Taj Bekal Resort & Spa – Hammocks and Kayaks

Short breaks instead of a long holiday make people happier said a study; obviously, it was not conducted by our kind. Ask a traveller and he will say any excuse for a holiday, no matter what the duration, is pure happiness. This time around, our excuse was a mid term break for the boys and we were on our way to the Taj Bekal Resort & Spa.

After driving for a couple of hours from the Mangalore Airport, we had reached our destination. We were warmly welcomed to the resort with seashell garlands. The Taj standards of customer service were very evident.

 Rayan K

The lobby                                                           Photo by Rayan K

The kids were already feeding the fishes in the koi ponds adjacent to the lobby with fish food they had got from the reception. The architecture of the resort is beautiful, it is inspired by the traditional “Kettuvallam” houseboat. After a quick checkin we we were led to our room. Nested in nature’s lap, our room had the local houseboat design, a huge courtyard, a daybed, a sit out overlooking the meandering backwaters and a victorian bath tub with candles on the wall adjacent. The walls of the room had Chitra Pothi art on it.

While we were busy checking out our room, we could hear footsteps and then a scream of CANNONBALL and a splash in the plunge pool.

Startled, we looked inside the room to find that our bags were stripped open. The kids had pulled out their swimming gear and torpedoed into the plunge pool. When we saw them in the pool and we couldn’t agree more; it was really inviting!

In the evening, we went for quick tour of the resort. Set on the bank of the Kappil River, the property is spread across 26 acres of lush green. Every corner of the resort is exceptionally well designed. The view of the pool, the backwaters, the sandy beach and the ocean, all in one frame is beyond words.

The pool, the backwaters, the beach, the ocean

By the backwaters, snacks and tea was being served, a daily evening feature.

The snack cart

We went river rafting across the backwaters of the Kappil river in traditional solid wood raft.

The raft

As the evening settled in, the evening sky, a myriad of hues, looked beautiful.

After our trip, we visited the creche. I had an outdoor play area, pool and pingpong tables, e-games and other daily hosted activities. A nice space for the kids to be entertained.

By the pool, there was a restaurant where a variety of grills were served. A very pretty setting under a clear starlit sky. We dined at Grills and More

The next day…

We were up early and out with our cameras

Rayan K with his equipment

We were on a bird watching trail to spot “the winter migrants” that arrive in South India towards the end of September. We could spot Magpie, Sunbirds and White-bellied sea eagles.

The Magpie                                            Photo by Rayan K

There are guided tours by specialists that offer viewing opportunities of the more majestic birds; for the interested folk. After our birdwatching trails, we visited the beach. In the early morning mist, the beach looked stunning. We clicked a few pictures and went to the spa for a yoga session.

The beach

We got back to our room and hit the pool. Lunched at the Backwater Café , an all day that serves exquisite regional dishes, the chef recommendations are a must try

After lunch, we visited the spa. The spa here, in our opinion, is one of the most beautifully designed spas in the world. It is an island of tranquility and bliss; not figuratively, but literally, the spa is  set on an island that is connected to the resort by a bridge over the Kappil River.

The Kappil River

 

The bridge to the spa

Spread over 1,65,000 square feet, the Jiva Grande Spa is massive, it has speciality areas and eight private treatment rooms with each room having a private courtyard and a private bath tub. It offers exceptional rejuvenation therapies undertaken by highly trained therapists and offers various signature experiences. They have kids treatments on offer as well. There is also a juice bar that serves fresh juices picked from a nearby garden.

In the evening, we vistied the nearby town of Kasargod.

The next day…

My wife and I had an in room breakfast at the sit out overlooking the backwaters.
Once the kids were up, they wanted to go to the resort pool. Set amidst swaying palm trees, and overlooking the backwaters, the pool area is very pleasant spot. We stayed there till noon and lunched at the Ivory Bar.

Afternoon, we went kayaking in the backwaters. We could spot various colorful birds including herons and white-bellied sea eagles. There are various other professionally supervised activities on offer here such as archery and paint ball. A ride to the Bekal fort on a cycle and a visit to Ratnakar’s Thonikadavu are very popular.

Kayaking the backwaters

After Kayaking we went to the beach for the sunset. By the beach, there is a speciality seafood restaurant called By The Bay. It was undergoing a renovation while we were there but from what we heard, it is the best seafood restaurant around. The playful beach looked beautiful, as the sun disappeared in the ocean.

The sunset

The next day…

Today was our last day here and we spent all our time at the plunge pool.

The swaying palms, the hammocks, the kayaks, the sunsets, the backwaters, magical family times!

Thank you for the memories Taj Bekal.

 

 

 

Lux Belle Mare, Mauritius – All about soul

Day 1

The much awaited was finally here. Driving from the north, we took the scenic route through the Bras D’eau National park to reach Lux Belle Mare, in the Northeast corner of Mauritius. It’s reputation certainly precedes; the much lauded property has been absolutely adored by its guests. The moment we entered the mint tea scented lobby, we could feel the warmth and the vibrancy. After a quick lowdown on the facilities at resort, the friendly staff led us to our room. En route, the kids club – play appeared and our kids, well, they just disappeared. They were on their way to a glass bottomed boat cruise.

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The Kid’s Club

With uplifting interiors, comfortable beds, mesmerizing views of the silver sand beach and the azure waters, our tech savvy room, a family suite, was just perfect.

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from room

from our room

After lunch at the K-bar, we strolled through the resort. At the heart of the property is Mauritius’ biggest free form pool.

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The K-bar

The gardens resplendent with colorful fauna, the gently swaying palms trees and the sparkling clear waters of the pool, looked absolutely stunning. Right next to the pool there were retro carts serving delicious ice cream.

