Monday, June 25, 2012

Sri Lanka: The Pearl of the Indian Ocean

It's always nice to to have the chance to (briefly) get away from it all.  As the mercury's been rising, the iPhone's been ringing, and the business meetings have been multiplying - we were blessed to receive a small reprieve in the form of a one day holiday last Sunday, and since our wanderlust only intensifies as the summer begins to close in on Dubai, we jumped at the chance to make the most of our three day weekend.  After pulling out our compass and drawing a four hour flight radius around Dubai we had quickly narrowed in our our choice - Sri Lanka!

I did not know what to expect as we headed to the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean" but rest assured any preconceived notions were quickly exceeded as we landed and took in the beautiful and diverse scenery on the island and the wonderful spirit of the people.

We chose to forgo the well embraced beach vacation and head into the mountains of the island to a tea plantation for something a bit more off the beaten path - well off the path, if the shocks of our car had anything to say about the four hour overland journey.  But boy was it worth it!

We traveled to central Sri Lanka, to the Castlereagh Lake, in the Bogawantalawa Valley, known as the Golden Valley of Tea and home to old Ceylon.  Here at an elevation of 4000 feet above sea level, we stayed in an colonial era tea planters' bungalow built in 1890.  We spent three days on this working tea plantation and really got a chance to kick up our heels and learn quite a lot about tea!
Our own little English garden awaited us at the top of the hills.
Upon arriving a fresh pot of tea was the order of the day, naturally!

We even made a new friend who decided to join us for lunch, I think she likes scones as much as I do!
One of the spectacular roses in the garden, just after a light rain.
No menus, just a customized meal from the head chef made fresh daily from the onsite gardens.  This was a curry eight-ways meal.  Right up my alley!
You won't want for a kettle in this home.
Yes they look romantic, but it also means that there is a healthy mosquito population!
Rolling hills of tea.
The Resident Tea Planter showed us the age-old tea making process. We started by learning about the planters of old Ceylon, as they trekked through the dense jungle looking for the best slopes on which to plant tea, to the the tea pluckers who pick "two leaves and a bud" each by hand and finally to the factory where the all-important conversion to "made" black tea happens.  I've never had such an appreciation for a cup of tea!

The machinery used is of very traditional British design, some as old as 100 years. The process is a very artisanal one, unchanged for a century.
On a beautiful afternoon, we set off on an eight mile hike from one hill top down to the lake.  It was a fantastic day to take some full strides.
Along the way we found this little shrine where a live animal sacrifice had clearly just happened (notable blood and feathers everywhere).  Very strange.  The people living in the hills are a mix of Buddhist and Hindu religions, but a quick research run would pin this one on the Hindus.  According to Wikipedia: practices of Hindu animal sacrifice are mostly associated with Shaktism, and in currents of folk Hinduism strongly rooted in local tribal traditionsIt is not practiced in contemporary Vedantic or Brahminical Hinduism
Most kids walk their dogs, he walks his cow.
The views from the top of the Norwood Estate were definitely worth it!
It wouldn't be a walk through a local village with out a chat with the kiddies "hello!  goodbye!  MONEY!!!"  (We only give books and writing tools, never money or sweets)
I call this one: Dare to be Different.
They make it really easy to curl up with a good book.
Taking time to enjoy the flowers.
I knew bamboo could exponentially grow - but whoa!
The Norwood Estate planter's house, est. 1890.
Looks like I'm going to have to stay awhile.  Four Square named me Mayor of Norwood Estate!
The chef's custom creations were all incredible, but this was particularly divine!
Food just tastes so much better when it's grown in the backyard.
Hmm.  On second thought, I'm not going to go for a swim.
The view overlooking the old city of Kandy.
One of the top exports of Sri Lanka is cashews.  The sell them along the road like so, yum!

The Gallery Cafe was a great choice for our last meal in Colombo.  It was pretty as a picture and we didn't want to leave.

As our driver Bandu drove us back to the airport, he asked if we could do one thing for him when we left.  Could we tell people that the civil war is over in Sri Lanka?  Could we tell them how open and friendly the people are and how beautiful the scenery is?  Could we please tell everyone we know that Sri Lanka is a great place to visit, and encourage them to come?  Well, Bandu - you have definitely made it easy for us.  

It was all that and more!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Material Girl in Abu Dhabi!

When an artist's career spans your entire lifetime there is good reason to be impressed.  In Madonna's case not only did her concert in Abu Dhabi this past week confirm that she is the reigning Queen of Pop (Gaga who?) but that is she a total force of nature.
I must admit I had my reservations about seeing Madonna in Abu Dhabi.  I've wanted to see her in concert for almost a decade now, and the dates, times, and cities of her tours always seemed to elude me.  So when I learned that she was performing in the capital of the UAE, Dubai's older and much more conservative neighbor I thought - how much are they going to censor her?

Turns out - not at all!  It was clear that she was there to take no prisoners.  So as she thrust her pelvis, tore off her shirt, and licked the microphone, it occurred to me - damn, I am watching Madonna!  It was 100 degree night and she put on a Broadway worthy stage production with the vigor (and the dance moves) of someone half her age.  She worked hard for her fans, and she was adored in return.  She was awesome!
The complex stage numbers and interludes were nothing short of incredible, for 2 hours you're in her world and you're glad to be there!  As I jumped up and down to "Vogue" and reminded myself that I am looking at a living legend who is a mother, author, actress, director, and pop star I was filled with respect for her and how hard she works.  So if you get the chance to Madge, you'd be mad to miss it!

Oh and did I mention she performed "Like a Prayer"?  Yup, my life is complete.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

DXB - IAD: Coming Soon to a Tarmac Near You!

Breaking news has emerged from the international travel world, in the new few months both Emirates and Etihad (Abu Dhabi's airline) will be launching direct routes to Washington Dulles International Airport.  I know that we are really becoming adults when we are able to get really excited about direct flight routes, other things that currently jazz us are low interest rates for refinancing, and a day with no rain to stain the deck of our home in PA.  Sigh.  Adulthood.

However, if you were to take as many 14 hour flights as we have taken over the last five years you'd see just why we are so grateful.  Current options for traveling home include 4 hour layovers in London which come with a courtesy frisking from the extremely zealous Heathrow airport security personnel, or a direct flight to New York city accompanied by a 100% money back guarantee of a screaming baby and then courtesy traffic from JFK to Penn Station to board a 2 1/2 hour train , or the delightful 'garden route' which involves a rental car and the NJ Turnpike - enough said.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it!  So the thought of stepping on to a plane in Dubai and directly off it in Washington into the waiting arms of the Mueller family welcome party within minutes of deplaning sounds pretty darn good!

So we were happy to oblige Emirates airlines with the filming of a promotional video for the launch of their new route.  Their marketing department contacted the American Business Council to seek Americans who hailed from DC and could talk about how the new route would impact them personally, as task that obviously wouldn't be to hard for Matt and I! 

So for the second time in six months we welcomed a camera crew into our home for an interview - fun times!  We might be in a video in an Emirates flight near you!
Trying to be as fascinating as possible!
Signing away the rights to the footage - at least Matt didn't call me his "property" in this one!
Matt looks camera ready in his new Knot Standard blazer!
I'd buy an Emirates airline ticket off this guy - wouldn't you?