Category Archives: Travel Tales

Vegas Ventures Jan’13

As the last leg of my shamefully long honeymoon began, the excitement and the despair both crept in.

Despair : This “Lala Land” fairytale trip was coming to an end.

Excitement: We were heading to non other than Las Vegas !!!

Now since it was the last bit of our honeymoon we did want to make the most of it , unfortunately for me though I did fall terribly ill (some horrendous stomach bug), however being a trooper and knowing that I was probably not coming back anytime soon in the for seeable future I still managed to do a lot !

Travel Mode: We made the famous drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, as that was our previous stopover during the honeymoon. It is fairly easy to rent cars across the U.S.A and you can usually drop them of at your last destination and have someone from the car rental agency pick it up from there.

Hotel : Now this is usually a very big decision for tourists when heading to Sin City, as it sets the mood for your entire trip.Our choice of hotel was the “Wynn and Encore”. With a fun red, bold theme running all over the place, the energy in these connected twin structures was loud,vibrant and very Vegas. The rooms were quite large and spacious( just a regular double bed room),also having opted for a panoramic view, added to the entire beauty of our stay at Encore.

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MUST SEE/DO:

1) Explore the Strip: This is probably the best free excursion that you will undertake during your stay in Las Vegas.Bear in mind that each hotel is designed in a unique manner and has different elements that distinguish its feel and overall atmosphere. So even though you can’t stay in 10 places at the same time, wandering around the different magnificent hotels will give you a good feel of the ambience each one has to offer.

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2)The Shopping: If you are someone who loves high end designers, the strip is practically your man made heaven. With every high end designer store present on the strip, the shopping will keep you occupied for hours! For those who aren’t looking for anything that will put a dent in your savings there is the “Fashion Show Mall”, which is a stand alone structure that caters to all kinds of shopping needs.

3) Cirque Du Soleil Shows: Las Vegas is known for their variety of world-class shows and performances and every evening is packed with a number of events that will pique your interest. However, the concierge at any decent hotel will advise you to watch at least one “Cirque Du Soleil” show during your stay in Las Vegas. With $100 million dollar stages and jaw-dropping costumes and performances,these shows are a not one to miss. No matter how old you are or what country you hail from, the Cirque Du Soleil shows will leave you spellbound. Unfortunately there are strict “No Photography/Video-recording rules.

Note: Even under the circumstances of my illness we managed to go for two Cirque shows !!

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4) The Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours: Thanks to my dear uncle, who insisted that we make it a point to go for this excursion during our Las Vegas trip, we ended up booking the “Dream Catcher Tour” through Maverick Helicopter (Link:http://www.maverickhelicopter.com/tour-dream-catcher.aspx). Maverick Helicopters are recommended by most resorts and have a great informative team.  This tour was absolutely breathtaking and was really worth the hype! Also there are a whole  range of other tours offered by Maverick to fit your budget and time.

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5) Nightlife: What is a trip to Las Vegas without experiencing some city nightlife? The strip is booming with something for everyone. With never ending casino floors to an innumerable array of lounges and nightclubs, with some of the best performing artists from all over the globe, Las Vegas has some nocturnal activity to fit everyone’s bill.

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MUST EAT:

Please do note before reading further that most of our eating experiences were limited to the resort due to my illness during this trip.

1) The Society Cafe: A beautiful cafe located on the end of the casino floors in Wynn, Society Cafe had some of the best breakfast offerings for its guests. With a hint of the Victorian Era running through its interiors the cafe is chic and has some of the best fuss free food options that I have tasted on this trip.

Note: Ideal for breakfast but open for lunch and dinner too.