We came across a giant clock showing it was 4 o’clock. I told the guy at the desk there that clock was not working. He smirked and said nope and continued with his work. I was quite amazed at this, it was certainly not 4pm and clearly the clock was broken and clearly this guy was nuts. Suddenly he stopped doing whatever he was doing, looked at me, smiled and said that it is always 4 o’clock here and that the watch was perfect. He handed me a cup of a flat white and said welcome to Café Lux, its was always time for a coffee here. The coffee was delicious, properly brewed beans roasted perfectly.

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A caffeine kick

He then led us to a coffee roasting session and explained how Lux Belle Mare roasted its own island blend on site. The milk used here was freshly sourced from the island’s first working dairy. The coffee was indeed very special here and the baristas were extremely talented. They would become our best buddies in the days to come and every time we saw the gigantic 4 o’clock watch, we would stop by.

The kids were back from their expedition and were now on their way to “hunting crabs”. I am going to the beach to catch a big one shrieked our younger one. We were tempted and joined them. The purposeful entourage of about 8 along with the kid’s club staff hit the beach with a bucket, a white cloth and flashlights. They caught quite a few and then released them in the ocean.

We had dinner at the restaurant besides the pool called Mixe. With the night-time illumination, the pool had now transformed into an almost magical backdrop. The gentle breeze from the ocean, the starry skies and the live music added to the magic. It was a lovely evening.

Day 2

After breakfast, the boys made their way to the kids club and we went to the boathouse, an in house activity centre that offers tons of on shore and off shore activities. We went for a snorkelling trip. The friendly staff at the boathouse got us all suited up and after a short boat ride, we were amidst beautiful purple coral and colorful fish. The water was absolutely crystal, making it a perfect viewing spot. I got really up close to the coral, as my wife “ in an attempt to rebalance herself”, as she describes it, grabbed on to me and pushed me deep under water.

On our return, we grabbed a quick lunch and visited the quaint village of Belle Mare. On a different day, we would have cycled by the Belle Mare beach an to the village but since it was a little damp now, we decided to just cab it.

On return, we dined at the BEACH ROUGE – a bright and airy Mediterranean restaurant at the beach. Loved the cocktails and the tapas.

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Cotton candy evening skies

The restaurant spills out onto the beach with cabanas and beanbags on the sands. As the light faded outside, the lighting inside the restaurant shifted to fiery red. The backdrop had completely transformed and so had the music, a sax player was performing in tandem with a DJ, incredible.

Day 3

Today, our excited kids left early for the kids club.

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Little pizzaiolos

With an outdoor splash pool, outdoor a culinary school with baking and decorating sessions, a buffet station, ezone, a reading corner, beach games, many expeditions, film showings, nature tours, tennis lessons, the kid’s club at Lux Belle Mare has innumerous offerings to entertain kids aged 3-12. With an extremely attentive staff and great infrastructure; Lux Belle Mare is in a league of its own,  when it comes to family friendly beach resorts. There is also a place for the older kids to hang out and socialise.

With the kids busy, we visited the spa. Set in a peaceful zen garden, the spacious and modern spa offers a plethora of spa therapies, steam, sauna, a chilled plunge pool, a heated swimming pool and a tea lounge to relax and sip on herbal infusions. Also, the spa boutique offers various oils and skincare products created from island sourced ingredients by the aromatherapist Shirley Page.

A few steps from the is the tea house, it serves an impressive list of fine tea from around the the world. This is one of the most peaceful places in the resort. They also have a real good collection of books. The kids joined us at the tea house.

We went to THE FOOD TRUCK for lunch; true to its name, Latin American Street food –  fries, burgers, hot dogs, ceviche, is cooked in the trailer kitchen attached to a 1933 Phantom Hooper Rolls Royce. Very close to the beach, it is a fun place, insanely loved by the kids.

We then grabbed a coffee at Café Lux. Besides  Café Lux, there were two London style phone boxes where you could make free international calls. They call it the phone home.

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The babyccino

We hit the beach and went paddle boating. The turquoise waters, the crescent white sand beach, the palm trees and the typical Mauritian thatched roofs of the resort; the view of the resort from the sea was stunning. At the southern end of the beach,  we could spot a high tower – an old lime kiln which had now been transformed in a viewing point.

As soon as we hit the shore, the kids rushed back to the kid’s club and we went to Amari by Vineet, an in house fine dining restaurant. The Michelin starred chef Vineet Bhatia is the mastermind behind the menus at the restaurant and they offer a masterfully constructed culinary experience.

Day 4

We were up early today, in tine for the sunrise and made our way to the beach with our camera. We also visited the gazebo, it boasts of the most sublime views of the sunrise from the resort. Nestled amidst landscaped gardens and sitting atop a pond, is the gazebo. The gazebo is perhaps the prettiest spot within the resort and everyday early morning yoga sessions are scheduled here.

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The Gazebo

There are various excursions on offer such as horse riding by the Belle Mare beach or a visit to the popular Ile aux Cerfs, but we decided against it as we did not want to leave our hotel. Soon we hit the beach and went  jet skiing. Loved it!

yaas

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Famished, we lunched at Beach Rouge and then we went to Junk Art Studio. Here, an in house artist helps you upscale salvaged material into beautiful art forms, It is a fantastic concept, especially if you are artistically inclined. Our kids loved it.

Next to the junk art studio is Photo Fanatics – you can get professional photography guidance here to capture great shots

In the evening we lounged by the pool and took a stroll at the beach. We dined at an exquisite Chinese restaurant here called the Duck Laundry. Lounged at the pool while the kids nibbled at some ice cream.

After dinner, it was movietime! There was a movie showing by the beach; Cinema Paradiso as they call it. Beanbags at the beach with headsets, you could even hear the ocean with the headsets on, it was amazing experience.

Day 5

This was day we bid goodbye

After breakfast, all of us went to the pool. Soon, my older one and I embarked on hunt to discover hidden treasure. Message in a Bottle, as they call it, is a resort wide game where you have to find hidden bottles with messages in them and you win prizes. We won coffee packets from our beloved Café Lux. We went for a quick lunch at the food truck.

