Tag Archives: hotel

Miami, here we come!

In less than five days I will be swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and I cannot tell you how great it already feels! Even if this fall has not been that rainy in Paris, I love the idea of soaking up the sun and playing with the waves. The importance of annual winter sun therapy cannot be exaggerated!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

When we decided to go away in late November, we hesitated between different destinations. It was not easy. If you want to be able to swim in warm water, and do not want to travel all the way to Asia or Africa, the options are quite limited for us living in Europe. We contemplated between Dubai combined with Oman, and Miami, and finally decided on the latter. Tickets cost more to Miami than Dubai (and I won’t be able to fly my favorite aircraft A380…) but seaside hotels are cheaper. In addition, there are great shopping opportunities in the US. Of course one finds almost everything  in Dubai, too, but who does not love American outlets? Especially when we are about to hit the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales!

I have been to Miami and Florida before, but for some reason I am particularly excited about it this time around. I am getting into my bling bling mode and searching my wardrobe for dresses with matching shoes and bags to wear. What I know about Miami is that no dress is too extravagant! After all, I will be competing with southern American beauties so I have to look my best (lol).

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Ok, now that I have disappointed you with my superficial side, I am going to tell you that I won’t be walking around in high heels all day long. Our current plan is to stay maybe one week in Miami and then head somewhere else for the second week. If we run into Donald Trump and he is about to sail to the Bahamas (does he sail?), we wouldn’t say no to an invitation. We may also check out the Mexican Gulf (the islands near Fort Myers etc.), something we haven’t done before. We will probably return to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The last time we snorkeled there some people in our group spotted hammerheads! However, unfortunately and according to my knowledge, snorkeling is not possible at the moment in Biscayne National Park…

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world's most famous art deco district.

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world’s most famous art deco district.

So, I am a fan of Miami and Florida, yes. When I first visited Miami just over two years ago, I was prepared to stay just one full day in Miami and then head to the Keys for the rest of the week. I admit that I thought Miami would be too artificial, too flashy, and I would have never thought that someone as intellectual as I consider myself to be (second lol) could fall in love in Miami. But I did. I loved the beach life, loved southern American fusion food (Bolivar: South American Fusion Food in Miami Beach), loved the art and architecture, and the people. I have worked a lot with Americans in the past and I just love that simplicity, straight to the point attitude, and their marketing and communications skills. So, during our last trip we spent 5 wonderful days at the Park Central Hotel in Miami South Beach and 3 nights in the Keys. Such a wonderful trip  it was. That time it was for my husband’s birthday, now it will be mine. I am very confident that Miami won’t disappoint me this time either –how could it?!

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

What do you think of Miami and Florida? What would you do if the only thing you had booked was a Paris-Miami return ticket and two weeks of time?  Any tips on great restaurants, things to do, hotels (all categories), snorkeling, etc.? Share your pearls with me please and I kindly than you in return.

Adventurous Arrival in Varanasi

If you read  you may remember that our departure from Delhi was a bit adventurous, to say the least. Instead of Khajuraho we decided to fly to Varanasi and this was decided two hours before the flight’s take off. We do regret skipping Khajuraho, the site of famous erotic temples, but will certainly do it next time.

Flying toward Varanasi, the holy Hindu city along the Ganger River made me a bit nervous. I tried to get a glimpse of the sacred river from the airplane, but it got dark too soon. Seeing the Ganges River would have in some strange way assured me (of what?).SpiceJet from Delhi to VaranasiUpon landing we got talking to a young Indian man, living in the US, who had brought his grandmother to Varanasi. He started making phone calls to different hotels (we all agreed that the point of staying in Varanasi is to be located by the river). We got two rooms at Scindia Guest House, recommended by Eyewitness India Guidebook, and jumped into a taxi. Varanasi, here we come!

