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My Top Ten Travel moments of 2016 and travel plans for 2017

2016 was a year full of such varied travel and I am so grateful for all the experiences that I have been lucky to have. My top ten travel highlights, in no particular order, were as follows:

  1. A BBQ out at sea in Mauritius

Having a BBQ on a Catamaran in the middle of the Indian Ocean in Mauritius was one of those “pinch me, is this real?” moments and was an unforgettable experience. What made it even more special was that we saw some dolphins jumping in and out of the water whilst we were chilling on the Catamaran, soaking up the sunshine. I generally am happiest when on a boat, out at sea, so this was definitely a memory I will cherish forever.

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2. Exploring St Malo, in Brittany 

I had visited St Malo, when I was 15, as part of a school trip to spend a few weeks there, attending a school to learn French. In 2016, I was invited by Brittany Ferries, to experience St Malo again and it was just stunning! I fell in love with it all over again and ate all the salted caramel I could manage. It is such an easy trip from the UK and I highly recommend it.

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3. Making my own pizza in Naples, Italy

As part of our cruise in September 2016, one of our stops was Naples, in Italy and it happened to be during the Pizza Festival. We spent the day exploring Naples by foot, learning about the history and then went to a restaurant where we learned how to make the pizzas Naples is famous for ourselves! It was such a lovely experience and one of the top foodie moments of 2016 for me. The pizza was delicious too!

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4. Visiting Monaco

Monaco had been one of the destinations on my travel wish list for so long so when it was part of the destinations our cruise was going to I was ecstatic! I loved exploring Monaco and taking in the views and aspiring to own a yacht parked in the marina one day!

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5. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities in the world, and this was my third visit to the Catalonian capital and I can never tire of seeing the sights.

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6. Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico City 

Climbing the third biggest pyramid in the world in Mexico City was also a top travel moment. I was very unfit and had to stop several times before I made it to the top! However, the view from the top made up for the exhaustion! If you ever visit Mexico City do not miss this out and make sure you climb it!

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7. Visiting my husband’s family’s Kesar Mango Farm in India

This year my husband took me to India to visit his ancestral home outside of Bhuj. They grow the famous Kesar Mangoes at the farmland close to his home and trust me those mangoes, when in season, are the best mangoes you will ever eat!

It was nice to have a (forced) social media detox and not be able to check emails and just immerse myself in the laid back culture and breath that fresh air every day.

PS: I know I look like a Kesar Mango myself in this bright yellow outfit LOL

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8. Seeing the Gateway of India in Mumbai

Another landmark, top of my list to see, was the Gateway of India, and in 2016 I ticked this off the list. It had always interested me, especially after reading about the Mumbai Terror Attacks, and the major plus point was it was right opposite the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which we stayed at and also ticked off our hotel wish list.

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9. Going to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Although I have visited Dubai several times, we have never actually gone to the top of the Burj Khalifa until 2016 on a family trip there. It was dark when we got to the top at our scheduled time so we saw all the pretty lights making the city sparkle. I would love to go again during the day time on my next visit to Dubai.

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10. Attending The Latin America Top 50 Restaurant Awards

The final highlight of many, was attending the Latin America Top 50 Restaurant Awards in a very glitzy ceremony in Mexico City, as part of a press trip. This trip was especially confidence boosting for me as I had never travelled so far by myself before and with a lack of knowledge of much Spanish I did struggle a little. However, it has also led to one of my new year’s resolution being to learn Spanish as I would love to visit other parts of Latin America.

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So far in 2017 I have plans to visit Athens in January, Paris in February and a long trip back to Kenya in March to attend my youngest brother’s wedding as well as spend lots of time with family and friends.

We have yet to plan a trip for our seven (gasp) year wedding anniversary as well as a big trip for when I end my career at some point this year (tbc).

I would love to see more of Asia, Latin America, North America as well as some more city breaks in Europe.

Keep an eye out on my Instagram to find out as and when I make some more travel plans.

What is on your travel wish list this year? I would love to know in the c0mments section below 🙂

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The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai

Ever since I watched a documentary on BBC about the five star ultra luxe Taj Majal Palace Mumbai, it has been high on my list of hotels to stay at. Whilst planning my trip to Mumbai, I asked my blogger friend Ayushi from The Foodie Diaries, who is from India, where she would recommend staying. She suggested Taj Mahal Palace and my mind was made up!

