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Archive for the ‘Travel’ category

365 Day 9 Excited

Awesome.

It’s time to get out of town with a buddy and a backpack and walk the Lycian Way. It’s been five years since we trekked this part of the world and I reaslise that in that time, while I have continued to travel, no experience has yet left me with the happiness I felt when I last actually got off the beaten path. It’s going to be so wonderful to leave the world behind, get close to nature, and indulge my ever-increasing misanthropic personality.

The Lycian Way, or the section which we travelled across five years ago, is stunningly beautiful. It’s also mostly devoid of people, buildings, administration, traffic, areas that stink of urine, trash, banks, and other necessary evils in my Istanbul existence. Instead, we will be surrounded by gorgeousness. Olive groves, tall pines, jagged cliffs, goats, grass, and essentially, almost no creature with the power of speech.

Yesterday I purchased a backpack. Today it’s time to get back to the guide book for a few more bits of information. And tomorrow I’ll be jumping about with excitement.

 

 

Best driver in Sri Lanka for your vacation!

Jally, our drive in Sri Lanka

Best driver in Sri Lanka (in my expert opinion)

If you’re looking for the right person to take you around the island, then Jally is your man.

We found Jally from recommendations on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum, and from there got in touch via email. He provided a quote, his responses were prompt and clear and we immediately understood we were putting ourselves into good hands.

Essentially, the driving experience in South Asia often determines your state of mind upon returning home. Paying a fair price for a competent driver who takes you only where you want to go, who speaks English fluently, and who provides insightful local knowledge and is forever punctual, meant our journey becomes effortless. Getting a bad driver means wanting to punch everyone by the time you pass back through passport control on your way home. We paid a fair price and opted for the good driver.

Jally picked us up from Colombo airport at some ludicrously rude hour of the morning and we never looked back. We’d already planned our more-or-less fixed itinerary before departing, and for the next eight days everything ran smoothly. Jally took us where we wanted to go, was flexible as we altered our arrangements,and has 20 years’ experience of dealing with foreign tourists which has given him an aptitude to understand his customer – not once did he so much as hint at taking us to a local emporium to buy anything – and that alone is enough for me to recommend him highly.

In short Jally will take you where you want to go and not take you where you have no intention of going. He is well-educated, softly spoken, polite… and answered every question we asked in a manner that displayed personal insight and not memorised facts and figures from guide books.

Thank you Jally for making our Sri Lanka experience an exceptional one.

Get in touch with him at rehana_jaleel@yahoo.com

Zighy Bay – The Best Resort in Oman

View from the villa balcony

Six Senses Zighy Bay is the most astoundingly beautiful resort I’ve ever stayed in. After living just over a year in Dubai, and as much as I secretly love the bling-infested buildings and inhabitants of the UAE, Oman continously beckons for a getaway that puts my mind, once again, at temporary ease.

After previously rewarding tent-on-deserted-beach adventures in the northen Omani enclave of Musandam, it was time to check out Zighy Bay, a Six Senses resort located a short hour-and-a-half drive away from home.

We set out early on Friday morning, my bag containing little more than a toothbrush and boardshorts. I was counting on the five-star resort stocking everything else I’d need for the weekend. After a cursory glance at our passports, the Omani border guards waved us through and a short while later we were climbing the steep ascent to Zighy Bay, tightly tucked away in Musandam.

Everything required and nothing more

The picture-perfect view enraptured us from above as our driver descended into the bay. All was all turquoise water, sandy beach and date palms. The Omani village looked so sleepy that it might actually have been in a coma, and the heat ensured that I would be within an hour.

Arriving at the resort we were introduced to Julius, our butler. I liked that very much and we decided as a group that the most apt thing to do was to rattle off a string of outrageous requests before we even set eyes on the villa.

Enough has already been written on other sights praising the Omani-style villas, replete with infinity pool, sunlounges, outdoor shower, enormously oversized flatscreen TV (why bother?) and every other amenity that adorns these kinds of places. A whole lof of love, care and attention has gone into the details of this place – dagger-shaped towel hooks fashioned from wood, cigarette lighters encased in a straw sheath. Kinda over-the-top but in a very stylish way. Nothing gleaming, no shiny surfaces and no outlandish use of gaudy colour. This was not Dubai.

