We landed onto the island of Mauritius, and after a seamless car rental experience, we were driving through lush green mountains to arrive at the Westin Turtle Bay. We were upgraded to a lovely room with a large balcony, where we knew we’d spend many evenings! Our room was also close to the resort pool which had a large kids play area. Overall, we found the service at the resort to be impeccable, and extremely kid-friendly which significantly enhanced our experience. Every request was met with a smile, and the staff went above and beyond to make our stay special.
On the second day, we went out on a glass bottom boat and the kids enjoyed experiencing the coral reef and fish, and were well behaved. On the third day, we drove to Cassela, where the kids got an African Safari experience, witnessing impala, giraffes, zebra, lions, and little lion cubs. A few days were spent relaxing at the resort, on the beach and in the pool, and enjoying several bottles of French wine that we purchased at a local wine store. We also went out on a pedal boat that the kids enjoyed a lot. The primary language of the Mauritians is French and the population is largely Indian, living in the African continent which made for an interesting mix of cultures. Africa is Ayaan and Ariana’s fifth continent and Mauritius Ayaan’s 25th country!
Every evening, we enjoyed live music at the beachfront and then dined in one of the resorts restaurants or ordered room service in our sprawling balcony, complete with day beds, and a swing. On the fifth day we drove to the south side of the island where we saw the black river gorge national park and some beautiful Hindu temples. Our favorite was the unplanned stop to Chamarel rhumerie where we enjoyed a tour of the process of rum making and a tasting of 7 rums followed by a sumptuous lunch in their gardens. Ayaan’s tummy was upset so he didn’t eat much and slept in his stroller during lunch. One of the memories of the trip was watching Ayaan and Ariana interact and play with each other with sand toys on the beach and swim in the pool together with their puddle jumpers. Ayaan remains very caring and protective of his little sister if he suspects that she is unsafe.
After 6 nights, we departed for the St Regis which had a spectacular location next to the Le Morne mountain. The south side of the island is lush and green and stunningly beautiful. On our way to the resort we stopped at the seven colored earths, a geological formation which was beautiful. The kids also met with some very old tortoises that had been transported from the island of Seychelles when the tortoise population in Mauritius was dwindling. The St Regis lived up to its expectations after a somewhat rocky start. The kids were overjoyed as they were welcomed with gifts including new sand toys. We loved the food and cocktails and in particular the multi course a la carte breakfast with home made croissants, dim sum, cheese and charcuterie washed down with mimosas. The live saxophone musician in the evenings was extremely talented and a perfect compliment to the sunsets. The pan Asian and Japanese restaurants were fantastic. After our experience at both resorts with well built kids clubs and activities including treasure hunts, we were convinced that Mauritius is by far the most child friendly country that we’ve ever visited. Merci Mauritius – we had a fantastic time!
We drove early this morning to Salzburg, a return visit for me after 20 years, on our way to Munich. The city seems to have developed considerably since I last visited, but maintained its charm. Our first stop was the Mira bell palace and gardens where I reminisced about the songs from Sound of Music. Next, we headed to see the Salzburg Cathedral but it was closed for Sunday service. We strolled around the beautiful baroque quarter, and stopped in a beer garden for a tall mug of beer while the kids played in the fountains and sand pit nearby. After a satiating Indian meal, we continued our journey to Munich while the kids napped.
Gaurav and Ayaan were thrilled to be checking in to the Westin Grand, a hotel with air conditioning after several nights of apartment living. Gaurav’s insights and love for hotels while traveling (and lack of appreciation for apartments) should give us lodging real estaters some comfort in the midst of the sharp rise in shared lodging establishments. After some rest, we headed to the famous Hofbrauhaus for some mugs of beer with sausages, roast chicken and pretzels. The kids enjoyed the live music and the meal. We then strolled around the various squares and made our way to Marien platz where the sounds of beautiful live music at every corner had us stopping several times to appreciate the beats. Later that evening, Gaurav and I enjoyed the remainder of our Tignanello after putting the kids to bed.
The next morning, it appeared that Gaurav was more excited than either of the kids as we planned to visit Legoland! A first for me, it was pretty incredible to see miniature cities replicated entirely in LEGO – Venice was particularly impressive due to our recent visit. The kids enjoyed riding in the LEGO train, boat, car, helicopter, and following the boats and trains in the miniature models.
Today is our last day with a car; we return it at Munich airport tomorrow and fly to Brussels. The past seven weeks have been incredible! Ariana has blossomed into a lively toddler that loves to sing – she awakens singing and often sings during the car rides. Her favorites are “baa baa black sheep”, “how far I’ll go” from Moana and “Five Little Monkeys” complete with the act of jumping on the bed! She’s also extremely talkative and expressive and her comments often leave Gaurav and I looking at each other in wonder going “did you hear what she just said”. Keep that going, Ariana. Ayaan continues to be very caring particularly about his little sister which is also very gratifying to see. Nearly 7,500 kilometers later, Au Revoir to our white Puegot, you served as well.
Our second stop in our favorite Italy was in the city of Florence. After a straightforward 4 hour drive, we arrived at the riverfront Westin Excelsior. At this point we’ve driven more then 5,000km on the journey and I am so proud of Ayaan and Ariana for being fantastic on the drives. It was my first time in Florence and it was quite different than what I had expected. It was quaint, sleepy, romantic and historic with an incredible skyline and amazing food (which I expected). The hotel was majestic and smelt really nice and most importantly the staff were super nice to the kids unlike in France or Switzerland.
