My beautiful sky…

My beautiful sky holds me in her warmth as I spread my wings to fly

Always there to put the wind beneath my wings when I feel I will fall

Rays of sunshine through the clouds – her angelic smile

I have never seen a more beautiful sunset than through my sisters eyes….

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Happy birthday sis… Thank you for being my beautiful sky! :*

 

 

 

Beijing, China

 

There is a world out there very different from yours where life is lived differently and stories are woven differently… and Beijing was like walking through one of those mystical stories…

A world closes when you enter Beijing… You can no longer access your daily dose of Facebook, Gmail or google….and then another world opens up… one which is tailor made for the residents of Beijing… everything is controlled and yet everything seems very peaceful in its constraints.

If you hear “Beijing” and think of monuments in red and green, old men with long thin braided beards in even longer silk robes, tight lipped faces and hot Chinese soups… Well you are not too far from the truth… What is fascinating are the stories behind it…

My dear friend and business partner, Hema and I arrived in Beijing on a whim, tearing ourselves away from work in Guangzhou for a three day trip. One of the best decisions we have made, as otherwise, we would have left China with  a completely different and unjustified image of it as an industrial country.

Walk out of Beijing airport and be greeted (so to speak) by a whole herd of shouting taxi drivers- this is the thing with China- they all seem like they are angry and shouting all the time when really they are just talking! Once you get used to it (it takes a little getting used to) and don’t take offence to it anymore… life can move onto other things 🙂

Beijing doesn’t have the best public transport system and not too many people speak English so pick your place of stay well. We stayed at Wangfujing which is walking distance from all the shopping and close to Tiananmen square. I would also highly recommend home stays in old Beijing town of Hutong to experience some traditional Chinese living.

Beijing comes alive at night and its not the usual clubbing and pubbing…. The streets of Beijing are filled with people dancing… Yes I was shocked too… You will find people in groups near the cathedral… in front of the mall… along the footpaths… doing the waltz, line dancing, jive, hip hop…even if you cant shake a leg… be sure to join in!

Street shopping and street food is a must in China… Even if you don’t fancy a plateful of worms, insects, duck…. the sights of stalls lined up with a range of flora and fauna to devour cannot be missed!…  And if you have a rubber lining inside your tummy… You must dare to try some…. However, if you are looking for something to lift up your spirits, head to Dongcheng district.

Put your shopping shoes on and get set to bargain whether on the streets or in the whole-sale malls… You can strike up mean deals on Gucci, Armani, Kipling, Diesel or any other brand that you so fancy- replicas of course! If the world has it… China does too! A good place to find it all under one roof is at the Silk street. A word of caution: don’t get taken for a ride!

But the real beauty of Beijing lies in its monuments and their mystical stories spanning many dynasties….

The forbidden city on a weekend looks like the whole of China and their uncles and aunts have all decided to come to this one place! So if you have a choice pick a weekday. Once you swim through the sea of people without losing an eye to the many umbrellas and get your tickets to enter this magnificent complex, it then transports you into another world… Stepping into the forbidden city through massive red gates is an honour because if it were a few centuries ago, your head would have been cut off!

The story goes that the Emperor was to be the only real man in the forbidden city sent down by the Gods to multiply and procreate…add to his lineage … To make sure this was so, the men who were hired to guard the Emperor were operated on and converted to eunuchs… Their family jewels (read genitals) were preserved in a bottle till the day they died… At which point a family member could BUY this back to bury him as a man! FUN FACT!

This complex, with its even more complex stories, spans into hectares of land so be prepared for some good walking through the halls of harmony, the palace of heavenly peace, the palace of tranquillity, the Imperial gardens and much more….

The temple of heaven is approached through a beautiful garden and stands tall in a gorgeous blue and red colour depicting the skies and the heavens alike. This temple built in the Ming dynasty was one of the most important sites for prayers where emperors used to gather to pray for a good harvest. The correlation between the universe and the earth, the calculations of the same and how the structure is built to be a powerhouse based on these facts is quite fascinating and worth reading up about before heading there. If you are a morning bird, you could watch Tai Chi in the garden. We didn’t get our collective butts up in time but were privy to some singing and dancing in the gardens after our exploration of this magnificent structure!

