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The Royal Touch at the Taj Faluknama Palace Hyderabad

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The Taj Falaknuma Palace was a hotel I chose to stay on on a whim. It had just opened and I was curious! I had stayed in all the iconic Taj Palaces across the country and this was a hotel I had heard amazing things about…so after a show in Hyderabad , we decided to check in for the night at this iconic hotel!Falaknuma Palace is also known as the ’mirror of the sky‘ because at 2000 feet, it was built in the clouds and reflects the ever-changing moods of the sky.

Driving thru the old city of hyderabad you cannot but help see this magnificent beauty in white perched on a hill staring at the bustling city below. Calm, peaceful and detached – a beautiful painting from an era gone by… The chauffeur pointed out the hotel and it was beautiful just looking at it from afar. As you go to the gates, the car is stopped and you have the option to travel by a golf cart type buggy or horse carriage. We chose the horse carriage and enjoyed the horse hoof patter up the walkway to the entrance of the glorious hotel.

Showered by flower petals on our arrival , we were ushered into our suite….If you do choose to occupy a suite, each suite is completely different from the others and is furnished and upholstered completely uniquely. Ours was plush and comfortable and I sank into the beautiful bed, suddenly exhausted after the previous night’s theatrical performance! Choose a historical suite…it is filled with history and perfect in every way!

A few hours of rest , I found out that I was unfortunately running a fever. The hotel staff was very worried- sending me medicines and home remedies. Never one to stop exploring, we were off to eat a delicious lunch at Adaa the Indian restaurant. Fabulous biryani, succulent kebabs and authentic hyderabadi cuisine at it’s best… I was already feeling a bit better.

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And then it was off to the spa- the Jiva spa calmed me down and relaxed my aches and pains and after a quick dip in the small yet perfect pool, it was off to take a champagne tour of this iconic, historical hotel!The stories were interesting and funny. The rooms were well preserved and iconic. Every wall had a story. Every room had history. The Palace had been commissioned by Sir Nawab Vikar-Ul Umra, a Hyderabadi nobleman but caught the eye of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Pasha, Sir Vikar’s brother-in-law, and Sir Vikar had no choice but to offer the Palace as a gift or ‘nazar’ to the Nizam! Later it was used as a guest house to several royal dignitaries heads of state and my very own Great-Great-Grandfather a member of the Viceroy’s Privy Council and a former President of the indian National Congress ( then a High Court Judge) had been a guest years earlier and it was absolutely wonderful to be able to see his signature (the one in red!) in the iconic comment book. Years ago, he had stood where we stood today !

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After a truly thrilling afternoon, we were off to the verandah to watch live dancing and singing of sufi music and qawallis as the sun set on a perfect day. Dinner was at Celeste the italian restaurant and after a Royal bath that had been prepared for us in our room we were fast asleep cocooned in the soft, plush bed. A very filled but truly memorable day…!

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We slept so soundly ,we almost missed our flight…and I was sad that I hadn’t been that well thru the one day we had spent at this beautiful hotel…!

But as luck would have it… I was back again…soon and this time with my whole family…! They loved it as much as I did and I was able to explore and wander around more of the hotel than I did the previous visit!

Would I go back? In a heart beat….! Hospitality that books are written about, incredible beauty and unforgettable experiences… Taj Faluknama Palace has all of that!

Cost-:$600 – $700 a night…well worth it to be treated like royalty!

Best Time to Travel-: October thru to February when the weather is cool , and slightly nippy else it does get more than a little hot in the summers…!

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What happens in Vegas…

It was a quick brush with Vegas on our way back home and back to the drudgery of daily routine and we decided to take a quick 2 day break in Las Vegas!

The hotel of our choice was the MGM Grand and this was based on the fact that it was hosting the CSI Experience something I, a huge CSI fan(atic) was very excited about! Sure it had some wonderful restaurants and some other fun activities but in Vegas your spoiled for choice and I wanted to stay closest to what I wanted to do especially since we were only their for 2 days! The MGM Grand is huge and there are 5044 rooms which is  A LOT and not somewhere I’d like to stay because I love the idea of being pampered and looked after in a hotel! We got to the hotel and there were more than 20 desks to cater to your check in and when we were checked in we were asked if it was our first time in Vegas. when we answered to the affirmative, she said well then let’s try and upgrade and a higher floor and lo and behold that was what was given to us!What I loved was that even among the tens of thousands visitors and guests they had that day and every day the MGM staff at every step of the way made us try to feel a little bit special.

