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HongKong-ing to some fun sights!

It had been a while since my last trip (when I was a teenager) to Hong Kong. Aditya had visited HongKong last on July 1 , 1997 (his birthday )- the day where the hand over happened of HongKong from the UK to China. We had both had incredibly wonderful and memorable trips to Hong Kong (his more than mine :)) but we had never gone together! It was yet another birthday and we wanted to do HongKong and Macau so off we went on another adventure!

We arrived to the airport and took a train in to the city! They have a wonderful transport system and it was easy to take a quick and comfortable train to the city and then a quick cab ride later we were at the J.W. Marriott! The J.W. Marriott is a wonderful hotel. Calm, statuesque, luxurious and with one of the best Executive Clubs we have ever seen! Incredible views, fabulous food and impeccable service, the gloomy Hong Kong morning had a ray of sunshine for us as we checked in!

The one difference in the Hong Kong that we felt immediately was that Chinese was definitely more spoken and English was a little harder now among the smaller shop workers and in the bazaars. We were given Chinese addresses, for taxi drivers when we did travel and though there was definitely a basic understanding of English- we both felt that the last time we’d traveled to Hong Kong the knowledge of English just seemed a bit more widespread!

I am a Theme-Park junkie and so it was off to Disneyland straight away! The Disneyland though wonderfully colourful and alive is definitely quieter, smaller and milder than Disneylands the world over! There are fewer rides , smaller crowds and more restrained excitement! Not at all comparable to the adrenalin rush you get in California! Still I loved the few roller coasters and made it a point to enjoy every minute of the half day I had allocated for it!

Now if you think I was going to just do a half day theme park and be content- you don’t know me at all. I had people talk about some very scary roller coasters at Ocean Park and so that was where we decided to spend the second half of our day! The roller coasters were definitely more challenging and scary at Ocean Park but the atmosphere less festive and fun! But a mix of the colour of Disney and the adrenalin of Ocean Park made for a fun theme park day!

They should join the two and give us theme-park junkies one unforgettable day!

The next day it was on to the Peak Tram and a trip to the Peak. A misty morning made for a romantic tram ride  and a journey back in time in a wonderfully restored , beautifully kept tram to a cloud-kissed peak! Incredible photographs , warm cups of coffee and a view of a bustling city from an Eagle’s eye view made for a memory of Hong Kong that many do not see… From the top of the world, the frenetic activity melds away and all you see is a beautiful city with an incredible history!

More on Hong Kong (a musical experience,cable cars,restauranting and shopping!) and Macau next week… but now off to a flight (in 2 hours) and to more incredible adventures!

Best Times to Travel-: March- April and October- December- the weather is pleasant and warm though November and December will have a slight nip in the air by the evenings !

Cost-:$500-$600 and the choice is to stay in Hong Kong Island or Kowloon… The difference? Well log on next week and here my thoughts on both!

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A day in Amsterdam…!

Amsterdam was the last stop on our best Euro trip ever and we were exhausted! Traveling had been incredible and exciting but we knew Amsterdam would give us the much needed down time that one often feels one needs AFTER a holiday…like the holiday from the holiday!

We were right!

Both Aditya and I had visited Amsterdam before… but when we were kids. This was our first time here as a couple and we were excited!

From Paris to Amsterdam we took the Thallys. Fun, fast, fabulous and modern- this train was a dream! With fast speed internet connection on board, comfortable seats this bright and cheerful train put all of our other train journeys to shame! Travel in Europe- Use Thallys!

After a fabulous, invigorating morning because of a super train ride passing through some fabulous places that I made note of to visit we arrived in Amsterdam! The hotel we stayed at was a Starwood property – part of their Luxury Collection- Hotel Pulitzer.

The hotel comprises of 25 restored canal houses which makes it so incredibly unique with no two guest rooms being the same. Each has their own character and a distinctive and personal. The rooms are small and cosy. Our suite overlooked the canal and was very special because of the large windows which allowed us the luxury of sitting indoors in the rainy weather and watching the beautiful city glisten and glimmer as it bathed in the quick shower! It rains in Amsterdam – it rained all 3 days while we were there. The rains are usually quick and windy but if you’re outside you can feel quite bitterly cold!

Amsterdam is a glorious city. Walk it and you can stop in the many small pathways and find the most amazing shops, the most vibrant of cafes and the most interesting of boutiques. The first morning was spent walking over bridges and stopping at cafes and finding this small , incredible cafe with the best fries ever and lingering over cups of coffee- the perfect unwind!

The mode of transportation is trams or in the smaller roads- bicycles or walking. But know that riding a bicycle in Amsterdam has lots of rules attached and bicycle riders are quite fierce and fast and can give you quite a scare making walking an often safer mode of transportation!

Later in the afternoon it was off to the centre of the city and for a shopping experience like none other. Small boutiques bordered large expensive stores and local cafes stood side by side to fast food chains. Something for everyone and colours everywhere!

The Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are easy to spot… In its spelling itself there is no space between coffee and shop and it is not called a cafe. They serve cannabis and hash brownies among usual coffees and soft drinks and snacks that you’d get at another cafe. I wandered into these more for curiosity’s sake and was pleasantly surprised to see the owner cum server totally knowledgeable and very cautious about what he was selling and even more so how much he was selling. He enquired carefully whether it was your first time and talked you through the entire range of products he had and didn’t push any when I chickened out and ordered a coke and chips instead and focussed on what seemed like a very stoned dog sitting with his master in the coffeeshop!

