Delhi – There is all India here.

New Delhi or Delhi as people still call it, it’s the reason why I am still here. I could blame the fact that it was my first  stop in India or maybe because there is so much India in Delhi, but the truth is that, on that very first day of my trip two months ago and as soon as I touched Indian soil and looked around, I knew that the three weeks officially planned weren’t going to be enough. I knew this country would have been mine for longer. I would have been hers for as long as possible.

Eight weeks later and with still four more to go, I can’t get my head around it or why I love it so much, I don’t know why it has a magnetic effect on me. What I know it’s that I’ve “post-poned” countries like Mynamar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from the first leg of my trip because of Delhi. I can’t get enough of this country and its people and I’m seriously thinking of moving here.
To Delhi? Possibly, the coffee scene here is spectacular and there is such a huge variety of bookstores.
My fundamentals are there, I just need to find a job now. Can you help me? 🙂

Here’s your:

Delhi’s Creed

COFFEE

Hauz Khas Social
This uber-cool, stylish and vaste co-working space in the Shoreditch-y part of Delhi, blends the best of the office and the café. At Social, you can buy a membership and swap your boring office desk with one of their hip booth. Combining work and play, Social turns into a urban hangout where cocktails are served and music start pumping on the speakers after 6pm.

Address: Haus Khas Village, 110016, New Delhi (but also in Mumbai and Bangalore)

Indian Coffee House
Like the one in Jaipur, this venue in Connaught Place is an iconic cafe in New Delhi. It’s open from 9am to 9pm and the food, which is great, is also very, very cheap. Coffee is also very special as it’s made with old coffee machines. Unlike many modern cafes, you can stay here reading your book or chatting with your friends for hours and no-one would ask you to order something else or to go. Vintage vibe, no wifi.
Address: 2nd Floor, Mohan Singh Palace, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place, Near Tivoli Cinema, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
Ph. Credits: BBC News

Kunzum Travel Cafe
With a similar concept of Ziferblat in London, at Kunzum’s idea of “Pay what you like”,  you are not under any obligation to even pay for coffee or food or wifi.  It was Ajay Jain, a traveller and photographer who started this cool cafe where travellers still meet in person and interact.
Address: T-49, GF, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, Delhi 110016

Chill & Chai This cute cafe is part of Khoj, a not-for-profit contemporary arts organisation which offers space and programs to local artists, since 1997. You should totally order some food here as they change their menu every day and maybe also enjoy a cappuccino as I did. Free wi-fi comes as a bonus if you have emails to check or upload your cuppa on Instagram. Address: Khirki Extension, opposite to Select CityWalk Mall, Saket

READ

A person that doesn’t read lives just one life whereas a person that does lives a thousand.

For all of you, like me, gifted with a burning passion for reading and books, Delhi will satisfy your hunger as it offers a wealth of bookshops and all sorts of stories.

Cha Bar
I couldn’t include Cha Bar in the above section as this is not just the regular cafe, but it’s a house library also known for its wide variety of teas (more than for coffee). The place can be crowded sometimes, but you should always be able to find a quiet spot to enjoy your cuppa.
Address: Oxford Bookstore, N-81, Barakhamba Road, Block N, Cannaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

Galgotia Book Shop
Walk around CP’s (Connaught Place) Inner Circle and on top of the various book stalls you will come across this fabulous bookstore tucked away in the corner of B Block. Your nose will awake right away by the musty smell of old books and then your eyes will be pleased by the endless shelves of literature treasures. There is any kind of book you are looking for here, from children’s stories to enciclopedias, from travel guides to dictionaries passing through adventures and romances.
Address: 17 B, Inner Circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi-01

Full Circle
A very special bookstore with a cafe attached and owned by a publishing house. It sits in the heart of Khan Market and it also offers a great terrace where you can watch one of the most spectacular sunset in Delhi while forgetting you are actually IN Delhi. This bookshop is also stocked with a number of books on a wide variety of topics.
Address: Shop No.23, Khan Market, New Delhi-03

Books

EAT

Ivy & Bean
Great “Aussie”-style cafe in the Fashion district of New Delhi. Not sure there is much of Australia in their menu which included Italian and local dishes, but it’s surely a good place for some tasty food and good coffee.
Address: 119, Sishan House, Shahpur Jat, Siri Fort, New Delhi, Delhi 110049

