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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Running, Running, as fast as you can

Those of you who were fans of No Doubt in the late 90s / early noughties will no doubt (ha ha) recognise the title to this post as lyrics from the Band's 2003 single "Running", not one of their biggest hits but one of my favourite ND songs.

However, even though I am a big fan of the Ska-Rock band and have been ever since Tragic Kingdom came out in 1995, this post is not No Doubt related. It's also not about the sort of running that crazy people do for exercise and / or recreation. Definitely not. I hate that sort of running and avoid doing it unless I absolutely have to - the last time I can recall running was in 2006 at Shanghai Airport where, having sat in a very dodgy airport bar drinking Tsing Tao with a colleague for four hours, I had no choice but to run in order to catch the plane. (On another side note, I should mention that the flight was operated by Dragonair and one would not normally run to get on a Dragonair flight - in fact, one would normally run in the opposite direction to avoid having to get on a Dragonair flight. In China, the concept of "personal space" doesn't exist, and Dragonair does its best to provide its customers with a genuine cultural experience. The only reason I was running on that day in 2006 was that I was desperate to get back home after four weeks in Shanghai at the Hong Kong Plaza, which is approximately 3 weeks and 6 days too long a stay at that fine establishment. This is not to knock Shanghai, though, which is one of my favourite cities and will be the subject of a future post).

Back to the crazy running people for a minute. Have you ever seen a smiling jogger? Bet you haven't. Whenever you see people jogging on the streets or in a gym (I like to go there to use the steam and sauna) they're inevitably red-faced, with popping veins and mad, bulging eyes. They grunt and they groan, they heave and gasp for breath like Rosie O'Donnell walking from her dining table to her favourite armchair. When they finish, they double over and stay bent like that for hours before managing to unlock their muscles enough to stand straight. Having observed all of this for a while (en route to the steam room), I've come to the conclusion that people who like to run for any reason unless they absolutely have to must clearly be mentally ill, no sane person would ever do that for fun...

Anyhoo, back to the point of this post. The "running" in question here refers to the sort that occurs when the contents of one's bowels decide that they've had enough of staying indoors and feel like popping out to have a look at the surroundings. This is fine when it happens once or twice a day in the normal scheme of things in a quiet, orderly and - above all - firm fashion. It is definitely not alright when some sort of bug and / or spoilt item of food moves into the old alimentary tract and sets about evicting the residents thereof in a brutal brook-no-arguments sort of manner. It is even more emphatically not alright when this happens ten minutes into a 13-hour flight, which, oh so joyfully, is exactly what happened to me yesterday as I flew from Colombo to New York.

To be specific, this happened to me as I flew from Doha to New York, after shuttling from Colombo to Doha. I thank Bob (time is space and space is sound and sound is the creator of all things, which is pretty impressive for a small cocker spaniel named Bob. Therefore,  time is space and space is sound and sound is a small cocker spaniel named Bob, Ergo, Bob is time and space as well as sound. Just so you know.) that this actually kicked off on the Doha-New York leg and not before, else the earnest young chap who was doing a very thorough body search of me at the departure terminal in Doha might have found his hands full of a WMD unlike anything he'd been trained to deal with...

I also thank Bob that it kicked off just after the seatbelt sign had been switched off, otherwise Qatar Airways' lovely plum-coloured seat may have turned into a lovely plum-and-brown-coloured seat. Ok, I'm exaggerating: it didn't actually kick off until about 20 minutes after the flight took off, by which time I'd declined breakfast and politely offered to swap seats with the lovely English lady in the window seat next to me as I intended to go straight to sleep and she might prefer the aisle seat so as to avoid having to clamber over me to get out. She said no, I turned the seat into a bed, covered myself in the hypo-allergenic blankie and nodded off...for all of about five minutes before I jerked awake in horror aware at some subliminal level that I was milli-seconds away from kacking myself. Dashing to the loo, I made it just in time and let me tell you, what followed was not fun at all. For the visual amongst you, think of the Kelani River in spate and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Sadly for me, that was just the beginning. It went on, and on, and on, and on, and on. So much so that I was actually afraid to go to sleep in case I didn't get up in time to dash to the loo. So much so that I actually contemplated asking the lady next to me if she had a sanitary napkin that I could borrow (although I doubt that she'd want it back afterwards - isn't it weird how people ask to "borrow" things they can never return like "machang can I borrow a cigarette") but we hadn't really got to know each other well enough and the initial pleasant smile on her face as we said hello when we first boarded had been replaced with a look of studiously-maintained blankness in that very English way as my visits to the potty became more and more frequent (it didn't help that the loo was just in front of our seats and Qatar Airways' headphones aren't the noise-cancelling type).

I had to eventually ask the cabin staff for an Imodium (I'm not normally a fan of Imodium - I prefer to let things run until the system's rid itself of the intruder) as I couldn't bear it anymore. They didn't have any on board and gave me something else instead, which didn't work... 13 hours later, as we descended into JFK, nothing had changed and I was beginning to dread what might happen while I was in the immigration queue, in which I had been stood for two hours on my previous visit. I decided that the best thing to do would be to try to evacuate as much as possible before getting off the plane, and so I stayed put in the loo for as long as I could until the cabin crew forced me back into my seat for landing and I was straight back in there within two minutes of touchdown, taking advantage of both the crew's sympathies and the ridiculously long post-landing taxi at JFK.

