Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Sri Lanka, Abu Dhabi and our missing bags

To fill you in on our trip to Abu Dhabi and Sri Lanka in just one post will prove pretty tricky. While we returned last night, our bags did not. However, they have enjoyed their wee extra journey and should be with us tomorrow courtesy of a very nice man at the airport courier service.

It is pretty difficult to make total sense of our adventure. So much happened and because we moved from place to place and experienced so much, it felt as if we were away for ages. As usual with our travel adventures, D will shove the photos online so feel free to click on 'photos' to the right of this post some time next week. Also as usual, I'll provide a wee list of highlights and reflections:

So, we spent four days in Abu Dhabi and eight days in Sri Lanka, although in the latter we stayed in three different locations: Kandy, Kandalama and the tea plantations near Hatton.

- In Abu Dhabi we stayed right in the middle of the F1 race track at the Yas Viceroy Hotel. Super lovely place with a hugely impressive breakfast and a restaurant that served the best prawn tagine you can imagine. I ate it twice in four days - it was that good! While in Abu Dhabi we went to Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World (I even pushed myself into going on some of the rides - not the really crazy ones you understand but pretty impressive for me). D, of course, went on everything including the fastest rollercoaster in the world. We also met the winners of Arab's Got Talent, visited the amazing Grand Mosque (where I wore a full abaya for the first time), ate dinner at the Fairmont Hotel and afternoon tea at the crazy Emirates Palace (where D drank two gold leaf coated cappuccinos) and took a tour round the racetrack. My highlight though was probably going to see Michael Ball in concert just across the road from the hotel. I have always had a bit of a thing for him and he really gave the most wonderfully uplifting concert I have seen in a long time. The crowd (mostly ex-pats) were hugely appreciative. He even sang 'I Won't Send Roses' from Mack and Mabel which reminded me of being a kid.

- Then it was on to Sri Lanka, a place I have wanted to go for a long while. It is pretty difficult to sum up all the amazing experiences but I'll give it a go...

- Our first night was spent just outside Kandy in a really lovely chilled out hotel. That evening we went to the Buddhist Perahera in Kandy, an amazing festival and parade. It was utterly exhausting for the crowds which lined the streets so I can't imagine how the performers felt. Four hours of dancers, elephants, musicians and guys with scary whips. It was a great privilege to watch it even without the religious significance that it clearly had for others in the crowds.

- Then off we went (via the gem factory - something Kandy is famous for) to Kandalama to another beautiful hotel in the jungle where monkeys woke you up in the morning by banging on your roof! We spent three days at spice gardens, visiting historical ruins, climbing rock fortresses, and having the amazingly wonderful experience of witnessing elephants in the wild. There were so many highlights from this part of the trip but I guess I have to say that riding an elephant was pretty special. I was very concerned about animal rights and didn't really want to do this at first. But our great guide found a wonderful elephant called Rani who was very well looked after and was clearly happy, cheeky and contented. Although others might have a different experience, every Sri Lankan we came across revered and loved these incredible animals. I had no worries about cruelty at any stage. I got to sit on Rani's great big wrinkly neck and feed him melon. It was absolutely amazing.

- We travelled (via bumpy train) to Hatton for the final stop of our journey at the Castlereigh bungalow in the Tea Trails. Seriously, this place was incredible. We got used to having bed tea and generally being spoilt rotten for three days with massage, amazing views, awesome food and games of croquet. It was a little like returning to a Scott Fitzgerald novel. While we were there we visited a tea factory (fascinating for a tea lover like me) and did a hike to one of the other bungalows through the plantation.

- We arrived back last night after a long journey (improved considerably by being upgraded to business for the Columbo-Abu Dhabi leg - a full flat bed!) full of stories and memories of an amazing time.

Things I will miss about Sri Lanka: Everyone is very kind and smiley (yes, I know this is a horrid stereotype but it turned out to be true for us), cricket is the universal language, the weather, the animals and vibrancy of the landscape, the incredible food

Things I will not miss about Sri Lanka: the roads! Having travelled a fair bit (including to Rome) I can honestly say that Sri Lankan roads and driving are the most terrifying I have ever witnessed. No one drives particularly fast but everyone does crazy moves as a matter of course.

I love our trips but I also love coming home and getting back into things. Today has been focused on getting things sorted and preparing for the Modernism Studies Association Conference which starts tomorrow in Brighton. The paper is written, my travel plans are sorted...looking forward to four days of stimulating chat and encouraging scholarship. Last year's MSA conference was probably the best I have ever been to so I have high hopes.


Monday, 5 August 2013

Back from Germany

I have spent the last week and a bit in Germany, first in the South near Lake Constance and latterly with D in Stuttgart. I was helping out with a children's camp run by a friend's church out there. You know when you have a really challenging, formative period and it is difficult to put it all down in a blog post...erm...well here we go. Things I learnt on this trip:

1) I can do stuff even when I don't think I can.
I didn't know anyone at the camp for the first four days and my German is a little on the rusty side. I was without D for the longest time since we've been married. I spent the whole week working hard in the kitchen without knowing the German word for cucumber (it is 'Gurke' in case you ever need it). And yet this trip proved that I could do stuff that is hard, live to tell the tale, help lovely folks and learn a lot about myself in the process. It seems to me that every time we push ourselves to achieve something new or hard or different we grow just a wee bit. It's always better to move forwards than stagnate.
2) 'Uberfall' is the German word for 'Hold Up'
OK, so there's this mad German camp tradition that in the middle of the night masked invaders arrive to try and steal the camp flag. The campers have to defend it by any means. In my books this sort of event is totally terrifying; the kids absolutely loved it!
3) You can eat your own bodyweight in Nutella in a week.
I've proved it.
4) I can follow a morning Bible study in German.
Just about!
5) I can last a whole week using just my small backpack.
Again, just about!
6) Americans are the most prudish race on earth.
While in Cologne last year D and I went to our first German spa. In Germany, let it be noted, one does not wear one's swimwear. While it all felt rather awkward at first, I decided to adopt the 'when in Rome approach'. Similarly on this trip we visited a wonderful spa in Stuttgart and chilled out all day. The same 'au naturale' rules applied in our hotel spa but the poor American visitors were utterly freaked by this European state of affairs, insisting on wearing their 'Badeanzug'. All rather funny actually!
7) Bobbing apples is a game I am good at.
I don't think I've done it since I was a Guide but I was joint winner of the bobbing apple competition where you had to eat two slices of apple from rather yucky water and then run round a tree in the dark. Bet you didn't do that this week!

It was a very interesting time all in. It helped me rethink my priorities (a process that we should always indulge in from time to time) and I really enjoyed helping everyone. I think I made a difference to people's workload and that was always my hope.

We got back yesterday. Today has been a slow day of work bits and pieces. Some writing, some reading, lots of inbox sorting (yuck!). I now have a few days of writing to go. Hoping to get a number of projects finished over the coming days. Also into another week of Rushfit. After a week of just some games, a brief run (the hottest I have ever had...ever) and some swimming, I am looking forward to getting back to tough training again.

So, I'm off to read, do some Rushfit and try to work out what I can throw together for dinner.