Melbourne|Destroyed

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The concierge advised us not to come back until we had completely destroyed Melbourne. I was amused at his interesting choice of words. We destroyed Melbourne nonetheless – with our infectious laughter. You can imagine the kind of fun instigated when 8 good friends gather together for a weekend of contagious fun & frolic…

Of course the chit chats started as soon as we all boarded the plane. So any passengers that planned on a peaceful 1 hour and 15 minute flight to Melbourne were greatly disappointed. We all copped looks of amusement from the fellow passengers. They didn’t really have any choice – we weren’t in the mood to zip it and no one was going to stop us from talking nonsense..

Coordinating these series of rendezvous was a pretty challenging endeavour. Free guesses to the lucky lady who landed the coordinator job. Yes, yours truly. Though I think I may have self appointment myself due to my OCD planning (slightly controlling, only slightly though) issues.

We literally had to create a project plan, develop a schedule, highlight and socialise the plan with stakeholders, identify dependencies, assign resources, determine financials and plan for risk mitigation. This coordination exercise had uncanny similarities to my day job – which to me was not amusing at all. But the power of divide and conquer worked wonders. We all contributed to turning this trip into reality – it helped when we had a few key skill sets within our collective repertoire – a Mathematician, the Analytical Thinker, a Project Manager, a Social Event Coordinator, a Life Style Expert, the Sarcasm Subject Matter Expert and the Doc. We all took a sigh of relief once all the planning was done & dusted. We were eagerly anticipating the trip..

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Once we reached our destination, it was just 3 days of guilt free fun, fabulous shopping plus sight seeing and culinary (over) indulgence. Its amazing how just a weekend trip away with the girls can make you forget the daily grind – it was like we were on another planet. Totally therapeutic.

I loved the colonial rustic architecture meshed with the modern artsy cultured feel of Melbourne. The streets of Melbourne were an absolute delight, from the cute tucked away cafés in little alley ways to the vividly Gothic art adorning the streets – it was such a different feel to Sydney.

 

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Within the tightly planned schedule, I managed to sneak in an early morning walk along the Yarra with my walking buddy – I’m glad we planned that walk in and packed appropriate shoes – the Yarra is beautiful in the morning – the sleeping city looked exceptionally glorious at sun rise.

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Lucky we were up early enough. The intent was to walk to the infamous beyond belief cafe, The Hardware Societie @ Hardware Lane, so we could beat the crowd and have a piece of that scrumptious brekkie everyone raves about. We must’ve got there around 8.15 am (after almost waking the entire city with our loaded chit chats and giggles) and the place was already packed !! A colourfully quirky staff member, with painted nails and a big flower brooch attached to his shirt (who by the way could smell Versace on a customer from a mile away) was taking down names for table allocation.  I cant recall how long we waited. It helped when our mathematician friend was glued to the colourfully quirky staff member, making sure he allocated us the next table. The breakfast was just mouthwateringly sensational and the coffee was straight from heaven. Totally worth the wait. Added to the must visit again list.

 

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We visited plenty of places and they all deserve a mention, like the impromptu visit to a rooftop cigar bar, St Kilda markets, a quick shopping pit stop at Melbourne DFO,  a horse ride across the city,  or the jazz inspired, quirky Thai restaurant and of course, Crown casino (which we all unanimously concluded wasn’t for us). This blog would be pretty damn long if I penned down all the experiences that we packed into those 3 days.

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One deserving highlight is of ‘our last supper’ at 400 Gradi, Brunswick. The winner of the World Pizza Championships. Although we had reservations, the wait was extra long, or maybe it seemed like eternity as we were famished! The staff were conversing in fluent Italian, and their behaviour was wickedly Italian too – so it was not surprising when our table was getting extra attention. We soaked it all in, who would say no to free entrées and of course the pizzas did not disappoint. Yumm…

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It was definitely a memorable trip – one that all 8 of us will reminisce often. All of us have our own favourite moments & highlights, the best thing is that every single one of us was going with the flow, relaxed, chilled and just plainly interested in having a good time. No doubt that we destroyed Melbourne – it was such good therapy. Locked in our memory bank. Forever.

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Before|Sunrise

Before Sunrise – My husband loved this movie and has watched it many times over. My experience on the other hand, was quite the opposite. I know I fall in the speck of minority that did not love this movie. I couldn’t wait for the endless dialogues to finally conclude.

Our taste in movies are in total contrast, like night & day. But this post is not about this movie or our contrasting (sometimes conflicting) preferences. It is about the one aspect in this movie that I truly loved – Sunrise.

The serenity at the crack of dawn is subtly calming. I really love my sleep in’s – but the chance of sighting the sun rising makes me get out of bed. Sharing with you my Sunrise captures from the weekend early morning Bay Walks.

Parting with inspiring words by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

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Roma|Italy – Part 2

BLOG 2: Diary of the Sisterhood Travels – Thursday, 10th April 14

We pretty much agreed on two things prior to visiting the smallest internationally recognised independent ecclesiastical state, 1) We need to beat the morning rush, so it had to be an early mark and 2) We will need most of the day, so no other specific plans.

There was no departing without brekkie, the hearty omelette by Rumi which pretty much gave us the required energy for more than half the day. I loved the smell of the city early morning, it was chilly, but we didn’t feel the cold because of expending all that energy walking.

The walk from our studio to Vatican City was not long, it took us less than 30 minutes, the roads had not yet started buzzing with tourists, we imagined we would be the first ones in the Vatican Museum queue. Admiring the pretty bridges across Fiume Tevere, the second largest Italian river.  We crossed Fiume Tevere from the Ponte Umberto bridge, which landed us right in front of an astonishing limestone covered building called Palazzo Di Giustizia also nicknamed as the Bad Palace, seems there were corruption suspicions during the build of this palace and hence the nickname.