You might be wondering how this happened to me. I've been trying to figure it out myself. On the one hand, it may have been breakfast on the Colombo-Doha flight. I had said I didn't want any when we first took off, then when I woke up and we still had 30 minutes to go I said I'd have some. I reckon they had heated the dish as we took off, put it away and then re-heated when I asked for it some hours later. It was a pretty dodgy chicken "curry" and roti and that may have been it. On the other hand, I spent several hours in the company of The GE (see post #1) two days before this all began. The last time I had seen The GE before that was in March and that time too, I had violent runs two days later - you do the math. I think she might be a virus (computers tend to crash in her presence too).

Getting off the plane, I received several pats on the back and "good luck"s from the cabin crew. Steeling myself for 3 hours of buttock-clenching (2 hours at immigration, followed by another hour stuck in Midtown traffic), I had a serious chat with my intestines telling them they could do whatever they wanted for as long as they wished, just so long as they held off until I was safely in my hotel room. Knowing they had the upper-hand, my intestines weren't all that happy to agree to terms, but we've known each for nearly 40 years now and so they grudgingly acquiesced. Fortunately, the immigration queue was completely empty and I (having done a rapid crablike sidle - running would have only resulted in more running) found myself first in line. Thank Bob for that. American TSA agents are paranoid to the nth at the best of times and I can only imagine what my have happened had I been standing in line hopping (very slowly) from one foot to the other or even worse, had the unthinkable happened and I ended up leaving little brown trails behind me as I inched my way to the counter....

Being the ruthless bastards that they are, by intestines stuck to the exact letter of our deal and re-commenced their merry dance as soon as I walked in the door of my hotel room. It's almost 24 hours later now and things seem to be slowly settling down, but even as I speak I can feel a little rumble in the jungle, so let's just keep those fingers crossed. I'm supposed to be going to see a Broadway show tonight - Ben Stiller and Edie Falco in The House of Blue Leaves, apparently a "gut-busting comedy". Let's hope that's not literal...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Swiss Roll

Today I learned that in Geneva, one is not permitted to flush one's toilet after 10pm in order to avoid disturbing one's neighbours. I knew the Swiss had a reputation for being "anal", but this is just <ahem> potty... (sorry, couldn't resist...)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frangipani Tree

Just to clarify at the outset, this is a blog about a boutique hotel, not a discourse on Plumeria Obtusa. For those that might be disappointed at learning this, here is a picture of some PO to tide you over:


So, back to writing about Frangipani Tree, the boutique hotel. To do so, we must venture back half a year to the wedding of Brooklyn Jude to the delightful Hail Mary, Full of Grace (see review of Taprobane Island a few months back). Frangipani Tree (http://thefrangipanitree.com/), was the next stop on the week-long wedding tour with the intention being to stay there for three nights to de-stress and unwind after the main event on the Island.

Everyone in the core wedding party (a colourful kaleidoscopic collection [I love alliteration :)] of nationalities, occupations, personalities, neuroses, kinks, phobias and body-types) was all agog at the prospect and looking forward to the stay with much anticipation.

That is to say, everyone except yours truly: I was dreading the prospect and building up to it with stomach cramps, bitten-to-the-quick fingernails and nervous hypertension. The reason for this fear (and, perhaps, loathing)? I was going to be sharing a room with The GE. Now I know this is going to strike people as overly dramatic, especially given how long The GE and I have known each other, but trust me when I say people in the know would not condemn me for my trepidation, given that my putative roommate was without any doubt The Grand Empress (hence "The GE") of Drama-Queeniness, which is saying A LOT given the group of friends involved in this wedding party...

(MumblemumbleokmaybeI'mnotthemostlaidbacknonobsessivecompulsivepersontosharearoomwitheithermumblemumble)

As an example of what I'm talking about, The GE of DQ once accused me of trying to - are you ready for this - strangle her while she slept. I kid you not. And, not even in a dead-of-night-creeping-stealthily-into-the-unsuspecting-victim's-bedroom type of scenario, either. In broad daylight. In a room full of people. All of whom were siesta'ing together. In.The.Same.Bed. To be fair, that's not quite right - she didn't accuse me of trying to strangle her, she accused me of actually throttling her in her sleep and only her waking up saved her...

As it turned out we did end up cohabiting quite peaceably, but not without drama on the opening night, where I was accused of hogging the covers, stealing a pillow by forcibly yanking it out from under her neck and fidgeting about so much that I ended up pushing her off the bed onto the floor... Fanciful stuff, indeed...

(Mumblemumbleokaysomaybesomeofitmighthavehypotheticallyforargumentssakeactuallyhappenedbutonlybyaccidentifithappenedatallthatismumblemumble)

The upshot was that The GE voluntarily retreated to the sofa for the rest of the stay and we got very well from there on.