We also visited the Tree of Wishes where you write your wishes on a piece of paper and hang it on the tree. Our older one posted an emotionally charged message, our younger one, on the other hand was very clear with his wish – Koenigsegg, Mustang and McLaren.

So, here it was, we went to Café Lux for a coffee to bid goodbye. The moment we entered the resort till the time we were waiting for our ride back to the airport, there was something about this place, a spirited vibe, an unmistakable sense of warmth and happiness, that just does not want to let go.

The personal touches in the subtlest of things are very evident, the staff is extremely hard working and always busy ensuring that their guests have a pleasant experience. Each one of them went miles to ensure that we had a great stay and if we were to pick a hotel with a soul, it would be Lux Bell Mare, undoubtedly.

Thank you for the memories Lux Belle Mare

Shanti Maurice, Mauritius – A Corner of Paradise

A Corner of Paradise: Shanti Maurice – Chemin Grenier, Mauritius

We were cruising through the serene south side of Mauritius, when, a slew of race cars throttled past us. The roar of their revved engines was almost deafening; as the drivers maneuvered their machines through the south corners of the island. We approached a stretch of road that passed through the Black River Gorges National Park and the landscape changed completely, we were in the midst of a thick rain forest with streams, waterfalls, the prettiest flora and fauna. On a different day, we would have loved to visit the park, known for its waterfalls, viewpoints and hikes. We could now see the turquoise coastal waters ahead of us and we knew that we were close. We drove past immaculately manicured lawns and beautiful putting greens nestled in lush green surroundings, we had  now reached Shanti Maurice. With 15 acres of lush green gardens, the approach to the resort is extremely impressive, an epitome of a natural hideaway. Notations in Sanskrit of wellbeing fostered the calm and tranquil atmosphere, the kids, however, were busy trying to figure out what to feed the fishes at the Koi pond at the entrance.

The Koi pond at the entrance

As we entered, one look at the view from the lobby and we knew that we were in for something extraordinary in coming days. The check-in experience was very peaceful and the efficient staff got us to our room in no time. We were provided with a luxury pool villa with a direct access to the pristine beach. It had a jacuzzi bed, a temperature controlled swimming pool and a dining pavilion. The room was extremely chic, spacious, embedded with lots of creature comforts and an unobstructed view the Indian ocean. The pleasant sound of the waves hit the beach and then faded; it was mesmerizing. The kids, well that’s a different story, there was a bunk bed in the room! The kids went ballistic. If all this wasn’t enough, the bunk bed also had a couple of T-shirts from the kids club and some goodies. There were no half measures here indeed! The excitement levels of the kids had morphed in a different level. It was prefect for all of us, we were absolutely overwhelmed with setting of our room and the ocean, while the kids, were too happy with what was offered to them.

First look of our room

The bean bags outside our room

The bunk bed

After an intensely persuasive session, we finally convinced the kids to step out of the room. We went straight to the kids club. It was a well laid out kids club with lots on offer, not to forget, the extremely hospitable staff. There were bikes parked outside the club for people interested in cycling, in and around the resort. With the children at the kids club, we leisurely strolled through the resort and went for a walk on the beach. We passed by the lobby and the view was surreal. We could see a beautiful infinity pool, the sand at the beach and the sun setting over the Indian Ocean; all in one frame, it was a picture perfect postcard in the flesh. Shanti Maurice boasts of the best sun set views in Mauritius and we could not agree more. We got the children from the kids club and went for dinner at the Rum Shed, a tavern-style bar. Live music, barbecue, exquisite cocktails, steak cooked to perfection and a good kids menu, a lovely evening. After congratulating and thanking the chef for a super delicious meal, we returned to our room to call it a day.

The Sunset

Evening at Shanti Maurice…Stunning

The swing at the beach

Pool at evening

The Rum Shed

The next day…

Breakfast was served in a lovely gallery restaurant overlooking the pool, offering an exceptional view of the ocean. Post breakfast, the kids rushed to the kids club and we went to the spa.

The views from the restaurant

The views from the restaurant

Spread over an area of 75,000 square feet, the Nira spa within the resort is one of the most revered spas in the world. A state of the art spa complex houses yoga rooms, a gym, meditation studio, jacuzzi, etc. Associated with the Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, the Nira Spa offers a plethora of superlative spa experiences, all of which comprise signature treatments and authentic remedies. After the spa, we visited the in-house herb and vegetable garden organic. Over 30 vegetables and herbs used in the kitchens at the resort are all organic, homegrown and sourced from the garden. The bio agriculture at the resort is really diverse; they house lavender, lemongrass, seasonal fruits, etc. Make sure to ask the gardeners to give a brief on the use of bio-products in organic farming. After touring the gardens, we went to the lobby restaurant for lunch and later, we joined the kids, who, after a peacock feeding session, were “fishing for fun” at the Samy Lake, an activity arranged by the kids club.

Fishing for fun

We then hit the beach and went kayaking, paddle boating, zayaking. We went snorkelling at the Coral Garden, a snorkelling site with many coral species, tropical fish and other marine life, directly accessible from the Shanti Maurice beach.

Hitting the beach

In the evening, we had a private screening of a movie by the beach. The set up was out of this world; beautiful seating arrangements by the sea, light decorations, comfortable couches, a hammock under a starlit sky. It was an absolutely unforgettable experience. We were served with a culinary extravaganza – an exceptional five-course meal and an exquisite Crème brûlée, as the finale. Kids loved the popcorn served with movie and the ice cream that followed.

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Movie time

the next day…

The day started early for us, with my wife and I having a cuppa sitting on the bean bags, enjoying the beautiful view of the ocean. Soon enough, the kids were up and sitting in the bean bags, staring at the waves in the ocean. I have never seen them sit that still, it was over 57 seconds, a new record. A testimony of the magnificient view, I guess. After a quick breakfast by the infinity pool, we made our way to the seas for the water sports. It was a nice day for water sports, the seas were extremely calm, perfect for snorkelling, offering a crystal clear view of the corals and the colorful fishes.

