’s birthday last year and in true Divya-mystery style , I told him to take leave from work- ” I was going to kidnap him!” is what I said! And that’s totally what I planned! The Ultimate Kidnap! Nothing was bought via his Credit card.  Bookings were done on email and via the phone and Aditya who was delighted about the kidnapping stayed happily oblivious to all my intricate plans!

Now Aditya had only been very briefly to Rajasthan once when in school. It had been quick , short and unmemorable and he’d always talked of wanting to go back- to see the palaces. I have spent more than a few vacations in the Palaces of Rajasthan but this was a trip and a surprise I wanted to give him…so it was up to me to try and ensure that the trip catered to HIS very specific tastes  and so I went ahead and did my research! The Palace I chose was the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur.

The Taj Lake Palace has always been one of my favourite palaces. A white , carved beauty almost arising like a lotus from the lake- the Lake Palace was a palace used by the Royals for dancing, music and merriment. The Lake Palace stands proudly amidst Lake Pichola with the beautiful Aravalli range helping create the most picture-perfect backdrop!

The Royal WelcomeThe flights from Mumbai are limited and the one we took was rather early in the morning (3:30 or 4 am ish) so despite it being a short flight; both of us were quite exhausted! Udaipur airport is almost a shell structure with only basic facilities and I was happy to quickly get out!

All our exhaustion vanished the minute we stepped outside! A beautiful, heritage car had come to pick us up and Aditya was almost jumping in glee as he carefully examined the beautiful car! The car ride was full of  ‘I don’t believe it’s’….and  ‘What’s next?’s’ and before we knew it we were at the pier ready to take a boat to the fabulous Palace that stood gleaming majestically in the early rays of the morn!

The trip I had planned would be a trip fit for a King! After all my wonderful husband is my King and he deserves nothing less…so as we arrived we were ushered into one of the Palace suites! The suite was beautiful- a two level suite with all our bedroom windows overlooking the beautiful lake. The room was perfect- opulent , rich and comfortable and the minute our heads hit the bed we were off to sleep!A Palace in my palm!

But there had been much planning that had gone into this Celebration and so in a few hours I woke my husband to take him off for a special Spa session. Aditya loves spas, food, water and a relaxed break and I’m usually the total opposite- loving cities, noise, adventure and fun BUT this was Aditya’s celebrations and the plans were geared to him the time of his life! And the spa treatment did just that. With an outdoor spa bed overlooking the lake as the sun started setting, even I had to admit that there was no way that city noise could compete with the beautiful serenity of that moment! We relaxed. We talked. We de-stressed.

After some fabulous green tea, we grudgingly left the spa but started exploring the hotel. As soon as we found the beautiful pool we couldn’t hold ourselves back! We jumped in! A refreshing swim later- it was back to the room to dress for dinner!The Lily Pond

Now with the help of the hotel I had chosen some Unique Royal Dining Experiences for Aditya and me and our first was at the beautiful Lily Pond. A table had been set and our personal butler escorted us to our table where a musician regaled us with live music as we had traditional Rajasthani food sipping champagne under a beautiful moonlit sky! When we returned back to our room, our Butler had thoughtfully put out a cake, some more champagne and lit up the room so wonderfully – it must have taken him our entire dinner to have been able to make the room look so spectacular ! We cut Aditya’s birthday cake and finally called it a night!

Breakfast on the birthday morning was very special as well. I had pre-ordered breakfast and this was brought to a small garden outside our room and set up just for us! After a late night and with plenty of exciting plans today- this was a wonderful start for us!

Vintage TasteBreakfast over we headed back to the Pier where we had a Vintage car waiting to take us on a tour of the city. Stopping at a few select stores , we took a long break at a collection of the Maharaja’s cars. All restored. All spectacular. All drool worthy ! Now it was back to the hotel and a short heritage walk around the Palace. As that ended we were escorted back to the Upstairs spa ( my request after seeing how calm Aditya had been the previous day) and a new spa treatment. Equally relaxing and fabulous…this time we chose to just let the moment take control and slowly drifted off only to be awakened at the end of the treatment with warm tea.

The Octopussy Boat

Dressed to Impress

Now it was time for my HUGE SURPRISE and the reason why i had chosen we come to Udaipur! The Lake Palace owns and looks after the boat that was seen in the Bond movie Octopussy- the Gangaur! Aditya is a film buff and I knew it would be worth the extra expense to give him a birthday surprise he’d never have dreamed possible- dinner on the boat!The boat is kept in the middle of the lake and holds 10-20 guests but I booked it for just the 2 of us! A magnificent multi course meal on the lake had been booked while my Bond enjoyed the sunset, starters drinks and meal that I had pre-planned for him! The boat was decked exquisitely. With red carpets and 10 butlers , we were looked after like royalty. Both of us headed to the upper deck where a gadda (comfortable , padded mat) had been placed with cushions and we surveyed the whole city as it lay before us.

The City Palace

As drinks finished and the sun set, the boat had maneuvered around some ruins on the main land under the City Palace. Suddenly they came to life and were lit up with beautiful girls doing incredible dances among the ruins. Fabulous music, dances with fire and we felt like Maharjas (I too felt rather King-like!) watching courtesans dance as they might have done decades ago. This had been done especially for us and I was delighted when I saw Aditya’s happy surprise! The meal was served upstairs as we were so comfortable relaxing despite having seen a beautiful , intimate table set up downstairs on the boat. The food was a collection of kebabs, dals , biryanis and curries -each more delicious than the next, each more decadent than the next!

