Jaipur – India’s historic Pink city of Hawelis, bazaars and magical sites

Jaipur, popularly known as the pink city, a name given by the Prince of Wales in 1876, is situated in the royal deserts of the Rajasthan state. Amidst the dust, noise and an occasional camel cart vying for road space, Jaipur is surrounded with magical sites. Palaces, havelis, bustling bazaars and temples take centre stage in this beautiful city. Not only is this a perfect holiday destination for solo travelers, it’s also ideal for families, friends and especially women who travel either with friends or alone, looking for some history, luxury and tranquility.

Travels to Jaipur, India

My travels to India have been frequent. Having visited our neighbouring country quite a few times, staying at various luxury hotels, our favourite hotel stay has to be the Samode Haveli. Tucked away from the bustling crowds of Jaipur and set upon a verdant garden, this stunning Mansion is a peaceful oasis and the perfect place to escape the crowds of the city.

A palace in Jaipur. Samode Haveli. Peaceful and tranquil.
Women traveling in India

Our arrival and check in was seamless as the friendly staff guided us into the regal lounge passing breezy corridors. With opulent interiors and a sprawling courtyard, every turn you make is just full of surprises. Despite the April sun, we were lucky enough to avoid the heatwave. The best time to travel across India would ideally be February – March.

Swimming pool in Jaipur, India
Luxury hotel in India

This luxurious getaway is all about modern Rajasthani colours and elegance amplified in stunning suites that exude romance. Each room, uniquely decorated with grand rugs, giant tubs and canopy beds boast a distinctive character and the brilliant staff do their utmost to make sure you are well looked after. The best customer service in India, undoubtedly.

Safe travel destination in India

This was our base for a few days during our “Jaipur sight-seeing” adventures. With a hearty breakfast fit for royalty teamed up with some Chai tea, we decided to explore the city of Jaipur on our second day.

Historic places in India. Places to visit in Jaipur. Hawa Mahal

The Hawa Mahal was a quick stop. Built in 1799, the Hawa Mahal is also called the “Palace of Winds”, made of pink and red sandstone and some 953 windows. A prominent landmark in Jaipur, shaped like a crown, it was built for the Royal ladies where they could watch the daily life of the city through the windows without being visible to the public. (If you look closer, it does remind you of a beehive though).

Places to visit in India with family
Jaipur places to visit.

The City Palace was our next stop, built somewhere in 1729 AD. This beautiful palace boasts the blend of Rajput, Mughal and European architectural styles. With gardens, pavilions and temples, you can easily spend around 2-3 hours here. There are three main gates to the palace and four smaller gates in the third courtyard, believed to represent the four seasons. We were also told that the City Palace houses two silver jars, recorded in the Guinness Book of World records as the largest silver vessels in the world. (Yes, sometimes I’m a wealth of useless information).

Safe cities for Women in India
Indian travel with family.

The world’s largest sundial was our next stop. Apparently, India has five of them but the largest is found in Jaipur. Jantar Mantar is quite an interesting visit. The guide helps you with the local time calculations and the best time to visit is probably during the afternoon hours. (That is of course, if you appreciate the scorching sun and the 40 degrees heat). The Jantar Mantar is designed for the observation of astronomical positions and is also one of the most comprehensive and best preserved of India’s historic observatories.

The Amber Fort by far was one of our favourite places in Jaipur. The construction dates back to 1592 and in the year 2013, the fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage.

Historic locations in Jaipur. Amber Fort.
Amber fort Jaipur

The journey alone is a fun ride up to the palace. A little rickety but fun nonetheless. We opted for the easy jeep ride. (Definitely no to the Elephant ride).  

Places to visit in India with family.
Travels with family

Made out of marble and sandstone, the courtyards, halls and gardens are magnificent. The Sheesh Mahal was just stunning with its walls and ceilings carved with flowers made of glass. It is said that lighting just two candles would look like a million stars glittering in the ceiling. The King’s bedroom remains shut, however, we did visit the “Sukh Niwas” his very own bachelor pad where he “relaxed” with his ladies. Ok then… Moving swiftly on to the Char garden where us common folk can relax whilst admiring the whole city and the gorgeous views.

Women traveling.
Sightseeing in India. Jaipur

The Jal Mahal was the final sight seeing stop for the day – Not really allowed to entre the water palace but you are allowed to observe it from afar. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Jaipur, this really is a serene sight. I still did not quite understand why it was off limits, but “rumor” has it that this palace will soon be transformed into a luxury restaurant (or was it hotel?). Make sure to visit the palace after sunset as the palace is then illuminated and looks all the more spectacular.

Traveling with family
Family adventures in India.

