Shopping lists and supermarkets are synonymous with the daily humdrum life of a woman. So when you go on a holiday would you want to spend unlimited time in a market…Yes, definitely ..if it’s as astonishing as the Grand Bazaar Of Istanbul. Once you enter you will be too overwhelmed by the opulence and enthralled (or lost …that’s also a serious possibility) to leave. Istanbul, a city where a truly extraordinary experience lies around every corner here!
Merchants greet you at Gate No 1 of this Kapali Carsi or covered bazaar which was built by the Ottomans for trade in the fifteenth century on the shores of the Bosphorus where East meets the West. It has stood the test of time through fires and earthquakes and today is a cavernous maze of 61 streets and 4000 shops.
Enter a magical market of colours, aromas and sounds to entice every sensation in your body. The dome shaped ceilings with intricate mosaic patterns are so remarkable here. Be enveloped in a kaleidoscope of colour as more mosaics and ceramic plates and lamps adorn the shops, tempting souvenirs for you to take back for sure.
Clothes in silk, turkish shawls, embroidered boots and handbags and all the local craft to admire and acquire await you. Do you fancy some luxurious carpets or gold and silver jewellry, you are in the right place to indulge yourself. The bazaar today houses both modern and traditional items for you to browse or buy.
Nibble a few turkish delights (but wait for the best baklava …thats in Taksim square) as you stroll though the labyrinthine market and rest your tired but happy feet to have an Apple tea…thats something you can’t leave the Grand Bazaar without. When we visit the Spice bazaar you could buy some of it to take back too along with other wonderful spices.
We have a sumptuous Ottoman lunch whilst we are still in the Ottoman heartland. Savour the food of the royalty with a strong Persian influence. A tram ride to Sultanahmet is an experience not to be missed and you could saunter around here looking at more shops. You must take home some unique copper Ottoman earrings sold here. But we also have to take you to marvel at the splendours of Islamic Architecture here namely the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace.
Coffee time in Taksim square in Beyoğlu which is the European part of Istanbul and tuck into Turkey’s famous dessert : the best baklava, every variety possible and other simply delicious sweetmeats as well at Hafiz Mustafa,1864.
We unwind in the evening at the fishing village of Ortakoy, watching the boats go by. Many trendy bars and cafes, here as the locals and tourists hang out to have a hookah and watch the sun set over the magnificent city that was formerly called Constantinople. Today Istanbul is a perfect harmonious blend of the old and the new, Asian and European cultures, vibrant yet generous people.
The best way to get to know this amazing city is truly on the bicycle, just the way the locals do it.With over the 400 km of bike paths in the city, its quite commonplace to see smartly dressed men and women off to work on a bike everywhere. So “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” surely applies to the tourists too. It really is a great way to explore the city, instead of the mundane coach tours and we will always chose such offbeat things to do.
A city of concentric canals with limited land area available, the slender houses in Amsterdam have been built literally sticking to each other.The tour begins in Dam Square and you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong for this one! You will ride in a small group with your guide at a nice easy pace, so don’t worry, this is great for beginners and there will be many stops to take photos and selfies along the way. Your guide is a fountain of knowledge as well as jokes and anecdotes. You will hear stories about the city, how it gained prominence and also some weird fables about Amsterdam culture, all this with a whole lot of fun.
The cycling tour takes you over the pretty the canals and idyllic cityscapes into the neighbourhood called the Jordaan. The energy is youthful here as it has the most beautiful houses and cosy cafes and restaurants.The Leidseplein is the next stop which is the main entertainment square and has cinemas, discos, theaters and a casino as well. Make a note in your diary to come back here later to both these places for a happening night out.
We take a pit stop at the Vondelpark,south of Leidseplein and watch the world go by with other locals and tourists basking in the sun.Its close to the famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. There is actually a bicycle underpass at the Rijksmuseum which now allows you to ride your bike through a museum, the only place in the world you can probably do so.
After all that cycling around for the last few hours ….we think you deserve a special treat. So we end the bike tour in a beer garden Brouwerij ‘t IJ. This has 20 homemade beers with punny names and it also has the center’s only old-school windmill. For the beer lovers we recommend this fun option : The Heineken Experience. Its an amusing and interactive tour of the brewery with simulated rides that you will enjoy. A couple of glasses of the world famous beer thrown in makes it even more splendid !
In the evening we have a canal cruise lined up for you to enjoy the city through its multitudes of waterways. Feast your eyes on the elegant merchants’ houses dating from the Golden Age, the fabulous gables and churches. We pass the iconic Magere Brug over river Amstel (Skinny Bridge) shown in the James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever”. This peculiar wooden drawbridge was once so narrow that it was hard for two people to pass each other.
As twilight sets in, all the houses and arches of the canals light up and the reflections shimmer and shine in the waters below, promising the beginning of yet another wonderful soiree on a in this eclectic city for you and me.
Barcelona is definitely the best place to go for New Years Eve and nothing better than a slice of Spain for a great holiday ! You can’t help but immerse yourself in the artful lively vibe especially on Las Ramblas Our hotel was perfectly located right off this lively street.
