Welcome to St. Tropez

 

 

I think it’s time for some glamour, some flair, something out of a movie fantasy. What do you say?

Let’s kick off with St. Tropez! Does it fit the bill?

Our group of five couples landed in Nice on a beautiful summer morning. We had been told to pack for a week, to bring with us resort-wear and party-wear, heels, flip-flops and loafers, hats and sunglasses, play lists and fun stories.  The rest was a surprise for us.

“Where do you think we’re off to?” a near shriek from my excited friend, as we rolled out from the airport in over-sized luxury vans.

“I’m guessing the French Riviera.”

“Monaco!” gushed my other friend.

All this while our darling host sat smiling across from us. Rather quickly, our cars entered a small compound and halted in front of two gleaming choppers. Our doors slid open and a host with dark Ray-Bans greeted and ushured us onto the waiting choppers.

The combined energy of our excitement was probably enough to propel the helicopters as we took off and our Captain explained to us the scenic route that we would take to reach our destination -‘St. Tropez’. And so we started our magical trip in true 007 style. We flew over the gorgeous coast-line oohing and aahing en-route St. Tropez.

Our first stop was the magnificent view and refreshments at ‘Hotel Villa Belle Rose’ which is set atop a hill that overlooks all of St.Tropez. We then strolled around the port enjoying gelatos from the world-renowned ‘Barbarac’, clicking pictures of the luxury yachts that bobbed up and down putting up a spectacular show for us.

One moment we were debating on whose gelato flavor was the best and the next moment we were being whisked onto small speed-boats (called tender rides) as we glided into the turquoise waters.

My love for travel is familiar to you all by now, and I’m always awestruck by the beauty, the diversity, and the energy that the world has to offer. But believe me when I say this, that a collective jaw-drop would have made for a fine picture as we reached our ‘surprise’. I was and still am a little tongue-tied about it. We were welcomed like royalty by a staff of around twenty, queued up to greet us aboard ‘Numptia’, a luxury super yacht (70 meters and 5 floors). This was way bigger and shinier than any that we had clicked pictures with, just a few moments ago.

That feeling of WOW will never leave me. Standing aboard this disarming beauty with the cool sea-breeze in my hair, the bluest water all around, the picturesque port of St. Tropez on one side and a cloudless horizon on the other, I was astounded. It was a magic so pure that even a gifted writer couldn’t have imagined it. The spark of joy that conjured up within me was simply blissful.

“Let me give you a trip around your home for the coming week,” announced our Captain with obvious pride in his voice.

The spangly ‘Numptia’ consisted of the main deck, the sun-deck, a formal living area, an informal indoor sitting area with karaoke, games and more. A formal dining room, an outdoor dining area, many lounge seatings around the decks, a pool and jacuzzi on the top floor, a gym, a steam room, a beauty salon,  endless water-sports equipment (or ‘toys’ as our Captain liked to call them) like jet skies, banana boats and sea-bobs, and our beautifully decorated bedrooms of course. All of this, just for the 10 of us to enjoy.

“Did you see the control room or cockpit?” asked one of the guys.

“The controls and displays look super sophisticated and high-tech, just like a sci-fi movie.”

“Hey guys, look ahead… the ‘Titanic’ pose is underway.”

All eyes turned towards the front followed by peals of laughter, but I know it couldn’t be helped. This was all too stunning, just like a movie, except that it was for real, and we were living it. To our delight, our luggage was unpacked for us by the extremely caring and meticulous staff.  Our clothes were ironed and hung, our shoes and bags assembled, even before we finished our tour of the boat and reached our rooms. This was some serious pampering.

That day we had lunch at the world famous ‘Club 55’. The beach, music and crowd there were amazing. Dancing and merry conversations were the order of the day.

“Are these real vegetables?” Inquired my darling husband, looking at the assortment of baby vegetables served before us.

“The display does kind of trick you, but here…. you can eat these.” Offered one of our friends as she nibbled on a baby fennel leaf.

To this day my husband recounts the names of the baby veggies that he had tried there for the first time.

We then moved onto the swanky, chilled out ‘Nikki Beach’.  Dinner that night was at ‘Villa Romania’. Just as the name suggests this place had the aura of  a roman villa, replete with marble sculptures, green vines, lush floral displays and a fun vibe. The music here was sublime. Desserts were devoured with some dancing at ‘Babylon’ and then to top it all off was perhaps one of the best party scenes in St. Tropez at ‘Spoon’.  As luck would have it, Europe’s top DJ was in the house that night and he truly ‘welcomed us to St. Tropez’ at this wild party.

Hours later, “Should we head home?”