Palazzo Di Giustizia © as|fa

Palazzo Di Giustizia © as|fa

Just a few meters up the road was the cylindrical shaped, Castel Sant Angelo. it was one eerie piece of architecture, previously used as a fortress but now a museum. Something about that building gave me goosebumps! Strange.

Castel Sant Angelo © as|fa

Castel Sant Angelo © as|fa

The angels overlooking the river at the corner of Ponte Sant Angelo were remarkably beautiful, it seemed as though they were in conversation with each other, we admired them for a moment before continuing towards the Vatican. St Peter’s Square was already in sight!

Ponte Sant Angelo © as|fa

Ponte Sant Angelo © as|fa

Ponte Sant Angelo © as|fa

Ponte Sant Angelo © as|fa

I kept trying to conjure up the images I had created during my read of Angels & Demons (Dan Brown). I had imagined St Peter’s Square to be much bigger. Did the book say it can hold upto 300K people? We didn’t intend to find out, we deliberately avoided Easter time!

As soon as our feet edged on the boundary of St Peters Square, we were inundated with tour guide reps trying to convince us the need for a guide to beat the queue. We did not plan for this. The queue at St Peter’s was already about 500 meters, and it was 9.15am! Unanimously we decided not wasting time standing in queues.

St Peters Basilica © as|fa

St Peters Basilica © as|fa

The first tour guide representative trying his luck with us radiated that typical arrogant Italian demeanour, which pretty much decided his fate. He used the analogy (in an arrogant tone) that without a tour guide, the experience will be like watching a video without audio. In hindsight, he wasn’t wrong – but we were not going to give him our business because of his arrogance.

The next rep seemed very jubilant in contrast, as all Africans are – we tried our luck haggling the tour prices – he agreed that my sister and my daughter both were going on CHILD tickets and I had to pay as an ADULT for the guided tour of the museum and Sistine Chapel – go figure! I don’t know how Rumi got away with it, in fact come to think of it, she got a LOT of attention in Italy! Anyway, he handed us over to his equally jubilant sister. We all had to rush towards the gates of the museums before the tour started!

We knew we made the right decision as soon as we started walking towards the Vatican Museum to gather with our tour group – the entry line was endless!

Vatican Museum Tix © as|fa

Vatican Museum Tix © as|fa

Looking at the walled enclave of the Vatican for the first time was interesting. The security is very tight and I realised once we entered the museum the reason for the high walls and ridiculous security.

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Walled Enclave of Vatican City © as|fa

Our guide was a cute little Italian lady who constantly used the word ‘Allora’ throughout the tour – we had no idea what it meant, assuming she was suggesting we move on. She shared interesting bits of history as we went along with a surprisingly-for-an-italian hint of welcome humour. One of the first things she pointed at entry was the coloured statue of Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

Coloured statue of Augustus © as|fa

Coloured statue of Augustus © as|fa

It is certain that Augustus was originally painted and this particular one was restored and somewhat exaggerated – made us wonder whether Rome in fact was a colourful city all those centuries ago?

Vatican Couryard

Vatican Courtyard © as|fa

We walked through the perfectly manicured courtyards and stood at the balcony which overlooked entire Rome. Imagining the many historical figures, who stood at this exact spot contemplating the future of Rome and how the view had changed over centuries.

View of Rome from Vatican Balcony

View of Rome from Vatican Balcony © as|fa

The collection of relics in the museum is amazing, the renaissance artists handiwork, the mosaics, every single piece is impeccably adorned on those high walls and floors. It is enchanting grandeur which we cannot describe in words. The paintings on the walls deceivingly seems like wallpaper. You can feel the wealth of the church pouring from each corner.

Earlier renaissance aretefacts © as|fa

Earlier renaissance artefacts © as|fa

Our guide gathers us in a shady corner of the courtyard next to two posts depicting the image of “The Last Judgment” and “The Ceiling” – both handiworks of Michelangelo inside the Sistine Chapel. She told us a story about Michelangelo and the paintings within the Sistine Chapel, leaving us wondering in amusement 🙂

Although Michelangelo’s copious talents earned him the regards in Italy, he had his share of detractors. He had a contentious personality and quick temper, which led to fractious relationships, often with his superiors.

Sistine Chapel - The Ceiling © as|fa

Sistine Chapel – The Ceiling

This ceiling was painted by Michelangelo when he was in his early thirties between 1508 to 1512, 4 years. He was hesitant to agree painting inside the chapel as his preference & love was sculpting, however he succumbed to the pressure from the Pope. Later in life, he documented tremendous physical strain that he endured by painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Sistine Chapel - The Last Judgment

Sistine Chapel – The Last Judgment

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. But the story behind the painting ‘The Last Judgement’ is worth a hear. Below are words (taken without permission) from a post courtesy of my sister:

“The master of ceremonies of the Pope had issues with Michelangelo during the 6 years it took him to finish this Painting inside the Sistine Chapel, The artist could not be disrespectful verbally, but showed his annoyance in the painting by depicting Minos the king of Hell with the face of the Master of Ceremonies. When the Painting was unveiled the Master was horrified and complained to the Pope, who liked the painting so much, replied to the Master that if he was in purgatory maybe the Pope could have requested to Christ, but his Jurisdiction does not extend to hell. And so the face remained in the painting, and is still there.”

Our tour ended with the Sistine Chapel and we were free to explore St.Peters Basilica, one of the greatest churches of Christendom and the burial site of its namesake, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, Saint Peter.