(There was actually one more minor skirmish when she somehow managed to lock herself in the bathroom - god knows how - and then accused me of wilfully ignoring her cries for help. I wasn't alone - the Designer Architect was sitting right there with me all the time, but, allegedly, he clearly didn't hear the SOS call, whereas I obviously must have done and chosen to ignore it...)

People ask me why I'm nearly 40 and still unmarried. I tell them it's because I've already had enough marital strife with my friends to put me off for life...

(MumblemumbleoksomaybeitsalsopartlybecauseImcrapchickenshitjudgementalandoverlyunjustifiablyobsessivelypickyanddontreallymakemuchofanefforteitherwhilemoaningaboutitmumblemumble)

On a side note, here is a list of female friends who have nagged me so much over the years that they have scared me off marriage for good (in order of bossiness):


  1. Her Worship, The Queen of Insurance Brokers
  2. Ms Ladies' College 1989
  3. Mrs Robinson
  4. The Wrath of Kwan
  5. Vancouver V
  6. Mummy D (formerly Hippy Chick D)
  7. The GE
  8. Drama Cat

A couple of points to note here: (1) Four of the eight listed above attended Ladies' College, Colombo at some stage of their lives; and (2) This list only covers friends - it goes without saying that relatives of the maternal persuasion , their friends and various assorted aunties would have figured very highly had this been a wider listing...

Also, to be fair, The GE actually comes quite low down the list because she doesn't actually nag me that much - hardly at all these days, in fact. In truth, we have one of those lovely, comfortable friendships that will probably last forever so long as we avoid sharing living quarters...

Ok, back to Frangipani Tree.

The first thing that hits you as you walk through the simple foyer out into the beautiful property is a sensory overload of delight: a visually stunning juxtaposition of swimming pool, lush lawns, swaying coconut trees and the distinctively island sound of ocean meeting shore. It's an old cliche, but you literally feel the tension draining away, while a deliciously languid sense of relaxation creeps up from head to toe and you find yourself ordering your first Gin and Tin almost before your conscious brain starts to instruct your mouth to form the words...


There is a distinct air of laid-backness about Frangipani Tree: the simple, welcoming, open-plan design of the main sitting / dining area, running the length of pool; the chilled-out young Polish couple managing the hotel; the smiling, friendly staff...there is a pervasive air of tranquility throughout the property.

The rooms were lovely. An all-suite hotel, Frangipani Tree's rooms offer a tastefully designed, uncluttered sleeping area as well as a generous verandah / balcony with a view. The piece de resistance of each suite, though, is its fabulous "outdoor-indoor" bathroom: ours was a huge space, partially open to the sky, featuring its own little garden with a bathtub set beneath a flowering Frangipani Tree. A high wall defends one's modesty without detracting from the frisson of guilty pleasure of feeling like you are performing your ablutions with almost exhibitionistic abandon.

As with the rest of the property, the theme here is keep it basic, yet comfortable and rustically elegant. One half of the bathroom is a length-wise space in simple concrete with a ceiling above, a large shower stall in the far corner, sinks, toilets etc in the middle and closet space at the end closest to the sleeping area. One downside of the outdoor-indoor bathroom is that anyone can hop over the wall (via the Frangipani Tree's branches) and so you need to lock yourself in the sleeping area from both the front and bathroom entrances, which (especially given that the outer doors at both ends are heavy and wooden) can make things a tad claustrophobic at night.

The hotel staff urged us to ensure we locked the doors at night and whenever we were not in the room, especially since our suite fronted onto the beach and I have to admit that I was scoffily dismissive of the need to bother locking the doors at all, but was proven wrong (and, to The GE's credit, she didn't crow much at all...) when a local junkie village boy broke into one of our group's rooms early on our first night just as we were all leaving for the next event of the wedding week. The hotel security and staff were alert enough to realise what was going on and almost nabbed the miscreant, but he managed to escape down the beach with a pilfered iPhone.

Incredibly (given the state of policing in Sri Lanka), the stolen phone was actually retrieved by the local constabulary a couple of months later and returned to its owner...

The outdoor-indoor bathroom
The next three days passed in a languid, hazy blur of blissed out doing-nothingness (see illustration below), which involved a lot of lying around on a deck chair and / or floating about in the pool reading, chatting, and drinking Gin-and-Tins, punctuated with a few breaks for meals here and there...

Not my toes - I don't favour that shade of nail polish...

The Hyphenated-Welshman, Singapore GirlBoy, Mr.Metro and I did discover a shocking burst of energy on our first afternoon, rolling back the years with a cricket knockabout on the tennis courts accompanied by some of the hotel staff, but the knockabout knocked all the stuffing out of us (not to mentioned aggravated various niggles and injuries) and that was that for any further PE. Nice tennis courts, by the way, and the hotel staff are ever ready to take on guests for a friendly game of cricket out on the lawn...

With such an eclectic and interesting group of people to hang out with, Frangipani Tree was the perfect setting for catching up on old friendships, making new ones like Miss Dior (with whom Singapore GirlBoy, Dr.B-Monkey and I became instant BFFs when she did a handstand in the pool...) and Mr MTV, having conversations about everything ranging from the profoundly deep (the true meaning of Buddhism [no, really...] to the profoundly ludicrous (how to make that sultry, mouth-slightly-open, pose that models make in Vogue magazine [it's easy: you just say "prune" very slowly]), eating plenty of good food and just enjoying the easy conviviality of like-minded people...while getting through rather a several few bottles of vodka along the way.