One of the prettiest places in Beijing is the Summer palace. Its quite a lot of walking but we were completely engulfed in the stories our wonderful guide Craig (everyone has a fancy English name for convenience) had to tell us! The summer palace abuts a large serene lake with a hilltop Buddhist temple called the Longevity hill. The story goes that the emperor wanted to make the most beautiful imperial garden for his mother and so dug up the land to create this lake… the remains of that mound is what the temple sits on.

The summer palace was used also for the Emperor to sow his seeds (so to speak) to help increase the population of his country. The Emperor along with his guardian eunuchs would travel to the villages where families would display their girls for the Emperor. It was considered an honour for the family if the Emperor picked their daughter to help in his kingly duties to procreate! The girl was then wrapped in nothing but a silk cloth and brought to the palace. The Eunuchs stood outside and took notes of the conversation in the room lest the king gives away any secrets to the damsel! Another fun fact!

The summer palace was also used by the Empress Dowager Cixi who was better known as the dragon lady. She was considered to be the reason for the fall of the Qing dynasty. What I found fascinating was that she insisted that her every meal had 40 dishes! A large part of these dishes were only there to excite her senses of smell and vision- colourful, fragrant dishes… that were not for consumption! Funny fact!

No trip to Beijing is complete without braving the climb up the Great Wall of China. Now this could be called a climb or a near death experience depending on your fitness level. Imagine my surprise when I was breathless after what I thought was a good climb only to be told we have reached the foot of the climb up! This monstrous mammoth mind blowing creation is almost impossible to have been built by mere humans! Each step is of a different height so you cant keep a steady pace! When I reached half way up and felt my heart pumping outside my chest and my brain telling me “are you trying to kill yourself?”… I see this beautiful and calm little woman all of 75 years old walking down after her climb up! That was all the inspiration I needed! IMG_8687.JPGFor most Chinese the climb up the great wall is a pilgrimage and you would know why when you get up there and see the stone that says “until you reach the great wall, you are no hero” – written by Chairman Mao. I don’t know about being a hero but the view is to die for!

Before you leave Beijing make sure you get your dose of good Peking duck, some Jade jewellery, an enlightening session on the art of tea drinking and an eyeful of the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy and music.

….and when in Beijing…. bring out your communist cap and make a communist buddy!  You must!

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The beaches of Algarve, Portugal

“Tranquillity is a beach state of mind….”

If the beach can lift your spirits in an instant like it does mine you don’t want to miss visiting Algarve in Portugal. 160kms of beach- need I say more?!

We drove from Seville in Spain to Algarve on a beautiful road that curves, dips and rises almost like it’s doing a waltz with you. The landscape, as you enter Portugal, instantly changes into undulating patches of shades of green with an odd yellow Portuguese house popping out at every few intervals and grazing sheep dotting the uneven pastures. This is one road on which you would not mind taking your time to reach the destination…

We reached Albufeira in Algarve just before sunset where we were booked into a lovely apartment close to the beach. AirBnB is a brilliant option if you are wondering where to stay in Portugal. If you don’t mind frying your own eggs and doing your own laundry, I highly suggest renting an apartment.

It was new years eve the day we reached Albufeira and I think we were in the perfect part of Algarve to bring in the new year because the party was on the beach with a concert and fire works from the ocean. Although I had to drag my two chivalrous men out into the crowd, I think they were happy I did… Or atleast they humoured me well! 😉

We also discovered that a good place to dance until the early hours with a one man band playing music from the 70s and 80s is Sir Harry’s pub. Nothing fancy nothing new …. Just some very happy people and some retro music!

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The beach of Albufeira or Praia do Tunel is accessed through a tunnel cut out from a rock.  Walking through old town amid little cafes and restaurants you can see the tunnel calling out to you with the sound of the ocean beckoning from beyond…. and you won’t be disappointed that you succumbed!