Inside St.Peter's Basilica © as|fa

Inside St.Peter’s Basilica © as|fa

St. Peter's baldachin, by Bernini - St. Peter's Basilica. St. Peter's tomb lies directly below this structure. © as|fa

St. Peter’s baldachin by Bernini. St Peter’s tomb lies directly below this structure © as|fa

We noticed the pretty cast iron vents on the marble floors showing a lit room underneath us. We found a small circular stairway leading us down through a passage to the papal burial tombs. Very few people were around. As we walked past all these various tombs, I wondered where Constantine was eventually laid to rest. Sarcophagus of St Helena (Constantine’s Mother) we had seen earlier in the museum.

Pretty cast iron vents in St Peters Basilica © as|fa

Pretty cast iron vents in St Peters Basilica © as|fa

I had goosebumps entire time exploring the dimmed underground, slightly claustrophobic area, it felt like the walls were caving in on me. My sister mentioned in passing a few hours later about the constant flow of lovely yet eerie music that she heard while exploring the tombs. I heard no music at all. Neither did my daughter. We never solved that mystery.

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St Peter’s Square © as|fa

We decided to call it a day and started looking for the exit out of this dark underground repository of papal tombs. As soon as we saw day light, we were relieved and decided to take a picture of the square. It was then, a very unusually-tall-for-an-Italian good looking guard came up to us, looked into my sisters eyes and said ‘Prego’. I nudged my sister and said, ‘either he thinks you are pregnant or he wants to impregnate you. Both are viable possibilities’. It so happens that we had taken the wrong exit and he was directing us out of the square. We laughed our way out of the square, admiring the Swiss Guards 🙂

The Swiss Guard © as|fa

The Swiss Guard © as|fa

We were ravenous after all the walking and needed food urgently, we decided to eat right outside the square at Universal Bar, ignoring the advancements of a flirtatiously annoying waiter. I don’t understand the Italian men relentless pursuit of flirting. It doesn’t work on us, in fact it had the opposite of their desired effect. Gobbling up lunch, we considered taking the bus back as our legs were numb. Boldly we decided to walk it, taking the route through Piazza Navona.

The main reason to pass through Piazza Navona was to check out the “Fountana Dei Quattro Fiume” popularly known as “The Fountain of Four Rivers”. This fountain made it on our list because of Dan Brown 🙂 You must now have figured out our love for Mr.Brown.

Fountain of the Four Rivers © as|fa

Fountain of the Four Rivers © as|fa

The four rivers this fountain represents the four continents where papal authority had spread. The rivers are the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing America.

Piazza Navona was buzzing with street artists and tourists, we really wanted to sit and relax, but our body wasn’t complying. My sister was attracted towards a painting of Venice by a local artist, it was a beauty. She deliberated for a long time on that painting, eventually decided to wait until we get to Venice to determine whether this painting was an accurate representation of the city..

It took a lot of will power to drag our feet back to the studio. We were exhausted and aching for a good nights sleep before our journey to Firenze!

Leaving you with a picture of our collective souvenir from the Vatican xoxoxo

Our Vatican Souvenir © as|fa

Our Vatican sounenier © as|fa

For those of you that want to read PART 1 of our Rome Adventure, it is here.

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Human Brochure|Canberra

An image gallery of all amazing food & trinkets encountered during my Human Brochure weekend trip to Canberra, ACT in November 2014. I was invited to experience a Gastronomic 5 course degustation meal @ Sage Restaurant – incredibly Indulgent Food Coma and tour of the ever evolving & beautiful Canberra. Thank you for the invite, Mumchic and #HumanBrochure!

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Welcome presents from ‘Handmade’ Shop © as|fa

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Canberra doesn’t suck – Mints © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms – Thai Infused Oysters © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms – Yoghurt & Pea Soup © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms – Blueberry Sorbet with Caramelised Almonds © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms – Bloody Mary © as|fa

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Sage Dining Rooms © as|fa

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Sage – Mint Garden Bar © as|fa

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Sage – Mint Garden Bar © as|fa

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Sage – Mint Garden Bar © as|fa

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Sage – Mint Garden Bar © as|fa

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Brekkie @ Local Press © as|fa

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@ Mercure Canberra © as|fa

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@ Mercure Canberra © as|fa

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@ Old Bus Depot Markets © as|fa

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@ Old Bus Depot Markets © as|fa

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@ Old Bus Depot Markets © as|fa

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Roma|Italy – Part 1

Roma © as|fa

Roma © as|fa

BLOG 2: Diary of the Sisterhood Travels – April 14

We departed from Istanbul in daylight so we could land in Rome before sunset. The 2 hour flight with Turkish Airlines was extremely pleasant, contrary to my anxiety about flying the national Turk carrier (I am totally an airline snob). Ironically, the stewardess handed out Turkish Delight before landing – it was then I decided on the name of my blog post for Turkey.

The inspiration to visit Rome came from one source only – Angels & Demons, Dan Brown. Robert Langdon’s thrilling adventure across Rome and Vatican City was sufficient for its inclusion in the travel plans. Finally, we would be physically exploring the birthplace of the renaissance.

Piazza Venezia © as|fa

Piazza Venezia © as|fa

The airport is far from heart of Rome, it took us nearly 45 minutes to get to the city, but as girls do, we had a good chat with the polite Italian driver who tried his level best to converse in English and pointed out (with translation of course) some of the main areas of interest. As we came closer to the city, the lush green fields transitioned to pages from a book of historical monuments. Everywhere corner you look, history exuberated.

via Vittoria © as|fa

via Vittoria © as|fa

For the next three days our abode was a cute little studio in via Vittoria, smack bang in the middle of all major monuments on our list. Once again, our luck continued its magic with accommodation. A leather jacket clad, scooter riding petite ‘Valentina’ was our pretty Italian host. We noticed a lot of scooters & bikes in Rome – I guess it makes sense due to the narrow, nearly claustrophobic streets. Valentina gave us some great tips & information about the locality and I wondered if she ever gets bored repeating the same info over and over to each new visitor. We decided to walk to the local grocery store and stock up on breakfast staples before bedtime – the plan was that my sis will cook a hearty breakfast before we embark on walking exploration of Roma – I wish we had planned for a fitbit or pedometer – we walked a fair distance!