The bean bags

Pristine waters

We then, went to the infinity pool. The infinity pool sits in the middle of the resort and the view from the jacuzzi at the infinity pool is simply breathtaking. Near the pool, there was a kiosk setup serving fresh seafood called the Fish Market where locally sourced fresh seafood is displayed and once you have made a selection, it is immediately grilled and served, Bon Appétit!

The beach

The boys at the beach

Jacuzzi

The Boys

The fish market

Soon, the kids wanted to go swimming in the villa. Jumping in the pool, sleeping on the jacuzzi beds, it was great fun. For us, it was just so heartening to see the kids enjoy themselves to the fullest and yes, this would also mean making them leave was becoming a bigger challenge with every passing minute. We had a late evening flight and now it was time for us to check out. One last cuppa, sitting in the bean bags and it was time to bid adieu.

Thank you Shanti Maurice

In the midst of natural waterfalls, beautiful mountains, turquoise seas, and private beaches, Shanti Maurice is a simply gorgeous resort and our experience here was absolutely unforgettable and unparalleled. Going forward, whenever there is a remote reference to Mauritius or its coastal backdrop, we will surely be tempted to go back to Shanti Maurice.

The Magic Ingredient Sea – A family holiday in Mauritius (The South)

The South

Breakfast time! A storm in the kitchen unfolded. My older one and I were cooking the first breakfast of our vacation. Working in perfect harmony and with clockwork efficiency, we cooked and served the breakfast. It was sheer brilliance, or at least, that is what we thought. The wife and the younger one were not too amused.

Moving on with the day, we embarked on a cross-country expedition. As we drove to Pamplemousses, the turquoise waters gave way to the windy straights of mid-land and we could spot the Old Man of Maurice.

Pieter Both –  the old man of Mauritius

Pamplemousses, has a beautiful botanical garden which is supposedly the oldest botanical garden in the southern hemisphere most famous for its gigantic pond of large water lilies. They house giant tortoises but they do not offer any interactive experiences, you cannot touch them. This did not go well with the children, as they wanted a “fuller” experience and by that what they mean is they wanted one next to our seat on the flight to get one back home. We hit the roads and were southbound to La Vanille nature park. We drove past Port Louis and the many model miniature ship factories. The model ship is a premier Mauritian souvenir; we bought a couple. I must admit the road network in this tiny island is par excellence and comparable to that of the most developed nations. The South is simply gorgeous, as we drove past some stunning scenery into a thick tropical rainforest of the Black River Gorges National Park – famed for its incredible hikes, views, waterfalls and approached the crystal clear waters at the south end of the island. The cellphone reception here is excellent and G-Maps was our primary navigator. After driving for a couple of kilometers on an unpaved road, we reached La Vanille.

Through a forest

Spread over 3.5 hectares, La Vanille nature park offers close encounters with the Aldabra giant tortoises, feeding shows, a museum and is a home to fruit bats, crocs, monkeys and various other species of animals. etc. Set midst a lush rain forest, it houses a restaurant, a nice play area for the kids and offers pony rides.

La Vanille Nature Park

Pony ride at La Vanille

The play area

The children absolutely loved the tortoise nursery with the baby tortoises. This is one of the best places in Mauritius to get really up close to the giant tortoises, do remember to keep your hands while you feed them! And, bear in mind, the captive breeding program of the Aldabra Tortoises here at La Vanille is one of the most successful ones, it is inevitable that the children will witness an act and ask you some really “interesting” questions – be prepared with the answers.

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Baby tortoise

While in the South, a visit to the Chamarel Rhumerie and Seven Colored Earths is also highly recommended. Do check the timings, before planning a trip as they shut shop early. The Rochester falls are stunning –  a word of advise from the locals, one should plan a visit in the daylight hours and to be aware of your belongings at all times, especially when travelling with young children.

After La Vanille we drove to Gris Gris viewing point to witness the magnificent views of the Indian Ocean from the South.

We spent some time there and made our way to the Bagatelle Mall – a super mall that houses an excellent food court and some of the best restaurants in Mauritius.

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The Dodo at the mall

After dinner, we made our way back to the North through the M1/M2 Motorway. They are lit motorway, making it a safer option for driving in the evening

 

 

 

 

The Magic Ingredient Sea – a family holiday in Mauritius (The North)

“We are going where the sun shines brightly, we are going where the sea is blue” from the song Summer Holiday by Cliff Richards was one my favourites growing up. Something about the jingle, whenever it plays, it brings back fondest memories from my early childhood, memories of our summer vacations at a beach town; the euphoria, the excitement, the chaos, the frolic and now, to see my children live through it and make memories of their own is extra-ordinary. No coincidence, we were listening to Summer Holiday while we were packing for our trip.

Our flight was on its final approach descent, a peek through the window and we were spell bound with the beautiful aerial views of ILE Maurice. There lay an expanse of turquoise blue with a scattered patchwork of green. The water was so inviting, one could have dived right in! Our youngest child even grabbed onto his backpack with his swimming gear, in anticipation.

On landing, the usual parental algorithmic mechanism of running, chasing, simmering and calming after a longish flight was at play (If you have children you know what I say). It helped that the “visa on arrival” immigration process was very efficient and we were out in no time. As we exited the airport, the sunglasses were out and we were excited, RESFEBER

Our holiday begins:)

The North

We had reserved a serviced apartment in Trou-aux-Biches in the North of the island. From the airport, it took us around 90 minutes to reach the North, as we meandered through thick greens, paddy fields and on to a surreal landscape with beautiful mountains.

The beautiful landscape

One of the rock formations, a mountain called  “Pieter Both” resembled a noble watching over the island, sitting in his ceremonial chair. The children named him the Old Man of Mauritius

Pieter Both @ 820m 2nd highest peak

As we approached Trou-aux-Biches, we were greeted with the same turquoise blue that we saw from the airplane. A sense of anticipation and restlessness crept in, all fatigue way behind us.  Soon we were at our hotel, we dumped our luggage in our room, the kids grabbed on to their backpacks and we were all set to explore the island.