The ride to the guest house was long and polluted. It reminded me of Hyderabad –a fantastic city in many ways but oh so bad in pollution! We must have driven for more than an hour and the Ganges was still hiding from me. Suddenly the car stopped and the driver pointed “walk that way”. We were puzzled and asked which way exactly…. After some negotiation he agreed to show us the way, and we begun a 30-minute walk.Cows in VaranasiI don’t know how you say cow shit in a polite way, so excuse my language, but as we were walking and pulling our luggage, I did wonder if local laundry service would accept to clean our by-now-very-colorful-luggage. Don’t we all just love cows? But what would India be without them?

Eventually, after turning about 500 times left and right (we would have NEVER found the guest house alone) we arrived. Scindia Guest House stood there, right in front of the Ganges River, as Eyewitness had promised. It looked very run down, but we had no choice. It was very dark and very late. My husband and I got a river-side room and ordered two rice plates. Scindia Guest HouseWe were told to be careful when opening the balcony door because apparently “the monkeys like to come inside if you leave the door open”. Wow. Imagine waking up next to a monkey! Or two! I was still feeling a bit sick but the idea of monkeys excited me. Little I knew that upon our arrival the monkeys had already been watching me from all over.

After a well-rested night I visited the balcony but the monkeys were nowhere. All I could see was the majestic Ganges River. Varanasi, the Ganges RiverMeanwhile my husband went to the reception. This is when I started hearing screaming noises. Is someone being killed was my first thought. I opened the front door and I saw them: monkeys and more monkeys! There was a metal fence between me and them, which was good because they were big and did not look happy. Some of them were in the middle of their beauty treatments.Monkeys in VaranasiI joined my husband at the reception and had a chat with one of the hotel workers. I thought that his features were very different from other “Indian” features that I had seen before. Mentality wise he felt different, too, and somehow I felt closer to Calcutta. I was definitely visiting a new region, witnessing once again the diversity of India. Man in VaranasiThe moment I tried to go outside of the hotel, this elderly gentleman warned me “please be very careful of the monkeys”. Scared but curious I took a careful look outside and everywhere I looked (left, right, straight, down, above) there were monkeys. Not only entire monkeys but also monkey arms and legs hanging above the door etc.

For several reasons (monkeys, lack of a proper restaurant and customers, run-down building, etc.) we decided to move to another hotel. After negotiating a water taxi we said good bye to Scindia Guest House and moved to Alka Hotel, also located by the river. Later on we were told that Scindia Guest House had illegally built more rooms (and a terrace for the restaurant), and that the local authorities had torn a large part of the construction down. This explained the sad look. Scindia Guest HouseAfter a rough start we learned to love Varanasi. We spent a total of five nights there, exploring Hinduism and Buddhism. We loved the old town –one of the most charming old towns I have ever seen, and felt that Varanasi is indeed inhabited by many old souls.

In fact, Varanasi left such an impression on me that I will definitely write more about it. When the time is right.

Other posts about Varanasi:

Second part of the trip begins in Varanasi

 

Neemrana Fort-Palace: Architectural Pearl

If you recall the India travel series I wrote earlier this year, you may remember that  is one of my favorite hotels in the world. If I renewed my wedding vows, I would probably do it at the Neemrana Fort-Palace hotel. Right in the middle of history, charm, elegance and Rajasthani hospitality!

During my last trip to India in April this year I had a chance to return to Neemrana Fort-Palace for one night. It was a wonderful visit and we were pleased to realize that in spite of the extension works (there are now two swimming pools and 65 rooms) the hotel still feels very intimate. Just look at these labyrinths, verandas, patios and towers all over the property!Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceAt the time of our stay the hotel was occupied mainly by Indian families (most foreigners stop visiting Rajasthan by April as it gets too hot) so we had the upper pool to ourselves. In fact the original pool (at the lower level) can accommodate children, whereas the newer, upper pool, is reserved for adults. Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceOnce the sun started to set, we descended to the lower levels of the hotel complex. The view toward the valley was spectacular, and with a little bit of imagination we could have imagined a camel (or elephant?) caravan travelling in the horizon.Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceBefore heading to our lovely, comfortable beds in our Aman Vilas room we enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner with Indian Sula wine (red). It was my parents’ last night in India and I don’t think their stay could have ended in a more royal way.