And then as the boat turned once again we saw the beautifully lit Mohan Mandir ( the temple island) and as it turned again Birthday fireworks erupted in the air once again especially for us! The excitement in the air was electric and we were really privileged to have been part of such a wonderful, well thought out experience. As dessert was served (once again a medley of all Aditya’s favourites) we wound down to live Indian music being played by our very own musicians on the boat (once again a special experience just for us!).

And then like a dream the evening ended and we floated back to our suite dreaming of the Rajasthani Royal past and grateful that we were able to have some of the experiences!

My husband felt like a King and I was proud to have been able to make him feel like that! Udaipur is the crown among Royal Rajasthani palaces and the Taj Lake Palace- the Kohinoor!

Price Factor-: Udaipur as a city is inexpensive for traditional Rajasthani handicrafts and materials. The hotels however are expensive and are traditionally between $320- $ 420 per night.

Best times to travel-: Dessert climes…so October thru to March is great to travel in though we had a wonderful time last July as well!

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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Get the Cappadocian High!

So when nothing in our lives was working out and when we were down but not yet out…we decided to take a break! A new show had been sucking the life out of us and for the first time …in ever were the both of us tired and low about theatre! When life brings you downs….sometimes you have to create your own highs! And that’s what we did!

Emptying our bank accounts with no idea how we were going to figure the show or the sponsorships out- we escaped….to Turkey!

Our first stop was Cappadocia… a land of Fairy chimneys and tales untold. Magical and surreal we were looking for this short escape from life and this seemed the perfect stop!

To get to Cappadocia , you must fly to Kayseri. A small airport in the middle of nowhere, we were glad we’d arrange transport to our hotel! Getting outside, the landscape looked nothing like what was promised to us. Barren , flat and boring it was like luck was just not on our side! Infact as we headed off in the car, driving through what looked like dessert we saw the most incredible sight- Mc Donalds! Well that was as un-Turkish as the rest of this miserable trip ! The car ride took about 1 hour and suddenly in the final 15 minutes or so, everything changed! Chimneys appeared from almost nowhere and the land looked like a fairytale come to life! Rock formations in crazy shapes and the car now seemed to be going up and down hill and there was suddenly too much to see and not enough time!The incredible cave dwellings still had people living in them , we were told, and I was really excited now to see where we’d be staying!

And before we knew it we were at our hotel – the exquisite Museum Hotel. Now we had specifically chosen a Luxury Cave Hotel to get the real Cappadocian experience and wow we were in for a treat! Our room was gigantic and our bathroom even larger. We had a small , oddly shaped cave window and every possible luxury you could imagine. Traveling all night and most of the day we were exhausted and we decided to head to the pool to relax. The pool, perfectly placed on the edge of a Cliff almost melted into the blue sky and one quick dip and we were refreshed and relaxed! Suddenly we heard the pitter patter of little feet on the stone and there were two glorious pups frolicking in the hotel. They are the owners dogs we were later told, though they often commanded a great deal more attention than the owners did!

Dinner was pre set and I was worried. This hotel in the middle of nowhere may not really be able to cater to my very difficult tastebuds and I was FAMISHED! I was wrong! The chef  was the winner of International food Awards and the food just melted in my mouth! The turkish cuisine was fabulous and I wished desperately that our 5 course meal would last forever! The meal ended with some fabulous Turkish apple tea and we called it a night!

Turkey is approximately 2.5 hours behind us so getting up the next morning at 5 am (equivalent of 7:30 am) worked out okay! I was even to have a quick wash to get ready for our champagne balloon ride above Cappadocia! Now in most cities I would warn against doing anything remotely touristy but in Cappadocia if you don’t do the balloon ride, you’ve really missed on quite an incredible experience! We watched as the balloons got fired up and then headed up, up and away above the glorious Cappadocian landscape- taking hundreds of pictures and photographing what looked like Google map images of earth! So high in the sky all our troubles were forgotten and as we bobbed in the balloon looking at the tens of other balloons that dotted the sky…life had never felt more colorful and I felt the incredible lightness of being!

Back on ground as we finally got our land legs back we went back to the hotel to have the most sumptuous breakfast ever! Local cheeses, fruits and every possible breakfast delight with some bubbly made the morning perfect! After that Aditya and I decided to do some exploring of our own so off we headed via ATV. Now anyone who knows me or knows my driving knows that an All Terrain vehicle is probably the safest thing for me to drive except when your driving over cliffs and driving down steep roads. I almost lost balance of the heavy vehicle more than once trying to keep up with our enthusiastic guide…. but luckily for me that despite a few near misses and one where the ATV had a wheel over the edge…I survived! This was the coolest way to explore Cappadocia and after dropping our guide back to the town aditya and I continued exploring the narrow lanes and numerous caves ourselves! Stopping every so often for an incredible photograph this is the ONLY way to see Cappadocia and is an absolute MUST DO!

In the afternoon we headed to the Goreme Open Air Museum and visited some ancient 10th, 11th and 12 th century churches. This was fascinating as you could still see the paint on the walls and scenes from the nativity, crucifixion and the Last Supper were painted in glorious detail. Then we marveled at some astonishing rock formations. My personal favourite was the camel because it looked so incredibly natural!

And After that we were off for a quick cup of rich turkish coffee and a fabulous photograph under the Evil Eye Tree!

Dinner was glorious as usual and before we knew it our 3 days in Cappadocia were over! Lighter, happier and calmer we were ready to take on the world. Sometimes all you need in life is a little Fairy dust from Fairy chimneys perhaps to make the whole world seem bright again!

Now that you know what i’m writing about and I am getting such amazing feedback – I’m going to now make this a weekly blog and update it with a new destination, new hotel, airline review on Wednesdays! So mid week get ready to travel…. even if it’s only via a blog and only for a few minutes! after all any adventure starts first with a little dreaming!

Also please vote on what you’d like me to write about next!

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