I booked it and anxiously waited for the time to arrive to check into the iconic, grand and luxurious hotel, built in 1903 by Jamshetji Tata. It is the Tata group’s flagship hotel and has made history several times since its establishment.

The motivation to build the hotel was invoked when Jamshetji read a sign outside the Watson hotel that stipulated “Dogs and Indians not allowed.” This infuriated him so much he decided to build a grander hotel welcome to all and thus the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was born.

Situated opposite the iconic Gateway of India, it was the first hotel in India to have electricity, the first licensed bar, the first all day dining restaurant and the first discotheque. In addition, it was Mumbai’s first harbour landmark.

Popular with socialites, celebrities and even presidents, it has had a long list of well known people staying there and after staying there I have come to understand why. The service, the grandeur, the luxurious interiors is like no other that I have experienced before. I think I have caught the Taj bug myself!

Famous guests include the Obamas, Kate Middleton and Prince William, Sir David Attenborough, the Queen, Hilary Clinton, just to name a few. It has also been a popular choice for weddings and I can imagine just how spectacular a wedding ceremony at this hotel would be.

It all started with our arrival, which was far from the stand in front of the reception desk filling out forms, standing awkwardly while your passport gets photocopied and your card is swiped ahead of any room expenses you may incur.

Instead, we were given the biggest warm welcome and smiles and ushered to a comfortable lounge area and offered a welcome drink. Meanwhile, a lady dressed in a beautiful saree arrived with an Aarti plate and did a little welcome ceremony with a candle. She then gave us necklaces, called Tulsi Malas. They are thought to ward off evil, bring good fortune, and clear your aura. I loved the gesture and the meaning behind it and thought it was such a lovely touch.

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The decor in the reception area was just phenomenal and it caught every single person’s attention. Just look at the flower arrangement! It got photographed so much by people and is really eye catching.

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In the reception area, also lies a tribute to the hotel staff and guests who tragically lost their lives in the Mumbai Terror Attacks. Their names are all inscribed into the wall and every evening candles are lit. There is also the name of Lucy, a brave dog who was shot dead by the terrorists. The tree that can be seen is one of the remnants of the attack and is now called the Tree of life. I thought this was such a lovely way to remember the victims of the attack and also commend the bravery of the hotel staff who put their lives at risk to protect the guests.

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While we were in the lounge area, our room keys were brought to us and we were explained a little about where everything we needed was, and then were taken up to our room, which was in the restored Palace wing side of the hotel. The other side is the Tower wing.

Our room had a view of the pool and was just such a stunning room! It had a large comfortable bed, the bathroom was just dreamy and I loved all the little touches. We even had a butler service.

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The in room amenities included a mini bar which was stocked really well. Water was complimentary.

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Once we had freshened up, we went exploring around the hotel and the grounds are just so beautiful!

We loved sitting by the pool and having coffee and just relaxing! It was so peaceful and an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. I temporarily forgot where I was.

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This swing was also a favourite spot and it turned out it has so many memories for so many people of their childhood visits to the hotel.

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In the evening we also went for the Heritage tour, which is daily and tells you more about the history of the hotel as well as shows you the key venues and artwork, of which there is a rather impressive collection in the art gallery which can be purchased. It is really worth doing and so interesting.

We learned that the teak panelling on the wall in the picture below was once the Air India counter!

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For me one of the many highlights of the Taj was the spectacular breakfast spread. There was seriously something for everyone! Do not miss breakfast whatever you do!

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We had our breakfast outside and enjoyed the warm weather in the beautiful seating area, which was so bright and colourful. The top was covered so there was no invasion of our food by any creepy crawlies or birds and it was weather proof too.

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In terms of food, the hotel has so many amazing choices including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Street Food and cafe style food, as well as a Patisserie. We tried the street food and the Chinese restaurant, called Golden Dragon, which were both amazing. The Pani Puri was a must order!

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I wish I had a longer stay and as it got closer to the time to leave I got sadder and sadder and already mentally planned a return visit!

The Taj Mahal Palace is located in the southernwest point of the City in Colaba, and is opposite the Gateway of India.

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Close by are many famous markets such as Crawford and Chor Bazaar, shops, restaurants, as well as the famous Leopold Cafe.