Day 1: Piazza Di Spagna, Fontana Di Trevi, Colosseum & Pantheon

We started the day bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to walk off that amazing omelette my sister whipped up. My heart desired a skinny mocha and immediately my eyes started searching for coffee. The walk from our studio to Spanish Steps was about 5 minutes amidst a string of Italian boutiques which we admired along the way (especially the shoes). There were plenty of cafes around but damned if anyone understood my request for a freaking Mocha! The barista looked at me as if I had horns sticking out of my forehead. It took me a few moments to determine between his general Italian demeanour (mostly comes across as rude) and if he was actually thinking I was a crazy woman requesting coffee to be adulterated! A crime in his eyes – I darted as soon as I realised we was worked up at my (unusual for Italy) request. I didn’t look for a skinny mocha again in Rome…

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

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Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

The Piazza Di Spagna was full of life, bustling with tourists and street vendors. I was surprised at the volume of street hawkers, one would spring up every 10 steps or so, selling anything from roses to handbags. Their persistence annoyed me. We worried about our belongings – Rome is famous for pick pockets. On the other hand, the vendors were well behaved, minding their own business, trying to sell as many statues of David and Vatican replicas as possible!

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

There was maintenance being conducted at the Fontana della Barcaccia – a shame we didn’t get to see the fountain of the ugly boats. The 135 Spanish steps were easy enough to climb to the Trinità dei Monti church. I would’ve enjoyed the atmosphere more if it was less crowded; deciding immediately to return at night considering our studio was only 5 minutes away.

Fontana Di Trevi was next on our list – it was on the way to the Colosseum – so we manoeuvred through narrow cobblestone streets, navigating our way on the map at the same time dodging the persistent hawkers and keeping a consistently sharp eye on our backpacks! The fountain appeared out of nowhere – For some reason I had imagined it to be a lot bigger, regardless, it was a sculpted masterpiece, even though the area was packed with tourists, the fountain continued to portray its glory. The entire backdrop of Palazzo Poli was magnificent, the statue of Ocean in the middle, the dissimilar moods of the two horses all added to its beauty. It was decided. We were returning at night to add to the Trevi coin collection.

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Fontana Di Trevi © as|fa

Continuing our trek to the Colosseum, we passed several enigmatic characters on the street opposite Trajan’s Forum.  There was a slight drizzle and sure enough, this time the street hawkers were coaxing to sell us umbrella’s, to which my sister politely responded, ‘We already have one’, in Bengali – there was a second of silence and then the look of sheer shock on their faces, they were at loss for words after that, wondering which part of Bangladesh we were from, or was it India? They tried to converse with us in many different dialects, but all we gave back was a smile – it was enough for them to leave us alone, even on our walk back – they wouldn’t dare dodge a potential country(wo)men.

Trajans Forum © as|fa

Trajans Forum © as|fa

The fake © as|fa

The fake © as|fa

The funny thing about Rome, was the number of Bangladeshi’s on the streets speaking fluent Italian! The Italians are really strict when it comes to their national language it seems. Bengali and Italian couldn’t be farther apart, but, not only are the Bengali’s speaking their language, they are also cooking their food! If you are eating at an Italian Pizzeria or Trattorria, there is a 90% chance your pizza or pasta has been cooked by someone from Bangladesh. Go Figure.

Standing right across the Arch of Constantine, there was no missing the iconic symbol of Rome, the Flavian Amphitheatre famously known as Colosseum (minus Russell Crowe ofcourse). Its exactly as all the pictures depict from the outside – illustrious. It wasn’t until we got inside that I realised the extent of ruins – the weight of so many centuries has certainly given this monument a beating. The physical strains are visible, but when you walk the floors, for a fraction of a second you may feel the ghosts of old Rome floating above your heads.

Colosseum © as|fa

Colosseum © as|fa

Just as soon as you’ve recovered from the goosebumps of walking the grounds and feeling the ghosts, outside you will be met with shonky gladiators ready to take a selfie with you for 5 Euros 🙂 We decided to skip that and look for lunch!

Gladiators but no Russell Crowe © as|fa

Gladiators but no Russell Crowe © as|fa

On the way back, I was curious about the Arch of Constantine, wondering about Constantine’s timeline between Constantinople (Istanbul) & Rome. Having just visited Istanbul and reviewing his remnants like Hippodrome of Constantinople and Column of Constantine, this history was even more fascinating. Would love to travel back in time to unravel the reasons behind why Constantine inaugurated Istanbul as the Roman capital as opposed to Rome – was it purely because of Istanbul’s strategic location or something more?

Colosseum © as|fa

Colosseum © as|fa

The Pantheon was captivating inside and out, a brilliantly well preserved piece of pagan architecture. One can wonder about the stunning Roman architecture for hours – the design is deceiving, it appears to be rectangular, but mathematics & geometry is at play. If you ever visit, inspect around the the Pantheon from the outside. The inside is another visual enchantment, especially the oculus, as it is another architectural marvel – you can see the intricate designs of the pagans and subsequently the mark of the Renaissance’s artists – its not a surprise since Raphael is buried in the Pantheon!