Our ride was waiting for us. After the paperwork was in place, a quick check of the vehicle – especially the wheels, lots of pictures and with car hire excess insurance already in place (This is a must, I usually take it from worldwideinsure.com) and we hit the road.

Our ride…yaaasss

We drove around Trou-aux-Biches, Mont Choisy, Grand Baie. It was a Sunday, a siesta day for Mauritians and this made it extremely difficult to find a decent restaurant that was serving a late lunch.

Driving in the north of the island

Spoke to some locals and they directed us to “Super U”. The complex, besides having a humongous supermarket houses many restaurants and a nice gelato corner. On a late Sunday afternoon in the North of Mauritius, if you want to find decent grub, this is the place. Post lunch, we went to the supermarket to stock up on some essentials. We then explored the beautiful Grand Baie and Preybere and made our way back to the Mont Choisy Beach where we spent the evening.

As the sun sets

The Mont Choisy Beach

We dined at Luigi’s, an Italian restaurant that served super wood fired pizzas, must visit if you fancy an Italian meal. Drove back to our hotel and called it a day

 

 

Road trip from London to Scotland (Isle of Skye, Days 13-15)

Day 13

To the Isle of Skye! We wanted to take the Applecross “Pass of the cattle” to reach Skye but we decided against it due to an overcast weather; didn’t want to get caught in the narrow roads of the pass, if it rained. It was a 5 hour drive from Inverness to Skye, we took the A2 to Kyle of Loch Alsh and drove by beautiful lochs, streams and castles, including the Eilean Donan castle

As we reached the Kyle of Loch Alsh, we came across a humongous bridge – the Skye bridge connects the mainland of Loch Alsh to the Isles of Skye.

While I was on the bridge, there was a stretch, where I could not see any road but just the sky; it felt like we were airborne!. Manicured gardens greeted us as we entered the Isles of Skye, however, they soon give way to a rugged terrain surrounded by enormous mountains and the sea. There seems to be no distinction between the edge of the waters and the sky; it was absolutely gorgeous.

We got to our hotel, a cozy Cottage nestled in the mountains. The temperature outside had started to drop and the rain was picking up. After checking in, we drove down to Skye through the beautiful town of Portree, saw the Storr and the Cuilins and stopped at Kilt Rock, a beautiful waterfall in to the sea and a viewing point with breathtaking views of Skye, right outside Staffin.

Kilt Point

We then made our way to the beach at Staffin to see Dino footprints. There are prehistoric Dino footprints there that are visible when the tide is low. Recently, the island was in the news as another 50 dinosaur tracks were discovered near Brother’s Point. It had started to rain heavy but we were determined, we got to the beach in our gear and commenced out hunt for the prints.

After our fossil hunting session was over and we had documented  the findings, we made our way to Portree for dinner.

Day 14

Rains had hit the island, making it a perfect day to visit the Talisker distillery. Since, I was the only one visiting the distillery, I quickly rounded it up and we went to a cozy waterfront restaurant near the distillery.

The weather had cleared by the time we were done with lunch, however, venturing for any hikes was still off the tables. On a clear day, visits to the fairy pools and Ness Point lighthouse are recommended. We went to the Kyle and took a ferry tour with the Sea probe Atlantis. Enroute, we stopped at a native candle shop called Isle of Skye candle company on Ford Road . If you love hand made candles and are fond of aroma oils, this place is as good as it gets.  They have glass bottomed ferries tours to the underwater Kelp Forests, view otters, seals and a worldwar 2 shipwreck. It was a big sized vessel with very clear glass bottoms to view the underwater forests and it also gets you really close to the seals and the otters. Not to mention, the views from the deck are breathtaking and the birdwatching opportunities on offer.

Seaprobe Atlantis

After lunch, we began our journey to Glasgow. You can exit Skye by using a ferry to Mallaig as well and it is really beautiful, but we wanted to drive through the scenic Glencoe valley again.

Ahead of Loch Alsh we found a nice picnic spot. We had bought a disposable barbecue from one of Co-op markets on the way and some food to grill. We took help of nearby campers to fire up our barbecue and it was alive, we were all set. The picnic bag was out and it was chow time. This was the highest point of our trip, we absolutely loved the time together and it will always be one of our most cherished memories. The wife and the older child went walking in the icy cold stream below, I have no clue how they did it but it looked like they were absolutely loving it. The younger one and I were quick to decide that we were happy watching them go in icy waters.

Soon we hit the road and in about an hour we were passing through the mesmerizing Glencoe valley. After Glencoe, we drove by the shores of Loch Lomond to Glasgow. As we approached the city, our reverie that we had lived over the past two weeks wthe dichotomy of being welcomed by concrete instead of surreal natural beauty, was almost disheartening.

Day 15

Had a flight back today. We were all packed and ready. We retuned the car to the rental car park across our hotel and walked about 5 minutes to get to the terminal.

So this was it; while our vacation came to an end, our smiles did not. We had loads and loads of wonderful memories of this trip, memories that we would reminisce and cherish all our lives.