The rooms were nothing to write home about. They were comfortable and functional…but you’re not really in Vegas to spend time in your room and so minutes after check in – we were downstairs and getting lost! The hotel is a maze of activity and everyone just seems so happy in Vegas , automatically you perked up and started to smile! The CSI Experience was amazing. Fabulous sets, interesting themes and even some of the CSI tools used on the show all made for a fabulous and fun walk through. We ‘solved’ one murder and Aditya , who is not even a CSI fan insisted we try out the other two cases and we raced each other to the finish having a truly wonderful time! As we left CSI , a new comedy show was taking viewer feedback. A show, that was to premiere in the fall was doing tests and television buffs that we are , we signed up immediately and went in for a screening on our individual computers after which we did a short survey ! The feedback must have been good because the show is on air and doing rather well… so yay!

It was almost time for the Jay Leno show and we had tickets. A quick change and we waited in line for a cab. The lines for cabs are always enormous and it gets longer as the evening goes in to night!Though the cab lines seem endless, the cabs are also plenty and most places are on the Strip so distances aren’t that bad….but with great new pumps…why walk?!

The Jay Leno show was funny, relevant and a great way to spend the evening. Both of us are big fans of stand up and he was amazing! There are always shows in Vegas and the big ones Lion King, Cirque du Soleil, Rock n Roll etc sell out quickly so book early…the shows are fabulous!

Back in the hotel it was time for some Wolfgang Puck steaks and a bit of gambling. The Lion in the open air enclosure above part of the casino had awoken and people rushed to take pictures of his mighty paws! A bit of gambling and we crashed excited about Day 2!

Day 2 was visiting other hotels on the strip, more exploring, some shopping, a little bit of swimming and then the helicopter visit to the Grand Canyon. This was another MUST DO and I have to say seeing the city all lit up at night from the helicopter above was the perfect ending to my CSI Las Vegas experience.

Disneyland- the happiest place on earth?

Well I’ve been to both…and with the roller-coaster 2 days we had in Vegas, the excitement, the energy, the smiles n shows… Round One goes to Las Vegas… and I am waiting for Round 2!

Price Factor-: $250- $300 per night. THINGS TO REMEMBER- STAY ON THE STRIP! It’s incredible, alive and most happening and when in you’re in Vegas you must be where the actions at!

Helicopter Tours -: Between $350 and $450 depending on whether you want to land and take some stunning photographs or just fly over the canyon!

Best Times to Travel-: There is usually no off season in Vegas but generally there’s a lot of buzz and activities March through to May and September through to November and don’t forget New Years!

Universal Studios – The VIP Experience

This was Aditya’s first experience in Los Angeles and in the city of a million dreams and where  everyone either is a star or looks like one it was only fitting that we went to a shrine of filmdom The Universal Studios! This was his birthday gift and we had to do it ‘Divya Style’–first-class all the way! So weeks in advance I signed us up for UNIVERSAL STUDIOS- THE VIP EXPERIENCE! I had been here before and had even seen Bill Cosby walking to ‘work,’ but this was Aditya’s first trip and I wanted it to be magical- The Universal Tour- VIP Experience!

This meant you were taken around the studios with only 10 people, never stood in a line… but here’s where it gets interesting you were allowed access to the prop rooms and sound stages and even a couple of sets which were used for active shooting! To call Aditya a movie fanatic is a complete understatement…He remembers dialogue , the framing of scenes, trivia on the movie and the actors. He can tell you what they wore, what the director ‘said’, what production problems they went through… He LOVES FILM- so essentially this was the perfect gift!

We chose a 10:30 am. time and checked into the VIP section at about 10:15 am. If you drive, they will valet park your car but we weren’t driving. We went to the VIP lounge ordered a quick cappuccino and a juice, munched on a wonderful chocolate muffin and were then given our VIP Access cards- which are just so cool to keep that we knew the day was going to be amazing (yes, we’re silly that way!). And then we were off in our own personal buggy just for the 10 of us where we started our tour with a private tour guide who not only ensured we went through all the attractions of the theme park…he also let us wait just a little longer for that picture perfect moment!

And then while other Universal Studios visitors headed back into the park..we were taken past the CSI Shooting Stages and down Wisteria Lane (where Desperate Housewives was shooting)and into a sound stage where we met technicians and saw where sound is mixed for some of the most wonderful films we have seen.

Then it was off to the Prop Room….though it’s more like a building of props where you have everything from ET masks, to cutlery, to the head of a sphinx and even a Ganesha!!! Fascinating, wonderfully kept and logged and so incredibly comprehensive it’s no wonder that every show and every film can have such an individual flavoring and styling!

We were also then shown the coveted Oscars that Universal Studios had won and then it was time to wander around one of the sets…We then visited and walked around a plane that had been used for War of the Worlds.We saw a small town shooting lot in what could be used for a Western.We walked in to the empty ‘bar,’saw the shop fronts and walked in and around the sets and then went to an active stage being used for the TV Show parenthood. The house with its many rooms and with each room’s individual detailing was a trip to see! It was wonderful how they used perspective and painting to show the other houses on a lane while just shooting in a single, individual stage!