“Aren’t you ladies tired?”

“We should definitely get back on board. But fatigue has nothing to do with it.”

“Is everything okay?”  All eyes were on me now.

“Yes, Yes, all good. It’s just that the stars are expecting us. I hear they too have put up a great show for us. And the viewing tonight as we lift anchor is from the top deck.”

picture credit; self

Red Sarees and White Tigers

Just imagine… a big fat Indian wedding in an exotic destination.  Now imagine… the lush green Chiang Mai (Thailand) under an umbrella of hundreds of Chinese lanterns soaring high above 300 or so mesmerized guests.  The glow from these lanterns lit up the night sky to a dancing orange hue.  Pretty picture isn’t it?

The wedding was replete with a musical evening of family performances, Dandiya, after parties, lazy brunches followed by a grand baraat.

“Did you see the flowers by the fountain this morning?” asked my dearest friend.

“I did, but for the love of me, I can’t imagine naming them.”

“Can’t wait to see tomorrow’s decor.”

“I can’t wait to eat the exotic fruits,” added another friend.

“I heard that the garden venue for the wedding tomorrow night is exquisite.”

After 2 days of partying and getting pampered, the night of the actual wedding was a solemn and beautiful affair. The bride and groom dressed to the T, seemed almost divine with the famed Thai flora serving as the perfect backdrop.

“It’s going to be another 2 hours, we’re getting out of here,” announced my friend.

“Are you sure, won’t we be missed?”

“Look around, everyone’s so involved. Let’s take our chance.”

And so the 8(4 couples) of us, packed into one of the over-sized luxury vans and left the dazzling wedding.

When I think about it today, it seems like such an unusual choice that we made that night. But we did.  Dressed in our finest silks and Zegnas, laden with emeralds and rubies, floating on our Pradas and Jimmies, we entered the Chiang Mai Night Safari.

“Oh God, everyone’s staring at us!”

“The animals will be happy to see glammed up visitors, c’mon stop thinking and live in the moment,” exclaimed the most enthusiastic of my friends.

Well, watching these magnificent beasts is always exhilarating. Add to it, the element of night time and the whole spectacle gets a horror-movie effect.  The low grumble of the animals, their glowing eyes, the nip in the cool forest air, in short it was absolutely thrilling.

“Let’s go feed the white tiger cubs.”

“Count me out,” said one.

“A no from me too,” added another.

Sensing my hesitance, my husband nudged me forward, pushing the small of my back, “We’re in it together, don’t worry.”

So, in two groups of three each, we literally entered the tigers lair.  I was terrified to say the least. Transfixed by the cub’s bewitching eyes my reluctant feet moved of their own accord towards it. It seemed as if the cub and I shared a common secret.  The majestic beast with snow-white fur had enraptured me.  We were so close, that I could see the scarlet of my saree reflecting in his eyes.

And then….

My friend winked at me as he made his bone-chilling revelation that made my blood run cold.

“You know that tigers pounce on red, right?”

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Top picture credit; Atoms photography

Bottom picture credit; Chiang Mai Night Safari

Wait! Where Did The Water Go?

 

“Do you work for Microsoft?”

Turning around I smiled at the red-cheeked old lady.

“Me? Nah.”

“My apologies for assuming, it was your bags.  I thought you were returning home.”

I could feel, more than see the rolling of my husband’s eyes.

“We don’t travel light, do we? We are here just for a short holiday actually.” I replied smiling at her angelic face.

That really shocked her.  Taking our bags off the belt, we left, bidding the plump, rosy, old lady a farewell.

It hit me later that our being an Indian family must have sparked the thought in her.  After all, Seattle is the hub for Microsoft (where we Indians tend to thrive) and is not really known as a vacation hot-spot.

But our quest for the perfect waterfront  log-cabin had brought us all the way here.

Now on interstate 5, our family of five, was on our way to our travel destination, Alderbrook.

“That’s Mount Rainier, guys!”.

“Wow!”

“The snow cap looks manufactured”

“Slow down, I’m trying to click a picture.”

“Argh! My lemonade spilt!”

And so it continued. The rest of our one and half our drive was enjoyable.  Great music, chitchatting, munching on goodies and the picturesque scenery kept us merry….and before we knew it, we were heading into the drive-way of the Alderbrook resort.  Lush greenery followed by a huge log-cabin/cottage welcomed us.  It’s rustic charm and warm ambience soothed our jet-lag.  Two furry, fluffy cats lazed on the rugs by the fire-place opposite the reception area. Instantly, I found myself in need of a warm blanket and a nap.  My longing must have reflected on my face, because the sweet receptionist approached me, “That’s Alder and that’s Brooke.”