Pantheon  © as|fa

Pantheon © as|fa

The Pantheon now serves as a church and has been for many centuries post the pagans. We sat outside the Pantheon staring in awe while enjoying our first Italian gelato from an ice creamery opposite the Pantheon – it was chocolate heaven and well deserved treat!

We decided to conclude our day after this – to say we were exhausted is an understatement. Our legs were aching and our minds were buzzing with information and imagery. We had to soak in all the history our brains consumed, rest, recoup and start planning for our much anticipated visit to the Vatican City!

Infinity © as|fa

Infinity © as|fa

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Turkish|Delight

Miniature of Istanbul (Historical Peninsula)

BLOG 1: Diary of the Sisterhood Travels – April 2014

Travelling is in my blood – it beckons me. My heart desires travel to destinations that I’ve never been, especially places that are abundant with historical architecture & natural beauty. As much as I long to travel, my hubby doesn’t reciprocate the sentiments- so the ‘travelling around the world when we are old & loaded’ was never going to work out for us.

I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may never fulfil my hearts desire – family comes first of course, but that did not stop me periodically reminding hubby that my ghost would haunt him forever if I died before exploring the world <giggles>. One fine day, out of the blue, he suggested that I go travelling with my sister while he looked after the kids. As you can imagine – my eyes popped out and jaw dropped to the floor – a bit like this. Seizing the opportunity before he could blink – I sealed the deal and started planning (decided that my 11 yo needed to experience this so got her along the journey). I truly love him for this gesture ❤

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My fascination with Turkish Pottery & Tiles has been long held, possibly since my teens. The aesthetic characteristics, motifs, colour & composition of Iznik has forever enchanted me. My heart consistently cajoled me to set foot in Turkey – I wanted to explore the place that has mysteriously mesmerised me for so long. So when the opportunity presented itself, there was no doubt in my mind – Turkey was automatically locked in.

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© as|fa

We spent 4 days in the city of Constantinople – Istanbul was covered in Tulips – the timing was perfect – lucky for us it was the tulip festival. The tulips were trailing the road across the Marmara sea all the way from the airport until we got to Sultanahmet, where we stayed. You’d think that tulips belong in Netherlands – if you mention that to a Turk and they will unreservedly tell you the Dutch stole the Tulip cultivation idea from the Ottomans.

We checked into Rast Hotel around 9 pm – I knew it was close to all the places we had on our list to explore, but was difficult to gauge the locality at night, it would have to wait till the morning, because first, we needed recovery from the long haul flight.

View of the Blue Mosque from Rast Hotel Rooftop © as|fa

View of the Blue Mosque from Rast Hotel Rooftop © as|fa

Buffet Breakfast (included in the price) at the hotel is on the top floor – I was not prepared for this – right in front of my eyes, uninterrupted views of the Blue Mosque & Aya Sofya sitting at edge of the Marmara Sea – it was like nothing I had seen before, pure majestic. It took me a good couple of minutes to get over my amazement and focus on breakfast. I wish I had taken a picture of the buffet, I have never seen so much variety of sweets and savouries presented at breakfast – I must’ve gained 2 kg’s just looking at it!

The hotel location was perfect for us, walking distance to everything we wanted to see, thanked my lucky stars and of course the Trip Advisor reviews helped too. We started our exploration of the city at 8am – the shops were closed, but roads were in the process of being cleaned, it was a daily ritual for the next 4 days, every morning, without fail, the Turks would ensure the main tourist areas were presentable. It seemed that the Turks also ensured their cats were well fed – I have never seen street cats so fat!

Day 1, first stop was the Blue Mosque. The Sultan Ahmed mosque was built between 1609 -1617 by the order of Sultan Ahmed 1, who ascended the throne at the age of 14 as the 14th Sultan of Ottomans. He commissioned the building of this mosque when he was 19 and  was personally involved as a labourer during the construction. The Turks have never referred to the Sultan Ahmed mosque as the “Blue Mosque” – it was a name given by the westerners due to the internal walls being adorned with famous blue tiles from Iznik.

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
© as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
© as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
© as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
© as|fa

The mosque was beautiful, inside out. There were plenty of tourists even on a weekday, it seems that most locals avoid praying at this mosque, purely because of the tourist traffic. Nonetheless, we spent some quiet moments inside, soaking in the blue beauty and reflecting on the centuries old history that transpired here. Right outside the mosque is the colourful array of shops, famously known as the Arasta Bazaar, its filled with carpet, jewellery, textile and tile shops. We managed to spend a few Euro’s here 🙂

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

I have to admit the Turks (mainly on the streets) gave us three girls a LOT of attention – it was the one thing that made me uncomfortable – I wished they understood that the attention is off putting. The shop keepers however, were surprisingly polite, welcoming and hospitable. I swear I could’ve drowned in the amount of apple tea consumed at this particular Quarts & Ceramic shop called “Firca” – its on the way to Topkapi palace. I made most of my purchases of ceramics from this shop, the quality was great and the shop manager ‘Rifat Seymen’ was very knowledgeable and nearly overdosed me on tea!

'Firca' Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

‘Firca’ Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

'Firca' Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

‘Firca’ Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

Outside, the city was buzzing with street hawkers, selling anything from flower head bands (we just had to buy) to bosphorus boat trips (not a chance for me) and sweets being made in front of your eyes. I was especially requested to bring back a box full of Turkish Delight for my work mates – which they devoured within minutes – there is no comparison to the real deal!

Turkish Delight  © as|fa

Turkish Delight © as|fa

Turkish Delight  © as|fa

Turkish Delight © as|fa

Street Candy  © as|fa

Street Candy © as|fa

The next stop was undoubtedly Aya Sofya as it is positioned right opposite the Blue Mosque. The queues were horrendous – and I decided on a guided tour of the museum – finding a polite licensed guide by the name  of “Omer Cakirca”.

