Fairmont Banff Springs

“Castle in the Rockies” as it’s often referred too, is perched above the alpine town of Banff set amongst surrounding mountains and the forest of Banff National Park.

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Castle in the Rockies – yes this is my picture from a nearby viewing platform!

To me this hotel represents the Canadian Rockies, a symbol of luxury lodge accommodation amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  My expectations were high on all accounts, and after my stay here, they were certainly met and exceeded.

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As part of a tour, we first arrived at a side entrance to the hotel, which was fine. However the front/main entrance is certainly the way to arrive.  With high ceilings, the modern rustic charm sets you up for your stay.  As you walk through the hallways, you can feel the history this hotel has lived through.

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The Pool @ the Fairmont Banff Springs

My room was located a few levels up and again provided the alpine coziness and comfort the Fairmont alpine hotels are famous for.  My plush looking bed, bathroom and desk all provided the essentials and my view over the nearby river and mountains ensured I felt like a princess in a castle.

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Entry Hall

Dining in this exquisite hotel are plentiful with 9 options ranging from grills, to sushi bars, to lounges and pubs.  I wish I had time to dine in them all!

What felt like the hub of the hotel, Rundle Lounge is a must do even for just a drink. With its charming décor, attentive staff and stylish cocktail menu you’ll be tempted to stay longer than just a drink.  The setting was relaxed and oozed a more modern style given the old warm charm throughout the hotel.

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With my friends dining scattered at many of the restaurants, one thing was apparent – everyone raved about their dining experience regardless of which one they had!

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One thing I recommend is taking some time to walk around the castle grounds. From perfectly manicured lawns, to swimming pools, gyms and patios it is nothing short of impressive.  Internally the hotel has hosted royalty, movie stars and famously Marilyn Monroe.

I suggest taking one of the hotel tours to hear about the hotel history, its famous guests, and to explore some of its grand ballrooms.  Once you have finished exploring, you can walk or take the bus down to the city center. Easy marked and numbered buses made this trip return trip hassle free.

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I’m not sure this review does the hotel justice or perhaps my photo’s either. All I can say is this is possibly my favorite hotel to date that I’ve stayed in.  The staff were friendly, polished and helpful; the food delightful regardless of which restaurant; the actual architecture of the building itself is glorious; the scenery surrounding this icon is majestic.

I don’t have a negative thing to say about it and I’ve talked about it to death to family and friends. Do yourself a favour and experience alpine luxury at its best at the Fairmont Banff Springs.

Love Sparkle Palm xxx

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Wendy Wu | Simply China

As of January 2015, I hadn’t heard of Wendy Wu tours – perhaps naïve given I love to travel. Fast forward a few months and I had booked myself on what seemed a “too cheap to pass up” all-inclusive trip to China! Admittedly,  China was on my long list of places to see, but it was not in my top 10. After some internet searching of holidays, including the words “cheap”, “all inclusive” and the likes I came across this tour on their website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the time it was approx. $2000!!! I promptly made enquiries with my trusty travel agent.  She promised me it was a reputable company and they had 3 dates that year which this price applied too. I picked a Saturday – Sunday option, meaning only 5 days off work. I was drawn to the fact this package included my international flights and most meals.  Once I included a single supplement (under $250 from memory which is unheard of) and a visa, I think I got change out of $2,500. BARGIN!

NOTE: This exact tour is no longer available, but they offer very similar tours and still fabulous prices!

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As the day approached, my enthusiasm had depleted. A rushed trip to China, stopping at major cities. At the time, this tour was going to see the Pandas at a wildlife sanctuary, however it was cancelled a few weeks prior to department due to the Pandas having a virus. I was advised, I’d see them at the zoo.

I was gutted, who goes to China and doesn’t want to see a Panda? I did appreciate being notified before leaving in writing, but I wasn’t thrilled. Nevertheless, the Saturday came around and off I went on a morning flight to Beijing. My flight was with Cathy Pacific, it had been years since I’d flown with them. The flight was inclusive of checked luggage and meals thankfully.

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I arrived into Beijing late that night, and met several other travellers at a meeting point in the airport and we were taken to our hotel.  Exhausted and feeling unwell, I got my key, checked into my room and tried to sleep off my illness.

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The next morning, whilst still functioning less than average, I noticed how spacious my room was.  Upon entry, I had a lounge room with couches and fridge and a separate toilet. Through the doors into my bedroom, with king sized bed and study desk area.  The final section was my marble style bathroom with shower and separate bathtub, another toilet, shelving area and sink.  Definitely one of the best rooms I’ve stayed in on a tour.  The only downside was the hard bed. I had been warned and read plenty of forums advising of hard beds throughout China and this one lived up to expectation!

