|A380 entertainment system. Woo.|
|Appetising breakfast is appetising.|
|Obligatory exit-row-legroom shot|
|The sixth of six.|
|A380 entertainment system. Woo.|
|Appetising breakfast is appetising.|
|Obligatory exit-row-legroom shot|
|The sixth of six.|
|Gold Reef City|
|the old Park station platforms|
|Local lager for visiting people|
|This is not a large screen. Also my fingernails are grim.|
|Dinner is served|
|Meet the Fokker|
|SE England. Literally.|
|Singapore Airlines SilverKris business class lounge, Singapore T3|
|8 days of madness.|
Also, it's Tuesday, going on Wednesday. I arrived on Saturday, going on Sunday. I'm sure you're all desperate to learn what I did, and equally sure you will end up on a scale somewhere between bored, disappointed, or horrified. But I shouldn't guess. I'll just describe.
The hotel had no wifi, at least not in the room. Actually there is wifi, provided by a mobile network, but after 3 attempts at buying 50 hours access I figure out why it doesn't work: in order to get on the Internet it needs my money, and in order to take my money, it needs to redirect me to the MBNA UK site to do 3D secure, and I can't do that until I'm on the internet. Excellent catch 22. I wrote my blog post and couldn't post it, so, whatever, I packed a bag full of necessities and went out for a walk, after first sending an SMS to Guy - my local, non-expat ex-colleague who I'd first warned of my arrival some 10 months ago. Since I got no response, I was content to just explore the local area.
As far as I knew, my hotel was close to the commercial centre and a few bits of tourism were walkable. It was mid afternoon and the temperature was bearable, but before I'd even reached a corner a local had started chatting to me and recommended somewhere to see. We walked for a good 10 minutes before he finally bundled us into a tuk tuk. Alarm bells were flashing, but not too loudly. This guy was - if to be believed - one of the cooks at my hotel. And besides, he delivered on taking me to cool stuff I wouldn't have seen otherwise. First, a Hindu temple. Next, a Buddhist temple. And then a whole bunch of Colombo.
All in all this guy and the driver kidnapped me for 2.5 hours, and ripped me off but I wasn't concerned. It was an empty day on the streets and I'd legitimately seen lots of stuff, got a few photos, and they dropped me off at Colombo Fort railway station. Stupidly, I chose not to try and buy a ticket for the following day's Kandy tourist train.
I started to walk back to the hotel, fairly sure I knew where I was going and that I was close. But then...I hadn't eaten, it was hot, and my defences were down. So I'm in country number 48 and it happens: I get scammed. Some unsolicited friendliness and directions from a local turns into being bundled into another tuk tuk and paying the same amount as the 2.5 hour trip for a round the houses 20 minute "hide the fact he's close" route through fuck knows where until we reach my hotel. I know full well what's happened and surrender to it, wishing I had it in me to do a Lester-at-Mokra-Gora style rant but fuck it, just take the money and fuck off.
I'm angry at myself, and tired. I like that I've seen the city. Guy gets hold of me on Facebook - turns out my SMS had reached him, but his two to me never did arrive - and we arrange to meet, and sure enough he comes to get me. He takes me out on a bit of a tour and feeds me prawn curry and beer, and we end up sitting outside the beautiful pool of a city centre hotel with me necking an 8.8% local stout. I've not seen Guy for almost 2 years and our chins wag a lot, it's great. We talk about work, life, and cricket in equal measure. I am deposited back at my hotel just around midnight and we talk about meeting up again before I piss off.
On Monday, I sleep, again. I partly feel like there's a need to justify how little I'm doing in Colombo but there really fucking isn't. My body knows that, with no imminent flights, it's OK to let go and so I do. Another 11 hours - at home I sleep 4-6 each night - and I leave the room just after 1230 to go upstairs to the Harbour Bar.
There's a buffet lunch and I am starving. They seat me at the window, staring at the spectacularly unpicturesque view of a working port and I order a beer. As that arrives, and I get up to start my feed, around 100 Germans arrive. It turns out Colombo is a popular destination for those guys. I take two runs, first a few weak things and second a plate full of strong stuff that even the pineapple makes me sweat (it's called "hot pineapple", to be fair).