AyaSofya © as|fa

AyaSofya © as|fa

AyaSofya © as|fa

AyaSofya © as|fa

This museum was a church for nearly 900+ years and later converted into a Mosque which remained as such for another 400+ years until finally being commissioned as a museum. The beauty of this monument is that it has successfully converged the handiworks of Christianity as well as Islam on its mosaic interior – Its amazing that the Ottomans did not destroy the mosaic & figures reflecting Christianity and rather covered them up. Remnants of the Roman empire is also present in the form of Viking Scriptures! Omer informed us that the scriptures & artworks were not destroyed, mainly as the church promoted the pagans to come for worship, in the hope they would convert to Christianity. Walking through this museum gave me goosebumps…it was beautiful knowing that we were walking on the grounds in which the Pagans, Romans and the Sultans walked centuries ago. The museum is a true fusion of east & west today.

Medusa Basilica Cistern © as|fa

Medusa Basilica Cistern © as|fa

The Basilica Cistern was next on our list – the largest surviving cistern in Istanbul. This underground water chamber was build in the Byzantine era, approx 10000 sq meters and can store about 100,000 tons of water. The water stored here was mainly as mitigation to threat of the city waterways being poisoned during war. Water was sourced from a spring 20 miles from town through specially created tunnel system. The fishes in the cistern today are kept to kill bacteria, back in the Byzantine times their purpose was to detect water poisoning. The columns supporting these cistern were mostly reused from destroyed pagan monuments and the left overs of the Aya Sophia construction. There is a special column marked with tear drops, it commemorates the lives lost in the cistern..

The two Medusa’s were placed as support for the columns and their heads were placed sideways and upside down because that was the only angle it best supported those columns!
All that walking made us ravenous – we started walking through the puzzling cobblestone streets towards the hotel in search of food – found this small little restaurant , the aromas enticed us in for enjoyable traditional lunch @ Antep Kebap – we were so impressed that we had dinner there for the next 2 nights 🙂
Ayasofya Hamam © as|fa

Ayasofya Hamam © as|fa

Day 2 involved bathing like a Sultan in a Turkish Hamam and visiting the breathtaking magnificence of the Sultans residence, Topkapi Palace. If you haven’t experienced a turkish hamam as yet, let me tell you that you must leave your shame at home and get ready to be scrubbed head to toe like never before. This particular hamam was lodged between Blue Mosque & Aya Sofya – it is covered with marble, white as snow, entirely. I loved the traditional antique basins & tapware – taking note to search for something similar for our house.

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace, the resident of libidinous Sultans, their beautiful concubines and their scheming eunuchs, was architecturally magnificent, set on the hills overlooking the bosphorus. I thought the location was not very strategic for a Sultans palace, however, they resided there for nearly 400 years! Exploring this palace took nearly half the day, the queues were ridiculously long – but worth the wait, especially to explore the Sultans Islamic relic collection. After this, we walked to the Egyptian Spice markets, but to tell you the truth – I have seen one too many spice markets in my life living in the middle east & Pakistan. We skipped it.

Grand Bazaar  © as|fa

Grand Bazaar © as|fa

The grandeur of the Grand Bazaar, Suleymaniye Mosque & Taksim Square was on our list for Day 3. The grand bazaar was a visual treat but the inflated prices were not. The shop keepers were hell bent on looting the tourist and funny enough would allocate prices depending on your country of residence! I told them I’m from Pakistan as opposed to Australia – they seemed to love the Pakistani’s to the point where they nearly sold us items at local cost! I was looking for my house number inscribed on Turkish Tiles, of course I found it in the bazaar 🙂 If I wasn’t travelling further, I would’ve certainly purchased more, but unfortunately I had to consider my luggage limitations 😦

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Inside Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Inside Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

The Suleymaniye Mosque is walking distance to Grand Bazaar and less touristy. Maybe that’s why I noticed the roads were unkept and had my first encounter with beggars. This mosque was similar to the Blue Mosque from the outside, except the inside was mainly adorned with red iznik- so in my mind, I thought “Red Mosque”. The coral red was used for the first time in this building, representing a different era of the Ottoman empire. The most powerful and longest serving Sultan “Kanuni Suleyman” is buried in the gardens of this mosque. If you are wondering, this mosque is actually older than the Blue Mosque!

 Taksim Square © as|fa

Taksim Square © as|fa

 Taksim Square © as|fa

Taksim Square © as|fa

In the night, we took the tram over to Taksim Square, passing through the main city, still bustling with tourists. I must say the surrounds of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya are enchanting at night. We crossed the Galata bridge overlooking the tower and 30 mins later were at Taksim Square, the place that never sleeps – the centre of all political rallies, also known as the Beverly Hills of Istanbul. The place was buzzing with energy and full of night life for the young and restless crowd. We called it a night after this.

Day 4, after enjoying the scrumptious breakfast (they made us eggs just the way we liked it!) we decided to spend the day around the Blue Mosque to soak it all in for the last time before our flight to Rome. I looked at the map for the final time and saw “Little Hagia Sophia” marked next to the Marmara Sea – we decided impromptu to check it out – this is what I love about free will adventures. We passed by the Hippodrome and something that looked like the art museum, making our way downhill towards the shore. The little Hagia Sophia was a miniature replica almost, it was a mosque, at the time the Zuhr prayers were being offered. There was a cemetery in the grounds of this mosque – we decided to look for a suitable place for lunch.

