Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sri Lankan Croquet

Lydia wrote this post and my hilarious yet informative quips will appear in [brackets].

We arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka early this morning and checked into our Airbnb.

[The last native holdout against the British was the Kingdom of Kandy, which just makes me think of Candy Crush.]

[Uber broke my heart at the airport. How there are no cars available at a nation's capital airport... don't get me started. Luckily we were able to use Ubers once we were in the city. I prefer it so much that I'll walk 30 minutes past 30 taxis to find wifi to call one, often to Lydia's annoyance. Uber removes the haggling, the language barriered torture of describing your destination, your need for correct change, and to top it all off you get a fun little map of your trip's route. I feel a bit bad about it because it's probably hurting the poorest drivers who can't afford a smart phone but... not bad enought to get into their cab. It's the worst.]

[The cab driver we got was funny. He was like "do you want to take the highway which is 2 hours faster with a toll of 2 dollars or..." let me stop you right there. Yes please.]

[My main gripe with the Airbnb is the owners were cheapskates and a key in the wall mechanism was needed to keep the power on. If you left the place you had to take the key out, which killed the AC, so that the apartment could warm up to disgusting temperatures and be waiting to destroy you when you returned.]

After settling in, we headed for lunch at the Ministry of Crab. According to Lonely Planet, “Crabs are a major income earner for Sri Lanka’s fishing industry but most are exported.” However, the Ministry of Crab is one Sri Lankan restaurant with a lot of crab on the menu.

Unfortunately, this story has a sad ending. After wandering around the block a few times, we finally found the restaurant hidden within the depths of the Old Dutch Hospital. I was happy to see the restaurant was nearly empty, and that they’d have plenty of room for us. Well guess what they didn’t have? Crab! The hostess informed us, they’d already sold out of crab for the day. Excuse me? No one is even at your stupid restaurant!

After some quick Googling, John saved the day by suggesting The Lagoon, Trip Advisor’s number one Colombo restaurant. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find a Sunday buffet complete with crab. Take that Ministry of Crab. Pretty much all the food at the buffet was spicy – even the deviled eggs were sprinkled with hot peppers.

[Wifi is constant issue for us. We may need to invest in an international phone plan or something, but the amount of time we spend wandering around trying to find internet is brutal. This is a screenshot of the "free wifi for citizens" webpage. Thanks for nothing.]

[Burger King had free internet though! USA! USA!]

[Clockwise we have rice, spicy tempered garlic kang kung, pumpkin kalupol, and tempered chili cashew nuts. Lydia is pretty scared of foods with character and so thought everything was too spicy. Womp womp.]

As usual, the best part of the buffet was dessert. I was introduced to Mud Pie which is basically a brownie fried in butter with butterscotch sauce and brandy. Wowzah.

[One of the odder desserts I could find was this avocado mousse. It pretty much tasted like sweet whipped avocado. Plus the sign said it was "avocado mouse" which pretty much wins the game.]

We were able to walk off our lunch (or at least part of it) on the way to the Gangaramaya Temple. This Buddhist temple is pretty much a big, crazy collection of Buddhas and other Buddha-y things. One of the more memorable pieces in the museum is a stuffed elephant. Unfortunately, it was very, very hot, so we didn’t spend too much time looking around.


[Street signs were in three languages plus they had corporate sponsors.]

[Cream soda produced by the Sri Lanka Housewives Association apparently.]

[They have a dead stuffed elephant because... Buddhism?]

[Never have I seen so many Buddhas assembled. Looks like someone was reincarnated as a hoarder.]

Leaving the museum, we walked around Beira Lake and gazed upon the Swan Paddleboats. The lake water was pretty gross looking, otherwise I would have insisted on taking a ride.

A little bit further along, we spotted a Komodo Dragon swimming in the river, but it was too fast to get a picture.

As we were walking, about 5 million tuk-tuk drivers stopped to chat. Even after politely declining offers for a ride, most of the drivers continued to follow us for several minutes talking in jumbled English. They weren’t my favorite people.

[Looks like the Ramadan buffets are a thing in Sri Lanka too.]

Our walk ended at the Galle Face Hotel on the coast of the Indian Ocean. The hotel was built in 1864 and has hosted many important people including Mark Twain, James Joyce, Ghandi, and Richard Nixon among others. We spent a while in the Traveler’s Bar cooling off in the air conditioning and sipping some yummy drinks.


[Emperor Hirohito, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Scarlett Johansson walk into a bar...]

Once we were sufficiently cooled off, we headed to the poolside bar, where John noticed a croquet court. We had one of the workers dig out the mallets and balls and played a few sloppy rounds. We looked up the rules online, but we still had to make up several of our own. I was the proud winner when all was said and done.

[We had to take a rain break.]

We rested our croquet-weary bones as we sipped another round of drinks oceanside. There were some funny chipmunk creatures bouncing around. Their tails flapped up and down as they moved which was pretty cute.

Of course our afternoon wouldn’t have been complete without a little tea time, so we ordered High Tea at the hotel’s restaurant. I’d say considering we weren’t actual guests, we did a pretty good job enjoying the Galle Face Hotel.

[Oddly enough they were kind of stingy with the tea itself. And they poured it in glass cups which were hot to hold. Very odd. I've high tead in London so...]

[It's all about the scones and the jam and clotted cream for me.]

[Galle Face Green north of the hotel was quite a happening place. There was an especially large amount of kite flying going on. It looked like a big storm was coming though, so we hit the road and returned to the apartment.]

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Malaysian Monkey Temple and I Ate a Stingray

Lydia wrote this post and my hilarious yet informative quips will appear in [brackets].

[We had a boat load of Marriott points that covered a large portion of our accommodations on this trip. This time we were at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel.]