Yes, I'm mostly enjoying the infinity pool

The infinity pool quickly became the focal point for the weekend and most of my remaining time in the resort was spent, beverage in hand, moving from one end to the other like a half-mad polar bear trying to make the best of it’s undersized enclosure.

Julius arrived with ice to chill the champagne. Just in time too since the feta cheese and smoked salmon were demanding an appropriate accompaniment. After about five hours and several bottle of France’s finest, I thought perhaps that the beach might be worth a look…

Omani beaches are spectacular. All of them. The water is almost always pristine and there’s inevitably a dramatic backdrop of majestically barren, jagged mountains that were clearly dumped viscously after some primeval upheaval in an age long forgotten. The Omani desert landscape is a beautiful and serene as any I’ve visited.

About as far as I ventured on foot from the villa

The sun set slowly while the temperature hovered insistently at an offensive level. Summer heat in this part of the world is quite unlike any climate I’m ever likely to experience again. Sweat beads poured down my back as I sat in the restaurant and exhausted myself by chewing. I was glad to return to the airconditioned comfort of the villa and the newly fill bucket of ice. Juluis was clearly doing his job well.

It was an early night.

Breakfast was ludicrous. The menu was more irrationally large than my imagination and I feasted my way through a fruit platter, some club sandwich construction and regulation coffees. A donut on the way out the door ensured I’d suffer indigestion for my gluttony.

Back in the infinity pool, I started to get that feeling we all suffer from when the first working day of the weeks looms into view. But I managed to blot out such hurtful visions by returning to my polar bear-like existence for a few more hours, chatting with my fellow villa guests and failing to read a chapter of a novel.

Eventually, we had to leave, calling Julius one final time to collect us and our belongings. I was unconsolable and pleased that Juluis knew it too, transporting us the 250m from villa to reception area by golf cart, since in my state of tristesse it would have been impossible for me to cover the distance unaided.

I seriously want to go back. I became used to the infinity pool. Dubai Marina just seems shoddy without one.

This is what Oman is all about - relaxation

 

 

 

Hotel art is distressing

Could you fall asleep, knowing this was in the room?

This week I’m staying in a serviced apartment, something I’ve never done before.

I’m used to flea-ridden, squalid room with torn mosquito nets and a mattresses stuffed with chick peas, so naturally I’m still a little shell shocked after entering my impeccably clean, colour-coordinated room, replete with functioning washing machine, stack of fluffy bath towels and mini fire extinguisher.

Though it’s odd to spend a week in a hotel situated in the same city in which you are currently residing, such is my little adventure. To the friend who hurtfully inferred I may have been kicked out of my rented apartment for questionable hygiene issues, I state here that I am not a liberty to discuss my current predicament with you, but that you should refrain from making such ill-conceived remarks. They have been duly noted.

Still, apart from the genuine weirdness that comes from listening to children squealing up and down the corridor, the gyrating and pulsating foul-mouthed hip hop artist booming from the lounge speakers, and the hideous glow of a million halogen lamps, it’s the art that’s giving me a headache.

Last week, while waiting for a quote at the local print shop, I noticed one of those perky, snappy framed bit of philosophy that pollute so many public workspace. ‘It is disturbs you, it’s art.’ Well, most people disturb me and they’re not art. Most of them are just mistakes and the current product of evolution. Unfortunately, that sniff of intellectual pretence doesn’t hold up to the slightest questioning. You only have to cast a glance at the framed horror hanging in my temporary quarters. It disturbs me. It is vomit-worthy. Art it is not.

I know I’ve been guilty of the throwaway and capricious ‘Oh, I could’ve done that!’ in times past. But I couldn’t have done this schlock of puke, not even if I removed my eyes from their sockets before picking up the brush. Painting is perhaps not the most developed of the arts in the Islamic world (and here I’m assuming the artist is local), but there’s no reason to hang what amounts to a set of blood-drenched ropes across a gold leaf ECG screen in my place of repose.