We were most eager to explore the works of Gaudi that we had heard so much about and the very first place to go the next morning was unmistakably the Sagrada Familia.
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is a dedication by Gaudi to The Holy Family. Antonio Gaudi knew he would not live to see it complete but his mission and spirit will find its fulfillment in 2026,exactly 100 yrs after his sad demise.
The Sagrada Familia covers 3 facades – the Nativity, the Passion and the Glorification.The Glorification is still very much in the making but I can’t find the right words to describe this magnificent creation enough.Definitely a must do when in Barcelona.
The Passion facade to the left features the events before and after the birth of Christ.Look closely on the left for “the flight to Egypt” and then for “the slaughter of the Innocents”. Such detailed carvings, look out for the already slain innocents at the foot of the soldiers .
We were awestruck by the beauty and the intricacy of all the carvings depicting Mary being escorted by Joseph on the donkey and the Angel to guide them, the Birth of Jesus,the Shepherds and the Three Kings.Gaudi always used nature to convey his thoughts.Can you appreciate the chameleon here, he meant it to be there to represent ever changing life.
The Passion facade and The kiss of betrayal with the distinctive serpent….this place has such a mesmerizing effect on you …by we were now all charged to explore this city and discover more enchanting works of Gaudi and certainly the best of all is Casa Batllo.
I’m a huge coffee freak and the aroma of a good coffee wafting through a coffee shop invigorates me like there’s no tomorrow. Whenever I travel, I do love to visit different cafes and Bali certainly has plenty of them.
Exploring Ubud, the heart of Bali and the little villages around gives you the real essence of traditional Balinese lifestyle, houses, art and culture.
The drive from Ubud market to Tegallalang Rice Terraces is breathtakingly beautiful as the road winds through lush green rice fields. The local farmers in their straw hats follow the Subak or the traditional Balinese irrigation system to cultivate rice.
There are many tempting cafes to sit and admire the view or take photos. Just laze and gaze at all the vast expanse of greenery around ….reduces stress they say. Well isn’t that why we are here in Bali…to relax and rejuvenate!
The fertile volcanic soil and the climate in the Kintamani region is perfect for coffee plantations and we went ahead to visit Bali Pulina Agro Tourism to learn about some secrets of coffee, spice and herb gardens.
I was aghast to hear why Luwak coffee is the most expensive …because its poop coffee …the ripe coffee beans are eaten by the Civets and then partly digested and pooped out.Their digestive enzymes are supposed to change the structure of proteins in the coffee beans, which removes some of the acidity to make a smoother cup of coffee. As someone aptly said “Its a shitting expensive coffee.”
Much as i love coffee, that story ain’t gonna get Mee to try a cup for sure! Would you?
A guided short tour of the plantation ended at the the open cafe or warung on stilts overlooking the rice terraces and we were served an array of lemon tea, ginger tea, ginger coffee, ginseng coffee, chocolate coffee, pure cocoa, vanilla coffee, pure Bali coffee to sample….You can order for some Luwak coffee if you wish.But I preferred to tuck in to the locally made sweet treats like fried banana fritters served with honey or a palm sugar syrup and lupis (traditional snack made of rice with brown sugar syrup and grated coconut). Be assured of such local specialities on our holidays.
After some shopping in Ubud market, it was time to head for dinner to yet another amazing cafe, an oasis on the bustling Main Road: Cafe Lotus.
As I stepped inside I could feel that the place had a mystical aura to it, maybe because it surrounds a pond of Lotuses framed by ancient lowering kamboja (magnolia) and orchids. In the middle of the pond stands the most serene temple complex of Pura Taman Saraswati.The ambience is truly magical – especially during twilight hours and in the evenings. This place just warmed the cockles of my heart !
A Balinese folklore program and delectable traditional menu makes it the most perfect location for a few drinks and dinner.
For dessert don’t forget to indulge in some artisan Gelatos at the pretty in pink shop Gelato secrets just around the corner. They take pride in their signature gelatos oozing fresh flavours of the local fruits and spices. Have you had dragonfruit cinnamon or cashew black sesame before?
What’s your flavour? Pina colada, salted butter caramel from Tejakula sea salt,chai tea, coconut pandan, passionfruit, strawberry, organic Sulawesi vanilla or durian from Sumatra ? Try one, try them all, every night in Bali.
“I’ll be your girl for all seasons “….the opening lines of the unforgettable song from the movie Grease 2 inspired me to write this blog that take you to all these remarkable places in every season across the globe.
“I like people who get excited about the change of seasons, the sound of the ocean, watching the sunset, the smell of rain and starry nights.” – Brooke Hampton
Japan: Cherry blossom or Sakura season
It’s a very cheerful time in Japan in spring when the entire island is carpeted with cherry blossoms and transforms into a sea of pink. Locals and tourists gather in the parks for a” Hanami “or “flower viewing “. Have a picnic in the park like Shinjuku Goyen in Tokyo under a canopy of every imaginable shade of pink. The cherry blossoms adorning the shrines and monuments make a very pretty picture and we take you to Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya Castle to admire these.