Happy Times:)

 

Road trip from London to Scotland (The Highlands, Days 9-12)

Day 9

Today, we took a day trip to Edinburgh. Hit the M9 and in an hour we were in Edinburgh. We parked at the car park in the Waverley station and strolled through town’s historic centre. Edinburgh is an easily walk able town with beautiful parks, lots of monuments, Thistle street for its many cafes, bars and restaurants and the looming Edinburgh castle. The old town is majestic. The views of old town at sunset from princess street is beyond words.

magnificent old town

Princess street gardens

Late evening, we took out car and drove up to the Stirling castle, it was shut by the time we got there but we were just interested in the drive and the views from the roads leading to the castle. Dinner in Edinburgh and back to Stirling

Day 10

After breakfast, we drove for three hours via the A82 to Fort William. As you approach Fort William, you go through the beautiful Glencoe valley. Its one of the famed drives of the Scottish Highlands. Super roads through the massive mountains and the Glen running by the side, stunning

We arrived in Fort William, the town known as the gateway to Ben Nevis, UK’s highest peak. It is known for its forest hikes, ski runs at the Nevis Mountain range and the Steal falls. It is a hillwalker’s paradise and is in close proximity to a very popular downhill mountain bike track . It is also the home to the Ben Nevis Distillery

The town centre was beautiful, had many nice restaurants and a beautiful waterfront. The walls of the fort dates back to the 1600’s; the fort’s boundaries mark the outlines of the waterfront. After lunch we decided to do some forest walking and just explore the beautiful fort waterfront area

Forest trails

The town is also home to the “Jacobite”, a steam train made famous from the Harry Porter series. The steam train features in the movie series as the Hogwarts Express. The journey from Fort William to the sea side town of Mallaig is regarded as one of world’s  best train journeys. Always a good idea to book tickets in advance as the seats fill up real fast (https://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/jacobite-steam-train-details.cfm)

Day 11

Enroute to Inverness, we stopped at Fort Augustus and took a ferry ride across the Loch Ness. My older son spotted something in the water with a long tail, a long arched neck and looked like a Mosasaurus. My younger son was soon to spot the same. We all shared a laugh. As for my wife and I, we were just too happy to take in the views of the gorgeous lake and the surrounding lush green mountains. We could, however, spot a lone stag atop a mountain.

The  cruise of Loch Ness, while it was extremely enjoyable for us, the children also  loved it. Inspired by Peter Rabbit, our older one keeps a journal where he document his travels. He made a map of the lake and pinned the location of his sighting of Nessie. Soon after, our younger one also got his crayons out and sketched up a Picasso. Next two days all our talks revolved around Nessie and there was no inclination from the kids towards any gadgets. We were glad that we took the cruise. Apart from the cruise, there is the Neptune staircase of the five lochs and a beautiful turn table bridge that makes way for traffic to and from the Caledonian canal.

Cruising on Loch Ness

Our Lil monster

We had our lunch by the loch, bough some Nessie toys and were Inverness bound. It was really late in the evening by the time we reached Inverness, we went straight to the hotel and called it a day

Day 12

There was nothing really on our plate today, more off an off day. Explored the town, went to a nearby shopping complex to get outdoor gear and be Skye ready. We explored the beautiful parks by Inverness river and drove around the beautiful town. We also discovered a super local brewery called Black Isle Bar and Rooms, a must visit while in Inverness

Blackisle brewery

Our trip continues, please visit our next blog:

Kingdom Come! Road trip from London to Scotland (Isle of Skye, Days 13-15)

Road trip from London to Scotland (Legoland and the Lake District, Days 6-8)

Day 6

We went to Heathrow to pick up our rental car. With the usual checks were in place –  many pictures of the vehicle before taking over, a check on the conditions of the wheels and a check on the rental excess car hire insurance from third party providers viz. worldwideinsure.com, we drove to Windsor. At an hour’s drive from Heathrow, the Lego Land at Windsor is an absolutely fantastic amusement park and waterpark. It was a perfect day today, sunny, great fun for the kids.

Day 7

This marks the beginning of our road trip. After bidding an “until next time” to one of the most charismatic cities in the world, we were on course to the Lake District National Park; a four-hour drive from London to “the lap of nature”. We had booked our hotel at Ambelside, a really pretty part of the Lakes. After parking our luggage at the hotel, we went to the town of Windermere and spent the evening strolling through the magical lakeside town.

Pretty Windermere

Day 8

Today, was a very special day for us, we visited the world of Beatrix Potter in Windermere. Peter Rabbit is regular feature of our school mornings back home and it was Beatrix Potter’s time at the Lake District where she was inspired to write the tale of Peter Rabbit and brought the loveable character to life. Her time at the lakes developed here life long love for the countryside. A natural scientist, she wrote many children’s books featuring animals. The lakes and the countryside of the Lake District feature in all cartoons and movies of peter Rabbit. We loved the museum. It was very special. Immaculate attention to detail and very well maintained.

Peter Rabbit

Immaculate exhibits

After visiting the museum, we visited the local market. While we were walking through one of the bylanes, we discovered a small shop named Roly’s; they were cooking fresh chocolate fudge. They had various combinations and blends of the chocolate fudge, we sampled some and ended up buying a lot. I reckon it was the best chocolate fudge I have ever tasted and it was absolutely loved by the many for whom we carried it back with us. Get some fudge from Roly’s in the Windermere market. A must!

We spent sometime by the Windermere Lake, visited the popular Windermere Ice-cream. There are many shops selling items made from locally sourced materials in the market.

By the lakes

We, then drove to the Bowness Nab and took a short vehicle ferry across to the village of Sawrey. We visited the many pretty villages by the lakes, the sheep and the horses stroll  freely in the green forests and farms of the countryside and impromptu, they turn towards you; it is very amusing. We soon hit the freeway and after a picturesque three hour drive through the countryside, we were in Stirling, Scotland. We saw many sheep on the way, a dramatic change in the weather and the landscape, stronger accents and some fabulous fish and chips!

As you approach the Highlands

As we entered Stirling, the first thing we noticed was a massive castle sitting atop a hill surrounded by steep cliffs. The Stirling castle one of the largest and most important castles and a must visit, but we skipped it.

Checked in to our hotel. Ordered in dinner and called it a day.

Our trip continues, please visit our next blog:

Kingdom Come! Road trip from London to Scotland (The Highlands, Days 9-12)

Road trip from London to Scotland (London, Days 1-5)

Parked by the edge of a beautiful loch, we were all set for our barbecue in the Scottish Highlands. The warm scent of the strongly burning charcoal, pretty rolling hills and the rhythmic sound of flowing water resonant from a stream below; it was perfect. It was freezing but it did not matter an iota for we were wrapped in happiness thick. An unshakable reverie, a priceless moment, a memory that we would cherish for the rest of our lives.