Good friends...
The Last Supper (well, the penultimate one, actually...)

...good food...


...a lovely setting...




...and fuel for the intellectual fire...


...the perfect ingredients for a memorable holiday.

Speaking of food, the fare on offer at Frangipani Tree was quite superlative by comparison to many resorts in the country and certainly on a level footing with some of the best boutique hotel kitchens around. A good selection of Western, Eastern and Local was available, skilfully dished up by a chef who definitely knew what he was about. The only blip on the culinary side of things - though no fault of the food - was the reluctance of the serving staff to go the extra mile when asked for something additional (for example, kade paan and pol sambol to go with the standard B&E prescribed by the chef at breakfast) or even for something a la carte when the chef was trying to keep things simple (for himself) in managing our large group by offering a standard choice-of-three type of semi-set-menu for dinner. It was also quite irritating to be asked to decide on the dinner menu five minutes after finishing lunch. There was certainly no sulking or pouting on the part of the staff, but there was a definite "let's do it the quickest and simplest way to minimise our own hassle" kind of approach, which did jar a bit with our overall enjoyment...

I don't think this would be much of a problem for couples or smaller family groups staying at the hotel. It did seem very much a tactic to manage our large group of sixteen or so, but still...

That little blip aside, my overall impression of Frangipani Tree was very favourable and I shall definitely return there. If you decide to give it a go, I suggest you ask for a beach-front room or try to blag the huge second-storey honeymoon suite for the best views and nicest setting on the property.

All in all, an elegant, tranquil, value-for-money boutique hotel, ideal for rest, recreation and taking life at a Hobbit-like pace.



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Taprobane Island

Viewed from front-on, the Island is like something out of a "Boy's-Own" adventure...
Taprobane Island (http://www.taprobaneisland.com/), also known as Count de Maunay's Island, has long been on my must-visit checklist. The island, with its colonial bungalow, always caught the eye as you drove Down South, resplendent in the middle of Weligama Bay, evoking an air of romantic mystery and charm that never failed to fascinate an imagination fuelled at a young age by a surfeit of Famous Five and Secret Seven adventure stories:

For one reason or the other, I had never made it onto the island but the opportunity finally arrived hand-in-hand with the wedding of two of my childhood friends, Brooklyn Jude and Hail Mary, full of Grace.

(Jude isn't his real name, by the way. This goes back several years when I phoned him and exclaimed "dude!" whereupon his father - who had answered the call - handed the phone to him saying "there's a Jude on the line for you"...you had to be there to appreciate it, of course, but the name kinda stuck - he's Brooklyn Jude, I'm Colombo Jude [or Hong Kong Jude as the case may be] and the Hyphenated-Welshman is English Jude [despite his vehement protests that he is actually Welsh]).

I was lucky enough to have made it onto the elite list of wedding guests invited to stay on the island, following a conversation between Hail Mary and myself that went along these lines:

HM: we'd love to have you stay on the island, but would you mind sharing a room with my friend the air-hostess?

Me: do you mean the hot, blonde Californian air-hostess? The one who's currently single?

HM: that's the one. I know it's a lot to ask, but would you mind sharing with her?

Me: oh gosh, I don't know - it is a lot to ask...umm, let me think about it for a bit... oh what the hell, I'll do it just to please you...

See? That's the kind of selfless chap I am - willing to make any sacrifice for an old friend... I should point out, by the way, that HM was absolutely serious throughout this entire conversation...

Truth be told, I had a major panic-attack about sharing a room with the Trolley-Dolly, not for anything else but for the fact that my snoring can sometimes sound like a battalion of extra-large lumberjacks tackling a forest full of Redwoods with heavy-duty chainsaws... Having obsessed and fretted about this for days, I eventually enlisted English Jude's help in getting me one of those anti-snoring mouthguard thingies as an emergency preventative (which is another really sad sign of ageing - a decade ago, faced with the prospect of sharing a room on an exotic island with a hot blonde T-D, I'd have been stocking up on an altogether different sort of preventative...).

In any event, I ended up spitting the mouthguard out in my sleep on the first night and not being able to find it for the next two days (which prompted another panic attack as to whether I'd swallowed the damn thing...), but I had apparently not snored anyway (I had threatened my subconscious with hideous self-mutilation just to make doubly sure), so the point was moot...

Anyway, back to the point, which was to talk about Taprobane Island. At low tide, the island can be accessed by simply wading the short distance across from the mainland. We stayed on the island off-season, which meant that the tide was relatively higher than it would be in high-season, but almost everyone waded across without any difficulty, even carrying baggage with them:

The Designer-Architect in Mid-wade


When the tide is higher, though, it is worth hiring a boat to ferry you across (fair warning - the local boat operators know they've got the bargaining power and charge exorbitant amounts), especially if you have a lot of luggage.