Zen Restaurant

It might happen after some weeks of travels that you will get tired of Indian food, so this is a great Chinese option right in the center of the city.
Address: B-25, Connaught Place, Near Rajiv Chowk Metro Station Exit-2, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

Cafe Lota
This is the perfect place for a local cuisine bite and a good coffee inside of the National Crafts Museum. It’s very popular with locals as well as expats and tourists.
Address: National Crafts Museum, Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

DREAM

Once again, after Udaipur, I was kindly invited to stay at The Leela Palace in New Delhi and how could I possibly say no to the opportunity of being the princess of a fairytale once again?
I don’t know if it’s the fourteen thousand roses in display (read more below), the majestic interiors, the love for details, the art that takes your breath away or maybe the mouth-watering food that is served in all its four and award-winning restaurants, but The Leela has surely taken a predominant spot in my preferred luxury hotels in the world and I would recommend all of you to stay there while in Delhi.
This venue is one of the Leela flagship hotels and is one of the finest architectural marvels built from ground up in the last thirty years in downtown Delhi. Built in the shape of a butterfly, architecture inspired by Lutyens, art and embellishment by Mrs. Madhu Nair, The Leela in New Delhi takes luxury to a completely different level.

https://www.instagram.com/p/9A772CMQ4w/

Capt. Nair, the founder of The Leela properties  a man with one of the most amazing entrepreneurial story  I’ve ever heard,  was a hotelier, a dreamer and a gardner. From his love for nature he planted over 1,000,000 trees and plants in their eight properties combined and thanks to Mrs Madhu Nair, every day, The Leela New Delhi has a minimum of 14,000 roses displayed in the hotel. They fly them in from Bangalore two times a week and in summers three times. Each silver urn holds 500 each and in addition, they have 2,000 international flowers that range from Australian or South African Banksia’s to Tulips, Hydrangeas from Holland.
What I love most about their love for flowers on top of the beautiful arrangements, is the fact that Leela recycles them in several ways: in winter they harvest all pedals and thereafter fill our fire urns inside the ponds outside Qube; in summers they support a local NGO, that turn them into Rangoli and vegetarian dye.

Address: Chanakyapuri, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi 110023

Jaiselmer, Sleeping Under the stars

In the north-west of India, at the most remote corner of Rajasthan, almost on the border with Pakistan, sits a golden city that emerges out from the Thar desert like an oasis in the middle of the dunes. That city is called Jaisalmer and it is another remarkable fort-gifted town I visited during my travels there last month.

Here’s your

Creed guide to Jaisalmer 

COFFEE

City View Cafe
Address: Inside Fort Chougan Para, Jaisalmer, 345001, Raj India

Shiva Cafe

Excellent service and coffee, we stopped here for some refreshments and didn’t eat anything but everything is cooked with mineral water, so you should be fine. Oh, very happy staff!
Address: inside the fort, on top of Shiva guesthouse

 

Bhang Shop
Not actually coffee LOL, but it didn’t feel appropriate to put it in any other section of this guide 🙂 Bhang is a preparation of cannabis, frequently used in food and drinks in India and this shop is famous all over India or maybe the world for their bhang lassi and cookies. Take it easy! 🙂
Address: Fort Road, Khejer Para, Manak Chowk, Amar Sagar Pol, Jaisalmer 345001, India

READ

Bhatia News agency on Court Road, but also the various book stalls in the fort.

Dhahran Book Store includes a little coffee shop at the back and wifi connection to check your latest purchase.

Rawasl Handicraft and Bookstore on Vyas Para, Fort, is another interesting place to browse for new books.

EXPLORE

Jaisalmer Fort
It wouldn’t be a proper Rajasthan city if it didn’t have its Fort, right? So, make sure to visit this one too! The interesting fact of this one is that unlikely others in the state, people still live here, in fact the fort has about 2000 residents, the majority of  which are Brahmins.

Havelis
Commissioned by wealthy and powerful men during the eighteen and nineteen centuries, Havelis are stunning houses built on the principle of Hawa (Air) and Veli (Ventilation), they normally have two open courtyards and elaborated artwork on the mughal pillars.