2) Wazuzu:  A casual Asian fusion eatery that has all kinds of foods on offering from the Far East, Wazuzu promises a good light bite that won’t leave you drowsy for the rest of the evening. Some of the stand out dishes on the menu were the Black Miso Cod and the  Drunken Noodles (non-alcoholic). (Wynn and Encore)

3) Weing Lei: One of the only fine dining experiences of our trip was as Weing Lei, which happens to be the only Michelin Star Asian restaurant in North America. The ambience is a formal and sharp one and the food is impeccable. With partial Asian roots, my husband knows his Chinese food quite well, and our dining experience had him nodding with satisfaction too. (Wynn and Encore)

4) Tao: An Asian Bistro that has quite a lounge-y vibe to its credit. Although being  one of the most recommended restaurants in Las Vegas, I would say Tao is worth a visit for it’s lively ambience and great music rather than the actual food. There are definitely better Asian options in Las Vegas (Wazuzu for Example), however this restaurant will set a great tone for the evening and is a great place for a fuss free yet satisfactory meal. (The Venetian)

Vegas Traveller Note: After you are checked in head straight for the concierge at your hotel to make sure you reserve your spot for all the things you plan to do in Vegas!

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Hello Hong Kong ! Jul ’13

So If you have seen previous posts, you know that I made a “blink and miss” visit to Macau city in May 2013 to attend a wedding. The reason the trip was a short one besides the considerable travel time , was that we were heading back to Hong Kong in a month’s time for a wedding within our family.

My mother-in-law grew up in Hong Kong, and most of her family still resides there. So Hong Kong it was for a 10 day vacation, inclusive of a 2 day Chinese wedding festivity.

Travel: Cathay Pacific offers one of the easiest non-stop flights to get to Hong Kong from the Middle East (GCC) and has quite comfortable aircrafts.

Now since this was my  first trip to Hong Kong, my family made a special effort in terms of sight-seeing,eateries,shopping etc.

MUST-VISITS :

1) The Peak : If you want to get fabulous, mind-boggling views of this beautiful modern city, make your way to the peak. The Victoria Peak offers stunning panoramic views of Hong Kong and leaves you mesmerised. There are lots of excursions on offer to have the perfect “Peak” experience. Hiking trails, trams that will give you spectacular views and the illusion of a slanted city,or just driving up  to the Peak by Taxi/Cab and enjoying the restaurants, coffee shops and shopping all encompassed in a complex at the very top .Not one to miss !

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2) Landmark Mall (Central Hong Kong) and Elements Mall :  Growing up in Dubai as a 90’s child, you tend to get a bit big-headed about the infrastructure and how spectacular all these huge malls are etc etc. Hong  Kong’s infrastructure and the sheer size and complexity  of its structures and malls , that were built wayy before the world knew what “Dubai” was will plant your feet firmly back into the ground. The Landmark Mall in Central Hong Kong and Elements in the Kowloon side  are both monstrosities with every kind of shop you might want all under one roof. A shopper’s paradise, enough to leave even the most relentless person tired and make the pickiest shopper , grab a few things.

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Landmark Mall ( Central Hong Kong)

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Elements Mall ( Kowloon)

3) Tsim Sha Tsui: Situated in Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui is a bustling area with streets packed with shops and restaurants. None of the high-end brand business. But for those who love exploring a culture and their tit-bits by roaming the streets and discovering, this is the perfect place for you. Some great street-side shopping and street food while roaming around this area.Also the streets lead up to a beautiful promenade with spectacular views of the city skyline at night.

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4) Repulse Bay: After all the city life and hustle- bustle you might crave some picturesque  quiet and this is  when you should head to one of the more naturally beautiful parts of Hong-Kong. With stunning views and a scenic drive, on roads woven through the mountains, Repulse bay is a great retreat from the city and also offers a nice stretch of beach, for enthusiasts.

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5) Lang Kwai Fong: Like any other commercial city, the night life in Hong Kong is booming, and to enjoy it,there is no better place to head to than Lang Kwai Fong. Overflowing with clubs,lounges,pubs and bars,all plush with different tunes bursting through a unique ambience/setting. Lang Kwai Fong has a night-life experience for everyone.