 © as|fa

Opposite the Blue Mosque, random building © as|fa

Hippodrome  © as|fa

Hippodrome © as|fa

While on the hunt for lunch, we came across a local artist studio/gallery, his name was “Cemal Toy“. Lunch plan was quickly forgotten. His expression of modern Turkish art combined it with classical Turkish miniatures and carpet patterns. The paintings which caught our eye were beautiful, he depicted the Istanbul skyline & shores in varying shades of purple and blue. We weren’t going to leave without making a purchase, the only problem was Cemal Toy didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak Turkish – so for the next 30 minutes what transpired was my sister trying her level best to communicate via sign language and relay her choice of paintings and the price she was willing to pay for them. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, bless that old man, he was so polite and generous. He packed the paintings meticulously for our travel after he understood that we had further travel plans. His work is now lovingly displayed in my sisters living room.

The city of Constantinople most certainly lived up to more than my expectations – in fact it has enticed me to explore what Turkey has to offer – ‘Pamukkale’, ‘Cappadocia’, ‘Iznik’ and most recent infatuation with ‘Konya’ – the resting place of Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi.

The three of us were happy and sad at the same time – sad because our hearts wanted more of Turkey and happy because Rome was calling…

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Destination|New Zealand

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

If heaven was a place on earth, this would be it. My words will never do justice to the naturally mesmerising beauty of God’s country – New Zealand.

Our first trip to there was back in October 2010 to the North Island. We explored Auckland for a day or so and continued the journey with a pit stop at middle-earth and straight through to Rotorua, popularly known as New Zealand hot spot (literally!). But this post isn’t about the North Island (will get around to that in the not too distant future) – it is about our recent trip (January 2014) back to Gods country – specifically the South Island.

Lake Wakatipu © as|fa

The view that left us in absolute and utter awe as soon as we laid eyes on it from the air plane window was – Queenstown. Those snow covered peaks standing tranquil against the cobalt blue streams was to our eyes as melody is to the heart – peacefully refreshing.

Irrespective of the abundance of pristine natural wonder Queenstown is also famous for being the “Adventure Capital of the World” – I kid you not, at every nook you will come face to face with some form of adventure sport advertisement. You name it, its there! The home to bungee jumping, sky diving, shot-over jets, para sailing, abseiling..the list just doesn’t end. Its no surprise we witnessed a number of private jets parked at Queenstown airport when we landed – its the adventure playground for the rich & famous – for good reason.

Lake Wakatipu © as|fa

With a canvas backdrop like that  – if I ever lost my marbles and wanted to jump off a plane – it would be in view of the snow tipped Remarkables range and the electric blue of Lake Wakatipu. The surrounds can be described like a continuous playback of an instagram feed – it seems as if someone has used a filter at the entire scenery! Every where you look – its unreal – remarkably heaven…

The Remarkables @ Frankton © as|fa

We drove just over 3000 Km in around 8 days – every minute of it was worth it. The kids enjoyed the adventure as much as we did 🙂

Day 1: Visiting the historic Arrowtown, enchanting Lake Wannaka & Puzzling World

20 minutes out of Queenstown is this quirky little gold rush historic place nestled across the sparkling Arrow river called Arrowtown. We decided to take a stroll through the town, soaking in the boutique charm. They say you can still find traces of gold flakes in the river – we didn’t attempt the treasure hunt, it was drizzling and chilly! There are plenty of unique small shops for those keen to spend some dosh….little on the pricey side! The kids went nuts at the local candy store, it was a visual delight, especially for me =)

arrowtown

Arrowtown © as|fa

arrowtown 1

Arrowtown © as|fa

After about an hour at Arrowtown, we ventured back on the road to our planned destination Lake Wannaka. Decided to take the scenic route via the Crown Range Road – I don’t believe we anticipated the challenge that lay ahead on this zig zag scenic phenomena. The route passed through the Cardrona Ski Resort and I recall thinking how tourists travel through this range during the ski season – it was such a challenge to drive in January!! I later discovered that this road is actually the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of 1121 metres! We had to stop and take a picture of the Remarkable Ranges from the peak of Crown Range, it was a freezing, but worth every chill…

Crown Ranges

The Crown Range Road © as|fa

We must’ve driven about 40 minutes or so and we came across a fence covered with bra’s of all sorts – it was quite amusing actually and also puzzling to think why people would keep attaching bras to a fence? Was it for breast cancer awareness or as my husband put it – the local farmer’s exploits…who knows for sure but it was an interesting sight and of course I had to take a pix and no I did not add to the collection!

Bras

Mystery of the hanging bra’s @ Cardrona Bra Fence © as|fa

Soon after we passed the bra fence – this came into view – we contemplated freezing this moment in time and staying here forever:

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wannaka © as|fa

The kids were anxiously waiting to reach Puzzling World, they had heard much about it and wanted to explore the puzzling atmosphere. I must say it was pretty entertaining – the highlight was the 3D maze (which we completed even though it started pouring) and also the illusion rooms, challenging our perception of reality – I must admit I got a bit queasy. Oh and you must go to the bathrooms before you leave (wink wink).

puzzling world

Puzzling World © as|fa

That concluded Day 1 of our adventure – as it started getting dark we decided to skip the Crown Range Road and take a direct route via Cromwell – it still took us around 45 minutes, but the roads were straight through.

