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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Dubai-bye

07:51
After a gorgeous week soaking up the sun and cocktails in the Maldives, we headed off to our third and final stop of our honeymoon: Dubai. Having both spent endless hours milling about the airport awaiting various connections, we were excited to see more of this new and decadent city. It was all going so well until we arrived at the hotel to no booking and I broke the news to my wife that I had booked dinner at the Palm and she would have to get ready in the toilets as we didn't have a room ready… However, the Lord works in mysterious ways and this little glitch meant that we were upgraded to a suite for the rest of our stay so she didn't strop about for too long.

After we emerged from the toilets, as radiant as you can imagine, we hopped in a taxi and made our way to the Palm. Whilst we knew that Dubai was a place of conspicuous consumption, we didn't quite expect it to be as obvious as it was. We pulled up to the Atlantis only to rudely interrupt a young woman in a ball grown, having her photograph taken draped across a Bentley (that wasn't hers…) in front of the hotel sign, only to get back in a taxi and leave…  Selfie sessions aside, the hotel was amazing. Incredibly lavish and adorned with Rolex stores, the walk into the restaurant made it very clear that we weren’t headed for just any old dinner.

From the large choice of high-end dining experiences in Dubai, I decided to treat us to a 3 Michelin starred meal at Ossiano; an under water seafood restaurant. Everything about the restaurant was spectacular. We were warmly welcomed to our seats by the hostess and then offered fresh bread rolls by the waiter whilst we chose our menu. Though delicious, the bread rolls were ultimately our downfall… Being absolutely ravenous we looked at the 5 course with wine accompaniments option and thought that we would make light work of it. Oh how wrong we were! Once we factored in the entrees, extra honeymoon dessert gift, truffles with the bill, pallet cleansers and those devilishly good bread rolls, it was more like twelve courses and we expanded so much that Mrs Worldwide couldn't get her feet back in her shoes. I won’t try to recall the menu but everything that passed our lips was divine, and looked equally as beautiful on the plate. Food aside, the restaurant was beautiful. Candlelit tables meant your eyes were drawn to the vivid blue of the fish tank. Filled with sharks, manta rays, and hoards of tropical fish, it was a beautiful backdrop to the meal. After waddling back to the hotel, we fell into bed and tucked into our honeymoon cake that they packaged carefully for us, because you know, we weren’t quite full enough...


























The next day we woke up with food hangovers to end all food hangovers. The breakfast buffet seemed like an impossible task, but never ones to refuse food, we ploughed on ready for a full day exploring Dubai. We had already booked the Burj Khalifa in advance so decided to have a wander around the mall beforehand. It was nothing special, almost exactly the same as any shopping centre or mall anywhere in the world, but with added ‘look how much money I have charm’. We arrived at the entrance of the Burj Khalifa, joined the queue, got in the pitch black lift in a sardine style formation (not for the claustrophobics amongst us) and arrived on the wholly underwhelming 124th floor. Now, while that sounds reasonably high there are more than 160 floors and for an extra payment (obviously), you could go a little higher, so we felt a little hard done-by when we weren’t at the very top. The views were amazing, but not as amazing as we expected. Everything below is so tall that the sense of height is skewed and everything around Dubai is desert, so you didn't get a sense of distance either.  The only real point that you can look down and think ‘woah I’m high’ is above the fountains that are on the ground. Tiny black dots scurry around and suddenly you realise they’re people. But then you have to join a 40-minute queue for the lift down and the sense of wonderment is gone.  We then wandered outside take some photos but realised that it was a near impossible task unless you wanted 12 chins…
After a little rest, we decided to take a taxi to Jumeriah beach. Our plans of an ice cream and maybe a little snooze in the shadow of the Burj al Arab quickly dissipated when we arrived. It was essentially Brighton beach on the one day of British summer. Packed. Children everywhere. Seagulls swooping like crazy. Bitterly disappointed, we had a coconut and ice creams and hastily departed, opting instead for a walk along the waterfront. However, by waterfront, I mean rows of hotel gates and taxi ranks. Being the culture vultures that we like to think we are, we really missed being able to wander and people watch in coffee shops. We admittedly struggled with having to drive everywhere and have a set destination in mind, but ultimately enjoyed the cityscape nonetheless.