After checking in, I first got a much needed haircut at a local barber. We then walked along the river passing the famous bridges until we came upon the Ponte Vecchio – initially we weren’t blown away by this bridge but only after looking at it for sometime did the beauty sink in – and the amazing architecture where they actually have houses and shops on a bridge! We then strolled to the nearby Piazza degli Uffizi, after getting some tiramisu gelato. We spent ample time in the Piazza della Signoria with the open air sculptures, the over arching Palazzo Vecchio and the buzzing square. Ariana loved her time saying Hi Horsey to the horse carriages and looking at the lion sculptures. We then walked to the Cathedral di Santa Maria with its tile outdoors. The kids had done enough sightseeing so we treated them to the carousel in one of the squares, before they were too tired and threw tantrums that required us to call it a night.
We woke up late the second morning and took a taxi to Piazza Michealangelo that offered sweeping views of Firenze and it’s skyline. We relaxed with a glass of Prosseco as Ayaan played with the stroller and Ariana was amused by the birdies. We then took a bus to Mercato San Lorenzo – a huge marketplace with the freshest ingredients and restaurants to devour. We had a simple Spagehtti Carbonara with our Brunello followed up with a Tiramisu. We were too tired from the food and heat, and we decided to nap back in our hotel.
When we woke up, we went to the rooftop bar of the hotel with amazing views of the main monuments. Anjali and I were excited since it was date night and we had a babysitter coming! After getting the kids set with some Indian food in the room, we walked over to a rooftop bar about 10 mins from the hotel. The weather got really nice in the evening and it was a perfect setting. We wrapped up the night with a delicious meal at Caffe dell’Oro. Starting with a tempura style fried vegetables along with a Brunello, followed by a yummy pasta and risotto, and ending with a local Tiramisu with hot coffee poured over it and a Moscato. Perfect end to a romantic couple of days in Firenze!
On our first evening in Madrid, we checked into the Westin Palace and strolled through the neighborhood, enjoying a nice dinner and a puppet show through one of the balconies.
The next morning, we got off to an early start and strolled through the Retiro Park, pond, kids park and Crystal Palace. Our next stop was the Prado. We particularly enjoyed the works of El Greco, who seemed to use the brilliance of colors to electrify his portraits and depictions. Then, the kids napped while we enjoyed a Thai lunch and then we walked to Plaza Mayor. We then enjoyed the bustling Mercado de San Miguel which boasted fresh seafood and cava delights.
After a long siesta back at the hotel room, the kids devoured Ayaan’s favorite corn soup and sweet and sour pork at a Chinese restaurant. We then enjoyed the pre-festivities for the pride parade, walked along Gran Via and then enjoyed a few glasses of rioja with some Gambas at a nice restaurant. One of the things in general that’s not great about Spain with our kids is that everything starts very late and most restaurants only open after 830pm which is their bedtime. We retreated back to the hotel in time for Ayaan to watch an encore of the puppet show at the balcony across the street.
On our last day in Madrid we decided to take the kids to Faunia, a Wild animal park 10 miles from our hotel in Madrid. We reached just before it opened at 1030am and spent half the day there. Ayaan and Ariana absolutely loved it! It was a really unique experience as they’ve done a fantastic job of imitating the natural habitats of the animals and birds including a rainforest, underground caves, jungles and cooler climates. Their favorites were the seal and sea lion show (very Sea world like), the penguins swimming, dinosaurs, and the little monkeys in the rainforest. It was a hot tiring day but the kids topped it off with an ice cream. After a siesta, we strolled to the Mercado San Anton in the cool Chueca neighborhood where we capped the night off with some Cava and tapas and another showing of the puppet show. Onto our last destination in Spain tomorrow – San Sebastián.
I spent 24 hours with Ayaan and Ariana alone in Marbella while Anjali flew to Frankfurt for the night with her parents. It was my first night with them alone outside our Sausalito home (luckily I do have plenty of experience single parenting with Anjali’s work travel!) and I was nervous. We decided to check into the Westin from the Airbnb since I felt it’ll be easier in a hotel to manage both of them. We were lucky enough to get a good rate and an upgrade to a huge suite, and also change our reservations in Granada and Madrid by a day without much hassle. My luck is never great when Anjali is traveling as Ariana woke up from her nap with a light fever.
I decided to take it chill and we spent most of the time in our room outside of going for a walk around the resort, pool and golf course with the goal of getting hot milk. The Westin is a beautiful property with great service and a fantastic hilltop view of the mountains, sea and the Marbella area.
So how did I entertain the kids? Ayaan and I first made coffee while Ariana napped. Ayaan of course took all of the sugar packets and cream and added to his cup of coffee (he did not drink it, but did manage to drop it on the couch!). Ayaan and I then ate an apple and a peach that the nice lady delivered to our room complimentary. Once Ariana woke up feeling better things got a little crazier. She ate her favorite popcorn while I cut Ayaan’s nails. And as a treat both of them got cookies that they gobbled down like monsters.
We had a nice dinner in the room with their favorite chicken nuggets, fries and fruit leftovers. And then things really got fun. Ayaan asked “Daddy can I please play with Ariana for some time?”. And he turned to Ariana and said “Ariana let’s play 5 little monkeys” and they both started singing and jumping on the bed! Once the kids were in bed, daddy finally got some free time to watch the England-Colombia game.
The kids slept really well and woke up late! We had a nice breakfast at the buffet where the kids had cereal, oatmeal, watermelon, orange juice and churros with chocolate strawberry sauce (as Ariana says “Mama not happy”). We then hit the kiddie pool and sang, danced and played with the ball in it. Now after our bath we’re off to pick up mama at Malaga airport and head to Granada!