The bungalow is situated at the top of the island, accessed by a set of steps built through a lush garden. Entering through a rather imposing white-washed facade bedecked with the British Coat of Arms, you enter the bungalow's main lobby, a large, airy, circular space boasting a high, arched ceiling. Three of the bungalow's five bedrooms lead off the main lobby, two doubles and a twin-share, all ensuite, fitted with antique four-poster beds and eclectic furniture. The twin-share featured an open-air shower, while the two doubles gleamed with white porcelain sinks and tubs. The bungalow's other two double rooms were situated on a lower level of the island, with stunning views out on to the Bay and the vast nothingness between the island and the South Pole.

The Main Lobby
One of the main-level double rooms with its lovely Four-Poster bed
The twin-share room
The twin-share's "Indoor Outdoor" Bathroom

A dining area adjoins the main lobby and leads onto a small sit-out facing a nice patch of garden. The other end of the lobby leads to a larger sit-out, with plenty of comfy planter's chairs, a fridge and a terrace with a large trestle table for alfresco dining, as well as a rocking chair and a couple of recesses that convert into sofas / daybeds. A lovely space in which to take your meals or sit around reading and chatting, not to mention enjoying a quiet snooze, lulled to sleep by the sound of the Indian Ocean...





The main level of the property also includes an open-air space ideal for entertaining guests.

The southern side of the island features a large infinity pool, with lovely views out over the Bay. Surrounded by tall shade trees, the pool is comfortable to be in at any time of day and is a particularly fine spot for a sundowner.



 The waters of the Bay surrounding the island are swimmable in the high-season, but I wouldn't recommend it during the off-season, as the Southern Coast is infamous for rip-tides and you wouldn't want to end up getting bashed about on the very pretty, but very rocky rocks around the island...


The island is served by a friendly, courteous and very obliging team of five staff, who look after you with warmth and care from start to finish. The service was unobtrusive, and the staff are clearly used to guests wanting their privacy.


The staff in their colourful "party" sarongs
The island is available to be booked in its entirety, with meals included, and this would be my recommendation, as it is the kind of venue that is ideal for a family reunion or a holiday with friends (I would say you can comfortably sleep 12 adults - 15 with a bit of "roughing it"), but not one you would necessarily want to share with strangers, given the nature of its setting. Meals are very good and included plenty of fresh fruit. There was a good choice of Sri Lankan food as well as western.

The downside to staying on an island - notwithstanding the fact that it is just a few yards offshore - is that you do need to ensure you have all your supplies laid in, as it can be quite time-consuming to get stuff in when you run short given that it's not like you can just nip round the corner to the 7-11...

Having said that, it is a minor inconvenience in what is otherwise an idyllic - and rather unique - venue for a relaxed holiday, or indeed for a wedding or other celebration. Taprobane Island was the ideal location for my friends' wedding and was easily able to accommodate 40 - 50 guests during the event.

Next up? Well, I do have a 40th birthday coming up in a few months...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Club Villa

Ah, Club Villa (http://www.club-villa.com/): so many memories there - mostly pleasant, one not quite so pleasant (through no fault of the resort) - and still one of my favourite getaways, just down the road from Colombo in Bentota.

Essentially a large house set in a coconut-tree-filled garden, Club Villa is the kind of resort that attracts visitors looking for privacy and is ideal for a quiet weekend with good friends or indeed for a hectic naughty weekend with just one friend (or several - whatever floats your boat and more power to you if you can manage the plural!), not that I'd know anything about the latter, of course, and nor am I immortalised in the guest-book either. Just to let you know...

The villa has a "Bawaesque" (http://www.geoffreybawa.com/) feel to it: lots of light and space, decorated with interesting pieces of sculpture set in intriguing crannies and tasteful paintings on the walls.




The ceilings are high, the windows large, the verandahs generously proportioned. There are lovely traditional beds (four-posters in some) and planters' chairs in the bedrooms and the whole place exudes an air of discreet relaxation in the family Walauwwa, with recliners in shady spots in the garden as well as lovely little nooks hither and yon complete with daybeds for dreaming away on:


There are 17 rooms to choose from at Club Villa including the Club Suite. I haven't stayed in the Club Suite, but I have occupied a different style of room on each of the three occasions I have been. (Two of the visits have actually been in the company of The Hyphenated-Welshman, but rest assured he was very much in the "quiet weekend with friends" bracket - despite having shared a bed with him a couple of times in London and Colombo drunk and semi-clothed, believe me that is one rarebit that I would not venture to sample under any circumstances...).

Anyway, I digress - back to the rooms. My first visit to Club Villa was immediately after my 30th birthday party, oh so many years ago. The Hyphenated-Welshman had turned up in Sri Lanka to surprise me and, since interesting developments had cropped up for both of us during that superb shindig, the four of us decided to pootle off for a quick Bentota hop once the hangovers subsided. The two rooms we had on that occasion remain my favourite at Club Villa.  Adjacent to one another in a more private corner of the Villa, each room was beautifully appointed - wooden floor, four-poster bed, large bathroom. One room had a small balcony with a lovely view over the garden while the other had a large terrace cooled by the sea-breeze. The weekend passed in a haze of herbal smoke, good whisky and other memorable activities.

