“Is this lunch or dinner?”, He asked, reaching for his glasses. “Well it’s 5:00 and we haven’t had lunch or dinner, so let’s have both,” Me said. Happily there are lots of choices to wine and “dine” from and all the ones we picked were great. Our server’s thorough understanding of all the wines by the glass (and bottle) was as reassuring as her smile. We appreciated being able to sample sips of two whites, two reds (reorder our favorites) before choosing. In terms of our total intake, however, two plus two, exceeded four. Enough said. Ciro, Gavi, Montepuliciano – we were happy.
Before even leaving the car, I knew we had made a mistake. “We aren’t staying here long enough, “ Me whispered. “Who knew?” He replied. Like so many people drawn to Ranthambore, we had come for the tigers that the national park is famous for, not realizing how amazing Vanyavilas would be.
We had arrived in the late afternoon for two short nights after a considerable drive down from Agra. Hours and hours of traffic. Traffic on dirt roads? Well, yes. Dust, chaos, kidney bruising potholes, animals. Worth it? Absolutely.
This question was asked repeatedly by our guide, Rais, arranged for us by Indebo Travel, on our visit to the Taj Mahal. “And would you believe it, Sir?” The number of years, workers, stones, engineers, carvings, visitors would seem unbelievable but true.
The final wish of a beloved Maharani, dying at the birth of her 14th child in 19 years – to be buried at the riverside where she first met the great love of her life.
“And would you believe it, Ma’am?” Rais asked. “Architects and engineers were brought from around the world in order to find a way to build this heavy, very heavy structure on the unstable banks of a river.” 20,000 workers, 1,000 elephants, 22 years.
Remarkably, this marble hardens with human touch making it possible for visitors to pass their fingers, place their cheek or press their lips against it – a truly lasting memory. The original artisan families have continued to use the same, carefully guarded, stone working skills for centuries, passed from generation to generation, allowing The Taj to be meticulously maintained for hundreds of years and perhaps, as intended, for eternity.
“And would you believe it, Ma’am, Sir …” asked Rais as he remembered yet another wonderful anecdote to share about the remarkable history of The Taj. Before seeing it, the astonishing stories, facts, and achievement Taj represents would seem overblown, unlikely or myth. Having seen it, touched it, felt it, The Taj undoubtedly merits its special place in history and legend. It is evidence of extraordinary love and the efforts of countless extraordinary people.
I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed,” Me said, “Taj Mahal is so much more than a symbol or cliche for the world’s greatest testimony to love. It’s magical – mystical.”
As we walked back to the tuk tuk for a harrowing ride back to the hotel, He smiled and said, “Would you believe it, Ma’am? Centuries later, love lives on.” “I’ve always believed it, “Me said. “But I’m happy to know I was right.”
- While a guide is not necessary to appreciate the Taj, we appreciated having ours. In addition to the colorful history and stories he told us, he was able to navigate easily through the ebb and flow of tourists and make sure we saw everything without be crowded. His narratives were truly enjoyable and memorable and added greatly to the experience. Not all guides being equal, you may want to arrange for your guide through your hotel or travel agent to ensure the best experience.
- Be prepared to purchase shoe covers (tiny charge) or remove your shoes when entering certain portions of the interior.
- Bathroom facilities may prove challenging for some and having “private paper” (while it is available in short supply and particularly as paper towels are not available) is always a good idea when traveling. Lines can be very long.
Standing on our terrace at the Oberoi Amarvilas, the Taj Mahal was veiled in morning mist, dreamlike, just beyond our touch.
Amarvilas is a unique property a short tuk tuk ride away from the Taj Mahal. From many terraces the Taj feels but a few steps away across the lawn. At any hour, but particularly at sunrise, sunset and in moonlight, the view of the world’s greatest symbol of love lives up to it’s reputation.
This amazing hotel has gone to great lengths to create the illusion of being within the Taj’s magical walls. A mere child (some eight years old) in the majestic hotel history India enjoys, Amarvilas has aimed (and achieved) it’s place at the table among her venerable counterparts.
The outdoor pool, always heated, creates the mist rising from the lawns in early morning as peacocks wake and begin their casual parade. Flowers bloom, fountains spray, and life is decidedly better than one would hope for this morning. Or any morning.
No doubt the sheer beauty and luxury, professionalism, excellence and attention created memories we will often want to share with others.
“What was the single best thing, Me asked, always asking the impossible questions. “Maybe it would be his smile?”He replied. “It was,” I agreed, “It will be that smile we will always remember.