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MUST TASTE:

1) Yum Cha ( Afternoon Tea) at Lei Garden:  Yum Cha is a Chinese tradition, where the family gets together for Dim-Sims and tea in the afternoon, usually on a weekend. Our choice of of restaurant was Lei Garden, located at the Elements Mall (Kowloon),with a mind-boggling variety of authentic dim-sums and other treats the Yum Cha experience at Lei Garden was a memorable one.

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2)Gai Mei Bao (Cocktail Bun) at Maxim’s : The Chinese are very popular for their breads both sweet and savoury, and one that stole my heart and had me gorging on it at least twice  a day was the famous “Gai Mei Bao” , a soft delicious bread with a sweet buttery coconut concoction in the centre, had me wanting it for breakfast and evening tea non-stop for 10 days. Of course if sweet isn’t your thing there are several other options at this amazing bakery, and there is a Maxim’s branch within your reach at any populated area in Hong Kong. Must Try !

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LET DOWN:

1) Citygate Outlet Mall: By now you probably know that one of the pleasures of my travels are my shopping expeditions, and locating outlet malls in a nation known for their love of brands was icing on the cake.  So unfortunately, for me I was massively let down by the Citygate Outlet Mall which is a good couple of hours away from Kowloon (where I was staying). Although the mall is well built and spacious, it lacks most high – end designers ( Which is the whole point of an outlet mall) and even the selected choice of stores, won’t leave you with that smug satisfactory feeling of having saved a fortune, or landed an amazing deal. This one was a miss for me.

MISSED BUT MUST SEE:

Due to the lack of time and probably just having a lazy/good time. We missed going to two places that I have been assured are worth your time and money.

Disneyland – Hong Kong: This is a no-brainer for a fun filled day at a theme park, however, having visited Orlando (2012) , Disneyland was not my to-visit list for the Hong Kong trip.

Tian Tan Buddha:  This enormous beautiful statue of the Big Buddha has thousands of tourists visiting each year. One of the largest structures of the Big Buddha ever built in bronze, and can actually be seen from miles away ! Some say even from Macau on a clear day !

Macau Musings May ’13

Attending one our dear friend’s wedding was a promise we made to bribe the sweet “SR”  all the way to our own, from Hong Kong. Also Kudos to her not only for making the journey but staying for the entire .. ahem… WEEK long celebrations.

Boy oh boy …. did her wedding turn out to be one of the best promises I ever had to keep !  Attending the 3 day non-stop gala was a destination wedding at none other than Macau !

Macau (Macao) is a part of the Republic of China and is easily best described as the “Las Vegas” of the Far East. With an economy that is majorly based on gambling and tourism. Macau is a quick weekend destination for residents of China and Hong Kong, and is now also extremely popular as a destination for grand celeberations.

Our route to Macau (from Bahrain) was via Hong Kong, so Cathay Pacific is a fairly good bet for those flying from the Middle East to Macau, and then from Hong Kong Airport  it was on to a ferry (about an hour long) to Macau.

Traveller’s Tip : Please do NOT make the same dire mistake we made of leaving the airport after baggage claim to look for the ferry. There is a ferry that can be taken from within the airport itself, without visiting half of Hong Kong on the train.

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With an array of hotels and resorts to choose from, visitors are spoiled for choice, our hotel stay was kindly organised at the Galaxy Macau, one of the most breath-taking properties ever both in its sheer expanse and quality/array of services. The property is actually 3 hotels all attached from within, so at the Galaxy Macau you could choose to stay either at the main hotel or at the Hotel Okura or Banyan Tree Macau, all of which are inter-connected, yet are individually designed and have their own unique aesthetic.

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The hotel was vibrant and had enough colour to keep you ogling forever. The structure grand and built over a huge area leaves you wondering what this enormity may NOT have. The answer is of course almost nothing  that you can put your finger on immediately. Comprising of a spa, salon, cinemas, restaurants (fine and casual dining and a food court), coffee shops, a wide array of shops.. we are talking high-end designers and regular high street stores, drug stores, supermarkets, bars, lounges and of course the never-ending expanse of the casino floor.