We started our day in KL’s Chinatown. On the ride there, our Uber driver was quite the conversationalist. He and John were talking about Ramadan, and when John asked how many Muslims are in Malaysia, the cab driver gave us the whole population rundown. He told us how many Filipinos, how many Indonesians, how many Indians, etc., and then told us how many foreigners there are. Um excuse me sir, I think everyone you just listed classifies as a foreigner.

He also informed us that Malaysia has nine royal families who rotate power. I’ve never heard of anything like that before. Each family is the head of a Malaysian state, so the Sultans still have jobs to do even if they aren’t ruling the whole country.

We eventually arrived at KL’s Central Market where, as we were getting out of the car, our cab driver warned us to watch for pickpockets. John and I joked that we don’t really know what we’d do if we caught a pickpocket. Elbow him in the nose? Scream and shout? Luckily the issue never presented itself.

The British originally built the Central Market building in 1888 as a wet market for KL’s citizens. The building was expanded many times, and the present day, Art Deco building was completed in 1937. It is now protected by the Malaysian Heritage Society. As far as markets go, this is a pretty nice one. There weren’t crazy shop owners yelling at us as we walked by, it was clean, and air-conditioned. An all around winner I’d say.

[Britishy people call cotton candy weird things like "candy floss" and "fairy floss" so ice floss makes sense in that context.]

We ate lunch across the street at an Indian restaurant, Restoran Yusoof dan Zakhir. John got lamb and I got honey chicken. John’s was way better.

Walking down the street, we peeked our head into a Chinese herbal medicine shop. So many strange things!

We also walked through the town square and noted the unattractive clock tower.

Around the corner we passed Masjid Jamek, KL’s oldest mosque opened in 1909. It was pretty impressive.

Of course when we passed by a McDonald’s on the next block, we had to check it out. The most interesting thing was the sign on the door stating that Muslims were not welcome during Ramadan. Womp womp.


[The sign doesn't just say Muslims aren't welcome during daylight, it says they can be prosecuted.]

They had some interesting items on the menu as well. John got a Samurai Burger, which was basically a burger smothered, and I mean smothered, in teriyaki sauce. I got a McFlurry, which I believe was date flavored, and it was delicious.

After our snack, we hopped in a car and headed for Batu Caves, one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The cave became a temple in the late 1800s when it was promoted by an Indian trader. The first thing we noticed upon arriving is the 140ft statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity, standing outside.

We also noticed the monkeys running around. They were everywhere! A man threw some bananas on the ground, and they all came running. It was funny to watch the little ones pick up a banana, and then run and hide before a bigger monkey came after them.

After we’d had enough monkey time, we climbed the 272 steep steps to the cave entrance. Inside, there were ceremonies happening at several Hindu temples. I really liked the music - it was kind of jazzy and upbeat.

[My plan for life success: "no smoking, no exercise".]

[Sri Velayuthar Swamy really rolls off the American tongue.]

I think John and I were a bit apprehensive about going to another cave after the painfully boring one we visited in Cuba, but this one did not disappoint. Monkeys and jazz music – who can complain?

As we were leaving the caves, it started raining. At first, it was just a light rain, so we found an overhang and just chilled for a while. However, the light rain didn’t last long, and before we knew it, it was down pouring, the drains started to overflow, and we got stranded on a step. It wasn’t very fun.

[In the bottom left there's this dead pigeon that is having one last adventure.]

Luckily we had Internet and were able to call an Uber to come rescue us. But even once we were in the car, I was a little afraid of being swept away in a flash flood.

We eventually made it safely to the Pullman Hotel where we’d planned to have Dim Sum for dinner. However, when we arrived, the Ramadan Buffet was set up, and we just couldn’t resist. Oh my gosh, it was by far the best buffet I’ve ever been to. Let’s start with the drinks. I had Rose milk, and John had date cordial. Holy moly!

[From right to left they had date cordial, "air bandung" which is milk flavored with rose syrup, orange cordial, and a bland-as-it-sounds soya bean. The night meal during the month of Ramadan when Muslims break fast is called Iftar. Apparently the rose flavored milk is an Iftar speciality.] 

I had sweet and sour chicken, sushi, and coconut rainbow jelly. For dessert, they had a chocolate fountain! I also got to try dragon fruit for the first time. As we were getting ready to leave, John noticed they had a shaved ice station, so of course I had to get in on that too.

[They were carving what I think was a whole lamb on a spit.]

[They even had a freaking live band. Best buffet ever!]

[My love of weird things was satisfied in a spectacular fashion. This one is "Puyuh goreng jintan or fried quail with cumin seed"].

[To avenge Steve Irwin I ate some "Asam pedas ikan pari or spicy sour stingray stew. Take that wildlife!] 

We broke Ramadan rules and ate before sunset, but it was interesting to watch everyone else. The official sunset time was 7:22, but they all started filling their plates around 6:45. Once they’d gathered a little of everything, they sat at their tables, staring at their food, with their arms crossed. We were already gone by sunset time, but I’m sure they did some sort of cheer before chowing down.

[Lydia with another weird Malaysian ice mess, some rainbow jelly, and a slice of dragon fruit.]

After dinner, it was time to head to the airport. Unfortunately, on our way there, I realized that I’d made a mistake and we were an hour late. Whoopsies. Luckily it was pretty easy to rebook for the following morning. And, lucky for us, there was a hotel inside the airport, so we didn’t have to drive all the way back to the city. Winning!

[My limited understanding is that Islam forbids the charging of interest, so banks take some convoluted measures to adhere to the strict letter of the law but still make money.]

[The airport hotel was strange because it was past immigration. So it was like my first night sleeping in no man's land. It brought to mind Tom Hanks in The Terminal.]