Camel Safari
If you came this far across India, it’s probably because you are looking for a camel safari or sleep under the stars. Well, you picked the right place as this is probably one of the best and starrier sky in the whole world and if you avoid touts, scams and big organised tourists’ groups, you might even have a fantastic night in the desert.
In fact, me and my friend had a bespoke tour of the desert, we ate in the pitch dark food that had been cooked there in front of us on a fire and later we had the whole desert as our own bedroom as you can see from the pictures below! Leave the fuss of the tends and comfort for one night, just sleep in the wild!
I highly, highly recommend the tour organised by the accommodation that hosted me, (see the DREAM section below) and get in touch with me via email if you wish to be put in touch.

Gadsar Lake
This is probably one of my favourite places in Rajasthan and maybe India. It’s incredibly peaceful and it offers so many great opportunities for incredible pictures, like this one or the below.
In the past, this “little” lake acted as a reservoir that controlled the entire supply of water to Jaisalmer.

Pushkarna Trust Sunset Point
Just outside Jaisalmer, it’s a great place to watch the sun going down and painting the golden city in orange and red, but also to walk around the ruins and maybe chill under one of the many cenotaphs enjoying the incredible view.

EAT

Monica
Very calm, terraced restaurant that serves Rajasthani and tandoori dishes and several veg and non-veg challis.
Address: Near the Fort Gate

Midtown Restaurant
Very, very simple terraced restaurant, with basic decoration and setting, but excellent food and smiley staff. Bonus point is the view over the square where you can spy merchants making business or kids coming back from school. Excellent spot for some street photography without being noticed.
Address: Gopa Chowk, opposite to Bhang Shop 

DREAM

The foundations of Jaisalmer fort, built on a base of soft clay, sand and sandstone, are rapidly eroding due to the increases in water consumption related to tourism. Due to some drainage issues, during peak season some of the water comes back into surface and hits the foundations[read more here]

People died in 1998 and few more bastions fell in 2000 and 2001, for this reasons Jaisalmer is now listed among the World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites and as an eco-traveller as I consider myself, I decided (like many other conscious tourists do) to book an accommodation outside the fort.

I couldn’t have found a better hotel to host me during my stay in Jaisalmer.  In fact, The Gulaag Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel built in the traditional architecture of old hovels, including open courtyards and intricate sculptural work on each column.

It has twelve luxury rooms, eight deluxe rooms and four grand suites.

It includes a refreshing swimming pool and SPA as well as a rooftop restaurant that specialise in Rajasthani cousin as well as a few international dishes.

Address: in front of Nagar Praishad, Bera Road, Jaisalmer 345001

Gallery

Jodhpur – Blue is the Warmest Colour

Jodhpur was probably my favourite citadel in Rajasthan: I don’t know if it’s because it’s here that I took the executive decision that my stay in India would last (much, much) longer than I originally planned or because all that blue really blew my mind away, or perhaps because I was quite sick and so I had the time to stop and explore at a more reasonable pace than ever before, or more likely because I met some very amazing people here who showed me around town including some secret spots that I haven’t shared below but that I will include in my upcoming CREED guide of India that I will be giving away at Christmas to all my blog followers who request one.

Whatever reason, I really loved the blue city.

 Creed Guide to Jodhpur

COFFEE

Cafe Sheesh Mahal
An establishment in the coffee scene of Jaipur, with a wide selection of coffee (and specialty teas), snacks and light meals. Get a seat next to a window: people watching on this stretch of the Sardar Bazaar can be extremely entertaining!

Coffee Menhar
If you are visiting the fort (see the explore section of this guide) then a coffee break at this lovely and simple cafe is mandatory. Get a black coffee or try one of their many tea flavours.

READ

Testo libero

Krishna Book Depot
An establishment in the city and whole Rajasthan perhaps with a wide range of books in Hindi, English, French and German (maybe others too) about Indian arts, music, theatre and cultural scene. Some renovation works where taking place on the ground level, so I guess it will be even better now.
Address: Sardar Market, ask for directions as it might be tricky to find

EXPLORE

Jaswant Thanda
You will find many cenotaphs while in Rajasthan, but this one, if you like me have an obsession for symmetry and white, will blow your mind away. It was built in 1899 by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, whom initiated the irrigation systems and protected the city from bandits. Much better from the outside than the very simple indoors, but you still need to buy the ticket to get close to it. Another bonus point is the great view over Jodhpur and the fort itself, especially in the morning.