If you are planning a trip to Mumbai and want somewhere amazing to stay I can’t recommend the Taj Mahal Mumbai Palace enough. It has a serious wow factor, is stunning and the service is just exceptional. I am now looking forward to trying out some of the other Taj hotels.

I received a media rate for this stay. All views and photos are my own.

 

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A private villa at The Westin Langkawi

In 2009, in between the first year of starting a graduate scheme, Amit changing jobs and mass wedding planning, I got itchy feet to go on vacation as I was so exhausted and in need of a break.

I suggested the idea to Amit and he agreed that we probably needed some time away to relax and unwind so we mutually agreed to visit Dubai and Malaysia.

We both had friends who were in Kuala Lumpur at the time so we thought we would spend a few days there and then go to Langkawi, for some chill out alone time.

Amit left all the booking in my hands and so as a surprise I decided to book the one bedroom villa at the Westin Langkawi because it had its own private pool and a walkway direct to the beach, with a view of the Andaman sea. Also I thought we deserved a little treat, because why not! I chose the Westin mainly because I love the Starwood Hotels and always tend to choose to stay at them whenever I can as I am a loyal SPG member. (This post is not sponsored by the way, and I fully paid for it by myself.)

Upon arrival in Langkawi, the resort was approximately half an hour’s drive from the airport, and on the way we took in the scenic green views. It was at this point Amit found out I had booked the villa and he was pretty excited, as when we had been looking at the hotel online prior to travelling, he had been marvelling at the pictures of it.

We had a really smooth check in, some welcome drinks, and were then taken in a buggy to our villa. Where do I begin! It was stunning. Secluded, with gorgeous green views, the beach right in front of it and a lovely perfect sized private pool.

I must warn you that this trip was well before my blogging days and so the picture quality is not the greatest having used a regular point and shoot camera at the time.

As you enter the villa, you have a dining area, on which they had thoughtfully given us a fruit bowl and champagne, and a living room area decked out with comfortable sofas, a wall mounted TV, Bose sound system, and a door which leads out to the pool area. There is a small kitchen area to the left of the dining area.

The highlight of the villa aside from the pool, was the  bathroom, which had a dressing room area, rain shower, a tub, his and her sinks and outside was a spa bed, in case you wanted to have treatments done at your villa rather than at the main spa.

The entrance to the bedroom was from the living room, and there was a massive heavenly bed which was seriously comfortable. There was a mosquito net on top which was perfect for night time because who wants mosquito bites!

So a funny story from the trip. On the first night, we heard a flapping noise in the middle of the night, and Amit was convinced it was a bat (lol no idea why he concluded that) so we called the reception to ask for someone to come help us remove the bat from the room (we called while the room was still dark).

A helpful man arrived, and calmly told us it was a….wait for it…MOTH lol. We have never felt so embarrassed as we did then. He did look like he wanted to giggle to at our expressions but was so professional. Moral of the story is switch on the light and assess the situation before panicking! 🙂

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Then my favourite part! The pool! There was a table and chairs, where we could eat lunch or breakfast, 2 single sun beds and a massive one which was super comfortable.

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The villas were all slightly distanced and so we has lots of peace and privacy so it was just the perfect place for us to relax and spend time together away from the madness of work and wedding planning.

The beach was lovely, although the water wasn’t the bluest of blues, it was still gorgeous and nice to escape there. There were sun beds in front of our villa for us to use and the beach was quiet and private too.

The resort had 4 other pools available to use (2 of which are pictured below), and lots of facilities such as a gym, spa, tennis courts, and water sports.

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There was a choice of 9 ways to dine, and a lovely bar, where we had lots of cocktails.

Pictured below is the choice at the buffer restaurant, which was varied and really lovely.

On one of the evenings I had organised a dinner on the private jetty, called Float for us which was spectacular. This was another surprise for Amit and one we both really enjoyed, especially with the beautiful views.

The trip was truly memorable, and seriously the perfect place to escape. It would also make an ideal honeymoon destination, and for that would highly recommend the private villa.

Langkawi is a pretty island and a small one, so a couple of days is more than enough to tour, as well as spend some time relaxing.

For more information about the Westin Langkawi, go to: http://www.westinlangkawi.com