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With a packed wedding schedule for 3 days continuous, there was not much of the Macau that we actually ventured out into. But by the second day when we had a break for a meal a couple of friends ventured across from the Galaxy to the Venetian to grab a bite and I was quick to realise that Macau pretty much had the same things throughout the city … Hotels and Resorts.

And each hotel has the same kind of things to offer just in a different layout/ambience.

Here are some of the wedding venues

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The Welcome Lunch Venue

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The Wedding Ceremony Venue

 

So who is Macau city suitable for ?

1) The Lounger: For those who need a few days to switch off and just have everything within an arm’s ( or an elevator’s in this case) reach, saunter into the lobby and find everything they desire within one property, I’m talking shopping, food, cinemas, spa and casinos. This would be a perfect 3 day break for you. Spend on your hotel and yourself , there is no sight-seeing as such that you are missing out on. Pick a good hotel/resort and enjoy it !

 

2) The Gambler: If you are one with a love for Casino’s and gambling , then you my friend are in the right place. Gambling is one of the main industry’s of Macau City and the expanse of the Casino floors can leave you dizzy. Several different arrays of slot-machines and other gambling (games?) is a vital part of each hotel. Take your pick ! Or saunter into different Casinos across hotels as you please !

Traveller’s Tip: If you are not a resident of Hong-Kong or China make your Macau trip a 2-3 day part of a longer vacation.

Turkish Delights Aug ’13

Travelling on the Turkish Airlines made Istanbul a quick stopover on our way to Croatia. While going to Croatia was a touch and go , on our way back home we stayed to enjoy the hustle bustle of this vibrant city.

A big Kudos to my brother-in-law for expertly fitting in all the main monumental sight seeing tours as well as accommodating our shopping cravings in such a short time frame.

With oodles of historical gems , a rich and colourful culture and the best Kebabs and Kunafah you have ever tasted . Istanbul is truly a Turkish Delight !

SIGHT-SEEING

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The Blue Mosque ( SultanAhmet Mosque)

An architectural treat and one of the most beautiful structures you have ever laid eyes on, the Blue Mosque truly is a divine structure.  With intricate marbling both on it’s exterior and interiors , beautifully coloured stain glass and mosaicked domes and walls and layered circular chandeliers the Blue Mosque can keep one mesmerised for hours, and even though the Mosque is bustling with tourists there is a certain sense of serenity and peace.

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Hagia Sofya ( Aya Sofya)

Probably the most popular Man-made structure in Turkey, is this beautiful structure has been re-built thrice and what we see today is the third and final structure. Originally a Greek orthodox church the Hagia Sofya was later converted into a Mosque without the complete destruction of the former, and is today open as a museum for public viewing. With constant restoration work to keep this one-of-a-kind monument in place , a visit to Hagya Sofya is a must !

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Model of the Topkapi Sarayi 

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Topkapi Palace Museum ( Topkapi Sarayi)

This  opulent palace was built to serve as the residence of the Ottoman royalty during the Ottoman Empire for about 400 years. Today open to the public, this museum holds thousands of important artefacts both cultural and religious and has some beautiful calligraphy within its walls as well. Although be warned with number of things to see and ponder over this could be a long tour and might leave you a bit hungry. Which is perfect if you love your kebabs and a scenic view !

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Konyali Cafe ( Topkapi Sarayi)

 

SHOPPING

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Istinye Park 

Yes yes i know … Istanbul is known for its bazaars and markets. However, this one of the most visually enticing malls I have ever been too and I grew up in Dubai ! (aka mall culture city) With everything you might want to purchase under the sun and every brand one can fancy this mall is ginormous with a gorgeous outdoor and indoor shopping expanse. Must visit !

P.S : I was too busy “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over every store to have taken pictures. Hence images courtesy Google.