Mehrangarh Fort

This impressive fort looks like it has been there forever and ever, in fact it looks like it was carved in the rocky mountain rather than being built on it back in 1459. I fell in the trap of the free audio guide as it was described to me as outstanding, it’s good, but the entire tour at that pace takes more than 3 hours and when it’s 38/39 degrees you can’t really do that!! Skip the tempting offer and just download some history online before getting there. We didn’t take the elevator as it would mean miss so much of the atmosphere of the first gates, I guess.

Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park
I normally won’t recommend places I haven’t been to, but as this one was suggested to me by several people and had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of it while maintenance works were undergoing, I feel I can add it to my list here and be sure it’s a place worth a visit.

EAT

Omelette Shop 
This take-away spot by the main clock tower is always packed with locals and tourists, you need to try it to understand why.
Address: just off the clock tower on the right

The Blue House
Lovely, little family-run, rooftop restaurant at The Blue House Guesthouse. Food is simply delicious and a chat with the entire family (including granny and toddlers) in their living room at the end of your meal will just make things even more perfect.
Address: Sumer Bhawan’ Moti chowk, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

DREAM

If you want a traditional stay and meet the locals, you will have plenty of havelis and guesthouses to choose from, just be aware that tourism has put in danger some of these beautiful and ancient buildings, so just do your research and choose one that is safe and environment-friendly. Also, make sure to make a conscious use of water during your stay as peak season and irresponsible travelers are making things worse every year.

We were kindly invited to stay at Shahi Heritage Guest House, a fantastic 350 years old mughal-style Haveli right in the middle of the old town with a spectacular view over the fort and an amazing restaurant on the rooftop.

I couldn’t recommend this place enough, the staff, the food, the friendliness of the entire family made me feel at home during my stay, which was in fact extended by a few nights.

Address: City Police Gandhi Street, pop Narsingh Temple, Jodhpur, 342001

Gallery

 

Udaipur – The City of Lakes

Your new C-R-E-E-D guide is here, this time to tell you about the magical city of Udaipur.

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This is the city of love par excellence in the whole India or maybe the entire Asia. Honeymooners from all across the country and beyond come here to enjoy the serendipity and romantic vibe of the place, but also every age and love-stage couples come here to celebrate their anniversaries or more simply to renew or reinvigorate their love.
This is why, Udaipur is also known as the ‘Venice of East’.

But, of course, singles, love-seekers and convinced love-haters are welcome to come the City of Lakes has it has so much to offers to anyone. Udaipur doesn’t need much introduction in fact: this picture-perfect city spread on the banks of the Pichola lake and surrounded by lush green hills is the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature in the best way possible.
A boat ride on the lake at sunrise or sunset would start or close your day in the perfect way. And a visit to its City

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COFFEE

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Brewmen
I said it many time, but here I’ll tell you again: No day should ever start without a good cup of coffee, so the best option you have in Udaipur is Brewmen: excellent vibe, great arabica espresso and top-notch service. Oh, did I mention the delicious brownie with ice cream? Nope, well just check the picture below and let your mouth water… 🙂

Address:  Hitawala Complex II, Saheli Marg, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

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READ

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If you have time (which unfortunately I didn’t have that time!), you should go to check the Gulab Bagh Public Library . From the outside, it’s a very stunning building, but I’ve been told that inside there are some pretty amazing literary treasures too.

In terms of books, you should read:
Maharana: The Story of the Rulers of Udaipur 

and again, get a copy of
Rajasthan Style (out on November 10th)

[see the READ section on my Jaipur guide for the details]
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EXPLORE

Like most cities in Rajasthan, there is so much to see, but In Udaipur especially, the best part is on the streets itself. Make sure to save at least 45 minutes to one hour just to roam free in the narrow lanes and…get lost! Yes, that’s real fun and you will find some of the oldest bikes and Vespas ever, you will talk to some locals or just exchange a few smiles with them and have some street food. Then, when you had enough, turn on your google or pick actual maps and make your own way to the Jagadish Temple, a popular hindu place for worshipping made even more special by the colourful saris of the Indian women sitting and praying ( note: photography is not allowed inside).
Once you are done there, make your way to City Palace: this one is unmissable.The quite expensive ticket makes it worth the while, but remember to make a separate ticket for your camera too. To end your afternoon, head to Ambrai Ghat where you can have a stunning view over the lake as well as the City Palace and Lake Palace, another outstanding building right at the center of the Pichola lake now turned into a luxury hotel.