Day 2: Exploring Te Anau Glow Worm Caves & serene cruise through Milford Sound

We had to plan and book ahead for Day 2 as both locations involved a cruise. The bonus was that kids didn’t cost a cent for the cruise during school holidays! First stop was Te Anau – the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau was a little over 2 hours if I remember correctly – we were aiming for the 9 am cruise for the guided Glow Worm cave tour. This day was the most anxious for me personally – I’m not a fan of cruises as I get sea sick and acutely claustrophobic – so the idea of navigating through tunnels to explore the nesting caves of glow worms was daunting to say the least. Te Anau caves were discovered in 1948 by accident. It is translated as “cave with a current of swirling water”  and I can vouch for the swirling water – presenting (photos were not allowed, but we were a bit sneaky):

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves © as|fa

We navigated through the tunnels, which was appropriately lit, witnessing many swirling waters as we made our way to the Glow Worms – to get there we all had to sit in a little dingy in absolute pitch black darkness (I was close to a near meltdown until hubby held my hand and coaxed me into pulling myself together) and then in front of our eyes what seemed like a distant galaxy filled with millions of stars some dim but mostly bright – but it wasn’t stars – it was all worms…glowing…what a spectacular experience. We were requested to be absolutely quite and still so as not to damage their habitat. The bright ones were content and the dim ones were running out of energy and required a feed – which is pretty much either hunting flies or bugs or eating another weaker worm! Kids were in awe – I’m just glad I survived cruise no 1 and the tunnel experience….

Next, the drive to Milford Sound, we were booked in for the 3 pm cruise. This was again quite a long drive, with a few spectacular lookouts on way. You can imagine how excited I was about yet another cruise – the kids were thrilled we got to sail out to the Tasman, got drenched in Stirling waterfall, witnessed many seals on the way. It was pretty – sea sickness aside…We were all exhausted when we finally returned to Queenstown.

Day 3:  Adventure Sports around Q-Town

After all that driving & cruising, we decided not to venture out and spend the day in Queenstown. The kids had short-listed their adventure list to include Shot-over Jet Boats & Para-sailing. It just had to be my luck that both activities involved a boat! Today I realised that my 12 yo is a definitely an adventurous thrill seeker – just like her dad.

A kiwi colleague of mine had recommended to go with the red shot over boats as apparently they had the better end of the river (thumbs up) – I was a bit hesitant, but got sucked into it, what can I say, family pressure. OMG – this is definitely a must do! Pre-book your tickets folks!

Shotover Jet

Shotover Jet @ Arthur Point © as|fa

Next stop was to stroll through the wharf, soak in the atmosphere, enjoy the coffee & ice-cream at Patagonia and wait our turn for para-sailing. (You can buy tickets @ the wharf, there are booths set up to purchase tickets). All of us went up in the sails, it was amazing to be sailing up a few hundred meters in the sky surrounded by the rugged mountain ranges and cobalt blue Lake Wakatipu – the down side for me after being in that small boat for nearly 2 hours – go to the hotel, sleep and order in room service!

Day 4 & 5:  Fox & Franz Joseph Galciers 

We planned this to be a full day activity but ended up becoming 2 days as we got stranded due to rock avalanche – true adventure for the family 🙂

The total drive to Franz Joseph was estimated to be 5-6 hours. Our first pit stop was at “Makarora” (strangely it’s very similar to a punjabi swear word – but lets not go there). I recommend packing sufficient nourishments & spare clothes etc for this drive – you will most certainly need it! We drove through valleys of green hills and periodically would get a stretch view of the Tasman sea. The Haast Pass crossing was amazing – you could see the rivers converging into the ocean – plain beautiful. Finally, reached Fox Glaciers, it was drizzling and foggy, so we couldn’t see it from the lookout and decided to drive further to Franz Joseph. It started raining at Franz Joseph but we decided to keep walking and came across a beautiful waterfall – pure joy. The weather was not in our favour and we didn’t get to climb the glacier, but managed to reach the foot – it was good enough – wasn’t keen on taking risks with the kids around.

Galciers

Waterfall @ Franz Joseph Glacier © as|fa

Our intention was to drive back to Queenstown, but the stars has something else planned for us – we stayed overnight at Haast due to rock avalanche resulting in road closures. The next morning, we left around 8am – the scenery on the way back had changed from green hilly valleys to snow touched mountain peaks – there was snowfall overnight and we witnessed some spectacular views – how lucky!

Day 6:  Glenarchy & Paradise 

Glenorchy

Glenarchy © as|fa

Needless to say we all slept in on Day 6. Went for a swim in the hotel pool then an afternoon nap. Feeling refreshed around mid afternoon we took out the map and decided to go exploring close by – our chosen drive was via Glenarchy (a small town famous due to the Lord of the Ring series) through to a place called “Paradise”. We were curious to find out what a place called paradise looks like – I think its better for the picture to tell you the story as opposed to me struggling to describe it – the only thing I will mention is that the streams are freezing cold and they run over the roads – so if there is high tide, there is a strong possibility you can be stranded (4WD recommended).

Paradise

Paradise © as|fa

Paradise

Paradise © as|fa

Paradise

Paradise © as|fa

Paradise

, Paradise © as|fa

Day 7:  Skyline, Markets & Fergburger

We started the day with exploring the local arts & crafts of the Q-Town markets. Absolutely loved everything – so unique and crafty 🙂 Q-town is abundant in arts & culture, plenty of local artists displaying their creative talent – the art galleries is a must do for those with avid art lovers.

The kids were ready for a final adventure and we made our way to the Q-Town Skyline for a Gondola & luge ride – the views were just sensational – we were lucky that the skies were clear – it was the perfect weather for a family race down that heavenly track =) The best ever luge ride!

lugeAnd finally, to end the day on yet another high, we mustered up the courage to stand in queue for a Fergberger – only in Q-Town. It’s true, you haven’t had a burger until you’ve had Fergburger – never in my life had I tasted something so deliciously sinful. Bliss. Highly recommended – if you can hold your hunger, the queues relax after 8.30pm!!

That’s all from my NZ memory box folks – I’m relieved that I have penned this down finally! We love New Zealand and would definitely go back – my advise for first timers, is to visit North Island first and then South Island – saving the most scenic part of your journey as icing on the cake 🙂

© as|fa