Neemrana Fort-Palace, hope to see you soon again!

***

Should you want to read more about the Neemrana Fort-Palace history, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/history and http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/philosophy

For a virtual visit of wonderfully decorated rooms, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/rooms

Lastly, for a memorable stay, reservations are made here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/contact-us

 

 

 

Healthy, gluten-free Kerala style breakfast

I have never seen a country where a simple breakfast varies as much as it does in India. Generally speaking North Indian breakfast that tourists most commonly come across with is about masala omelette or puri (bread made of wheat) served with curry stew, whereas South Indian breakfast is more about eating things cooked with rice flower and coconut.

I have now had two breakfasts at Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort and it has been a great pleasure to sample typical Kerala delicacies while watching the enormous Indian Ocean in front of me. Yesterday I had herbal tea, banana lassi and coffee as drinks. To eat I had curry leaf idly (the round thing in the photo) with sambar, rice puttu (rice flour dough layered with grated coconut) with kadala curry and sweet rice ada (Kerala delicacy cooked in banana leaf).Kerala breakfastThis morning there were some variations so I had green pea curry, tattu dosa (again, made of rice flour) with sambar and chutneys, and steamed banana. Rice ada was the same as yesterday.Kerala breakfastI am neither a big wheat eater nor a great fan of eggs, so I am very happy eating idlies and dosas for breakfast. In fact I like South Indian breakfast so much that I could eat them for breakfast even in Paris –all I would need is a live in South Indian cook!

Note: As Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort welcomes guests that are serious about feeling better by eating well and by following special treatments, there are specific diets available for all sorts of people and illnesses. For example, when I told my Ayurveda doctor during the initial consultation that I don’t stand wheat and eggs very well he directed me towards a gluten-free diet (he printed out a list of items that are good for me to eat!). 

Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort: http://somatheeram.in/

Good morning Kerala!

morning in KeralaThe first morning in Kerala. It was nice to sleep windows open, without AC. It is humid and hot, but only around 33C (not 40C as it was in Rajasthan and Varanasi). The only sounds entering our cottage are coming from strong waves that crash on the shore of the Indian Ocean, insects (yes, this is tropics) and birds. Lovely.Somatheeram resort in KeralaWe are staying at Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort, the highly-awarded first Ayurveda resort in the world where we spent a few night in 2010. This time we wanted to return because the treatments had been very efficient and the location on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean is absolutely stunning, not forgetting the chef’s sublime Kerala food. Somatheeram Ayurveda ResortSo, here I am, resting my body, but also my ears and eyes. Southern drivers don’t seem to use the horn as much as they do in the north. Roads are quieter. Kerala is very lush and green –no wonder it is called God’s Own Country. There are palm and banana trees all over and in addition, there is the vast sea in front of one’s eyes. Pampering and rejuvenation can begin!

Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort: http://somatheeram.in/

Blessing and curse of travelling without a plan

This trip in India is sort of divided into phases: few days in Delhi, ten days in Rajasthan, several days in Varanasi, precious Ayurveda time in the south and quality time with friends in Bombay. I planned to do more destinations but gave up. Gwalior, Orchha and Khajuraho will have to wait. I will be back sooner or later.

Together with my parents I did Delhi-Agra-the Ranthambore Park-Jaipur-Pushkar-Neemrana-Delhi. As most of the places were familiar to me, I didn’t need to do a lot of research but it was still very time- and energy-consuming. I like making hotel reservations myself, I book tickets as I desire and when I like, etc. I very rarely use a travel agency. I like being free and for example to be able to change a hotel upon arrival if I don’t like it. I believe that I accumulate some valuable experiences by practicing this “philosophy” but at the same I acknowledge that this “freedom” takes a toll on me. I have been in Varanasi since Sunday and I am totally drained.JaipurFor example, what happened last Sunday, the day when my parents flew from Delhi to Dubai? The adventure begun!