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EAT

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For this special edition of your CREED guide, please refer to the DREAM section for my dining suggestions; The Leela Palace, with its various restaurants and its Library provided the best food in town so we didn’t feel the urge to explore beyond its kitchens!  

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DREAM

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With a prime location on the Lake Pichola and a superb view of the Aravalli Mountains, The Leela Palace evokes grandeur and opulence of the land of the Mewar. Beautifully designed to reflect the surrounding style and influences by Jeffrey A. Wilkes and the attention to detail in the art and embellishment by Mrs. Madhu Nair makes it the ultimate royal trip in India.

I never really understood why a normal person would spend their holidays barred in a hotel when in any location you choose for a holiday or a break there is always so much to see and explore, but after spending a few nights at 5-star hotel at The Leela both in Udaipur and New Delhi, I think I have a few answers! Why on earth would you even think to leave heaven when you can have a massage, a swim, outstanding food and so much more all under one roof?
Well, this is what we actually did and that’s why we only left our paradise to test the fabulous and uber chic Leela tuk-tuk to roam the street of Udaipur and see its main sights.
Whether you are coming to Udaipur for your honeymoon or for a relaxing holiday, do come and stay at The Leela Palace. Not only the best hotel in town, but also the best Spa in all Asia according to World Spa Awards. And having had the best Swedish massage ever I can only confirm the award!

But let’s not forget the whole magical halo that surrounds the Leela Palace in Udaipur.
Our fairytale started right at the jetty where our boat driver was impatiently for us.
The boat was sailing Pichola lake at a leisurely speed when I suddenly saw it standing right, in its gorgeous greatness right in front of me. While entering the palace a rain of rose petals softly fell all over me like I was the princess they had been waiting for. The entrance, in its grandeur splendor was shining of sparks and mirrors. The huge chandeliers standing above us was impossible to miss or to not look at. And then, a beautiful indian lady welcomed me with a bindi as a local welcome to their royal palace.

From there we were transported to our suite which comprises of a huge bedroom, an even larger living room and a stunning, spotless bathroom (if you were following me on snapchat, you probably remember what I’m talking about).
From there, every single detail of this venue was a pleasure to the eyes and to the heart, walking on the corridors, was more like a walking in a museum where local artworks collected by the late Krishnan Nair and his wife Leela, hung on the walls throughout the properties.  You can easily spend half a day just browsing it all and already feeling inspired and in touch with the Rajasthani culture and art trends.

Another point goes to the stellar food we had throughout our stay, especially the bespoke dinner Chef Rupak prepared for us at Sheesh Mahal, the fine dining restaurant overlooking the Pichola lake.

What else to add? Well, the true cherry on the cake of all Leela’s properties is probably its outstanding service: the staff, constantly smiling and incredibly courteous and helpful truly made me feel like a princess in a castle.

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*This article was sponsored by The Leela, 5 stars luxury resorts, all the views are my own.

Pushkar – A photo Essay

Last post: Jaipur | Next: Udaipur
Stay Tuned on #thestoryteller_inIndia and Steller

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Copyright © 2015 Sabrina Andrea Sachs. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all materials on these pages are copyrighted by Sabrina Andrea Sachs. No part of these pages, either text or image may be used for any purpose. Therefore, reproduction, modification, storage in a retrieval system or retransmission, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise is strictly prohibited without prior written permission. If you are interested in buying any copy or prints, please email me to thestorytellerphotos@gmail.com

Pink is the new black: Jaipur

Dressed almost completely in pink, the royal city of Rajasthan, Jaipur is an interesting blend of history, myths, palaces, art and forts (of course!). With its sister cities of Agra and Delhi, it forms the world-famous “Golden Triangle”, one of the most travelled route in India and a small part of my itinerary here too.
In Jaipur, more than anywhere else in Rajasthan, you will notice the interesting “clash” of a heritage city and a fast-moving metropolis. In fact, inside the walls, the faded pink will tell you stories of Marajahs and rulers of another past, but just outside a world of technology, young students and western fashion will take you back to this century.

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Here is your City Guide, with everything you need to know about Jaipur. As always, covering the five most important elements for a great weekend away:

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COFFEE | READ | EXPLORE | EAT |DREAM

BUT FIRST, COFFEE

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No day or exploration should ever start without a good cup of coffee, right? So here you can get your daily dose..

