Istanbullish!

And then there is Istanbul the place where Europe and Asia collide and you can see a whole other continent just across from you! Istanbul is a trip that brings back incredible memoreis- a city of contradictions much like me… fiercely traditional in so many ways, yet modern and forward thinking in so many others! An unplanned trip to combat ridiculously high stress levels and no plan at all we arrived in this gorgeous and friendly city and checked in straight into our hotel the Grand Hyatt. We had chosen this hotel because of it’s proximity to the bustling and wonderful Taksim square , a universal hub of activity every day, through the day and through most of the night!

The Grand Hyatt was disappointing. A business hotel with many rooms, it lacked the warmth of the city and the professionalism of a hotel. The staff seemed underpaid, overtired, curt and inhospitable. IT IS DEFINITELY NOT WORTH STAYING HERE. The room we had been given (despite Aditya being a Gold card member and having requested non-smoking) was a smoke filled mess. It took ages to get ready and though we’d paid for a view- we only had a view of the top of the hotel porch! I have yet to stay in another Hyatt after this horrendous experience!

I would recommend highly the fabulous Ciragan Palace which I recommended to my parents who had a fabulous time there or the converted prison on the banks of the Bosphorus which is now the Four Seasons!

Luckily we were determined to make the trip amazing, so we just dumped our bags and off we went exploring. The first thing we realised about turkey is that the street food- the kebabs were amazing. Fresh , delicious and easy to travel with -we set off to discover Taksim square. With its incredible shops, cafes and restaurants- this lively walking street has a taste of Istanbul that keeps bth the locals and tourists hooked! Lots to do…lots to see…lots to taste! We even found a cafe that we loved, loved, loved- The House Cafe with the most glorious turkish coffee!The afternoon went far too quickly and after a quick change , we headed to a branch of The House Cafe(yes we loved it that much!) which overlooked the Bosphorous! The city was glorious at night and after drinks and dinner , we bundled off into a cab and the chatty cabby took us around the city showing us some of the sights and the football stadium (to aditya’s great delight) where a match was being played! We had a long day the next day and so we quickly headed to bed!

The next day , we headed out to explore the Old City- the historic centre of the city. From the columns of the Byzantine empire, to the Hague Sofia,the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, our private tour guide was exceptional. She made us walk fast and she talked even faster and there seemed more information that we could absorb because all of it seemed so incredible, so beautiful, so historic. It was wonderful going with a private tour guide for just the 2 of us because Turkey is a stop over for many cruise ships and when the cruise ships dock in Istanbul, scores of tourists descend on to the city and try and see all the historic sights and try and get a little bit of Turkish flavour all in a few hours- so if you don’t start quickly and don’t move quite fast , you will be caught behind one of these huge groups.

The Blue mosque is still a place of worship so please dress appropriately here. It is also wise to avoid ‘Namaaz'(prayer) timings and Fridays as the crowds do build and it is difficult to see how beautiful the architecture and the tile work is here.

The Hague Sofia has a column with a hole where if you can place your thumb in the whole and rotate your hand the full 360 degrees you are supposed to be granted a wish. Many people were in line and despite bending , turning and body contortions they still couldn’t do it! Aditya tried to….! I was very lucky though and on the first try , my hand did the full rotation and I received some amazed applause from bystanders… My wish? Well it keeps coming true..? Huh? Well you’ve gotta guess!

And then we were off to the Bazaars- the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar… Like the names suggest…the Grand Bazaar is filled with more curios, maps, knick-knacks and the Spice Bazaar filled with the most incredible, warm spices and flavours…. You can get lost in walking thru these bazaars and in case you’d like to buy something- bargain a little- they expect that!

After an entire day in the Old city -we were off to a romantic dinner to G by Karaf a restaurant on an island a few minutes away from the shore. A boat picks you up and in 5 minutes you are at the restaurant!

After a delicious dinner it was back to Taksim square and the incredibly lively bar 360! With views of the entire city , this buzzing night spot is always full. Great music, great drinks and great food keeps it a favourite with locals, expats and tourists alike!

