Gurgaon Bound… with The Westin!
It was time to explore…Back to Delhi but now to try out a new hotel ( or a new hotel for me!) so I decided to try another favourite hotel chain the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guests) Property. Now you’ll remember i’ve had some wonderful trips with SPG in the past- In Naka Island, In Athens and even in Amsterdam to name a few but hadn’t really stayed in any SPG property in India…so it was definitely time for me to try one out!
We were checked in at the Westin Gurgaon and I upgraded myself to a Royal Suite… After all I love a bit of luxury, even if it was a work trip… I thought I might as well indulge myself a little. The lobby was kind of disappointing- cold and aloof ,I was a little worried as to what my room might be like.
There was absolutely no need to worry. the Royal Suite is exquisite. With a large living room, complete with a sit down area , dining table and bar to entertain – it is MASSIVE! With a glorious view of the bustling Gurgaon below! Straight past our living room was a beautiful bedroom with the much talked about ‘Heavenly Bed!’ The Westin prides itself on their Heavenly beds and I must say after a fabulously restful night I can understand what the fuss is all about! The room was massive but still had the personal touches of a Nespresso coffee machine,a media centre and freshly baked cookies and savoury items that were sent to our room every few hours.
The pool is rather small but surrounded by lush greenery. Compared to the starkness of the Westin structure it is rather oasis like and therefore attractive. The spa is far too hidden and tucked away and was a bit too secluded and low lit for me ! 🙂
A couple of meetings and a rather hectic day later, I found myself in the Westin Lounge. A two level lounge, don’t sit on the second level. the food stations, servers are all on Level 1. The cocktail hour and snacks had everything from sushi to fried chicken more than made up for my long day! Ending it ensconced in a gloriously large bath tub with the perfect scented salts completely revived me and I was back to the lounge later that evening for a warm cup of green tea and some biscuits!
My one day trip to Delhi was made less hurried and a lot more fun with this quick luxury break and the Westin Gurgaon! Definitely one of my new favourites!
Cost-:Approximately $500 upwards… UPGRADE yourself especially if you have family or need a relaxing break ! Definitely worth it especially if you have work in Gurgaon…!
Best times to Travel-: September to November and February for cool weather. Delhi is awfully hot in Summer and bitterly cold in winter… I like the monsoon as well but with the traffic on the road, its fun watching the Delhi monsoon from inside a room rather than from outside!
The Vivanta by Taj Malabar
Set amidst luscious palms with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour is the glorious Vivanta by Taj Malabar. The heritage wing awaited us and in true Kerala fashion – without any fuss – we were shown to our room. Soon enough all the senior hotel members arrived- all to say hello to my father, a frequent visitor and suddenly after my Dad made the introductions- Aditya and I were also welcomed , in true Taj fashion , as family!
The rooms are modern, spacious and comfortable. The Heritage rooms with their gorgeous view of the bay and the balcony’s are easily the best rooms in the hotel! We quickly freshened up and headed to Pepper, the all day restaurant for lunch! The buffet was wonderful. I am not a fan of buffets, but this buffet had not only a wide selection but the taste of the different cuisines was also authentic- a refreshing change from buffets which often either have a limited selection , or only focus on one type of cuisine.
What I loved about this hotel was also their tea service which happened every evening where tea, cakes and some snacks were offered to all their guests on the lawn while you could watch the sun set in the bay. This is complimentary and from tasty, strong south Indian coffee, to coconut water, green tea and even the cappuccino – they give you your choice of beverage and always have some tasty snacks. after a long day of sightseeing this was always a high point in the evening!
And then ofcourse there is the Jiva Spa. With it’s traditional Ayurvedic massages and services- this Jiva Spa looked after the wellness of the guest completely. A session was not just limited to an hour. The session consisted of a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, treatments, massages and a follow up. It is not surprising therefore that people from across the world come here for 10 and 15 days for weight loss and wellness Ayurvedic programs at the Jiva Spa.
With an eternity pool that almost dissolves in to the bay and in the midst of the swaying palm trees and silence of nature- it’s easy to get lost in the magnificence of Kerala, the beautiful serenity, the meditative calm and the glorious beauty of God’s own country.
It was good to be home.
Best Time To Travel-: Winter… else Kerala does get very hot during the summer… December , Jan and Feb are ideal unless of course you are like my husband and love watching the glorious Kerala monsoon in June and July where the trees come alive…. (but you can do little else!)
Cost-:$200 onwards. But remember HERITAGE ROOMS- and you MUST TRY THE JIVA SPA!
The Taj Mahal , New Delhi
The writing has been a bit spotty because of lots of travel…. lots of travel is lots of fun and with so much to see- traveling to Delhi and then all the way down to the backwaters in Kerala but that’s always good! A little bit of travel makes for some very fun posts…!
So it was a work trip to Delhi and a stay at one of my favourite haunts The Taj Mahal Hotel , New Delhi. Standing proudly on 1 Mansingh Road, this hotel has a prestigious location and incredible history and the perfect address!