- Rooms farthest from the elevator, as ours was are quietest
- The location for visiting The Taj can’t be beat
- Good place to try Indian breakfast for the first time
- Enjoy the pool – it’s that special
“And now we’re back at the beginning,” He said. Three weeks after landing in Delhi to begin our first trip to India, we were checking back into The Imperial preparing for our 3:30 am flight home.
We were welcomed back warmly as though frequent guests, whisked through check-in and taken to our room. Just looking forward to the opportunity to freshen up and stretch out on an excellent bed, we found we had been upgraded to a suite, making the next 7 hours before leaving for the airport so much more comfortable. We enjoyed the large art deco sitting room with it’s comfortable sofa, club chairs and ambient lighting. It was a surprise and delight to order truly excellent pasta dishes from the room service menu from San Gimignano, the hotel’s Italian restaurant.
The Imperial’s General Manager has created a highly personal environment so gracious, efficient, satisfying and comfortable, we will no doubt look forward to any opportunity to return to The Imperial. An important building in Delhi’s history it continues to be part of India’s legendary reputation for hospitality, elegance and grace. It was the perfect beginning and end to our remarkable trip to India.
- We were very happy with the Imperial Room we booked upon arrival which had an excellent bathroom and good closet space as well as a sofa and comfortable seating area. Excellent value. Suites are, of course significantly larger with a glamorous bathroom, separate living room and additional powder room. Both are extremely comfortable and accommodating.
- Don’t overlook the Spa. Beautiful facility and excellent services.
“It’s 3:00 AM. Its pitch black. But we’re in India!” Me said. “The adventure begins!” He replied. Living legend, living treasure, The Imperial hotel has an extraordinary history behind it’s architecture, glamour and well deserved reputation for service.
“The interiors and grounds of The Imperial have been relevantly modernized and reflect the best of old and new. The impressive Royal Palms throughout the property line the paths through the gardens, pool and idyllic spa.
“We’ve only slept for five hours but I already wish we were staying longer,” Me said. I wondered how many travelers like us were foolishly only using The Imperial as a crash pad after the long flight from the United States before setting out in all directions around India. “We couldn’t have picked a better hotel,” He said. “We?” Me asked.
The lobbies, many restaurants, public spaces, and conveniences belie their elegance. The lovely breakfast room and terrace are also open for lunch and there is an unexpected and excellent French Patisserie. The pastry chef’s skill can also be sampled in each of the restaurants with more than a passing nod to Paris. Truly excellent! In-house dining, along with other services are prompt, efficient and gracious.
he lobbies, many restaurants, public spaces, and conveniences belie their elegance. The lovely breakfast room and
terrace are also open for lunch and there is an unexpected and excellent French Patisserie. The pastry chef’s skill can also be sampled in each of the restaurants with more than a passing nod to Paris. Truly excellent! In-house dining, along with other services are prompt, efficient and gracious.
A spa afternoon was the perfect antidote to jet lag. The massages were incredible and the atmosphere was tranquil with soaring ceilings, steam, sauna, showers and dressing rooms that felt spacious and private. The perfect place to let stress slip away and prepare for our first trip to India.
“We really couldn’t have picked a better place,” He said. “I know,” Me replied. “We amaze me.”
“What did we do before Heathrow’s Sofitel? How many times have we stayed there now?” He asked. “Well, I look back on it as the Barbarian Age – before being able to stay overnight for a connecting flight the next day with a comfy bed, excellent room service, great shower and wonderful breakfast.”
“It’s an added expense,” He said. “True, Me replied, “But so much better than putting up with me on no sleep and a big dose of jet lag cranky.” “So true,” He replied. “If only people knew. It’s taken the sting out of Heathrow.” “I don’t need convincing,” Me said. “Just make the reservation.”
“I love gorillas,” Me said. “I know you do, He replied. The Ape House at the Berlin Zoo boasts, among other things an interior glass enclosure that brings you face to face with their remarkable residents. The orangatans tumbled, swung and gestured for their own amusement, wrapping themselves in burlap sacks, peeking out from their shawls to see who might be watching.
The great apes languidly inspected their toys, a variety of hanging and walking ropes, and each other with only an occasional glance at the two of us through the expansive panes of glass. Inexplicably there were more of them than people that day. We had the place to ourselves. “They’re beautiful,” He whispered.
The magnificent silverback moved slowly, gently, gracefully to the glass directly in front of me. He sat down. “I wonder if he can hear my heart beating?” Me asked. “I can,” He said as he put an arm around my shoulders.
Face to face, our eyes met and the largest gorilla I’d ever seen puckered his lips and laid on his back without breaking our gaze. “He’s enormous,” Me whispered. Without thinking, I pressed my left hand to the glass. And then my gorilla, my King Kong, raised his right hand and spread his giant fingers against my own.