Back to my room, I think about going out but I fall asleep. It's too hot and I'm too ginger and pale anyway, it's full on cancer weather. I tried earlier to get tickets for Tuesday's Kandy train but it too was full. I thought about getting a coach instead, but opted for...just doing nothing. This whole trip has 3 aims: experience a bunch of cabins I've never experienced before, visit friends in NYC and Colombo, and get a new passport stamp. I've done them all. Relaxing to the point of doing nothing is welcome and my body rewards me for it.
That evening Guy comes to get me again, this time to go to a Burgher restaurant (the 'h' is not a typo) from before this place was British colonial. Sadly it was undergoing refurbishment and members only for the main bar, but we had an amazing and spicy curry buffet as well as beer and the most staggeringly refreshing home made ginger beer I've ever tasted. Guy's brother called and the evening was cut short, but we agreed to meet for lunch on my last day.
Back at my room I started dozing in front of BBC world news so got into bed, and then couldn't sleep. There are 4 channels on TV showing cricket but I can't cope with that, especially as England's ODI was rained off. Managed via a faff to post a blog post and eventually got to kip around 3am, well after the horrifically childish and embarrassing Scotland Decides debate finished.
Tuesday arrives and I sleep forever again. Facebook fails me and I miss Guy's messages about lunch. I think I should have possibly stayed in Negombo, a beach resort nearer the airport, just because it more suits my "do nothing" desires, but hanging in the hotel is fine. I read, I sleep, I play Threes, and I go to the bar.
They are out of Irish Dark, which isn't Irish. I have another Lion stout and then spend 4 hours watching Sri Lanka vs Pakistan in an ODI. It's exciting and the barman scares me, as every Sri Lankan has, with their in depth knowledge of cricket. My choice of favourite player ever is sneered at. The cab to the airport is trickier to arrange than the "it's all arranged for you" email led me to believe, but is sorted for 10pm. I finish my time propping the bar with a glass of Arrack, the local coconut spirit that Guy had told me is disgusting.
By now Pakistan are batting, and I'm drunk and having 3 conversations at once. Pakistan start their innings well but collapse and Sri Lanka win while I'm on the freeway to the airport. As with the inbound, my driver waits for me - carrying my own bags - to open doors for us both, and I'm finding it curious. He tells me he's ex-police with 22 years service and I hope this means he'll drive like a nutter if required.
I get to the airport and tip him every last Sri Lanka rupee in my possession. My MBNA card has worked multiple times in multiple locations, which is good considering I didn't tell them where I was going. Last time I actually warned them, it was as rejected on day one. I hate MBNA but my card is just too damn lucrative to give up. I earn 2.5
miles Avios per pound on every purchase, which adds up to a significant portion of what's required to pull off a trip like this.
There are 3 security checkpoints but I am well prepared for all of them. In fact I prepare too well to go airside, because I pick up and fill out a departure card that's for Sri Lankan nationals only. I'm quite drunk and dreading the red eye from hell, regardless of it being business class, and stumble a bit failing to find the lounge which is totally hidden in plain sight. - being stopped only to lend a Chinese woman my passport in order for her to change some currency (meh, I dunno, I asked the counter guy if bad things could happen and he said no...sounds legit, right?). Inside I grab a giant plate of epic curry and start to write this. As I finish a Chinese couple have perched opposite me, and the woman keeps smacking fuck out of the bloke's leg while shouting a lot. It seems like a massive argument and I'm loathe to get involved; he's remaining calm but I think they might have an unhappy flight home. And then I reach this sentence, and stop.
And then because I'm in Colombo, I feel like making a terrible "one more thing" addendum, but don't. Ah crap.
|[posted 35 hours after I wrote the text]|
It's 1:30pm and I've only been awake half an hour after 12 hours recreational sleep. I don't have a flight today, or even one to check in for. Guess I must finally be on holiday.