“They look so relaxed, all they need is a book and hot chocolate.”  I joked.

Smiling, she said, “Let me show you to your cottage, I’m sure you’ll find it to your liking.”

On one side of the water-front property were the rooms and suites surrounding the pool area. The golf course was situated at the mountain top, the lush green lawns overlooked the cinematic view. Rabbits hoped across as we walked through the beautiful gardens towards our cottage. Our three-bedroom private cottage sat at the corner, on the board-walk.  It was a beautiful sight.  City life seemed like a faraway thing for now. Our charming cottage had a porch with a swing, a living area with a fire-place (in which already bloomed a crackling fire) and best of all, a small library.  All the ingredients for a perfect relaxing get-away!  Throws, pillows and rugs were scattered thoughtfully all over, inviting as well as enticing us for a nap, a read, a cuddle.

There was just one thing playing on my mind; how to keep my youngest from falling off the porch and into the water.

“Welcome to your home for the next few days, we are at your service should you need anything,” offered the Receptionist.

All I remember after that was testing the over-sized recliner in the living room and sinking into its soothing softness. I sighed in bliss and closed my eyes for just a second.

I woke up to the sound of loud chirping.  From my vantage point, through the window, I could see the morning rise over the lake, centuries old pine trees dotted the shoreline.  Was I dreaming?  My sore neck reminded me to get up and I knew that this magical vision was real.  This is the reason we had travelled all the way from home, for this pristine, untouched beauty of a sight.  Grabbing my phone for an undisturbed picture, I unlocked the door and walked out on the porch.  I don’t know how, but I managed to trip on the wooden porch-floor and SWISH…. my phone soared from my hand  and into the lake.

Oh no! My heart started racing.  Walking up behind me, my husband sleepily asked me, ”What’s wrong?”

Turning awkwardly, I replied, “My phone is gone.”

“Gone?”

“In the lake! I didn’t even hear a splash, it’s just gone.”

LAUGHTER ……….

“I was just trying to capture the heavenly sunrise over the mountains and lake.”

MORE LAUGHTER …….

“It’s not funny, I was still in my sleep.  I don’t know how I slipped.”

CONTINUED LAUGHTER …….

“That’s enough! This isn’t amusing. My camera, music, data are all gone for the rest of the holiday.”  I wallowed in self-pity.

“Look behind.” Still laughing, he naughtily nudged me.

So, I did, looked behind and below.

“Wait! What? The lake disappeared? I was tired, I know, but surely I saw the water hit the porch last evening.”

“Of-course you did.”

“So?”

“It’s a Fjord (a long and narrow winding inlet of the sea between high cliffs) not a lake.”

“Oh! I thought only Norway has Fjords.”

“We are on a Fjord at Hood-Canal right  now.  It was high-tide when we came in last evening and since its low-tide now, your phone has landed safely on the soft marsh below.”

“Oh, lucky me.”

“Grab your shoes, let’s walk on the shore-line while the tide is low.”

“And let’s get  my phone to finally get those amazing shots.”

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pictures credit: self; child number 3

ISKCON TO IBIZA

Can one expect similar outcomes when traveling on the same trip to Iskcon as well as Ibiza?  Well, I didn’t!  However, I’ll let you be the judge of it.

A few years ago, we were very fortunate to celebrate the festival of  ‘Janmashtami’, Lord Krishna’s birthday, at the ‘Bhaktivedanta Manor’ in Watford, London.  This beautiful, lush property spread across acres was a gift by the legendary George Harrison (think The Beatles, think also the song, ‘My Sweet Lord’ ‘Hare Krishna’).

For the festivities, the foregrounds of the manor were transformed into a ‘Mela’ (fair).  Around sixty thousand devotees cooked and cleaned, served and enjoyed, chanted and celebrated the Lord’s birthday with great gusto.  Radhanath Swamiji (The Head Saint) himself was present there for the celebrations and with great affection, showed our group of twelve, around the ‘Lord’s Manor’.

Post a hearty Prasadam dinner we moved onto the Soho Street Iskcon in London. As midnight approached, the energy levels there were sky-rocketing.  Along with hundreds of devotees we danced and chanted ‘Hare Krishna’ in unison on the street.  Soho Street, usually a pub hub, was awash with jumping, joyful souls that night.  Their joy in celebrating the Lord’s birthday was palpable.  It was a magical night and to this day I can feel the vibrations of our collective ‘Dance of Joy’.