“I wonder what he’s thinking. He just keeps looking.” Me said. “Maybe he’s never seen someone cry before,” He said, “This could take a while. I’m going to take a walk around and I’ll meet you back here.”
So there we stayed my Kong and I, hand to hand, without looking away, for a very long time. Suddenly the entire gorilla family was on the move, across the enclosure, down the ropes moving toward the back. I expect there was food involved. His hand was gone. He ambled away. He did not look back.
“Are you sure you’re ready to go?” He asked as I found him at the door to the Ape House. “He left,” Me said, “They all left. I think it was feeding time.” “Ah, so he was smart and handsome,” He teased. “Not that smart,” Me said, “He didn’t offer to take me to lunch.”
“Do you really think we’re going to need help in Morocco?” He asked. As experienced independent travelers his surprise was understandable. “NEED, probably not. But WANT? Yes, I think we’re going to want some help our first time in Morocco.”
“Having done a lot of looking on line and sent too few emails back and forth to too many companies, I’ve narrowed it down to Sun-Trails,” Me said. “Even though they do complete vacations for couples, groups, or anything you could think of, they were the only company that seemed genuinely enthusiastic about handling the day trips we want to do from Marrakech.” (We had already booked our air and riad ourselves.) What impressed me most was their owner’s responsiveness, attention to detail, helpful suggestions and willingness to accommodate our preferences.
Our guide and driver, Boujemah, was the perfect ambassador for our introduction to Morocco. His knowledge, professionalism and kindness exceeded any possible expectation and his good company has kept our memories vibrant and alive. Having been to Morocco twice in one year (yes, we liked it that much), there is no doubt we will call upon Sun-Trails when we next return for a more extensive countrywide itinerary. We haven’t been able to think of a thing that we wished had gone differently or better. In fact Sun-Trails is everything you want a tour company to be, which is why we added them to our GOOD THINGS we’d like you to know about!
Our last morning in Venice! Each day had started out in Campo Stefano with endless cups of double espresso and tiny pastries we never learned the name of. Our waiter smiled and asked, “so you will go home without getting lost in Venice?” We laughed because it seemed impossible to ever know exactly where you were but we hadn’t gotten “lost” despite day long walks through the twisting, colorful streets, covered stone paths, bridges and alley ways. Blind Man’s Bluff without the blind fold, spun round and round, lazily breathless and happily dizzy. Suddenly, around the corner, over the bridge, a left, a right, turned around and eight paces that way, you were exactly where you wanted to be. It was fun.
We had rented what had once been the gardener’s cottage of a grand palazzo. It was a little two story house surrounded by a flowering walled garden with lemon trees and grand ancient iron gates. A romantic idyll in one of the most romantic cities in the world. Locking the doors behind us we were Venetian or at least able to sustain the fantasy.
“I’d like to go for a walk by myself today,” Me said. “Really?” He asked, dropping his pastry. “Yes,” Me said “I have to believe that after eight days, I’ve learned something. I’m practically a local. I can do this.” Our waiter smiled sympathetically at my husband. (The waiter always smiled, probably raised from childhood on incredible nameless pastries.) “Signora, people live in Venice all their lives and sometimes even they can get lost.” “Well I’m not going to,” Me said. More sympathy, more smiles and He handed over the key to Me. “I’ll meet you back at the Palazzo in one hour,” He said with obvious reluctance, “One hour.”
I walked without purpose to the next campo, turning left, perhaps toward the Rialto Bridge (or not), past the pink house with the white cat in the window, right at the blue shutters, straight past the window boxes with purple flowers. I wasn’t sure where I was but guessed that five winding turns in any direction could be someplace I’d recognize. With eight short minutes left on the agreed upon hour, I stopped trying to puzzle out “the best way back.”
A businessman in a apparent hurry was about to fly by me when he suddenly stopped and spoke to me in agitated in Italian. No idea what he was saying, I suddenly realized he was lost! Even better, he thought I was local! Unaccountably thrilled and empowered, I was able to decipher where he wanted to go. Somehow I was certain it was “the other way.”
The heavy iron key to our front gates was the size of a carrot and I waved it enthusiastically at him for credibility. Before he could walk away, I took his elbow and started to walk him in the “right” direction. A few minutes later, grateful that the white cat had not left the window in pink house, I was certain that he was only minutes away from his destination and our iron gates were a few short streets to the right. I walked him to the corner where he spotted someone in an outdoor cafe who waved at him.
“You leef here?” my businessman asked. “Yes,” Me replied, “for today, I do.”