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The Egyptian Bazaar ( Spice Bazaar)

The Egyptian Bazaar is one to tingle your sense of smell taste and sight. With spices , herbs , teas , dried fruits and much more the bazaar is bustling with colour and is a real treat to visit. My favourite picks from this bazaar were Iranian Saffron, rose flavored turkish delights and Amber Oud.

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The Grand Bazaar 

In my opinion the second most sought after place by the average tourist (First being the Hagia Sofya) this maze of gullies is filled with stores selling all sorts of things from Turkish tea sets to stained glass lanterns to evil-eye amulets. A real market filled with sounds of haggling and hustle the Grand Bazaar is an explosion of touristy purchases. Buy 10 things you probably don’t need…Check. Haggle for 50 % discounts….Check. Eat Kebabs and Kunafah …. Check !

 

EATERIES

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Although the food all over Istanbul is fairly good ( especially if you love your grilled meats as much as my family). However, a special mention must go to this beautiful restaurant with 11 separate dining rooms , each with a different feel but all within traditional Turkish elements. The food and service are both impeccable. My personal suggestion to those visiting Beyti is to go with a good appetite and space out your courses.What makes Beyti truly special is the sheer amount of memorabilia you will find here from the “Who’s who” globally. Kings, presidents, leaders and founders almost every person of importance that you can imagine from all over the world  has dined at the Beyti (while visiting Istanbul) and Beyti has very kindly put up all the gifts souvenirs, letters and photographs for all their guests to view and enjoy throughout the eatery.

 

Croatian Crusades : Aug’13

Had someone asked my take on Croatia earlier this year, my apt response would probably have been a shoulder shrug and a confused expression. However, 2 weeks in this beautiful ex Yugoslavian nation and I was left spell-bound.

The  5  places  that I felt made my trip  absolutely worthwhile were these :

Plitvice Lakes National Park (Zaghreb)

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This breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage site is an absolute feast for the eyes. The Park consists of 16 lakes and is the largest in Croatia, also one of the oldest in the region.  Situated about 2 hours away from the main town of Zaghreb ( by road) it is fairly easy to visit and not one to miss !

The Island of Hvar (Split)

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For those visiting the city of Split in Croatia, a day trip to the Island of Hvar is a must. The scenic boat/yacht ride of approximately 2 hours is a fun experience all on its own. Also once you reach Hvar the  vast variety of delicious seafood available will leave you spoiled for choice. Hvar has something for everyone beaches, culture, stalls selling their famous lavender and olive oils and a lot more !

Sun Salutation And The Sea Organ (Zadar)

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A coastal town based in the Dalmation region of Croatia, which is best known for these two novelties. The Sea Organ, which is a series of pipes fitted on the city coast and as the waves from the Adriatic Sea fill the tubes, a harmony of tunes plays across the coast a truly unusual experience. The Sun Salutation shall leave visitors even more astounded as it is a sphere of solar panels installed near the coast that absorb energy during the day and at night light up with different bursts of colors and patterns. Both of these are designed by Croatian architect Nikola Basic, and are a unique wonder.

The Island of Korcula

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Off the coast of the city of Dubrovnik, lies a beautiful little island with a very rich history, with beautiful ruins and well preserved ancient architecture the Island is most fondly remembered  for being the birth place of the famous Marco Polo. ( Pictured above)

The Old Town of Dubrovnik

My favorite part of the entire trip was the old town of Dubrovnik, not something I would have ever imagined to be the way that it was, but this stunning Old town has been preserved by the city since the 1400’s. Although it is their Old town it is by far the most “happening” place in the enitre town. With all kinds of stores, eateries, coffee and gelato houses, the old town is a treat for and for all. Also what made this little town an absolute treat for me was that bits of my  favourite TV show were also shot here. Calling out to all “Game of Thrones” fans, you are most plausibly going to end up strolling around in awe of this real life set of the most amazing show ever !

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All said and done a very interesting trip both educational, fun, relaxing  and full of cross country coach rides with my amazing family !

 

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