After writing up my evening in Hong Kong, I headed downstairs for free breakfast in the hotel's Thai restaurant. Had a double go at the buffet, one plate full of English stuff and one plate a mix of English and Chinese stuff. Apparently I was hungry again. Because I'm on my own I got fast tracked through the queue, though seating was not private - they just shoved me into a chair between other groups of people at a huge 20 seater table.
Went downstairs and out for a wander. There's a subway station very close to the hotel and I follow the signs towards it, which subsequently disappear and I fail to find the station. My idea is to get the tube to the airport station but that's clearly not going to happen. My wander is pretty short, it's brutally hot and I have to checkout of the hotel in 90 minutes so I go back to my room and chill for a bit.
Doing the maths (which means "looking at my watch") I see it's approaching midnight in New York on Friday. I have a bit of time to kill but don't really want to arrive at the airport a stinky sweaty mess so I call reception and ask for a 2pm checkout which they're happy to give me, and I stream a copy of WWE Smackdown which has only just been posted. Always with the wrestling...
During the show I nod off a couple of times. Knowing this was genuine tiredness I set an alarm for 1315, just in case. In the end I need it, cos I'm doing that thing where I think I'm blinking, but half an hour is passing. I take a long shower which is fantastic and invigorating, and take a while cramming all my stuff into the bags.
Downstairs and checked out, I step into that there 30°c heat and walk back through HK's streets to the airport express station. My holdall is uncomfortably heavy and I want rid of it. In Hong Kong there are a lot of airlines which operate in-town checkin desks and I believe Sri Lanka are one, even though they only have 3 flights a week. But I can't see their desk. A sign tells me they definitely are there so I buy my train ticket and use it to enter checkin. Aha, desk 7. Turns out my holdall is now 10kg. The girl asks where I'm going and sees I've already checked in online. Then she prints out passes, rips them up, prints out three new coupons, stares at one and asks me where I'm going another twice. I give the same answer every time which seems to satisfy her, so she rips up one coupon and hands me the other two. Odd.
One coupon is my boarding pass, the other. lounge invitation. Sri Lankan airlines give their business class customers entry into a lounge that anyone can pay to get in and the huge snob in me is expecting not great things. But the knowledgable traveller in me also knows I can use any other business class lounge operated by any airline in the oneworld alliance.
But I'm not at the airport yet. I leave checkin, go downstairs to the platform and it's 10 minutes til the train. I need a diet coke but the shop only has full fat or zero. Back upstairs and find a 7-11 and I get one, start on it, back to the platform with the train now there. No food or drink on the train. FFHS. 25 minutes later I'm at the airport and they're announcing which way to go for each terminal - and I realise I don't actually know which terminal I'm leaving from. I guess T1 and I'm right. Ahead of me, about 30 or so people are literally sprinting off the train to the departure area. I slowly drink the DC and think to myself "wow, why are there so many Cathay desks?". At Cathay's home airport. Skills, Darren.
Up to security and into a longish queue. It moves at varying speeds and as I get close I realise why each individual isn't taking a uniform amount of time: 3 of the 4 people immediately ahead of me not kinky haven't filled out their departure cards (a sheet left in your passport upon arrival), they don't even have departure cards. So they get handed new ones and fill them out. Jesus Christ people. Obviously I've filled mine out well ahead of time and am pretty much just waved through.
There's a lounge very close, Cathay's The Wing. I go straight there and wave my boarding pass and Cathay gold card but ask them to leave my booking alone, i.e. do not change the number from my BA account as, horror of horrors, I've actually paid cash money for this flight and want to earn BA tier points and avios. Everything is a down payment... as it goes, I had originally spent avios on another Cathay flight, CX711 for this leg but cancelled that when I saw that Sri Lankan were available for an amount I could afford, and I redirected those Avios into making the previous leg first class. My holidays are so bloody complex to book.
So, The Wing. I walk in and it's crowded but there are seats at the bar. This place hasn't changed since I was here in 2006 but back then the bar wasn't open at 9am, but now it's 3:30pm and I take a perch. A beer, some photos of the apron, and I flinch a bit when they call the aforementioned CX711. A drinks menu arrives but I opt for a second beer, and am just pondering leaving when I'm offered a refill and opt for a champagne. Because champagne.