Late the next morning, the ten of us from Mumbai and our very dear hosts from London flew to Ibiza.  Yes, we celebrated ‘Janmashtami’ in London and then moved on to celebrate ‘Life’ in Ibiza.  The stunning view when landing on this Balearic Island is simply divine.  The crystal blue of the water was tantalizing me to jump right off the plane and take a dip! That would have to wait for now though. We were buzzing with excitement to explore all the items on our packed itinerary. Partying till the early hours of the morning with our Krishna the previous night had already set our body-clocks on late night mode, but Ibiza runs on a time-zone of its own. We danced all night at ‘Amnesia’,  post a superb meal at ‘Tentazione Ristorante’ until 5 am.  Through the days, we went by private boat (dancing!) to the picturesque and buzzing ‘Blue Marlin’ in Formentera, and to ‘Juan Y Andrea’, where we bumped into and clicked pictures with tennis legend Boris Becker.  Also, through our trip we enjoyed at ‘Malibu’ for day parties, ‘Sa Capella’ in San Antonio, the famous ‘Lio’ and many more hotspots.

The highlight of our trip, however, was on our last evening. We started by enjoying fresh brick-oven pizzas in the old village and then walked around.  Suddenly, we found ourselves ensconced in a hippy-parade!  For the second time within the span of a week, we were dancing on the streets amidst throngs of revelers.  The energy here too was pulsating.  This night was ‘flower-power’ night in all of Ibiza.  Absolutely everyone including us, was dressed to the theme.

From there we moved on to ‘Pacha’, the most awaited venue of all.  Our large group was ushered to a VIP table.  The decibel levels here were deafening.  The crowd and the DJ were a perfect match to each other, one ousting the others performances. What an atmosphere! Sometime in the next few hours, I sensed a shift in the mood. A changing of gears, which was apparent in the lighting, the music, even amidst the dancing crowds.  Out of nowhere, or rather, out of the haze created by smoke, we saw a parade of gorgeously over-decked performers emerge carrying a palanquin. Some remixed version of George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord – Hare Krishna’ started blaring.

Lo and Behold, on the palanquin of gold and peacock feathers was a man dripped in mid-night blue from head to toe, dressed as the ‘Lord Krishna’ himself.  I got goose bumps.  Was I dreaming of Janmashtami?  Was this for real?  The energy levels now escalated to an unmatched crescendo. We were all swept up in the moment. There, in the greatest Night-Club in all of Europe, I swayed stunned, mesmerized, joyful, feeling one with the Lord. ‘My Sweet Lord’ ‘Hare Krishna’ everyone!!

picture credit;  youtube.com

My Upside-Down Road Trip: Down Under

Have you ever felt like you were a part of a family holiday movie?  The one where your well-planned itinerary falls apart and you end up on an unforgettable adventure?  Well, I have. Let me take you on this crazy road trip with me.

First off, let it be said that had it been up to me, this day would have been spent ensconced in the pampered luxury of our hotel, followed by shopping on Collins street.  This trip could have been taken on any other day.  Alas! I lost the vote 1 to 4 in my family of five.  All four of them had everything planned, from foot thumping chart-busters, to snacks, to the exact route we would take for our three-hour long drive from Melbourne to the `Twelve Apostles’.

We were so engrossed in matching our vocals with Bruno`s (Mars) that when the signs over-head read ‘Scenic Route: Twelve Apostles’, it seemed like the obvious exit to take.  The navigator’s warnings for staying on it’s suggested route were drowned out by our singing, and we soon hit the ocean.  This view was unparalleled.  Witnessing the skies and ocean, merging and mingling, we were tantalized by its beauty.  Driving along the ‘Great Ocean Road’, the singing and “oohs” and “aahs” grew louder, the mood grew so buoyant, that the forty minute increase on our ETA seemed like a blip on the screen.

“Look surfers,” pointed my middle child.

“Woah! Those waves are super high!” said my youngest.

“Let`s lay a bet on who can stay on longest?” challenged my eldest.

“Bet?”

“Bet.”

“Break time guys,” I decided.

We took a coffee break, enjoyed a local play-area`s swings and slides and got back on the road.

The signs were there.

The signs were literally there.  But packed on adrenaline and witnessing such a beautiful sight, in the best of company, we paid no heed whatsoever to all the orange ‘Detour Ahead’ signs.  So, it was only natural to turn right as the road diverted a little away from the ocean.  Five minutes into this uphill drive we entered a verdant, foggy, foresty area and sure enough, our GPS couldn’t recalculate.

“Check out the route on Google Maps,” said my husband, driving into the now dense mountains.

“Already on it, it says two more hours,” answered my son.

The stunning atmosphere kept us hooked on despite the obvious delay.  The road signs became infrequent and the GPS died down completely.