In the morning all of us drove from Neemrana Fort-Palace: the magnificent 15th century palace to the Delhi airport. After saying good bye to my parents outside their terminal (only valid ticket holders are allowed in) I asked my husband a question “what are we going to do now?”. I was feeling very weak, had a cold and some stomach problem, and all I wanted was to find a bed with nice soft cotton sheets. But we had no reservations and no Internet connection!

Our only reasonable option seemed to be to spend some time at the airport and make calls, so we purchased tickets to enter the arrivals terminal (100 INR per person), ordered some drinks and sat down. I made some phone calls to a car company I had had contact with, but the idea of a road trip from Delhi to Varanasi (via Gwalior, Orchha and Khajuraho) seemed very expensive in comparison to what we had had in Rajasthan, and I was not sure that I could handle any more of Indian roads at least during some days.Indian roadAfter abandoning the road trip idea we went to an airplane ticket seller and asked for available tickets to Khajuraho and Varanasi. There were affordable tickets left but at this point I was feeling so sick that all I wanted was a bed to sleep in, so I told my husband to get a hotel somewhere near the airport. My idea was to have a good nap, eat some dahl and rice, sleep a good twelve hours and then return to the airport next day fresh to continue the journey. Well, this is what I thought was going to happen.

Upon arrival at an appalling Hotel Lohias about 4km from the Delhi airport I drunk a coke and took a shower. My husband checked the bed and the room, and called me to get out of the shower. You are not sleeping here, we were leaving… He didn’t think that the room was clean enough and the more I looked the more I agreed with him.Hotel LohiasWe did a bit of Internet search and found a flight leaving Delhi to Varanasi at 18h05 the same day (at the time of googling it was already 16h and we could not purchase tickets because it was too last minute).

We rushed to the reception (we had already paid the room by a voucher), gave 30 INR for the coke, ordered the taxi and run to the SpiceJet counter. The service was very smooth and we paid 11,590 INR (around 145€) for two Delhi-Varanasi tickets and by 16h30 we had tickets in hand.

See, most of the time things work out even if you leave it last minute and without a plan…Spicejet Delhi-VaranasiNext we found a KFC (yeah, when you are sick you are excused!) and ordered a sandwich with a coke. Thirty minutes later we were inside an airplane flying from Delhi to Varanasi and the world was looking much brighter (well, we did not know what was waiting for us in Varanasi but that is another story!). Anyhow, I LOVE SPICEJET!!

Ranthambore National Park (Tiger Reserve)

Ranthambore Park was originally used by Jaipur maharaji for hunting and it became a Tiger Reserve only in 1973. The number of tigers in the park has been increasing in the past years and today there are forty plus tigers (fyi: there are approximately 40 places in India where one can spot a tiger).Ranthambore ParkAccording to our guide, one has a 30% possibility of spotting a tiger in the Ranthambore Park. But even if one doesn’t fall under the lucky ones, the park is great for observing sambars, other types of deer, sloth bears, monkeys, crocodiles and many different types of birds to mention a few.Ranthambore parkIn addition, in the middle of the park, there is a tenth century old fort and a Hindu temple that we did not visit, but they seemed very popular among the locals.Ranthambore ParkWe spent two nights at Ankur Resort hotel near the park and did the morning safari. The car (for 20 people) left at 6 o’clock and we returned to the hotel at 10 o’clock. It cost 1100 INR (14€) per person. Immediately after the main gate there was a tiger resting in the grass and we waited and waited, but the tiger did not move. So, we did not really see a tiger, but some jeeps that were on the other side of the tiger saw it. It was a nice four-hour drive and I would do it again!

PS According to our guide, the best time to see tigers is from April to July (the hotter the better).