The terrace on the left, balcony on the right


My next visit to Club Villa was a few years later on a very hastily-arranged one-night stay midweek to take advantage of another interesting development that had cropped up out of the blue. The Villa was quite full and I had to settle for one of the regular rooms in the main body of the Villa. While the room itself was fine - nicely decorated, spacious bathroom etc., it felt like "just another room" and was my least favourite of the three. Given the circumstances of the trip, there was definitely significantly less privacy in this room than in the other two I've stayed in. This trip turned out to be profitable in more ways than one when an appreciative box full of booze (including a very rare Remy Martin) arrived by courier the following week, all the way from the land of the Vegemite sandwich...

(I love Vegemite, by the way, and may well compose a little ode to its sticky splendidness one day).

The third trip to Club Villa was a few years back, on another one of the Hyphenated-Welshman's holidays in Sri Lanka (he is now an honorary Lankan - a bit like a crepe filled with jaggery: white on the outside, brown on the inside) accompanied this time by The GE of DQ. As ever on trips with The GE this was a weekend largely spent discussing the meaning of life and it's got to be said that Club Villa is one of the most pleasant places to do so in, whether it be lounging in the garden by the pool getting gently tanked on Bombay Sapphire or having dinner under the stars  getting gently choked to death as your throat closes up in anaphylactic shock after eating shellfish without remembering to take your antihistamines first... The anaphylactic episode rather marred the weekend for me but I'm happy to say it didn't spoil H-W's or The GE's other than as a brief interruption to their conversation as I apologised for being rude and stumbled off to lay down and die. To be fair to them, The GE did ask if I was ok when they returned to our triple room several hours later. By then I had recovered enough to moan softly and, worn out by the exertions of their solicitude, the two of them retired to their slumbers secure in the knowledge that they had taken care of me and I was going to be alright...

(I have to say the episode was not the fault of the resort's: H-W and The GE ate the same thing as I did and were fine - this was just a case of my allergies going ballistic on me).

The room we stayed in was fabulous - ideal for a small family, set on two levels with a large bed on the main floor and a single bed up a flight of stairs on a cozy little mezzanine overlooking the lower level. The bathroom was somewhat smaller than the other rooms I've stayed in and (unfortunately for the maintenance man who happened to be replacing some tiles as I happened to be evacuating my bowels with the windows wide open) was rather distressingly situated on eye-level with the roof of the adjoining part of the villa...

The food at Club Villa is excellent, anaphylaxis notwithstanding. Breakfast is always a highlight and the attentive staff are only too happy to ply you with as much delicious pol sambol etc as you can eat. The lunch and dinner menus are also good, as is the cooking. As with most boutique resorts in Sri Lanka, the hotel is quite tolerant of guests bringing their own wine and spirits at no corkage fee (this may be more the case for locals rather than foreign guests) although one is generally expected to buy beer there.

The resort's garden leads out to a relatively secluded stretch of beach. Not being much of a sea-bather myself (odd given how much I love diving in it...), I prefer the hotel's just-right-sized pool, perfect for floating about in with minimum effort and within easy access of the gin-and-tin:


If you seek a languid mini-break or a discreet romantic escape, Club Villa is the place for you. Please, please, please do not go there if you're the parent or parents of young children - the best thing about this resort is its peace and quiet and the last thing anyone would want is to have that tranquility shattered by noisy little buggers running amok...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Adititya

A quick post about a quick trip down the southern coast for a weekend at a nifty little boutique hotel in Rathgama, a few km shy of Galle.

At the time of my stay there - in 2008 - Aditya (http://www.aditya-resort.com/) was very much a hidden gem, relatively unknown to many locals and it was quite by chance that I happened to hear about it - thanks to a special offer for constituents of a particular credit card issuer, if memory serves correctly.

The offer was so enticing that we ended up booking the honeymoon suite (note to readers: this was not a road-trip with the boys - there is a point at which campness stops being funny and starts to become scary and I'm definitely very conscious of where that line is, popular opinion to the contrary notwithstanding...) which turned out to be a very good move as the suite was on a completely different plane to the others rooms in the hotel.

Quite an eclectic little boutique, Aditya. The main body of the hotel is a large open-plan space that serves as a lounge / dining area and gives out on to a stretch of coconut-treed garden that leads to the beach. Most of the rooms branch off either end of the rectangular space, with a decent-sized pool and a lovely covered antique day-bed off to one side.

This was off-season for the southern coast, so the sea wasn't swimmable in but that was fine, to be honest, because the honeymoon suite (I still cringe a bit at the word "honeymoon"...may I just refer to it as "the suite" from now on?) was so well-appointed that there was very little inclination to leave it.

The suite is effectively a stand-alone apartment on two floors. The ground floor features a sitting / dining area as well as a fantastic bathroom - all bare stone floors, gleaming white porcelain and a fabulous rainfall-shower with a view:

Yes I did run the shower just for the photo, but I hopped in immediately after (although I didn't want to distress my readership my taking a photo at that point...)
Up a flight of stairs to the bedroom built on a mezzanine overlooking the ground floor. By the way, that's not my Barbara Sansoni hold-all, it belongs to Mrs Robinson (confession: I am secretly a Simon & Garfunkel fan despite outward appearances but if you tell anyone that, I shall deny it). If it had been mine, that would have been not just a step but a hop and a skip as well over the camp borderline...