One of the highlights of the trip was our evening at the Burj al Arab; the world’s only 6* hotel and quite deservingly so. The hotel lobby was the definition of opulence. Gold on everything, fountains the height of the hotel and a flurry of people willing to meet your every need. We arrived at the Sky cocktail lounge and were seated at the bar. The waiters operate a rotation system so everyone gets to sit right at the edge with a view at some point during their evening. In true Dubai style, the cocktail menu begins with a ‘would you like to show off how much money you have?’ option. If so, a cocktail costing in excess of £1500 complete with actual gold could be yours. For the more frugal big spenders, the next option was a mere £600 and you could keep the glass. The most impressive cocktail we ordered was called Mr. Big. Served in a handbag shaped tea pot and complete with nail polish liquor to flavour your glass, it was a fun change to the usual. All cocktails were served with a selection of nibbles and olives in a Burj al Arab shaped ‘snack rack’. We ate every.single.one.
As far as last nights of honeymoon’s go, it was a decadent end to our holiday and ticked a fair few items off the bucket-list. Whilst Dubai wasn’t the most thrilling place we have ever been, it was undoubtedly interesting and an insight into the new Middle Eastern cityscape.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Mal-divas

19:12
After our whirlwind tour of Sri Lanka, we were more than ready for some truly luxurious rest and relaxation in the Maldives. A quick 90-minute flight and we touched down in Male airport and wandered through arrivals ready to be greeted with champagne and our private speedboat that we were promised when booking. No such luck. Male arrivals lounge is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Comprised of stands belonging to each resort and no air conditioning, arrivals do their best meerkat impressions whilst they look for their island. The smug meerkats wander into the air-conditioned booths [hashtag fourseasonswankers] whilst us bog standard meerkats are told that we must wait for all the passengers joining us on our islands but we are welcome to wait in Burger King.

Three hours later and we were invited to board our ‘private’ ‘speed-boat’, which was actually neither and just a packed- full-really-quite-slow boat. Being sandwiched between my new wife and a lady with a fur coat (WHO BRINGS FUR TO THE MALDIVES!?) while my balls fused to the leather seat was not quite what I had in mind. We then arrived on the island, checked in and were told that all guests would receive half a bottle of champagne on the second night and they did nothing special for honeymooners. ‘Excuse me’, piped up Mrs Worldwide… You can imagine where the rest of the strop went. After some hefty stropping, we wangled ourselves a second bottle of bubbles and fruit platter and merrily trotted on our way to our room.

Now for all the faults of the transfer, we couldn’t fault our room. Our luxury Jacuzzi water villa was situated at the adults’ only end of the island, just a mere 2 minutes from the spa and buffet, our two favourite things. With a bed bigger than our own bedroom, private balcony and Jacuzzi that looked over the sea, we felt like we were really honeymooning. We did exactly what any one would do in this situation; cracked open the mini-bar and hopped in the tub, pretending we were Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Bitches, we have arrived.

As we arrived at sunset, we didn’t truly appreciate the beauty of the island on arrival. When we woke up the next day and saw the picture perfect turquoise sea through the window we were blown away. 

We started the morning (and every morning) with fresh coffee on the balcony watching the impressive array of sea life, including Dory, Nemo, Mr Ray, Bruce (though the slightly smaller coral reef shark version) and some big blue thing that was about 5ft long. 

After coffee, we took the short walk to the restaurant where we had freshly cooked any-way-you-like eggs every morning, all the bread you could imagine, and all the components of a full English. A very fancy Benidorm. Egg Man and Mrs Worldwide quickly became best friends when she discovered his perfectly poached eggs and his little face would light up when he saw her come in and the little dollar signs would flicker in his eyes. He knew exactly where this was headed… ‘like my eggs, give tip’.

After whiling away the first few days with a spa visit (thankfully more suited to the diva’s needs than the Sri Lankan forest experience), books and booze on the balcony, Christmas Eve arrived. 

Rather than a big celebration on Christmas Day, the island hosts a huge buffet dinner and cocktail party on Christmas Eve. The buffet was out of this world; Eiffel Tower made of icing, 50-cheese cheeseboard, ice sculpture Santas, life-size gingerbread houses… It was honestly like being in the North Pole. 

After a hefty Christmas dinner, we rolled (both metaphorically and physically) to the cocktail party. Merry Christmas, you filthy animals.
Also, big shout out to Mary.

Christmas Day was rather more low-key. I quickly adopted my role as ‘instahusband’ and we started the day with Mrs Worldwide’s bikini and Santa hat photo shoot. 100 shots later and we had the perfect candid snap… A quick FaceTime with the chilly people at home and we resumed our usual positions; in the tub with a glass of something alcoholic just as Jesus would have wanted.