Art Gallery Café

Perfect hangout place for tourists and expats. Decent coffee and a varied menu of local and international nibbles.
Address: 132 – 133 , Chaandi Ki Taksaal,  Hawa Mahal Road | Shankars Art GalleryJaipur 302001, India

Indian Coffee House

One of the most important coffee establishment in Jaipur or maybe in the whole India (?) as it opened back in… Well,  no one really knows when this place was first opened as you can read here, but despite its age, it still attracts lots of locals who come here for a great coffee, very good dosa and an afternoon long chat for hours with friends.

Address: Cooperative Society Building, Opposite Khadi Bhandar, Mirza Ismail Road | Jaipur 302001, India

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READ

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In Jaipur, there is an excellent Book Club that you should join if you have time during your stay, it’s called Jaipur Book Lovers and its founder, Ayush, uses a meetup page to announce new events and meetings twice a month on first and third Sundays of the month. You can also keep up with the group on Facebook.

Books about Jaipur

Libraries and Bookshops
Please let me know below your suggestions as I couldn’t find any decent library or great bookshop to be mentioned here.

 

EXPLORE

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When exploring Rajasthan, you will quickly realise that at least one fort is present in each and every city you will stop by. I’ve seen most of this state now and most of its forts too, that’s why, I will try and make your job a little easier, by pointing out here (and in the future guides), only the forts I think are very special and I believe you should visit too.
In Jaipur, for example you should spend some time both at Amber Fort and at Nahargarh Fort, you will understand why looking at the pictures below.

Amber Fort

This is probably my favourite fort in all Rajasthan and I hope the pictures will show you why. From here, you will also have a great view over the city of Jaipur, with its symmetrical and very organised street systems. Watch out for the monkeys! 🙂

Nahargarh Fort

This other fort which once was the residence of the King Sawai Jai Singh II, sits on the hill in the northwest corner of the old city. A tour here, especially before sunset is almost mandatory!

Temple 

 

City Palace, Jal Mahal, Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal 

The Streets and Bapu Market

You will realise that in India everything happens on the streets, there is more life on the streets than anywhere else and, despite the heat, you are going to spend loads of time on them, especially in Jaipur, so bring on your camera!

 

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EAT

Peacock Restaurant 
Award-winning restaurant on the rooftop of the Hotel Pearl Palace.
Address: 51 Hathroi Fort, Hari Kishan Somani Marg, Ajmer Road

La Forresta

A great venue for a dinner alfresco and a few cocktails.
Address: Near Moti Mahal Cinema, Bani Park, Jaipur 302016, India

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DREAM

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If you, like me, love boutique hotels and their heritage, there is one beautiful property you should pick among all. If you also enjoy great food and outstanding service, then the place for you in Jaipur is definitely the Pearl Palace Heritage or its sister location Hotel Pearl Palace.
Founded by Mr. Satinder Singh about eighteen years ago, it encompass nine rooms (will be 16 next year) and it has been voted the most romantic hotel in all of India. The idea behind this little gem was to allow visitors to discover India under one roof, as all rooms are themed with one city or region of India and local artists where hired and brought to Jaipur to decorate the walls of each of the nine rooms.
Every single detail in the properties has been custom-made, you will notice that every wall is hand-carved and most of the decorations are hand-made.  Karan Singh, Mr Singh’s son and Hotel Manager, told me over dinner that “hand-crafting a hotel in many heritage styles take a very long time. For example, our second floor passageways took a family of artisans over a year to carve by hand!”
Maybe this is why, this fabulous hotel was hand-picked by Oscar-winning director John Madden as the main set for his “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movie starring American actor Richard Gere, British Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and local super-star Dev Patel?
Well, I think so!

This great property offers an excellent and very informative city-guide to all its guests and it’s also the first hotel in town to organise a city tour that includes most of the places you will find in the EXPLORE section below. Have a look here to see what else is included in the tour and all its details.