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After a buffet breakfast, it was time for sight seeing.  Somehow we were lucky, we had clear skies this day as we visited Tiananmen Square and learnt the history of this iconic place in history.  We were able to have some free time to wander around.

The highlight of today for me was Forbidden City – absolutely amazing!  I had under estimated this UNESCO site, spanning around 180 acres that was previously home to the Ming and Qing dynasties.  We had a couple of hours here to walk around ourselves which I thought great, although a number of people got lost when trying to meet up at the end.

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The next day was another day to tick off a bucket list item – love these days! The Great Wall of China.  Perhaps I should have done more research, but I had the impression we would arrive at the wall (a high section overlooking the surrounding lands) and meander along it. How wrong I was.  I say this, because I wish I had dressed more appropriately for today – I wish I wore gym/athletic gear.

I had a dress, and thank fully packed a pair of Tom’s in my bag which quickly replaced my thongs.  We were there earlier than many other tourist groups,  which was nice, but it was still busy early in the day. Thankfully at this time the sun had not yet come out, but the humidity ensured I worked up a sweat like every person around me.

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You will need to walk steps to access the walk. They are uneven, worn and steep, so be careful.  Luckily I had a long dress on, but a tip of advice ladies – don’t wear a short dress or skirt unless your happy to show it all off! Sometimes the angles on the steps are so steep you can see straight up!

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There are sections along the way that plateau to enable you to catch your breathe then stop and appreciate this true master piece.  The higher you go, the better the views, but people stopped at all different stages – generally based on fitness.

The way back down was almost harder than the way up, holding onto handrails in sections and almost climbing down – I am short, so perhaps those with longer legs would be fine.  But please don’t let this scare you, there were children, elderly and people of every fitness level walking and climbing on the bridge and all I can say is, make sure you do too!

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This afternoon we got to visit the Summer Palace, absolutely wonderful. The gardens are stunning, and the walk way around the water is lovely to stroll along.  We stayed on it until we reached the impressive Marble Boat – a true highlight of our time in the Palace.

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With plenty of space, gardens and places to rest, you could easily spend a day here leisurely enjoying it like royalty would have many years ago.  If you keep a steady fast past you will see a lot in the time you have to explore – try to make the most of it!  By the end of today, your legs might feel tired – time to eat up, have a drink and good night sleep.

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Next stop was Xian, I was very excited to be going to the home of the Terracotta Warriors. I had wanted to see them for many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bullet train was a good experience as we got to see some country side and the 5 hours went relatively quickly between chatting with fellow tourists, reading some magazines and eating! Although I do recommend bringing some food with you as the food on the train wasn’t that great or appealing.

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The Terracotta Warriors were as magnificent as I had hoped, and you can get closer to them than I thought possible.  You get a couple of hours here to explore. I planned my time to ensure I could see everything I wanted too and didn’t miss out on anything. The maps are easy to assist you with directions.

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Today also took us past the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, a lovely stop to again walk around and see some of China’s history.

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Next and final stop is Shanghai.  A bustling city showcasing the blend of old and new with a picture perfect skyline.  I really enjoyed the French Quarter as it reminded me of Europe, so it was nice to stop for a moment and grab a quick drink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also recommend stopping into the beautiful Fairmont Peace Hotel.  The Peace Hall has been restored and is a sensational masterpiece oozing luxury and charm.  Perhaps the key to the city is its waterfront promenade, The Bund. Historic buildings on one angle and modern skyscrapers on the next.  Make sure you find the time to walk along the river side and have the camera ready.

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The night cruise along the river is worth it, Shanghai is a glorious city lit up at night and a great end to an action packed tour.

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The accommodation I had was overall excellent. The dud of the three was Xian and our guide advised us of this.  Unmaintained and much smaller room sizes were my key reasons. Whilst I felt my bed was clean, I just felt the hotel didn’t feel as clean as those we stayed at in Beijing and Shanghai.

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I loved my accommodation in Shanghai, a spacious room and bathroom including a bathtub to watch TV from!  Not in the best location for other sight seeing, but catching a taxi to nearby main shopping centre was quick, cheap and safe.

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Most meals were included on this tour which is a nice bonus. Was the food always amazing – no it wasn’t, and I believe I have better Peking Duck back in Melbourne!

Non the less, meals always ensured a range of meat dishes, rice and vegetables and there was plenty of it. It was also nice having shared meals via lazy Suzanne’s so we could interact as a group.

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I was really impressed with this tour and Wendy Wu as a tour company.  Whilst this tour was busy with little time for rest, I felt like I ticked all the major icons of China that I would want to see, should I never get the chance to return.  I felt the cost was cheap given the inclusions and I have not seen another tour come close to this. I now keep my eye on other tours with this company and will definitely be using them again!

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