“Should we turn around?” was the general question.

“It will take the same time if we turn around now, so let’s just go with the flow,” my husband decided.

It now seemed that in a span of half-an-hour we had reached the most beautiful rain-forest, unlike any I had seen before.  The tree-tops were tall and dense, the flora exquisite and multi-dimensional.  The mumbling, munching and napping were now under way on the backseat. All of our feelings were back and forth between enjoying the surroundings and getting anxious about our whereabouts. We came upon a small clearing, and lo!

“Alpacas!”

“Stop the car.”

“Seems like they are following us, yayy!”

“Aww, they’re too cute.”

“Look, look they’re smiling.”

We clicked a few pictures from the safety of our car and just like that we were back in the groove again.

“Take a right after 1.8 miles,” instructed ‘Tom-Tom’, our GPS, finally.

“Thank God! She’s alive again.”

Now, well into the mountains, we were resigned to the fact that we were going to take much, much longer than anticipated. As though the playlist could sense our somber mood, slow romantic songs started playing. Road signs just ahead showed ‘Restrooms’, ‘Zipline Centres’ and ‘Cape Otway Light Station’.  Guess which one we chose to take?

An hour into the next decision and we finally entered the ‘Cape Otway Light Station’.  Hungry, anxious, desperate to use the restrooms and nowhere close to the Twelve Apostles we got out of our car and stretched.  It was COLD.  And WINDY. And as if on cue it started to RAIN. Add to that, the area was to shut in half-an-hour.  But after a hundred meter walk inside, we were astounded.  Bellowing winds and the wild Pacific Ocean waves crushed the cliff on which the lighthouse stood.  We could barely hear each other over the high octane orchestra played by the elements and were too stunned by the unexpected and unforgettable sight. The light-house itself was mighty tall, battling the unobstructed high winds of the Pacific.

Either we were famished, or the fresh scones and jelly were too delicious, we gorged on them while watching this crazy sight from the warmth of the tiny in-house café post our visit.

“Quick, let’s leave. Its another hour from here,” said my husband enthusiastically.

“We won’t make it in daylight,” I lamented, resigned to our fate.

“We have come this far, let’s give it a try at least. Tell me truthfully, wasn’t this sight worth a stop?”

“It was amazing actually.” I agreed.

All of us now a little numb from the cold wind, the post-adrenaline rush and the long-long drive sat quietly as ‘Tom-Tom’ guided us towards the Apostles.  We were racing the sun. It seemed like we would make it and we took the road in to the town that would take us back onto the ‘Great Ocean Road’.  It was just our luck today that a local marathon was wrapping up and our path was hindered yet again.  We were resigned now and tired. However, too much commitment had been assigned here, so we slowly drove in the direction of the apostles.

A pink and golden sky greeted us at the parking spot. Covering ourselves in more layers, we hurried towards the Apostles. It was a surreal moment as we got our first glimpse of the huge limestone mountain-like formations standing proud in the Pacific Ocean. One behind the other, even their placements were perfectly set up. Wave after wave pelted these giants from all four sides. We had to lean in against the crushing winds to walk forward, such was their might. The lighting for our pictures was of professional quality, as if God had set it up himself. I couldn’t get enough of this energy. The wind, the ocean and the sky (now almost magenta in hue) were casting a magical spell on all my senses. All the fatigue of the day now forgotten, I stood there mesmerized, almost in a hypnotic state. Such was the power of these wonders and the aura surrounding them.

Well, did the trip go downhill as soon as we took the scenic route? Probably. Was it predestined that the roads would be diverted, and the marathon would take place today? Seems like it. Would it have been better if we had taken Tom-Tom’s original route? NO WAY! Seeing the yogic smiles on my family’s pink faces, I say that we took the correct route. How else would we have enjoyed the simpler joys that we faced along the way? After all, Simple Things Give Pure Joy.

picture credits: self

The quest for the perfect blue

I don’t know about you but every time I plan a trip, I subconsciously associate it with something specific to that region. My mind starts conjuring up vivid images. For instance, Florida – Disney World, Australia – Kangaroos, Italy – The Riviera, Switzerland – Bollywood Duets.  And then I must either visit Mickey in his world (Disney), click a picture with said kangaroos, swim on the beaches of the Riviera Continue reading “The quest for the perfect blue”

A Melodious Night In Maui

What’s the most fun you’ve had with your friends? The story that pops right out at me is of a night, spent nearly ten years ago, on the pristine beaches of Maui – singing.

Yes, you read that right. The memory of singing the whole night with friends under a beautiful full moon is etched in my mind forever. Continue reading “A Melodious Night In Maui”