Next, time to lounge hop. The nearest lounge to me is the pay lounge which I have a free invite for, so what the hell, let's see. My invite is taken from me - so no re-entry - and my boarding pass is stamped "allowed free alcohol". I grab a San Miguel and struggle to find a seat for two reasons: it's almost pitch black, and it's crowded as fuck. There's a real crammed feel and there's loud Muzak. I'm not impressed. Eventually I find a seat, neck my beer, and piss off.
By now, Kayak has emailed me to tell me which gate I'm leaving from - 28 - and there's only about 90 minutes to go. Another lounge is near gate 23, Cathay's The Cabin. Realistically it's the only one I can fit in as the others are all miles away, like near gate 65 or two floors up and in a satellite. So I go into the Cabin and enjoy the even closer views, and fill a tray full of rice and noodles and buns and a diet coke and a can of Tsing Tao. Nom. Then I sit at the small bar and have a champagne, then another, but turn down a third: "I wish, but unfortunately I have a flight to catch". 5 seconds later as I'm still packing up another barman offers me a glass and gets the same reply.
The gate already has a long queue with a smaller queue for business class. But boarding hasn't started. I get a photo of the bird and the doors open, I'm about 6th in the queue but down the airbridge I'm the only one to turn into the business class corridor. I'm sitting in 1K, the window seat on the plane's right hand side and I'm greeted personally by 4 members of Sri Lankan staff.
The seats are of course not comparable to Cathay first, nor American's business. But they are decent. Fairly wide, huge legroom as these seem to be the newest seats in their fleet, the ones which go fully flat. The inflight entertainment screen is very big but I don't know where the remote is. An orange juice and menu arrives and before we take off I'm asked what I want to eat and drink in the air. The chicken, and a champagne, please.
Slowly a few other people arrive in the cabin, including a very loud kid who seems full of entitlement. Grargh. They are on the other side of the plane but the voice pierces and is constant. I plug my phone into the USB socket but it vibrates constantly - there's no real power here. I find a full proper power socket taking English plugs and use that. The doors close on time but we take forever to take off, about 40 minutes.
Despite the modern video system, we are treated to an old-skool manual safety demo and are told it's less than 3 hours to Bangkok, where we stop for fuel and also for passengers to leave/get on. I read the "complimentary magazine" (sic) but can't find the compliments. I am totally besotted with a big elephant though.
I realise the little metal thing with a light control etc on is actually the remote, and it is AWESOME. Hella fun to use - the unlabelled button is actually a trackpad for an on screen cursor so just navigating the system feels a bit like playing a Wii. I dick around with it for a while just because I'm enjoying it, but then food and drink arrives so I plug my 'phones in - the supplied headphones look like £3 motorway service station jobs - and am delighted to discover that not only is the plane noise drowned out, but also the kid.
My movie of choice is The Monuments Men. Typical Clooney and Damon affair, I liked it though it wasn't spectacular and I didn't cry. In the end I've timed it perfectly, because the end credits roll literally as the wheels touch down.
But back at the film's start, the food and drink arrives. Starter is some kind of cream cheese sandwich using melon instead of bread, and is nice. Main is chicken and is lovely. The champagne doesn't get empty until the food finishes; there's no dessert other than a fruit plate.
I hit the massage button on the seat controls and am surprised how long the programme lasts, before realising it's an on/off button and labelled as such FFHS. Making the seat recline actually lifts it up, which is disconcerting and makes me feel like I'm at the dentist. But the seat is very comfortable.
During our descent I discover the PA announcements do not come through the headphones. Strange. We land at Bangkok and there's about an hour or so til takeoff but Colombo passengers are not allowed off so I stay in my seat as shitloads of staff zoom through the cabin dropping off blankets, leaving bottled water, hoovering, picking up crap, etc. Then the seats start to fill up. I'm hoping not to get a seatmate and it looks like I'm in luck...until the very last minute and 1H is occupied. Bah.