Our summer holiday was here and we had just landed at Heathrow. Once the airplane docked, the indefatigable duo-our kids charged through gates. My wife and I were exhausted and we wanted to get to our hotel and crash, but our little masters had other plans. Never has there been a truer equation than the inverse proportionality of your child’s excitement level to your fatigue; perils of the job I guess. But it’s a job you’d love to hate.

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The arrival:)

Day 1

The day’s priority was to grease the engines of our little rascals and with that in mind, we made our way to the Dino exhibits at Natural History Museum. There was a butterfly exhibit right outside the spectacular museum building and we visited it first. The butterflies spontaneously come and sit on you, its beautiful

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The butterfly

Soon, the amusement levels had significantly dropped and we had to rush to the T-REX exhibit at the museum to calm things down, now that’s an irony at its best! We explored the many exhibits at the museum. Blending informational content to pique your child’s interest while on a family vacation is always a winner.

The T-rex

It was lunchtime by the time we were done and after exiting the museum, we made our way to the restaurants at the nearby Queen’s gate gardens. After lunch, we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus. It had started to rain but that was not going to dampen out spirits, we bought some rain gear from one of the kiosks, grabbed a cappuccino and we were off to the freaky Ripley’s believe it or not.

After Ripley’s we walked down to the lively Leicester square.We spent the rest of the evening there, the square with is eclectic character and spirit is our personal favourite in all of London. The sun sets really late in this part of the world giving us a lot of time at the square. The kids loved running through the fountains.

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Leicester square

Day 2

It was overcast today, the accuweather app however suggested that no showers were predicted for the rest of the day. London weather is really unpredictable, but the app does give you a pointer and we were on our way to the London eye. We took a tube to Waterloo underground station and at a 10 minute walk from the station, sits the London eye. We had bought skip the queue tickets from its official page and this saved us a lot of time. There are promotions if you buy from their official page and also great deals at Groupon.com. The views of the city, the Shard, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and the Tower Bridge are simply breathtaking!

After visiting the London eye we grabbed a quick bite at the Waterloo station and made our way to Oxford Street. The first stop at Oxford Street was at the Disney store – no surprises there. We strolled through the bustling Oxford Street and were there for the remainder of the evening. At a stone’s throw from Oxford street, is the vibrant borough of Soho. Its electric demeanour offers round the clock entertainment and a cluster of restaurants offer the most diverse and authentic cuisines. We treated ourselves to the best dimsums in town.  Soho also houses the best Michelin star restaurants in all of London.

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mandatory stop at the Disney store

Day 3

Today, we were on our way to the Diana Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground. Took the tube to Queensway station and at the corner of the Kensington gardens is a kid’s paradise. This playground for kids was built to commemorate the late Princess. A huge pirate ship, surrounded with beach sand sits in the centre of the playground with lush green trees all around. Looks like it jumped right out of a Peter Pan’s tale.

After the gardens, we went to Oxford Street and dined at Wahaca, a super Mexican restaurant. Aping his parents, our older one was ecstatic to have his first babycino, as the younger one intently watched him; runs in the family I guess. We walked to the Trafalgar square and spent the evening there.

In the evening we took the tube from Trafalgar to chalk farm and visited Primrose hill. There is an easily climbable hill at the Primrose park and the views of the city from the hill are spectacular. It is a very quaint and peaceful place to view sunsets and is extremely popular with the locals. Late evening, we went to the nearby Camden town. Camden has a thriving nightlife, dozens of pubs, jazz cafes, live music and tons of restaurants.

Day 4

Today was a leisurely family day at Camden town. By the famed Camden locks, is the Camden market that dons many shopping kiosks, cafes, live music, tons of multi-cuisine over the counter restaurants. There are boat trips at the canals there as well with one of stops being the Lords cricket ground.

In the evening, we visited the M&M’s, Nickelodeon and the Lego stores store at Leicester Square. The lego store here is immensely popular and people queing up to enter . As parents, one of the most daunting tasks is to make your child agree to wait in a line to enter a toy store. We loved the way the folks from the store worked this out and kept the little ones entertained. They did these  gigs with toy Lego phones. A make believe phone call to the grandparents back home from the lego phone models did the trick and suddenly the children were ok to wait for their turn to get in the store.

Day 5

It was a bright sunny day today, perfect for the hop-on hop-off bus tour. We took the tube to Trafalgar Square and took the hop on hop off bus to the tower bridge. We visited the top tier of the bridge with the glass bottoms. It was kind of freaky at first but the kids really loved it. Our tour included a visit to the exhibits showcasing mechanics of bascule and suspension bridges, pretty fascinating and extremely informative for the kids. Spent some time at the park adjoining the tower bridge and walked across the bridge to take a ferry ride. A part of the hop-on bus package, it is an enjoyable short ferry service on the Thames. It connects St.Katharine Pier to the London Bridge tower pier and provides magnificent views of the city.

After disembarking we continued our journey on the bus through the boroughs. It covers almost everything and it was a great way to see the city. We got of at Trafalgar Square and walked to Leicester square for our last evening there.

Our trip continues, please visit our next blog: Kingdom Come! Road trip from London to Scotland (Legoland and the Lake District, Days 6-8)

Through Italy – Pisa, Cinque Terre, Milan (Days 12 to 15)

Day 12

After checking out of our hotel in Florence and we were on our way to Pisa. We decided to take a minor detour and checkout “the mall” about half hour from Florence. The outlet mall has some genuine deals and it is highly recommended for those in need of some retail therapy. So, after an hour at the mall, we commenced our drive to Pisa. After driving for an hour and a half, we arrived at the leaning tower. There is a lot of noise on the “tilt” of the leaning tower but when you are actually seeing it, it simply transcends all logic. The square and the gardens where it is located are also very pretty. We spent a couple of hours marvelling the engineering masterpiece, while the kids played in the gardens. We then resumed our journey to Italian Riviera. Grabbed dinner en route to La Spezia and checked in to a hotel close to the central station there.

