The 23rd of May this year was more special than ever. Birthdays have always been a big deal for me…but this birthday had been in the planning for a couple of years (almost 3 )!We were up and out of the hotel by 7 :30 am for our Vatican Visit. Why visit so early because every Wednesday the Pope himself would greet the crowds, pray with them, bless them and talk to them and this year WE were part of that incredible crowd!
My birthday fell on a Wednesday and divine help with a little extra nagging my husband allowed me to take the trip I had been dreaming about. I am not Catholic. And yet that day will still etched as one of the most incredible days of my life!
Vatican City is not far. It was barely a 20 minute bus ride. The tickets for the Papal audience are FREE but it is wiser to book through Viator or another agent so they can pick you up from your Hotel and organise the tickets for you once you get there. Our bus stopped at a Tourist shop but we had already been warned that if you’d like something to be blessed by His Holiness you might as well buy it elsewhere as prices were sky high for even the smallest of trinkets.
Tip-: Find a seat close to the barricade because the Pope’s car drives by there and you will be inches a way from him.
Grab a seat and then wait. The Papal Audience generally starts between 10 am and 10:30 and you will probably get in at least an hour and half to two hours before with your Tour Bus so do carry water and something to snack on as it is a very warm sun and quite a long wait!
The crowds are enormous- thousands of people- children,newlyweds, nuns, priests, tourists and many locals all gather for the Papal Audience. This is an occasion where His Holiness speaks to the crowds and blesses the scores of people who are here to listen to him!
I also particularly loved the Swiss Guards who were there to guard the Pope. Their colorful uniform just added to the excitement of this visit!
And then His Holiness gets driven in and thousands clap , cheer, hoot and pray! He smiles benevolently at all and does 2 whole rounds before going to the Pulpit and addressing the audience. The next hour is about blessings and prayer and no matter where in the world you are from or what faith you follow- the lessons are wonderful, the prayers perfect and the moments you spend during at the Papal Audience ethereal.
During the blessings different Christian groups from countries all over the world are acknowledged and blessed and the blessings are in several languages so no culture or country is left out. The Pope is cheered on like a rock star and you’ll hear shouts of “Benedicto! Bendicto!” still ringing in your ears long after the Audience with the Pope finishes.
The morning was so spectacular because of the incredible positivity you felt engulfed by. Even far away from my home and family, I was surrounded by love. What could be better than that?
Price Factor-: About $40 for a Papal Audience visit- should include a pick up from your hotel and a drop back to the centre of the city (if not to your hotel).
Papal Audience days-: Wednesdays
Dress Codes-: Ladies must have shoulders covered and ensure that all outfits are longer than knee length. No shorts permitted for men or women. Bring hats, sunscreen and water as it does get hot in summer!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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
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!
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!
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!
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Now the husband is the more sane among us but has a terrible weakness for traveling and when this was suggested on a particularly lazy Sunday, he thought it was a fabulous idea! I did not expect him to agree but nonetheless YAY!
So off we were to Santorini ! Katakies was our hotel of choice in Santorini In the beautiful village of Oia pronounced as “Ia,” this is in the northern part of Santorini and is known to have the most beautiful sunsets and we were looking forward to the romance the evening would bring! This is part of the Small Luxury Hotels and I was really looking forward to a quick, yet very much needed break!
Santorini is a short beautiful flight from Athens! With azure waters interspersed with lush green isles , it is a truly a vision to behold! Our hotel was the other side of the island and a good 30 minutes by car. The car ride was phenomenal with stunning views and picture-postcard scenes! And almost before we could take a breath we were at the hotel. the hotel like the majority of structures in Santorini was a fabulous cave like whitewashed structure reminiscent of hotels in Cappadocia!
On the side of a cliff , the hotel overlooked the Caldera, the cauldron like volcanic structure surrounded by the ocean!The rooms were tasteful, large and ours had the stunning view of the bluest, blue sea! It was perfect!-a quiet , serene getaway to nothingness!
The hotel had just a few rooms and fabulously personal service. Breakfast was in the room every day and with the cheeses and local fruits and produce, the food was light, delicious and supremely healthy! We could eat outside overlooking the glorious ocean and remain undisturbed in the privacy of our own space!
The hotel had 3 pools, each more glorious than the other but my personal favourite was the Cave Pool….something I had never seen before! But where swimming was concerned- when in Santorini head to the beaches! And that’s what we did! I’m a free spirit but I have never been the kind of girl who drives around a foreign location with absolutely no idea what she’s doing… but that’s EXACTLY what we did here! We rented an ATV with an International Drivers Licence that i had brought and we were off! They do take any license in Roman English though so I could have got by with my Indian driver’s license as well! And off we went….to well….EVERYWHERE! It was a day time of adventure. We stopped. We shopped. We got lost.And then we got found!
We found black sand beaches, white sand beaches, azure waters and great cafes! We stopped and swam everywhere! We took our postcard photographs and really explored the island. We visited the beautiful villages of Fira and Firostefani, walked on the black pebble (huge pebbles) beach of Kamari and I felt rejuvenated and alive! Sometimes you can find purpose in life by just losing your way and that’s what we did…we got lost all day- but found our sanity, our happiness and our peace!
The sunsets at Oia are fabulous and walking on the cobbled paths , avoiding donkeys and stopping to see the fabulous Greek wares peddled on the sides of the paths- you rediscover happiness! Staring at the sun and sets in Santorini, there is a sense of inner peace that I have never felt before.