Anne Frank’s Home is an absolute MUST DO! I was never an ardent fan of the book. I had read it, enjoyed it, but never been really been overly interested in her life. I guess, being born in a different era made what happened seem so unreal, so frightening and a bit unreal to me. Our hotel was a building away from the Anne Frank Home and I decided I wanted to see it. Book tickets online as they only allow a few at a time and the lines outside the house otherwise are very long and to shiver in the rains is not appealing at all! We booked tickets and went in. Suddenly we were transported to an era gone by. With black and white videos, handwritten diary pages and even walls with height marks as to how tall she’d grown- suddenly her life became all to real. Her story told so perfectly and simply through simple diary entries came alive in the small , cramped rooms and the creaky flooring where she’d spent her life hidden in fear. We read about her arrest, saw the records , heard her father speak about her and I wept. Like the tens of others who had walked in with us, this experience became personal, became real and it stopped being about a book. It became about a life- a life lost too early. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful and touching experience that this trip offered me and I was glad I made time to do something that would offer me such a personal experience.

After all the tears I went back to our room for a nice hot cappuccino and we ended up at a fabulous local restaurant which was filled to the brim. With tapas and wine this became the perfect end to a perfect day!

Best Times To Travel-:  June through to October ! But it does get chilly at night and be prepared for rain!

Price Factor-:  $300- $500 a night and do try the Canal House Hotels . They are definitely an experience!

WILL GO BACK…STAY LONGER…SOON!

Parisian Adventures Day 1

And it was off on a Eurail journey again….and my first overnight train from Venice to Paris. Much has been written about this train-the luxury of first class, the food , the convenience.

These are all lies. The train is filthy, cramped, and a totally awful way to cross from one country to another especially from 2 cities as glamorous as Venice and Paris are. The food cart runs out of food minutes after you leave. The waiters are rude, uncaring and probably poorly paid. The rooms have almost no space to sit let alone sleep and most importantly you must not only lock your room at night when you attempt to sleep you must also barricade the door with luggage. Two separate families lost passports, money and handbags on the awful overnight disaster! Since this train makes several stops through the night and since you often only discover your loss in the morning, the perpetrator is usually long gone and there were several exhausted, woebegone faces at breakfast in the morning.

The morning on the train isn’t much better. The coffee is runny and weak, the croissant is hard and unpalatable and there’s no point even discussing the sham of a hole that masqueraded as the bathroom.

This train is NOT WORTH IT! TAKE A FLIGHT- ANY FLIGHT INSTEAD!

Thanks to this awful journey, I arrived very exhausted in to Paris. Now this was our second to Paris as a couple. We decided we wanted to do this trip because the first time we visited Paris we were on our honeymoon! A tour every few hours , staying in a small hotel ( that was all we could afford) and running between one tour and the next trying to cram all of Paris’ sights into a 3 night stay and also relax and enjoy our honeymoon proved to be an impossible holiday. Most of the trip was fraught with arguments and tears because we were so exhausted after doing sooo much! But even in between all the running and madness we fell in love with this beautiful , romantic city. We promised that we’d visit again-with out the tours and the schedules and that’s what this trip was for.

We had taken an apartment at the beautiful Fraser Suites on Champs Elysees. This was because one of the things we learnt about Paris was hotel rooms are terribly tiny. We’d stayed in Fraser Suites in Malaysia and the large bedrooms, huge living room and a wonderfully compact kitchenette! We wanted to stay centrally in Paris and this 5 star part-hotel seemed ideal- even more son once I saw some of the world’s best tennis players staying there with us as they were playing the very exciting Rolland Garros French Open!

We were upgraded to a suite on our arrival. The newer rooms were plush, with new furnishing, facing Champs Elysees and the Arc di Triumph and were large and spacious. Two televisions(not that we got time to watch tv), a large living room with a dining table, a bedroom, 2 super sized bathrooms, a stocked kitchenette and a massive bed and I found a new home in the heart of Paris. This trip was going to be different so Day 1 started with no plan at all and it was wonderful.

The last time we came to Paris , we arrived (like we did this time) on a Sunday and everything was shut! That was six years ago. This  time Paris was bustling on a Sunday- everything was open, everything was crowded, everything was buzzing and alive and it was amazing! We stopped to pick up some croque monsieurs on our way at Champs Elysees and decided to take the underground to the Latin Quarter.

Briefly glossed over during tours , the Latin Quarter with its frenetic activity, quirky shops, arty bars and cafes is a wonderful, bohemian vision of Paris. Each bylane has lots to explore, each cafe has new , exciting food smells and each shop has interesting , quirky things to take away, buy and keep! This area is very filled with students and young couples and is so diverse in culture and colour it was absolutely magnificent walking through the Latin Quarter.

Paris is exciting every time you visit but I believe the more you walk through Paris , the more layers you uncover. Like an onion, you can keep peeling and peeling and discover new and exciting places, people and sites within the city and still realise you have more to see.

Paris is more than the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame–those are exciting and pieces of history that you must see…but walk through Paris,see the architecture, meet the people, sip the cappuccinos….the romance of Paris is all around for you to discover…

We came to Paris first on our honeymoon…but we really fell in love with Paris this time ’round.

More on our Parisian adventures and a special trip to Versailles…next week!

Best Times To Travel-:  June through to October – but expect crowds and tourists! So remember Paris is beautiful but make your own memories….different from the brochure memories that are sold to you! 🙂

Price Factor-:  EXPENSIVE!!! $600- $1000 per night for a 5 star hotel but you must know that you should stay in the centre of Paris for sure (Champs Elysees, Concorde  is great or opt for something more arty like Opera)…then everything is walking distance and everything- amazing!

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