That was a very comfy bed, which was a good thing as I spent an entire night lying very still on it concentrating extremely hard on getting air into my lungs through the constricted passage of my throat, which had decided to throw a tantrum at being forced into anaphylactic shock as a result of some dodgy shellfish eaten at dinner... I will hasten to add that there was nothing wrong with the shellfish per se, as Mrs R had the same thing and was fine: this was entirely my own fault for not having swallowed a gob-full of antihistamines before dinner as I ought to have done given my tendency to have allergic reactions to just about any and every foodstuff (before anyone says anything, I do realise that it would be far more sensible to avoid eating foodstuffs I'm allergic to instead of necking antihistamines beforehand just so I can eat them, but I ask you, when did anyone ever have any fun by doing the sensible thing? And yes: near-death experiences can be fun too).

I'd also add that this did happen to me once before during a stay at Club Villa (which I will cover in a separate post). The significant difference between the two incidents was that on this occasion the person I was travelling with actually gave a f**k about my condition whereas at Club Villa, Jugs J and the Hyphenated-Welshman watched me stagger away from the dinner table, ostensibly to my asphyxiating death, with only a mild passing interest before blithely returning to their conversation, which was - rather ironically - on the "what's life all about" sort of theme...

The main feature of the suite, though, is its rather funky outdoor terrace leading off the bedroom. Complete with a plunge-pool, dining table and deck-chairs, it was the terrace that really hooked me in and made me a fan of Aditya. Designed to ensure absolute privacy, the terrace was one of those places that had a real zen-like quality to it: the moment you stepped out there, took in the stunning view out over the Indian Ocean and breathed in a big lungful (this was before the throat-constriction incident) of sea air, the stresses of daily life melted away, the gin-and-tins poured themselves, the body sank into a happy flop on a comfy deck-chair and a contented sigh just had to be sighed. Bliss. Heaven. Serenity. Serendipity. Aaaahhhhhhhh.




That was the weekend sorted then and there, the next two days passing in a happily gin-infused fugue of reading, eating, sleeping, and plunge-pooling, attended to by friendly, hospitable staff who seemed quite willing to bring breakfast, lunch and dinner to the terrace for us. The food was very good, with a menu understandably biased towards sea-food but also well rounded in other respects. Dinner was presented fine-dining style and was very tasty. Breakfast, though plentiful, was a tad disappointing in that the flavours were oriented more towards wussy western palates rather than the fire-breathing hotness that a Sri Lankan would expect to find in his or her (you guessed it) morning Pol Sambol. The kade-paan was superb, though...

Dinner (the fateful and near-fatal shellfish to the left of screen)
Overall, a pleasant weekend stay at a lovely boutique hotel, full of quirky little touches like the pot-bellied frog perched by the side of the plunge-pool (see photo above). Not cheap but, as ever, special rates for Sri Lankans and resident expats. If you do go, try and book the honeymoon suite just for the terrace alone - definitely worth shelling out a bit extra for.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Amangalla


The Aman chain of hotels is synonymous with luxury, superlative service and the kind of room-rate that deserves a seat to itself on your flight over. When the chain established two very-high-end resorts in Sri Lanka some years ago it was quite a visionary statement of the chain's confidence in the future of Sri Lankan tourism, foreseeing an end to hostilities and the establishment of the country as a hot new destination for the chi-chi set. This has proven to be correct, with the New York Times rating Sri Lanka its number 1 must-visit country in 2010 and the two resorts finding themselves booked solid through the last Winter high-season with guests including Prince William and Kate Whatsit. 

Quite a refreshing change from the usual Eastern European plumber / carpenter / stonemason type we used to attract through the war-years, when Sri Lanka's only attraction was its rock-bottom prices...

This post covers Amangalla, which I visited in January 2006 on what may well have been The Campest Road-trip Ever, and I will write another time about Amanwella, which I stayed at in December last year.

I first visited Amangalla (http://www.amanresorts.com/amangalla/home.aspx) back in January 2006, on what was originally intended to be just a lunch-stop during The Campest Road-trip Ever. TCRE featured Jules, a 6'6" blond, blue-eyed chap who worked for (of all things) a soup company, and two somewhat shorter, yet no less camp Sri Lankans in the form of Afdhel and myself. The road trip was an excuse for me to take my father's Beemer out for a spin ("Oh, the leather luxury", commented Jules, and I was never quite sure whether it was the luxury or the leather that had him so excited...) as well as an opportunity for us to check out a number of different categories of resort down the Southern Coast.

We started off at the Serendib Hotel in Bentota (a grim 70's-designed resort, which took me a bottle of whisky to get through the night at and of which the less said the better). The Serendib was very much a haunt of the EEPCS bracket of tourist, of which species there were several in occupancy. Most of the EEPCS' were already done to a nice medium-rare turn and, judging by the menu at dinnertime, seemed to be quite homesick for Borscht and Petrowska Vodka...