Continue reading

Agra – A Photo Essay

Agra is that one city that everybody who visits India has to pass through. Not because it has something special, but because it’s very close  to something extraordinary and famous in the entire world. A little bit like Alice Springs in Australia or Anaheim in California, Agra is a gateway to something else, something pretty incredible in fact, it is not exactly a city you would normally include in your itinerary if it didn’t host the best, grandest, most beautiful monument on Earth – at least, in my humble opinion.  Something that everybody in Europe, USA, South America, Australia and the rest of Asia has seen at least once in a postcard, TV or a magazine.
I’m obviously talking about the Taj Mahal, that one and only building I wanted to see since I was 5 or even younger as I found a postcard and fell in love with it straight away. 25 years later and having brought that card with me in 3 different cities across two countries where I lived in the past,  the dream became real as I was standing in front of all its grand beauty.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal, the white marble mausoleum on the southern bank of the Yamuna River is in fact a tomb that Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal.  It took about thirty years and about 20,000 artisans to complete, but Shah Jahan didn’t actually had time to enjoy the outstanding monument as his son quickly imprisoned him to take over the reign.

Anyhow, enough words for now, I let this white, huge, moving, perfect building speak for itself.

Photo Tips:

#1 Leave  your tripod and big expensive lens at home. They might let you only take one camera/lens, definitely not a tripod or a gorillapod and you will be asked to leave it outside, no storage facility from the gate I entered, so I kindly had a shopkeeper looking after my stuff while I was inside.

#2 Enter from the southern gate, it’s the least popular for some reasons, but the queue is also the faster one.

#3 If possible, go there in the morning as soon as it opens (normally at sunrise), to get some nice #empty shots, but stay there until people arrive to give some scale to the building. If you wish/can, you should go back around sunset to capture the changing colours of the marble. Ideally, find a place to set your camera on a stone or something for a long time-lapse.

#4 Boat trips are not longer available; the river’s water is very polluted, therefore dangerous  – however, local people keep having sacred baths by its shores.

#5 Tickets are 750Rs (about £7.50) for foreigners . It’s worth going back if you have the time!

* * *

While in Agra, there is also another outstanding place you should visit: Agra Fort, the one fort (among millions) you must visit while in India. The photo essay continues:

Stay tuned for my Indian adventures!

Dubai – The Future is Here

Dubai

Dubai is not only a world-record-breaking city in the desert with huge shopping malls and extravagant nightlife. Dubai is also a great place to enter a parallel, luxurious universe where ancient traditions meet with ambitious and revolutionary vision.
Personally, I wouldn’t see myself living there, but I’ll surely go back to explore more one day.

Here is your guide, as always divided in five sections:
Dream, Coffe, Explore, Eat and Read.
Enjoy and feel free to add suggestions by leaving your comment below.

DREAM 

Book your room at The Address,  right at the center of  downtown Dubai, where Burj Khalifa, The Mall and anything else you might need or want to do, is.
With its 196 rooms and suites, 7 restaurants, SPA, a magnificent view over the Burj Khalifa and its fountains shows, you can’t possibly find a better location in Dubai.

The Address The Address

BUT FIRST, COFFEE

Dubai doesn’t have a big coffee culture or maybe my research didn’t do so well there. I tried a couple of places I had found on the internet, one in Media City and the other in Internet City and both of them where shut, god knows since when (google mentioned them as both open). But I did find a little cute coffee shop very close to my accommodation.

Per Te

Per Te

Another very special place was at the Dubai Mall instead.

Shakespeare and Co. 

Shakespeare & Co.

EXPLORE

Old Dubai

Start your visit in Dubai on the old side
of the city, here, you will understand and see how Dubai was before becoming the world-known capital of finance and investments. Here it is the “simple”, no-frills Dubai, the one made of artisans and jewellers.
Make sure to get the boat to cross  the river for the true”old Dubai experience” .

Dubai Mall

As you know I’m a minimalist (or a I’m trying to become one…) so I really wasn’t keen to go to the biggest “entertainment” place in Dubai. But when you are there, even if you -like me- have no intention to spend a penny, you must visit this spectacular and fascinating architectural artwork. Not only the building itself, which breaths of genius creativity, but also each and every alley or souk has its own regional and unique style.

Desert Safari
Dubai was born in the desert. To be exact, it is not a super young city as most people think, in fact the first people to live there where back in 3000BC, when the area was inhabited by nomadic cattle herders. Yes, modern Dubai is young and striving to the future, but its history goes back a few centuries.
So, the desert, which surrounds the skyscrapers and the various malls is a must-see. Hire a jeep for a fun afternoon on the dunes, but I personally think you can easily skip the touristy evening at one of those fake and staged desert camps purposely created for us, western tourists.
Better if you ask your driver to stay on the dunes a little longer and to show you different perspective of the desert instead.
For info and booking of my driver please contact me directly via email.