The following day we explore Istanbul on our own using local transport, trams and discovering new hidden corners of the city. With the friendliest locals we’ve ever met- we always managed to find our way ,minutes after we were lost thanks to some incredibly helpful souls!

Istanbul is a land steeped with tradition and culture , yet gloriously modern, incredibly forward thinking and magnificently proud!

Best Times to Travel-:April to October tho April may be a bit rainy and October a bit chilly!

Cost-: Approx $500 a night! But stay close to either the old city or to Taksim square to cut down travel!

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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!

Beijing bound!

It was that time of year again- the time when we hadn’t gone for a vacation in far too long to remember and we were each getting on each other’s nerves- that’s the time when we know we have to fly away not just to ee something new but to breathe some fresh air and press the restart button for the both of us! So that’s what we did! I remember going to the Doctor 3 days before leaving . She was furious about some blood test results and was yelling at me like I’d purposely tried to ruin my own health- when my gallant husband stepped in and said- “we’ve had enough. Whatever the problem is, it doesn’t seem to be life threatening so I am going to take my wife and leave. We need a break and trust me everything will look better when we’re back…including her!” I was so grateful for that calm-very- good-looking-head-on-his-shoulders approach to my Doctor and we decided to continue with our travel plans.

This was our first trip to China and we were starting in Beijing!

The Grand Hyatt in Beijing is spectacular and opulent! Right in the heart of the city- it is walking distance from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and that was why it was our only choice and what an amazing choice it was.Part of Oriental Plaza – one of China’s largest commercial complexes and with direct access to the adjacent shopping mall, our first evening was spent exploring the surrounding area despite the fact that we were exhausted! Wangfujing Street, located next to the hotel houses traditional silk shops, tea houses and some fun, cool department stores.

The road outside the hotel is really wide and a hotel employee once told us that this hotel was to serve as a runway if ever the need arose and China was suddenly in an emergency situation or was at war! Crazy, surreal and very prepared- that was also our first impressions of Beijing.

THINGS YOU MUST REMEMBER-: There is a Chinese name and an English name for everything including where you stay…so don’t think you can leave and just say ‘Hyatt’ to the cab driver- TAKE THE HOTEL CARD- it has another name and locals only know the hotel by it’s Chinese name!

The Forbidden City was a 10 minute walk from the hotel and was remarkable. Caught up in the history we didn’t even realise how quickly time flew by! The thrones, the chambers, the halls, the history- all so well preserved , each with a fascinating story as the Palace served as home to the ming Dynasty continuing right up to the Qing dynasty!

And then it was time for the flag lowering ceremony where the People’s Liberation Army of China march in the evening to Tianmen Square and lower the flag! What an incredible sight and how we rushed to keep up! Unreal, an ABSOLUTE MUST DO!

The Hyatt Pool beckoned and we went in to this indoor heated pool with ‘palm trees’ and an almost island type atmosphere and ended the cold Beijing evening with a delightful dip!

The next day we started with a car ride to the Great Wall.Depending on where you’d like to climb the Great Wall from it takes about 1.5- 3 hrs to get there. Once at the wall, we climbed up with moderate amount of effort (based on the location we’d chosen to walk from – the Great Wall can be reached from different locations and the level of climb varies from easy to hard) and enjoyed the rough path, the steep climbs (at times) and the stunning view. But after a couple of hours of walking and some remarkable photographs, we opted to go down the wall via toboggan which was unbelievable!

With a bit of shopping and some incredible chinese tea , we enjoyed a day more in Beijing and it was off to our next adventure!

Best Times To Travel-:  March through to September- else it does get a bit chilly!

Price Factor-:  $250- $500. STAY 5 STAR AND REMEMBER CARRY THE HOTEL CARD EVERYWHERE!

Living, loving and breathing Milan!

COURTESY-: TravelwithDivya.com

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!

And by God it was!

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!

We also saw a poplar tree!

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!

MUST DO’S

  • 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!