Day Two had us dropping in at Nisala Arana (http://www.nisalaarana.com/), a boutique villa near Bentota, to take a quick look before heading off to Mirissa Beach (http://www.mirissa.com/) for the remainder of our stay. We were shown around by the owner, Kevin Pereira, and the place looked like it would be ideal for a peaceful, relaxed, escape-from-it-all kind of stay.

The pool at Nisala Arana

Nisala Arana's lovely garden


Mirissa-bound, we decided to stop at Amangalla for lunch en route. As the name suggests, Amangalla is situated in Galle, one of the larger towns on the southern coast, renowned for its natural harbour, Dutch-era "ramparts" (one of the UNESCO world heritage sites), quaint little streets full of antique / curio shops and, more recently, for its international cricket stadium. When I was a young child, Galle used to be the destination for many of our family holidays to stay at my maternal great-aunt's lovely home opposite the Galle clock-tower: memories filled with moonlit picnics on the ramparts and day-trips to nearby Unawatuna Beach. Sadly, my great-aunt's house was sold and is currently being turned into what looks like a shrine to nouveau-richeness while Galle itself was the scene of terrible devastation in the 2004 Tsunami. Happily though, Galle has recovered magnificently since then.

Snake-charmer in the foreground of the Galle Lighthouse

Galle's Dutch-era Clocktower

The Ramparts
Amangalla is located right at the heart of Galle Town, occupying the building that was once the grand old New Oriental Hotel, a bastion of colonial splendour built during the British occupation (the Brits really did get around in the old days: as Ricky Gervais said to the American audience at the Golden Globes awards ceremony a few years back, "Hello, I'm from England - we used to rule the world before you lot". If I were Ricky, I'd start learning to say that in Mandarin...)

Retaining much of the old NOH's facade as well as its original structure, Amangalla manages to combine modern luxury with a real sense of stepping back in time as you enter the venerable old building through a long verandah that doubles as a rather pukka lounge and dining area. The verandah leads into a magnificent salon, all high ceilings, dark wood, comfortable couches and a spiffy dining room. The salon features a bar and a baby grand piano and has become a popular venue for a number of events during the annual Galle Literary Festival (http://www.galleliteraryfestival.com/). 

Given its location in the centre of a town, Amangalla is quite unique in its design, with its bedrooms, garden and swimming pool housed within a large central courtyard while the four walls of the hotel are constructed to keep the outside world out, guaranteeing absolute privacy within: not unlike a fortress or fortified manor-house of yore. 

Access to the inner courtyard is gained through a lovely set of stairs that evoke a "Secret Garden" air of mystery:


and you really enter a new world. Down a further flight of stairs and you reach the fabulous swimming pool - a world within a world, with high walls to keep intrusive eyes out and rows of roofed "cabanas" complete with day-beds for luxurious pool-side lounging. 



Aman resorts operate a refreshing "eat wherever you want" policy and the highlight of the road-trip for me was breakfast by the pool (of course we stayed for the night - the place was irresistible...): hoppers, egg-hoppers, pol sambol (naturally), eggs, sausages, bacon - the works, all of which served with a smile in the privacy of our pool-side cabanas...

Looking out at the pool from the day-bed

Egg-hoppers...mmm...
The courtyard also features quaint little gardens, a very good spa and a rather splendid olde-worlde barbershop, operated by the grandson of the barber who groomed the whiskers of innumerable gentlemen during the old NOH's colonial hey-day. Although expensive, a shave at the barbershop is highly recommended: it's an interesting experience and (while I dare say there's nothing to stop the more hirsute female visitor getting shorn here too) a welcome little luxury for the male traveller in this world of nail-spas and the like for our lady friends.

The Barber's tools-of-trade
The bedrooms at Amangalla were as richly-appointed as one might expect when paying room rates in excess of $500 a night (as ever, special rates are available for residents and resident-expats), furnished in dark wood and expensive fabrics with a four-poster bed as its centrepiece:


A large bathroom complemented the bedroom, with twin-sinks, shower and an inviting bathtub to soak away one's cares in.

The food at Amangalla is excellent. The original lunch we had stopped for turned out to be the most innovatively-presented rice-and-curry I have come across in Sri Lanka, served like a Western course and deliciously cooked. I've already raved about the breakfast and dinner was a splendid affair as well, with the new resident chef, Briony, taking advantage of the hotel being quiet to rope in the three of us as her (very willing) guinea-pigs to try out new dishes on. Briony has moved on now, but a couple of recent visits to Amangalla and her sister hotel, Amanwella, had me reassured that she has left her kitchen staff well-trained.


The food was so good that we made absolute pigs of ourselves during our stay, indulging in not just breakfast, lunch and dinner but high-tea as well. Very pukka sahib, but like I said this was a very camp road-trip indeed, and jammy crumpets (ooer, missus) for tea simply could not be passed upon...

On Wednesdays I go shopping...
Overall, an excellent resort, unique in its setting and a novel re-imagining of one of Sri Lanka's historical buildings. Galle is a good base to explore the South from and, if you're looking for a luxurious stop, Amangalla would be a good choice (not, however, if you want beachfront-access to the sea). 

Amangalla would also be one of the best choices of stay if you are intending to attend next year's Galle Lit.Fest. (which you should), although you had better book early...