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Leaning Tower

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Boys@Pisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 13

Next morning we visited the Cinque Terre (meaning 5 seaside villages in Italian and a word heritage site). From La Spezia we took a train to the first village of Riomaggiorie; the weather was a little wet but it was clearing out fast. We then took a ferry to the beautiful Vernazza, the crowed jewel of the 5 villages. It is strikingly picturesque. No surprises, it is so popular. The wife had discovered a great seafood restaurant. The red lobster with spaghetti and a perfectly paired wine was delicious. We wanted to try out an easy trail but as it turns out they were all shut due to the weather conditions. The sun, however, was out now. We took a ferry to another village called Monterosso, it boasts of the best beach of the 5. The boys had a great time at the beach with their snorkels and sand castles while we grabbed a drink. After spending some time at the beach, we took the train back to La Spezia, took our car and were on our way to Milan. The drive to Milan from the Italian Riviera was surprisingly beautiful. Tall skyscrapers greeted us as we entered Milan, we felt that we were on a glide path from the surreal to just another big city. Checked in and returned our car to the rental

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@Vernazza

 

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Cinque Terre

 

 

 

 

 

 

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@ Monterosso

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Gelato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 14

After a late breakfast, we went to check out Milan. Started with visiting the Duomo and the really upscale Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the world’s oldest and prettiest shopping malls. Milan and fashion are synonyms and the Milanese are really well dressed. If you want to see fashion personified you need to visit Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. We walked to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, this street, a shopper’s paradise, runs from the Piazza Venezia to Vittorio Emanuele I. We went to the Disney store to pick up something for the boys and leisurely strolled through, grabbing  some gelato slush and coffee.

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Duomo, Milan

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Duomo under lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Piazza

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Adrenaline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 15

The last day of our trip was here. With nothing on our list on this relaxed day, we headed to the Duomo again. It was a sunny day and the large Gothic monument looked marvelous. They were getting the grounds ready for a music concert. We headed to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the aroma of fresh coffee from the many cafes there lingered in the air. We stopped at a fantastic café for some coffee and desert while the boys played at the small square adjacent to the cafe. Today was also all about family time for us. The last two days of our trip were planned for pure family time, nothing else was on our list whatsoever. We had dinner at one of the terrace restaurants overlooking the Duomo and got some gelato from CioccolatItaliani. After dinner, we took a tram to the central station and walked to our hotel.

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Birds

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Best cafe in Milan

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Fun times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our trip!

So like all good things, our fast paced holiday across Italy come to an end as well. This trip was perhaps the fastest family holiday we have ever had;  and just so many memories. I can just go on and on with the stories. So, while we wait for that time of the year to arrive again for us and our next holiday together,  this trip of ours will always remain with us.

Through Italy – Orvieto, Val d’Orcia, Florence (Days 9 to 11)

Day 9

Orvieto is a walled town that sits on a flat summit of a volcanic rock between Rome and Florence. We parked our car at the car park below and took a string of escalators to reach the town. Once we reached the town, I could see why it was described as one of the most dramatic sites in Italy. We made our way through the beautiful alleys, ceramic shops and olive wood furniture studios. The town has a beautiful Duomo and good restaurants and coffee shops. After our lunch there, we strolled across the town and came to the walled area, which provide a breathtaking view of the Umbria region.

 

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@ Orvieto

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Orvieto

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Wall @ Orvieto

 

Took an Elevator to the car park and we hit the road to Florence through the beautiful Tuscan landscapes of Val d’ Orcia. The drive is bafflingly beautiful. There was some rain on the way but in no way it could play a killjoy. I took the beautiful regional routes of Val d’Orcia as against the freeway. We stopped in the post card perfect Montepulciano – a small medieval town that my wife was so impressed with (not to mention this town was feature in one of those Twilight movies) that she went running through the towns clicking pictures while I guarded the car as the two had slept. We continued on our road trip passing Pienza and San quirico. We stopped for dinner at an incredible restaurant and a winery. En route to our hotel in Florence, we got a glimpse of a flood lit Florence from the magnificient Piazzalae Micheangelo

 

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Val d’Orcia

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The square @ Montepulciano

Day 10

It started to pour, so, we decided to visit the Galleria Dell’Academia to see one of Micheangelo’s most revered works. When we reached the museum, we were confronted by long que for the tickets, since this was a “spur of the moment” kind of a thing, we were unprepared. The guard there, however, decided to take us in first and we were in the gallery in no time. David, the famed jewel of Florence, really speaks of the genius of Michelangelo. After visiting the David, we exited the gallery. It had stopped pouring and there was only a light drizzle now, we decided to visit the Duomo and walk the streets of the town.

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Rains

 

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Duomo @ Forence

 

On our way, we came across, an electric cycle rickshaw tour of the city. The kids really wanted to go and considering the weather, it seemed like a good idea. Our guide knew Florence like the back of his hand and he was really funny. He took us to all the sights and treated us to the best coffee there. After our tour, we went to the Ponte Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria. Had dinner near the square and headed to Piazzalae Micheangelo to bring my younger son’s birthday in. It was really brisk but we had a great time and what’s better than bringing in your 3rd birthday with an ice cream in your hand over looking Florence; a priceless memory.

 

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Our ride

 

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Celebrations!

Day 11

Rains again! This time around, we quickly hit the road to Castello di Verrazzano , one of the fine wineries in the Chinati wine region near Florence. After visiting the winery, we returned to Florence and took the kids to a carousel at the republic square. After that, we leisurely rounded up on all of our favourite sights, stopped for a gelato Venchi and ended our day with a birthday dinner at a café at Signoria. This was our last night in Florence.

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Fun times

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Happy B’day