After a hectic morning, it was time for a VIP lunch of salads and fries, pasta, burger and sides. While a musician serenaded us with show tunes we enjoyed a restful lunch and cappuccino ( yes I do love my coffee!) . It was then on to rides and more fun!

The Simpson ride was my personal favourite and after the tour and the rides since there was still a few more hours till closing , I proudly flashed my VIP Badge and got access to the ride once more before we left!

I loved the Revenge of the Mummy and am a sucker for a good roller coaster… The day started on an incredible high and with the VIP Tour just went higher after that!

It’s an experience that I definitely recommend for any movie buff and an experience absolutely catered to you!

Tour Cost- $270 so it does cost a bit… but for a once-in-a-lifetime super personal experience it’s wellllllll worth it! Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY!

Versailles and Paris!

The only day trip we decided to do on this trip to Paris was a trip to the Palace of Versailles. The court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until  1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.

We chose a half day tour on Viator only because we wanted to get back to Paris and stroll and wander and stroll the streets of Paris and while away our time in cafes and restaurants, boutiques and boulangeries and we didn’t want to spend this trip in Paris just doing tour after tour which is what most people (and ourselves the first time ’round) get caught up in doing!

Our arrival was imminent when it seemed the sun was shining off the earth! We later saw the magnificent golden gates, ornate and beautiful and understood why it looked like the sun had stopped to take a break in Versailles! There with a knowledgeable tour guide we were ushered straight into the palace where we were given the interesting histories and stories behind some truly incredible rooms !

With stories being immortalized on ceilings and with the plushest of materials , the most expensive of chandeliers and the most ornate and expensive furnishings, this was the most enthralling account of an era of plenty which quickly gave way to one of the most radical social and political upheavals of the Eighteenth century- the French Revolution.

The Royal Chapel (above) was breathtaking and it was an experience to be  ushered through several of the palace’s very  unique interior rooms, including the King’s and the Queen’s State Apartments where we were that as the King slept all his Court-men were to wait around his bedside till he fell asleep. We also saw some very interesting, curious, hidden corridors where the King could escape to sleep with one of his mistresses if he chose to do so! What was also interesting was that if the King wished to sleep with his Queen, he had to meet her in her own State Apartment.

The Hall of Mirrors was also stunning and I have to admit that this was my favourite room and it was the favorite for several – we spent a lot of time there! I guess vanity hasn’t changed over the century’s!

The Queen’s State Apartment was feminine , floral and a bit ,well over the top…! But much like the rest of the Palace it seemed to fit perfectly!

The Palace was filled with interesting stories, legendary tales and very historic. A Private walking tour made it even more interesting and allowed no time to go to waste!

As we finished with the Palace it was time to explore the magnificent gardens and then we were off for a quick bite to eat and a trip back to the city!

Then ti was back to the city and some much well deserved time spent at Opera (the area near the Opera House). We enjoyed walking Opera, stopping at some poster and music shops before finally walking back via Concorde and ending up at Avenue des Champs-Elysees and then shopping some more…!

Interesting note -: This time , after visiting Rome and Italy, sadly I have to say that the shopping in Italy was far better than in Paris for me! Maybe I expected too much or maybe too many high street brands have taken up the small boutiques that used to dot Champs Elysees on our earlier trip there! I miss those boutiques because well, high street fashion, is high street fashion and well Italy allowed me to find my own style and I loved that!

The adventures were to continue and we were off to Amsterdam …. exciting , exciting, exciting!

More on that next week!

MY RECOMMENDATIONS! Paris sample itinerary-: 

DAY ONE – Walk Champs Elysees and shop, stop, and pause at the Arc di triumph! Day One evening- Book in advance a dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant- the view memorable, the experience – unforgettable!

DAY TWO- Walk the Latin Quarter and the Student’s area – enjoy the bohemian vibe of the city!

DAY THREE- Visit the Louvre and see the Monalisa (though I had built it up a lot more in my head and was left a little let down), wander through Concorde!

DAY FOUR- Do a day trip to Versailles and spend the rest of your day in your favourite part of Paris.

DAY FIVE – Make your own Parisian memory!

My personal Waste of Times & Money- The lido show and the Moulin Rouge… ! With even 10 year olds being allowed into these cramped dimly lit rooms, it is definitely an experience to AVOID! The show is unremarkable and any sub-standard Las vegas show or Cruise show is far better and when you are cramped on tables with cheap champagne and soggy snacks you’re really missing walking the streets of Paris. SO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON SOMETHING BETTER!:)

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.

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