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Shanghai Nights

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And it was off to Shanghai and to the J.W. Marriott at Shanghai’s hip Tomorrow Square minutes away from the heart of Shanghai’s commercial shopping districts in Puxi! Puxi (is the historic center of Shanghai. Puxi is distinguished from Pudong , which is separated from it by the Huangpu River. Despite the growing importance of Pudong Puxi remains Shanghai’s cultural, residential and commercial centre. The two are divided by the Huangpu river which you can ferry across if  you’d like, take a metro over or cross via car/ taxi over the bridge (which we did!)

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Standing 60 stories tall, you cannot miss this fabulous structure as you drive in to the city. I pointed the building out miles away and was delighted when the driver told us that this was our hotel! As you reach you are ushered in to an elevator which takes you to the 38th floor for check in! With sheet glass windows overlooking Shanghai, it made sense to have the check in , high above the city where you could see this glorious, bustling city as it After that we checked in to our room on an even higher floor of this magnificent structure!

A quick wash and change later we were headed to the world famous Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall , barely 10 minutes away on foot from the hotel! Nanjing Road, known, is flanked by hundreds of huge shopping centers, specialty stores and shops with unique Chinese characteristics and a long history.The 1033-metre-long “Pedestrian Walkway of Nanjing Road” houses the China’s key commercial shops and the colorfully glazed floor tiles,  the fashionable stores flanking the street, the hustling and bustling crowd, the small, lovely sightseeing trains, all make for a fabulous way to shop a lot and see a little Chinese culture while you’re at it!

Shanghai is modern , fashionable , young and fun! High street brands and High couture are well represented in different parts of the city. The Chinese are fashionable and unafraid to take fashion risks, which invariably seem to pay off! You will see them mixing brands and couture with equal ease and Shanghai was easily one of the most fashionable cities! Of course, if you are looking, you can always find the fake bags and belts with impeccable stitching and almost no difference from the original! These are sold in small by-lanes in garage like warehouses. They are more than a bit shady and with language being such a difficulty any way, there was no way I was going to get conned into a garage with a bunch of men who I couldn’t communicate with! Power to the bunch of women I saw rushing in- oohing and aahing… I’d rather pay the extra yuan and not venture into any basements, thank you!

Oh and do keep a check for false currency. We changed our dollars at a reputed money changer and they realised they were giving us fakes and took it back! Scary but the fakes look super real  tho’ you will get in to trouble if you try and pay with them!

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And so in new designer ware , we were off to dinner to the ultra chic- ‘M on the Bund,’ The bund has a series of beautiful buildings lining the river. The ultra chic M with it’s european cuisine is a hit with locals, expats and well-read tourists , who’ve done their research (like us!). Fabulous food and wine and a view to die for… this was a perfect evening!

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Shanghai for us, was about shopping, walking and just relaxing and that’s what we did! The next night we made reservations at one of the highest points of the city- Cloud 9 at the Grand Hyatt! The Grand Hyatt is all the way in Pudong and it was an experience by itself to going thru tunnels and then ending up on Nanpu Bridge. The hotel is intimidating with elevators taking you to the Lobby Level on the 54th floor and then ushering you in to another high speed elevator to take you to the 85th floor! The end result- the view is sublime! The food- tasty, light and flavorful! The experience – a MUST DO!

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Once again remember Chinese names of places and hotels are different and language is a huge barrier – so wherever you travel- GET THE CHINESE NAME OF YOUR HOTEL AND STREET AND KEEP IT WITH YOU!

Best Times to Travel-: Mid september- mid November though we were there in October and it does get rather chilly in the evenings!

Cost-: $300- $500 at Peak season… my advice- STAY FIVE STAR!

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Balinese adventures!

It was the end of the year and I had let the year win. Exhausted, fed up and trudging along at a miserable pace- the year showed no signs of ending. It was on one such a week where Aditya asked me what my plans were for the next week. Life had become so routine that I recited my daily schedule in a single breath. “Not really,” he said. My Dad and him had taken my life in their very able hands and planned a perfect break-ation!

So it was off to Bali. I had never been to Indonesia before and was very, very excited. We arrived in Bali and checked in to luxurious  Melia Bali in the Exclusive Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is home to luxury hotel properties and Melia Bali was a magnificently beautiful hotel with a private beach and gorgeous lagoon pool that was so, so inviting! Now Nusa Dua is more serene and is rather private so it is a bit cut away from all the action and madness of Bali but we had come here for a break and it was absolutely perfect for us! Ubud , in the hills is also wonderfully luxurious and relaxing but I’m a beach girl and Nusa Dua was PERFECT for us!

For more of the action and fun head to Kuta. Kuta also has several hotels, but none of them have their own beaches. It is also a more touristy part of Bali and so much as I loved hanging out in Kuta during the day, I absolutely loved heading back to my beautiful paradise in Nusa Dua to have romantic dinners on the beach with my husband! Kuta has great shopping and drinking and bargains! It is very touristy, always bustling and always fun.

Nusa Dua was quiet, relaxing and the perfect unwind.

Indonesia is a Hindu Country. They are so proud about the culture, the religion and their temples, it’s hard not to be proud of how well preserved the culture is. Furniture is made on shops along the road and is amazingly cheap , hardy and perfectly crafted. However shipping is often a problem and most of the local artisans would rather have you take responsibility for the shipping entirely and as a tourist with very few days in a country- that’s often not something you can do. Next time I go back, I’ll research the shipping plans better; so I can pick up some amazing furniture or a beautifully crafted Lord Ganesha!

Obviously in Bali , it’s all about the sea.  So after a quick city tour we were in the sea and racing each other till we couldn’t see land any more!

And then we discovered white water rafting. We were picked up with 3 other couples and taken to the Ayung River and then we had to walk down ridiculously steep steps. A quick change and even quicker set of instructions later we were off on  our own learning how to deal with the rapids and weaving our way through the river. At one point, we were allowed to get off and swim and the cool water after a hard bit of rowing was so refreshing we didn’t want to get out! After the rowing, you are taken for a quick bite to eat and something to drink and packed into the bus again and sent back to the hotel. What I really loved was a group of Japanese tourists who had used the river as a treasure hunt-team building experience. Different teams would rush to points on a map and pick up clues. Fun, exhilarating and a huge team building experience and suddenly I wished we had come with the whole family. Nothing like a good , fun competition to make a fun day even better!

Bali is beautiful, unspoiled and serene. It’s the perfect quick getaway from Singapore or Malaysia and a place I definitely must go back to! The sun shone brighter in Bali. My smile was bigger in Bali and I relaxed so completely in Bali!

Best Times To Travel- RIGHT NOW! ALWAYS ! ANY TIME! But on a more serious note…May to October is the best time to travel to Bali. Bali is always warm….so pack lots of shorts and lots of swimwear.

Price Factor-:  $300 a night for a good hotel! But check the fine print. Several don’t have private beaches/ all the facilities you’d like! So choose well!

IMPORTANT NOTE-: ONE DOLLAR is approximately 9500 INDONESIAN RUPIAH. SO WHEN YOU’RE TIPPING, DON’T BE STINGY WITH THE TIPS AND EXPECT A SMILE AFTER TIPPING SOMEONE 10/20 RUPIAH! THAT ISN’T MORE THAN A FEW CENTS!

ALSO A COKE BOTTLE IS APPROXIMATELY 20,000 RUPIAH! 

Melbourne- a perfect symphony of youth and age!

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

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

They were right. I was wrong!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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