Walk in to a bustling lobby and don’t be surprised by well known politicians, business men, Indian sport stars… all sitting, working, talking and eating… The lobby cafe, the emperor’s Lounge looking out into the gorgeous , manicured lawns is always bustling, always beautiful and always very, very busy!
The Taj Mansingh as some of us like to call the hotel, had several familiar faces and it was a while after getting in that I was finally able to go up after greeting all those I knew. The rooms are slowly getting renovated and this is my only grouse with the hotel. The hotel, steeped with history and yet beautifully modern has some of the most terribly dated rooms unless ofcourse you get upgraded to a suite or one of the renovated Club rooms! The rest of the rooms need an upgrade- NOW!
Machan’s the coffee shop has great food! Across the board, the food is tasty, filling and well-priced! With a huge buffet for lunch you’ll always notice that Machan is pretty full, with plenty of regulars! Also with all the staff dressed in Safari clothing, and regular food festivals and tasting happening at the restaurant it always makes for an interesting meal!
But my favourite has to be Varq- the Indian fine dining restaurant. Re-inventing some of our favourite dishes, these dishes are lighter than Indian food usually is without compromising on taste! Plated portions for one, interesting twists with the mains and desserts- this has got to be one of my favourite Indian restaurants pan India- a definite MUST EAT AT!
Wasabi once again is fabulous and chic for japanese food lovers… All in all the F& B in this hotel is simply SUPERB!
An Olympic size pool makes for great exercise after some fabulous Delhi food and this being just a short trip- it’s time to go back home and then off to Kerala…
Delhi beckons soon but this time I plan to try out one of the newer hotels which I have had my eye on for a while…! Which one? Well… keep reading! 🙂
Best Time To Travel-: Actually NOW! February and March are relatively cool and you don’t want to be in Delhi for the hot, hot summer or the very chilly winter. July – October also make for a beautiful monsoons moving into perfect , beautiful evenings where all the greenery in Delhi just seems to magically come alive!
Cost-:$400 onwards. But remember UPGRADED ROOMS- else you’ll get an incredible back ache with the hard as nails mattresses!
NEXT WEEK- KERALA AND LOTS AND LOTS OF FABULOUS PHOTOGRAPHS! 🙂
Heidelberg on your honeymoon?
It was a day in Germany …part of our whirlwind honeymoon in Europe and we were in Heidelberg! We were staying at Aditya’s friends’ home and were being taken to Heidelberg by a friend of his Moms…so it wasn’t exactly the romantic-couple honeymoon trip that day… but…I’m always up for adventure and so off we went!
It was a cold morning and I slept in. After a late brekkie , we were picked up at 12 p.m. on the dot and driven to the student town of Heidelberg for lunch. We weren’t very hungry (late breakfast to blame!) and we said we’d be fine just walking. She seemed a bit peeved but maybe I was just being too picky and it was a bit chilly, so we started walking to the University.The lanes were pebbled with little shops on either side and seeing my very red nose she suggested a warm cup of coffee and these little cookies that were supposed to be shared by those in love! Maybe she wasn’t so mad at us after all. The coffee was much needed and the cookies DELICIOUS- though she said we should eat while we walk.I wasn’t sure what the hurry was but I was excited about seeing the University. Grand and imposing you knew as you stepped in to the university that it had incredible history and wonderful stories. She took us to the Student karzer – a jail like detention centre where for years students used to be sent. Writing on the walls, painting , notes dated back to the 1800’s and it was scary to think of student having enough time to write not only messages and paragraphs but paint drawings and do sketches. In this scary , once dark cell it must have been lonely and scary to have been imprisoned like a criminal. Not really romantic, for our honeymoon,I thought…but very interesting!
Studentkarzer over we made our way to the Heidelberg Castle. Perched on a hillock it had a glorious view of the entire town. Now I was hungry as was Aditya. However we were told “Time for lunch has passed.” And thus ended that discussion. Hungry, we trudged on!
The wine cellar of the castle houses the biggest barrel in the world, holding 55,345 gallons of wine and I was delighted that I could purchase a bottle of wine in my Dad’s name as a gift for him. He’d understand the significance and he loves his glass of wine! I’m not sure how it actually tasted or whether he ever opened it even but I think it made for a nice tourist stop and a great , personal gift to take home!
After loads of history and walking around this beautiful castle , it hit 4 p.m. and we were ‘allowed’ a coffee break in a nearby restaurant overlooking the castle. I swapped coffee for soup despite her rather cross glare and finally I had ‘lunch!’
Much of travel is about the memories you make while traveling…!”The time for lunch has passed!” makes for one of my most fond, funny memories of this little, German woman who kept us on the clock!
Best Times to Travel-: Use the summer months- May to September
Cost-: Only very few 5 star hotels and they cost approx $400 a night…I’d say maybe make Heidelberg a day trip from one of the several very close German cities…. BUT DO GO- THIS QUAINT TOWN, LOST IN TIME…IS DEFINITELY WORTH THE TRIP!
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!
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!
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!
- 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!
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.