Portuguese food doesn’t need any introduction and if you like your tummy’s fill of sea-food you are at the right place. There are several Portuguese restaurants with a view of the sea that serve brilliant Portuguese seafood- Runia a Restaurant, Cabana Fresca are a couple of them. If you are looking for a good place to have the famous “peri peri” chicken you should do a take- away from Albufeira gourmet Churrasqueira. There are many “not-so-good” restaurants that have popped up too so make sure you check the reviews before you head out.

A walk through old town to the Marina is highly recommended where you can get some of the best views of the beach. Don’t forget to take fuel breaks for some Baileys coffee or some good old fashioned Gin and tonic!

The marina at Albufeira is a good place to spend the day with kids. Unfortunately when we were there much of it was closed being New years day. There are boat trips for whale and dolphin watching, fishing, scuba diving, exploring the famous cave beaches and Portugal coastline. IMG_3237

Dolphin driven, dream wave, and  Algar experience come highly recommended. The marina also has Segway rides, Go karting for kids and other fun kiddie stuff … you can put your feet up and have a drink at the many cafes and bars while the tots tot around…

Many ways to explore Algarve…. One of them is to hire a bicycle and explore the coastline. It is very easy to get the child in you to surface in a place like this! Considering my backside hadn’t sat on a cycle for over 12 years I was a bit rickety at the wheel. Thankfully Kiron was extremely patient and not to mention a bit worried that I may go down the slope while trying to cycle up! There are many ups and downs along the coastline and if you are not in the best of physical health… well… do it anyway… but do it slow 😉

We cycled past Praia de Manuel Lorenco a small rocky cove beach stretch which is probably ideal for fishing and lazing in the sun. We spotted a few people standup paddle boarding. Seemed like fun… It’s worth a try I’d say!

Onward and upward… and downward… and upward… huff puff… we reached what was a destination well worth the effort- Praia da Gale. A serene beach with lots of rocky outcrops to explore and yet safe since the water is not too choppy. The beach is clearly a tourist favourite and more so the Praia da Gale restaurant. If you are a foodie and a lover of sea-food at that, I’d say make an extra effort to visit this place! Fresh of the basket sea food cooked Portuguese style, or any which way you want it, topped with some rose wine. Make sure you try their fried sardines and the Portuguese prawn dish- You will leave smiling!

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Advantages of living in an apartment? After what seemed like a tedious day of cycling (although I only cycled 8kms!)- Kiron made us a scrumptious meal for dinner (this is a man who cooks up things on a whim and it looks fancy and tastes amazing consistently!) and topped it up with Maracuya (passion fruit) juice Jello laced with rosemary and mint. This day was blessed by the food God!

There are so many beaches to explore and each one is different from the other- some are perfect for surfing, while some are perfect for sun-bathing and swimming… others still are perfect for fishing and some for exploring caves in a kayak. All of them are picturesque and everyone of them you will want to visit again. I didn’t get to see all of them but I plan to go back and finish that list! On my list of beaches to explore next time- Praia Da Rocha, Falesia beach, Praia Dona Ana, Praia da Marinha, Praia Da Coelha and Praia Sao Rafael. Each one promises to be picturesque – my favourite kind of addiction!

No picture on google or reviews could prepare us for the mind blowing awesomeness of the beach we went to next. In our endeavour to find a boat to take us to see dolphins (which did not happen due to the weather!) we drove upto Praia de Benagil– a small fishing village with hardly any space to park – surrounded by steep climbs and dips. We parked the car and walked in through a lot of shrubs and bushes and came to a clearing that took our breath away!

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On a sunny day, this coastline can be enjoyed on a kayak or a boat- allowing people to explore the many caves and cave beaches of Benagil. If you go on a rainy day like us, make sure you go to the top of the hill and take in the magnificence of this beach. The little tea shop below serves a mean cup of whiskey and coffee- perfect after you get drenched!

No matter which beach you pick I can promise you it will definitely bless you with the best sunset! I saw the perfect sunset of the entire road-trip the day before we left Portugal…. Again… On cue! At the Portimao beach the sky was like a carnival of colours- yellow, orange, red, purple….. It just kept getting more and more dramatic as the sun dipped into the icy waters!

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At this point….. I fell completely and deeply in love with her beauty……