Safe to say that we did experience quite a bit of the Jaipur sightseeing and what’s a visit to India without a little shopping? I will not rant on about the usual shopping malls and brands, but I will elaborate on the bazaars where our haggling skills were tested (and passed with an A- ).

Solo travels
Jaipur .

The Nehru Bazaar is a market built in customary Rajasthani style houses with hundreds and hundreds of foot wear, bags, sarees and crafts. Not only do you find some lovely souvenirs but the saree selection is just brilliant! I walked away (paid and walked away) with sarees for just 800 Sri Lankan rupees (but that’s probably because my husband fluently bargained in Hindi. A hidden talent I discovered in Jaipur).

The Bapu bazaar is also a one stop spot for all types of clothes. Fancy some costume jewelry and bangles? Then head down to the Tripolia Bazaar or Johari Bazaar. The plethora of choices and colours makes it Instagram worthy too!

Overall a wonderful trip to Jaipur. The food is delicious, the places are luxurious and of course, a safe city in India.

food and drink in India
Sunset and wine in Jaipur.

Places to eat :

  • The Grand Peacock restaurant: Just minutes away from Samode Haveli, they serve up some affordable and delicious Indian food. Don’t forget to try their “Murg Malai Tikka”, Kadhai Paneer” and the vegetarian thali.
  • Anuraag Villa restaurant: Their Zeera Aloo (Fried potatoes with cumin) and Aloo Ghobi seems to be the popular choice.

Don’t forget to check out Samode Haveli: https://www.guestreservations.com/samode-haveli/booking?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3pax3tj15AIVibbtCh1J8QXjEAAYAiAAEgI6uvD_BwE

Abu Dhabi – Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Having read quite a few articles on the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, it has always been on my “must visit” places. I have been privileged to visit the two largest mosques in the world – Mecca and Madina and with this, the third largest.

The grandeur and beauty can be seen from the outside just a few km away from the entrance rising 11m above sea level. Glistening pools surround the mosque amplifying the stunning architecture.

With over 1000 columns and 80 domes, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s dream was brought to life by skilful calligraphers from the UAE, Jordan and Syria. The wandering tourist sees beautiful verses from the Quran embedded in arabic.

The largest dome (The main dome) is 85 meters high with a diameter of 32.8 meters. With lavish open spaces, the mosque is open for prayers to both muslims and non muslims. Despite the large crowds, you feel a sense of serenity and absolute peace. You feel the presence of power and kindness.

First opened for prayers in 2007, the mosque can host over 40,000 worshippers in the main prayer hall that show cases a hand knotted carpet of 5,600 square meters that tok over 1,300 craftsmen to complete.

Another astonishing feature of the mosque is the 5,625 m2 large carpet in the main prayer hall. It has been hand-knotted by about 1,300 Iranian craftsmen.

A prayer for Dad and one hour later, well worth the visit and as long as I return to Abu Dhabi, this will always be my place of serenity.

The (true) servants of (God) the most gracious are those who walk the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, reply with (words of) peace – Quran 25:63.

Beautiful Izmir

Strabo, the Greek geographer once wrote that Izmir was the most beautiful Ionian city of the time, even rivaling nearby Ephesus. After reading up on all the “must-visit-cities” in Turkey, we decided to spend some time in Izmir. It’s also relatively easy to get-around Ephesus, Pamukkalle and other historic sights from Izmir.

movenpick izmir

We hopped on an early morning Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Izmir and checked into the Mövenpick Hotel. It’s in the heart of the city with an amazing view of the Izmir Bay. With 185 rooms, a Fitness Centre and indoor pool, the hotel is also a few miles away from the shopping centres. I can’t really comment on the Fitness Centre since I spent my evenings trying out Turkish food. (Obviously).

We commenced our full day tour of Ancient Ruins in Ephesus from Izmir. The archeological site of Ephesus is a must-visit destination for culture lovers and archelogy enthusiasts alike. An important city to the Roman Empire, we spent an entire day exploring its ancient sites including the Temple of Artemis, the Great Theater, The Library of Celsus, The Fountain of Trajan and the House of the Virgin Mary.

The Temple of Artemism, rising to the clouds is the most famous structure in Ephesus and once known as one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Built between the 6th and 4th century BC, it was destroyed by a fire and replaced a few years later by another more imposing temple.

We then moved to The Library of Celsus, built to hold over 12,000 scrolls and at the time, one of the largest libraries in the world. It’s arguably one of the most beautiful examples of Roman architecture left standing. We entered the library, passing the four female statues representing wisdom, character, judgement and experience. A lovely reminder of the value we have always placed on learning and knowledge.