Mrs Worldwide does not like swimming, open water or fish so imagine my surprise when she suggested a day of snorkelling and kayaking in the sea, with the fish. The sun had clearly gone to her head but she insisted and she looked ravishing in her snorkel gear…
It was amazing to be under the water amongst the coral. There is so much going on that cannot be seen from above that it was one of the best experiences of the trip. Actually, Mrs Worldwide not realising how shallow the water was and washing up on to the shore like a beached whale was the best experience of the trip. Next we hopped into a shared kayak despite Mrs ‘I can do it myself’ wanting solo ones. Risky business a fortnight into our marriage, but tandem kayaking went almost without a hitch.  Despite a minor incident involving a sandbank and our kayak getting stuck whilst some smug couple paddled past perfectly in sync laughing at us not offering an ounce of help or support, we survived, our marriage survived and we made it back in time to watch the sunset from our balcony.

The week was over before we knew it, and sadly we had to say goodbye to island life. But not until after a quick monkey about on the token leaning palm tree and some gourmet nuggets…




Smashed it babe, smashed it.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Temples, Tea & Elephants

18:29
Our trip on the catamaran was succeeded the day after by visits to several different Buddhist temples in and around Polonnaruwa, which was the 2nd capital city of Sri Lanka and a World Heritage site. 


In addition to some pesky and hungry monkeys that by now we were more than used to, these chaps were wandering around. Now the picture does not do their size justice, they were HUGE and we genuinely felt like we were in Jurassic Park for a moment. 

In-between flocking to the tourist sites, our guide stopped off every so often to pick up his everyday essentials. He stopped off at this stall to buy some fruit to take home to his family, but gave us a chance to try the mangoes. They were definitely not the juiciest mangoes of the honeymoon though... (oh behave).

Another trip offered, that wasn't originally included in our tour (are you noticing a theme yet?) was a little tea-stop at a tea plantation/factory. Being told that the tour was free I reluctantly spoke on behalf of me and my wife and agreed to give it a whirl. [Mrs. Worldwide; 'I tried to get us out of it by saying I had been to one in Malaysia but you just sat there panicking going "oh go on then" so quite frankly you had it coming.']

 Having been shown round for approximately 10-15 minutes I thought it only fair to buy some tea in the gift shop. Thirty pounds later (!!!) and I had enough tea to make brews for a lifetime. Our tea lady then showed us round a random museum that had typewriters from England from it and told me to take pictures of random pieces of metal from Leicester. (This album is available on request for any interested parties.) She then somehow managed to separate me from my wife and told me to give her a tip ("Like tour, give tip") just in case I was under any impression we were leaving her empty handed. 

Here is me, mid rip-off. If blogs had sound, you'd hear my wife tutting in the background. To make matters worse I asked if the tea I was buying was in bags. "Yes Sir, it's in bags". Once back in the UK, I opened the tea and it was all loose tea leaves... NOT IN BAGS. So now I'm the ponce who serves brews with a strainer...

 Next up, and possibly the highlight of our trip, was our visit to the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala. We started by visiting this motley crew at the river. The elephants are taken to the river in small groups throughout the day to wash and play before the whole group excursion later in the afternoon. We had a beautiful lunch watching them play and my wife was just pleased not to have the biggest ears in the photograph.


 After lunch, we walked over to the main site of the orphanage and stopped for a short browse at some harems. However, what I didn't realise was that we were aiming for feeding time... and it was quickly ending while I was engaged in a bartering battle worthy of the souks. Cue strop from Mrs Worldwide; 'you're making me walk fast in thirty four degree heat because you had to haggle for some **** harems and now we're going to miss the exact thing we flew all the way here for'. She was not happy... But I have some beautiful harems purchased for a bargain price so swings and roundabouts eh?

 She soon cheered up when we entered the orphanage though.  We were lucky enough to see some babies being fed with the world's biggest bottles. The guide explained that these babies were not born in the orphanage otherwise they would be fed by their mothers, but rather they had been rescued from the wild after their mothers had been killed. It's tragic that in today's day and age we still have such little respect for our wildlife, but places like this do invaluable work to protect them. You could really tell the elephants were treated with respect and were happy. Many of the elephants go on to live long happy lives at the orphanage that they would otherwise may have not had.

 At around 4pm, the group all make their way to the river for an evening dip. The troupe all parade through the orphanage, make light work of crossing the road and meander through tiny streets to get there, led by one guide who is desperately trying to get over enthusiastic tourists out of the way.

And just like that, our Sri Lankan experience was over when we were dropped off at the Ramada in Colombo. The hotel had a spectacular array of Christmas decor, including this fabulous Christmas cone bouquet which took my wife's fancy. Easily pleased...

We spent our last evening sipping cocktails under the Sri Lankan sun. Oh wait, no. There was a torrential thunderstorm and we were stuck outside under a parasol as we had ordered shisha which we weren't allowed to take indoors. However, being sat there in the rain, with our cocktails and shisha feeling like we were the only two people for miles was one of the best memories of the honeymoon.