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‘Show’ing off at the Taj Club House!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT TIME!

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

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

 

 

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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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Christmas kisses in Singapore!

Singapore is my quick-break stop. The city with it’s glorious shopping,perfect order and love for tourists always makes me come back again and again and again! Singapore is the only place where an airline executive after checking in with an excess of 32 kgs ( because I just had to shop for an entire room and 20 light fittings) looked at my delighted but now very worried face and charged me an excess of 5 kgs because she ‘understood’ and loved my ‘love for Singapore and it’s incredible shopping!’

Singapore is glorious any time of the year because of its warm weather and it’s vibrant night life! It is also very special because it seems like the city is always celebrating something! From Chinese New Year to Christmas the city is always beautifully decked in lights!

Christmas in Singapore is wonderful….With Xmas trees and more sales than usual Singapore has one of the warmest whitest Christmas’ in Asia! Here are some incredible ideas for your next Singapore trip (if you haven’t done them already!). If you have, like me, maybe you want to do them all over again!

  1. Go to the zoo! Even if you’ve been to the zoo before! Go to the zoo and breakfast with the chimpanzee…the breakfast is strictly okay- the chimpanzee AWESOME!
  2. Go the zoo- YES AGAIN! Feed an elephant, pose with birds and even get kissed by a seal if your lucky!
  3. Go to Sentosa early in the morning and kiss a dolphin and get kissed as well! Yes! Too many kisses! Go on…you know you’d love to get kissed by one! Get kissed by a dolphin!
  4. Learn how to dive if you haven’t already and sign up to dive with the sharks! It’s amazing the silence and the calm you feel while diving and the incredible marine life at the aquarium takes you back to being a kid again. With wide eyes this experience takes your breath away- quite literally!
  5. Eat and spend the evening at Clark Quay. With new restaurants and new experiences always opening up, Clark Quay and Boat Quay are always fun places to spend the evening!
  6. Shop, shop and shop more on Orchard Road ! 22 shopping malls, 5 department stores…over 5000 brands to choose from this is every shopaholics Mecca… And trust me, even if you come to Singapore , not a shopper (like I was)– this city will show you colors and styles that you will want to buy! And so you should!
  7. Visit Universal Studios! Great fun and you get to be kid for a day …all day!
  8. Eat at Ku De Ta or get a drink at the Sky Bar!
  9. Buy a packet of Royce Chocolates…Trust me… there’s nothing in the world like Royce!
  10. Eat at TWG Tea at high Tea with the sandwiches and the muffins and pastries and definitely, definitely order a Jasmine tea!

My Hotel of Choice is the Marriott!I have stayed at the Four Seasons, the Hyatt and several others but with it’s convenient location at Tangs and it’s large Club rooms and incredible Club lounge with finger licking cocktail snacks and all day service… the Marriott allows me to shop, drop my bags and pick up a cuppa without missing a beat!

Price Factor-: Rooms are between $250- $350! If at the Marriott upgrade to a Club Level suite. The additional amount is definitely well worth it!

Best Times To Travel-: NOW! In fact the weather gets slightly cooler October through to January so expect pleasant evenings with a slight , perfect nip in the air!

Grand Ol’ Naples

We arrived to Naples via the 45 minute hydrofoil (thankfully on calm seas) on a glorious sunny afternoon and checked into the exquisite, beautiful and fabulously historic Grand Hotel Vesuvio!As a Leaders Club member we were shown up to our suite immediately! The suite with its luxurious living room, oversize King bed and views of the Bay of Naples from all its rooms was a real treat! Built in 1882 the grandeur of the hotel was visible in it’s beautiful staircases, charming lifts and wonderfully large suites. There are also some remarkable photographs of Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelley, Woody Allen and Luciano Pavarotti to name a few that grace  the walls of this charming hotel.The hotel is on the sea front as a no-car zone unless of course you are a guest and need to get dropped or picked up from the hotel. At all other times and most specially in the evenings the huge road in front of the hotel and in front of the bay is filled with children, balloons, bicycles and joggers. There are small cafes across from the hotel and they are frequented by young couples holding hands , gazing soulfully into each others eyes. But then again , living among such beauty it’s easy to fall in love again!

The reason why I am talking so fondly about this hotel because it really reaffirmed a membership that I had recently acquired. Aditya and I travel alot and we decided to spend on purchasing a Leaders Club Membership from the Leading Hotels of the World. Now for all those who travel, and enjoy pampering and luxury as much as I do- this is a membership you MUST GET! The hotels are each unique, as we have found but they all have the quiet luxury, the understated opulence and the  finest service. Grand Hotel Vesuvio was once again a gem that we may have missed had we not been part of the Leader’s Program.

We checked in and as much as I wanted to just collapse and enjoy my fabulous room and all its wonderful amenities , it was off on the road again for the both of us. We had decided to drive to Sorrento and were both very excited!

We had been warned about bad driving in Naples but what we hadn’t been warned about was cobbled roads which made the ride a tad more bumpy than it should have been! Coming from India, we didn’t really feel the driving was that bad- maybe we just drive a lot worse! 🙂

Driving the coastal roads to reach Sorrento is just beautiful. Relax, carry a duo of coffee and some munchies- stop on the way, photograph, take in Italy at its finest and enjoy the ride!It takes a little over an hour and it is one of the nicest drives ever! Once you reach Sorrento, look for parking! Parking is a major problem but there are parking structures hidden in the small lanes , so quickly find one and then enjoy this beautiful quaint town!

We did coffee and dessert in Sorrento. Lively, bright, full of life and even more full of tourists, Sorrento is filled with cafes and bookstores, shops and restaurants. Walk and get lost in the hustle and bustle of vacationing folk enjoying their vacation! Sorrento is a perfect break on your perfect Naples vacation!

Would I have spent more time in Sorrento?Well maybe lunch and the afternoon and then coffee and apertivo but would I spend the night there? Probably not. It was a lovely quaint town but it was easy to experience and to see in a few hours. If I had come to Italy just to relax , then sure I’d have spent a night but I came on a quest to see, experience and feel and i was able to take in the best of Sorrento in just a few hours and it was perfect- leaving me wanting just a bit more!

Before we knew it the sun was setting and it was time for more photographs and time to get back ‘home’ and luxuriate in our jacuzzi bath tub before our tour of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvious…!

More on that next week…!

Till then let me reminisce on the gorgeousness of Naples and the sunshine-smile of Sorrento!

Price Factor-: 250- 1000 Dollars a night …Naples has affordable luxury- but book smartly and book in advance!

Best times to travel-: End May-September.

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!

 

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