The Great Theatre of Epehsus was next. A well-preserved building that could accommodate over 24,000 spectators back in the day. Sounds impossible, but if you look down from the top, the size of the theatre becomes more prominent. The theatre is even used to-date with crowds witnessing performances by Elton John, Sting and Diana Ross to name a few.

If you fancy learning more, you can always visit the Museum of Ephesus. Displaying the pieces found in and around the ruins of Ephesus, it costs around 10 Liras (380 rupees), but we preferred strolling through the market place staring at the beautiful carpets (which we didn’t end up buying).

Our final stop for the day was the House of the Virgin Mary. Religious experts agree that Saint John, Saint Paul and the Virgin Mary spent time living in the city of Ephesus. Driving up the winding roads, the house is humble in appearance and small in size. You can also find metal taps and local legend has it that each tap reflects an aspect of life; wealth, health and fertility. Whichever one you drink from, that gift will come your way. It’s a quiet and serene place where you can also share your messages on their “wishing wall”. The entrance fee is around 1250 rupees and well worth the visit.

If you’re wondering where to eat, you can always try Margaux Restaurant at the Mövenpick Izmir, or if you are not too tired, enjoy a cool walk outside and make a reservation at Korfez. Located on bay’s restaurant row, the service is excellent, and the food is fresh and tasty. It’s NOT cheap, but it’s a lovely dinner to end your evening (and their selection of Turkish wines – AMAZING!)

While you are in Izmir, don’t forget to spend a day in Pamukkale! It will take you around 3 hours by car with an entrance fee of just 500 rupees. The “Cotton-Palace”, one of the most beautiful attractions. While we visited Pamukkale and Hierapolis just because it looked stunning in pictures, most visitors go there with the purpose of rejuvenating and for wellness benefits.

Known to cure many illnesses, it’s made up of mineral forests, waterfalls and terraced basins. You can bathe in the warm mineral rich waters and easily spend an entire day here. It’s a bizarre, beautiful sight, now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many centuries ago, the Romans, aware of the powers of Pamukkale’s water, decided to construct a big spa city called Hierapolis nearby. Translates to “Holy City” in Turkish, it has a well-preserved Amphitheatre seating 12,000 people.

So, there you go – An amazing time in Izmir. Don’t believe the weather Gods. Even During September – October, the weather was certainly not warm. We landed from Istanbul and checked into Izmir in our shorts but walked out with umbrellas and cardigans. It doesn’t dampen your experience at all though.

The Capital – Phnom Penh

Certainly not known for its charm or tranquility – Phnom Penh is loud, busy and vibrant. The streets offer a history lesson and has a certain distant charm to it. If you are in Cambodia, just 2 days in Phnom Penh would actually suffice.

We stayed at the Palace Gate Hotel Resort. It’s smack in the city and right opposite the Royal Palace. A restored French colonial villa with spacious rooms, good food and a 20 minute drive to/from the airport.

Palace gate hotel

We had a few meals at the Mealea restaurant located in the hotel, and the local cuisine is fantastic. We tried the Battambang chicken curry in Khmer spice, wrapped in a lotus leaf and a local favourite – The fresh zucchini, moringa leaves and pumpkin flowers soup.

It’s not spicy, just full of flavour and turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.

Make your way to the Central Market – It’s worth the experience. WAY more expensive than the actual stores despite the haggling, but you will find almost anything and everything.

Built somewhere in 1935-36 in the shape of a dome, the building itself is a dark yellow art deco. You may want to hold on to your clutch while you haggle.

Wander over to the Royal Palace, built in the 1860’s. With four main compounds, the palace boasts the finest Khmer architecture and a touch of French charm. With beautiful mural paintings, a throne hall, temple of the Emerald Buddha and a Kampaeng (Defensive Wall), it’s open to the public during the day.

The museum is also quite close to the Royal Palace, home to the world’s finest Khmer collection. Photography is not allowed and it’s not as large as you’d expect it to be. It took us about an hour to tour the entire museum .

Just remember – eat, eat and eat…

Günaydın Istanbul and Mövenpick Istanbul Golden Horn!

Turkey has been on my bucket list for a few reasons and Istanbul has always been a “must visit” because of the Hagia Sophia and the beautiful blue mosque. So 2017 was about crossing something off my bucket list (since marriage and babies- well, clearly nowhere in sight!)

Stunning views

After a 9-10 hour flight all we needed was a good snooze. The taxi ride from the airport cost us around 130 TL (25-27 pounds ) and nearly our lives (and I thought Sri Lankan tuk tuk rides were bad!). It was quite exhausting since he didn’t speak English and the only Turkish word I was aware of was “chicken” – not really helpful. After a 45 minute drive of honking, arm waving and conversations we just didn’t comprehend, we arrived at the Hotel.