BURJ KHALIFA

I normally don’t include the top landmarks in my mini-guides as they can easily be found in any #lonelyplanet or #roughguide, but I will make an exception this time as this is not only the tallest building in the world, but also a spectacular work of architecture, both from the outside – visible to everyone, anywhere in Dubai – and from the inside for the ones who go to the top.

dubai

Dubai Metro

Most people travel by taxi in Dubai, it is so hot there that walking from A to B is (almost) unberable, but while you are there, make sure to buy a daily travel card to taste the Dubai metro experience. Get a first class ticket so that you can stay on the front or last carriage and enjoy the spectacular view among the skyscrapers. Bring your camera!


EAT

The Farm

This fantastic venue, nestled in the heart of Al Barari and immersed in beautiful lakes and gardens, is a unique restaurant that focuses on healthy food and original recipes from all over Asia. Make sure to take a walk around the gardens after your meal to take in the magnificent settings.

The Farm

The Farm

READ

Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City, 2013 by Jim Krane
City Of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism, 2010, by Jim Krane 

I didn’t find any relevant bookstore or library in Dubai – except the ones in the malls, but if you do know of any university or historic library there, please leave a comment below so I can add it to this guide. Thank you!

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Tuscany will melt your heart

There is a place in Italy where Italians were born before Italy was formed. A place where the Italian language was spoken before it was called Italian. A place of magnificent architecture, the cradle of Renissance and literature works by Dante Aligheri, Giovanni Boccaccio and Francesco Petrarca that became famous around the world.

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That place is now called Tuscany, but for several centuries, its castles, walls and endless fields belonged to the Etruscans, then the Romans and later to the Granducato di Toscana. It was only in 1860 that this region, among many contrasts and revolutions became part of Italy.

Perhaps, its history and its roots is the reason why Tuscany has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than South Africa, Argentina or Australia.

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Tuscany’s capital, Florence, and the surrounding areas offer spectacular views that attract more than 10 million visitors every year.

Today, Tuscany is one of, if not the most, popular region among foreigners, with Florence being the preferred city of choice for expats in the whole peninsula.
There is a lot to see and do in Tuscany, the difficulty is really where to start.

But why do 10 millions people come here every year?

Well, I didn’t know before, but now, having spent almost a week between Florence, Siena and the postcard-looking countryside of Chianti, I think I have a few answers.

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Visitors come to Tuscany for many reasons. Many come in search of world-famous art in the many museums of the region, others to explore and enjoy the unique countryside. Foodies and wine-lovers choose Tuscany to enjoy the simple yet outstanding cuisine and local grapes. Active people to enjoy the hikes on the mountains and cyclists the rolling hills, while beach-lovers chose the Tuscan coast for a summer vacation.
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Tuscany guide is again in the usual format (like the one about London);  five sections covering:
Coffee spots
Explore (Florence, Siena & Chianti)
Eat & Drink
Books & Bookshelves
Dream (where to sleep)
Keep reading to find out why Tuscany melts the heart of every visitor.

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See my London. 5 years around town

This is the first of a series of mini-guides I’m going to publish here and…somewhere else.
If you have been with me long enough, you know I love lists, collections and notes, so here is my “London List”, some of my favourite places around the city that was my home for the past five years.
The stars you see in the map are places I’ve tried and loved. I know it would be easier to share the map directly, but nope, I’m not going to do that, as I would miss all the fun. However, if you do wish to have a copy of it, leave a comment below and I will see what I can do 🙂
The list below is not comprehensive of course, firstly because a post wouldn’t be enough, and second because I can’t share ALL my secrets in one go, can I? 🙂

This guide is divided in five sections.

BUT FIRST, COFFEE
I’m a coffee addict, so here are some of my favourite places for a good espresso, a flat white or a cappuccino

EXPLORE
Some of my favourite galleries, landmarks museums and other interesting places

EAT
What guide would it be without some tips about food?

READ
Putting coffee aside, reading is my other life-lasting relationship.
Here you will find my favourite bookshops as well as interesting books to read ahead or during your trip.

DREAM
Where to stay? The best hotels in town

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