On the ground I started watching the only other film I was interested in: Divergent. It is fucking shit. For the first hour I thought it was merely slow, but actually when the main plot starts to kick in it just becomes really, really bad.
Some nuts and champagne arrive after take off. I order the red snapper and after a mediocre noodle salad starter it arrives and is fucking gorgeous. Another fruit plate and then I'm asked if I want dessert and say yes. 5 minutes later it hadn't arrived and I'm asked by the same lass "I thought you wanted dessert?" "Er, yes, I do". It wasn't really worth the wait.
My seat mate interrupts me for a chat, asks if I'm from the UK and proclaims his love for London, asking me what the weather will be like in September. He gives me loads of recommendations for Sri Lanka and then we appear to spend an hour or more talking about global and middle eastern politics and I'm delighted to be spoken at most of the time. It's awesome to meet someone who actually believes some of the stuff he was coming out with: Jews are clever and control the world because they control the USA who controls Europe who controls Asia etc. Also the masons control everything too. There's a Masonic pyramid and Star of David on the dollar bill! Oh my god! and Starbucks aren't about coffee, pfft. Star is Star of David! Bucks is money! The guy was very nice and very sad about the endless cycle of violence in the Middle East (he's an Arab Muslim from a middle eastern country himself), but dude needs to read a bit of conspiracy debunking methinks.
We landed a little ahead of the scheduled 2300 arrival time. Phone goes on and I find out AFC Wimbledon lost at home. A great start to my 48th country. I wield my fast track immigration invite to go through the slower-than-normal-track security line. The guy hands me a Dept Of Immigration and Emigration sponsored free SIM card. At baggage reclaim I am normally smug because my beige holdall is easy to recognise. Well, on this flight there appears to have been some huge group travel down the back and literally 40 beige holdalls come out. Bah. But mine comes pretty quickly and I walk out to arrivals - past the duty free white goods shops and no, I'm not kidding - expecting to find a man with my name on a sign because I've prebooked airport transfer to my hotel in Colombo.
There is no man with my name on a sign.
Oh. Well maybe it's because we're a bit early...though there are a lot of men with signs with names. I try to get some rupees from a desk but they don't take cards, but a cleaner directs me to an ATM. This time, I look up the exchange rate first. And then I make a second circuit of the men with signs. Still no one. Umm. I get my booking up on my phone but would really rather not have to call anyone, and there are a lot of comings and goings so I make one very slow and deliberate crawl along the line. My name isn't there.
By now, the unbooked taxi drivers are really starting to try and convince me to hire them. I'd rather not, so I do call my hotel. I'm put on hold three times and the told to approach one of the desks and tell them who I am, and it'll all get sorted. I ask three times which desk but still don't quite understand, so I pick one at random. It's the wrong desk and they try to sell me a ride, but finally someone else comes up: "are you Mr Foreman?". Phew!
He walks me out to the cab ranks and directs me to stand around, then 5 minutes later tells me to get in a car. I do, and the drive takes next to no time. The driver asks me where I want to go, which confuses me a bit as I think I've just been scammed by enterprising cabbies who heard me give my name on the phone. Whatever. He starts to chat but is interrupted by a phone call and I'm tired and not really in a talkative mood anyway. It's past midnight now. I pay the toll for the expressway and soon enough we're at my hotel, lit up by a sign for STALLION PUB. I have no idea how payment is working and ask the driver, he says he'll come in with me. So at reception, as I check in he has a conversation with someone and seems happy enough - I pay nothing and he leaves.
The receptionist hands me my key attached to a giant comedy metal keyfob and I take the lift to the third floor, which takes longer than my Hong Kong hotel lift took to do 32 floors. It's an impressive, long, and occasionally dark walk to my room and once inside I put the TV on. It's a cricket channel. But of course. There are two beds shunted together and OH MY GOD NO WIFI. But, according to the hotel feature list, I do have access to hot water and billiards. All is well with the world and I feel like maybe I need a kip.