And wouldn’t you know it? After staring menacingly at the painting for about three minutes, I decided that it had to go, stored next to the ironing board. Neither object was of any worth to me so I thought they could both stay out of sight during my stay, deep within dark bowels of the bedroom cupboard.

No sooner had I removed the painting from the wall, than my doorbell sounds and the Floor Manager’s cherubic visage fills the peep-hole. I’d barely made a sound! Still, he was here to check on my dry cleaning requirements but I couldn’t hide the picture, now seated, rather lonely, on the sofa. I explained to him how I am allergic to reds and oranges, though since my fully exposed suitcase resembles a fiery clementine, he simply eyed me suspiciously and took my shirts. Then looked back again. That time, I’m not sure what he was suggesting, so I shut the door in his face.

Apart from the disturbing non-art, I’m loving my serviced apartment.

Why I love my passport

The mark of a worthy passport is not having to collect the stamps in the first place.

Today I’m sitting in bed and chuckling to myself though the clock warns me it’s 5:30am, a time I assume has meaning in other people’s lives, but not mine.

Late yesterday morning a colleague at work informed me I needed to organise air tickets for two staff. They were required to travel to neighbouring Bahrain, just an hours’ flight away from Dubai International Airport. Rejoicing at the joy of e-ticketing that has come with the Internet, I was swiftly able to locate and reserve two seats for DXB-BAH, leaving at 7:15am the following morning and returning late in the evening on the same day.

Be thankful for a passport that give affords you unhindered travel

Still, it was never going to be as simple as that. You see, if all Consulates and Embassies warn us in an unreadable, minuscule font that the granting of a visa does not guarantee entry into the territory which the diplomatic office represents, those of us with passports from rich and powerful nations never consider, or rarely, that we may actually be denied entry.

This trait doesn’t belong to many citizens from less powerful or little-liked nations, or from countries deemed hostile to the dominant world order. One of my staff travels with an Indian passport, and he was already undoubtedly used to encountering the misplaced bureaucracy that comes with border crossings.

When I called the Bahrain Embassy in Abu Dhabi to learn the process for him to obtain a visa, I received a response that was unsure and hesitant. A e-visa could be issued within the next two weeks. Useless for a 7:15am flight the following morning. Could he obtain a visa on arrival at the airport? No, out of the question. Unless. If I could persuade the company in Bahrain where my colleague had an appointment to issue a formal, signed and stamped Letter of Invitation, it might just work. I started to feel constipated.

Five hours later I managed a smile

Though the last rays of the sun were already sinking past the gleaming spires of Dubai when I received the second attempt at a Letter of Invitation with accurate itinerary dates, passport numbers and correctly spelled names, I jumped a little excitedly that I’d managed to pull it off. He would be able to attend the training session in Bahrain.

but an hour ago, at 4:30, my colleague woke me from contented slumber. In the background I could hear the familiar noises of the airport departure hall, that continuous voice over system announcing a thousand flights to ten thousand bleary-eyed travellers taking the red-eye specials, dressed in suit and without any check-in luggage. ‘No need to tell me… you’re not going?’ Even before customs had the opportunity to scan and manhandle and glare condescendingly at him, the check-in counter steward had refused to issue a boarding pass. Why? Well, to some people and governments out there, your job title is an important thing.

I don’t what your job title is but have a good idea what I’d like to call you

Since with word ‘manager’ was nowhere to be seen on my colleague’s UAE residency permit, the check-in clerk believed he would be refused a visa on arrival in Bahrain. Does it really matter? Yes, to some people it clearly does.

I asked to speak with the airline staff member and knew that I wouldn’t be rolling back into my bed within the next half hour. Thanking another gift of technology, I took my mobile phone into the kitchen and prepared a fresh pot of coffee. I was already agitated so I thought I’d just help myself along a little more.

Somehow, and certainly not due to my bedside manners and endless charm, my colleague got to Bahrain. The day went well. Yet again, I am grateful for my passport. And must remember more often not to take it for granted. I am visiting Bahrain in less than a fortnight and won’t even have to think about obtaining a visa beforehand. Or should I? Nah, that kind of thing never happens to me.