Personalised touch

On arrival we were greeted by the extremely friendly staff who were so genuinely helpful. Along with an upgrade, we checked into a lovely room on the fifth floor overlooking the picturesque city and stunning waterfront views. A personalised message from the General Manager, a bottle of Turkish wine (another must try by the way!) and some chocolates and Turkish delights hit the spot.

All day dining

The Mövenpick Istanbul Golden Horn is perfectly located with an amazing spa, an All day dining that serves up the finest Mövenpick breakfasts and the sky dome – all the way on the tenth floor with views, drinks and dinner.

Amazing food

The breakfast buffet offers a wide spread of both local and international cuisine. From Lentil soup, salads and olive stations to fresh pastries, yogurts, an egg station and plenty of Turkish cheeses and fresh juices. We were also offered some lovely banana and chocolate pancakes with Mövenpick ice cream – an absolute treat! (I clearly remember telling myself that I will be visiting the gym shortly after. I did visit the gym “area” also known as the Spa!)

Pancakes and ice cream

The Spa offers various treatments and we opted for the Swedish massages. The massage was not aggressive and very relaxing with a soothing oil, which lasted around 55 minutes. Thereafter the “package” offers a Turkish bath. This was a first time experience for both my friend and definitely something you must try when in Turkey! We walked into the “Hamam” and relaxed for around 10-15 minutes. At this point I was glad it was just the two of us since I wasn’t quite sure how fun and insanely awkward communal bathing can be and I wasn’t ready to find out as yet..

Spa room

Fifteen minutes later both our therapists walked in singing some Turkish tunes, and began bathing us. (It was also the first time someone not only bathed me but serenaded me at the same time!) With a vigorous bubble massage that leaves you feeling absolutely refreshed they then allow you to relax a little more.

Turkish bath

The food – We experienced both the all day dining and the sky dome for dinner on two occasions. The view from the tenth floor is stunning and the food splendid. Between the two of us, we tried the cheese platter, the pita and kebab, beef and Turkish sausage pizza and the red and white Turkish wines. Comfortable rooms, gorgeous views, good food and coffee – nothing quite like a hotel that ticks all your boxes especially when you get back after an exhausting tour or sightseeing in town.

Skydome wine and dinner

The overall experience was truly Mövenpick – we certainly made memories and I’m quite sure I’m well scrubbed for the next few days!

Outside the Mövenpick Golden Horn

 

 

The Venice of Holland – Giethoorn

Netherlands surprised me in many ways. My perception of Holland has always been one of parties, craziness and of course parties. My favourite place however was the car-free (AND care free) village of Giethoorn. Somewhat a subdued topic of conversation with Amsterdam constantly stealing the limelight. With my fatigued liver needing a well deserved rest, Giethoorn was a healthy visit!

Cottage homes of Giethoorn

Imagine a place with no roads but with canals, canoes and beautiful flowers.. It really is a breathtaking city. With sunshine to boost our Sunday morning, this is the ideal place to immerse yourself in some peaceful thoughts, aimless wandering and relaxed boat rides. Boat hires are ample here and a 1.5 cruise gives you to time to absorb this gorgeous place and you sometimes wonder if it’s real..

Quaintest thatched roof cottages

With just 2500+ residents occupying Giethoorn, this beautiful village is located in the northwestern province Overijssel, in the central part of the Netherlands. A two hour drive from Amsterdam and spending an entire day here is absolutely worth it. The residents use canoes to get around or motor boats.

The narrow and peaceful canals

We opted for the 1.5 boat cruise that takes you along the quiet canals with an occasional chirp or quack. Many of the quaint yet beautiful houses cannot be reached by road and along the waters you catch a glimpse of the residents sun bathing or just relaxing with a beer.

Just couldn’t get enough of this view

Imagine a city with boats and punters to get around. A village free of pollution boasting four miles of canals. It’s something out of a story book and the opportunity to actually be there- worth it.

Once the boat ride reluctantly came to an end, we discovered a small cafe by the picturesque and tranquil waters that served up some lovely salads and fresh fish.

The people are laid back, polite and extremely hospitable. If ever you’re in the Netherlands, Giethoorn is a must visit and you will certainly not regret it!

From Amsterdam : Driving is a good option and we did drive via Schokland which was an interesting visit as well. You can also hop a train that will get you to Giethoorn in 1.5-1.45 minutes for around 20 Euros.

Rent a boat – Drink some beer – Enjoy some fresh fish and just chill out.