The most impressive pictures are at Lake Ashi with Mount Fuji or the symbol of Japan in the background and at Osaka Castle.
Greece: Summer fun
The sun kissed islands of Greece are the most blissful escapade for you in summer. Enjoy the langorous beach life of Mykonos in the day and unwind with some Ouzo and table dancing at night in the taverns.The beach parties here in summer have the best DJs from all over the world and go on till dawn. Explore the coloured beaches of Santorini and visit the winery to taste the Asyrtiko wine that has a unique taste as the grapes are grown in the volcanic soil here. Put your feet up and savour the magical sunset at Oia for me time !
The UNESCO World Heritage sights in Athens like the Acropolis and the Pantheon best seen after 5pm as the brilliant light of the late-afternoon hours will only enhance your experience. Special music concerts in summer and the performances in the vibrant Monastirake area make summer time in Greece super fun time.
Croatia: Fall colours at Plitvice
The beauty of the fall colours is of joy forever in many parts of the world.Yet the transformation of the foliage around the 16 blue and green lakes and innumerable cascading waterfalls of Plitvice National Park into many shades orange and brown is a breathtaking sight. October is not a busy tourist season and hence the best time to enjoy the serenity of the National Park…take a leisurely stroll through this fairytale land and enjoy your me time with glorious Mother nature.
A holiday to Croatia along the Adriatic coast is a must, to revel in Dubrovnik, explore Roman ruins in Split and mend broken relationships in Zagreb.
Iceland: Winter wonderland to chase the Northern Lights
The most spectacular natural phenomenons that brightens the earth in winter are the Northern Lights. Multi-coloured streaks of bright green, purple and magenta form a pattern across the sky and viewing that should be on your bucket list. We have a friend who can take you on an escorted trip to the island of Fire and Ice for a week. Experience many winter marvels like ice caves explorations and glacier walks in Iceland.
Soak in the geothermal spa Blue lagoon and drive away the blues.Its a different experience in Winter because although its freezing cold around you and you are nonchalantly floating in warm turquoise water. Steam arising from the waters gives it a wonderful surreal look …yet another perfect setting for an unforgettable holiday !
‘I travel, therefore I am.”
Having traveled to 29 countries and definitely planning to add as many more to that list as soon as possible, here is a list of cities and locations in Europe that I find close to my heart.
It’s really hard to pick just one place in a beautiful country like Italy, especially as the charming Italian men make you feel special anywhere and everywhere you go! Yet Positano, along the Amalfi coast is undoubtedly my favourite. A small town of over a thousand steps, it’s not for those with weak knees. But the sheer prettiness of it will make you go weak in the knees for sure. The dramatic coastline, limestone cliffs, the coral pink houses, Sorrentine orange and lemon trees, mosaic churches, narrow cobblestone alleys with shops and cafes make it a totally Dream destination on any Europe Tour package. Sip a Sangria on the beach, read Elizabeth Adlers book “The house in Amalfi”, watch the sailboats in the azure blue sea, the most unforgettable sunsets !
Half an hour away from Lisbon lies a magical town on a hilltop that has fascinated royalty and nobility over the years and they built their palaces and palatial residences there. These grand mansions and their pristine surroundings are a perfect blend of nature and man-made creations and will captivate you the moment you set foot there. Tingle your senses with a breath of fresh mountain air, wander around the perfectly manicured gardens and explore Pena and Monserrate palaces and grounds for a taste of royalty.
Palaces galore: Schonnbrunn, Hofburg, Belvedere how many palaces can you be bewitched by in one city? If you have the same thoughts as Julie Andrews who said “Like most girls, I fantasized about being some sort of a princess.” you will simply love all of them!
This was once a Hunting Lodge which was later transformed into a summer palace for the Imperial family. Spread over 435 acres just outside of Vienna city, it’s a mesmerizing journey through the staterooms and gardens, admiring the grandiosity of it all. Don’t miss the concerts of the musical maestro Mozart in the evening. It’s a day well spent!
It means “Royal Castle” and was the winter palace and seat of government for the Imperial rulers of Austria. There are various wings open to visitors, but the most fascinating is the Kaiser or the Imperial apartments where you can follow the majestic trail of Empress Elizabeth with a Sisi Ticket. Regale her life, the agonies and glories and admire the free spirit and beauty of this intriguing icon.
Two Baroque palaces in one garden studded statues and marble fountains at the outskirts of the city house a beautiful collection of paintings, especially the works of the iconic artist Gustav Klimt and his masterpiece “The Kiss”.
In the evening get some me time, relax and enjoy the best of the Viennese coffee and Sacher torte in the heart of the city.
Germany: Neuschwanstein Castle
The most charming of the Bavarian castles in the Alps in a picturesque setting of mountains and valleys inspired Walt Disney to create the Magical Kingdom and use the design of this fairytale castle in their logo. Built by the “fairytale” King Ludwig, it reflects his admiration for the renowned composer Richard Wagner. Linger around the enchanting town of Fussen at the end of the Romantic Road and its pretty Altstadt (old city centre) and lakes.