travel writing

Ejo #103 – An Open Letter to Annette of Holiday Shacks

 

capture

The email that launched a thousand words.  A simple apology would have seen the matter die a natural and quiet death.

Dear Annette of Holiday Shacks,

Thanks so much for your email. I must say though, it wasn’t exactly the response I’d been hoping for. I thought, perhaps, you might go for something a tad more conciliatory. A touch more apologetic, considering your crappy handling of what went down when we rented one of your “shacks” earlier this year. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting you to so nimbly squirm out of accepting any responsibility at all. Allow me to recap.

In April of this year I rented one of your ludicrously priced holiday homes for a weekend. You see I live abroad, so whenever my husband David and I are back in Melbourne we have this little tradition of renting a country house with my sisters so that we can all catch up, have some drinks, cook some food, dance around, swim, play games, shoot the shit and just have some good old fashioned, wholesome, family fun.

As you can imagine, we were suitably impressed when we arrived at Oceania Retreat – it’s a stunning property. Which is why I rented it, notwithstanding the astronomical (and actually pretty embarrassing) price tag. I’m sure you’ll agree that $3050 for a weekend away is a shitload of money, Annette. Because I would hate for you to think that I can go around splashing cash like that on the regular. No, no, no. It was definitely way above my budget. To be very honest with you, I actually booked it by accident one night, when I was super drunk. Oops! And I’m not ashamed to say that paying that much money for a two day getaway made me feel a little bit like vomiting in my mouth. But as I’ve already said, time with my sisters is very special to me, so I went through with the booking.

So yes, we were impressed with the house. But as I told you in my initial complaint, there were a few things we were not so impressed with. Especially considering the price we paid. For instance, the dirty socks we found on the back porch. What the hell, Annette? For $3050, the least you could have done was pick up the socks? Also for that price, how about providing an umbrella that actually fits into the picnic table, instead of one that doesn’t. And hey, why would you advertise the house as having a “coffee maker” and a “fully stocked gourmet kitchen and pantry” but not actually provide any bloody coffee? That’s just nasty, girlfriend. I mean, alright, coffee might not seem like such a big deal… but it kinda is a big deal Annette. It kinda is! And while you’re at it, you might also want to think about asking the owner to repair the broken bi-fold doors that we were strictly forbidden to use. The busted bi-folds were a hoof to the face, Annette. I bloody love bi-folds!! I love the effortless blending of indoor and outdoor living that they provide. The bi-folds were one of the main reasons I booked Oceania Retreat in the first place. And the fact that the entire wall of them was broken and unusable does not seem fair considering that I paid full price for the house.

HS Ejo Pic4

The row of bi-fold doors that are designed to welcome the outdoors inside.  These were locked shut during our weekend stay.

 

HS Ejo Pic3

This is the house I thought I was renting.  Sadly, because the bi-fold doors were locked shut, it’s not the house I got.

But look, all of those inconveniences paled into comparison when, at around 9.30pm on Friday night, the electricity in three quarters of the house just went out. And no Annette, despite your strident assertions, we had not overloaded the system. Not in the least. Nary an iPhone was being charged at the time. But the power went kaput anyway. Being practical people, we figured we’d just find the fuse box, flip the safety switch and get back to having fun. Except Annette, we couldn’t find the fuse box. We looked everywhere, inside and outside of the house. But it was nowhere to be found. Was it because we were drunk? No. Was it because there were no lights? No. It was because the fuse box was hidden… wait for it, behind a locked door!!!

IMG_4813

Curious.

Which begged the question, Annette, where the fuck was the key? I still believe that was a very reasonable question to ask, sitting in a big-ass summer house with no electricity on the first night of a weekend away that cost us an asspile of money.  For some reason, you disagree.

We spent a couple of futile hours looking for the damn key before giving up, a little after midnight, and calling the number in the guest compendium. We called twice, because we felt that the situation was serious enough to warrant immediate attention. But the woman who took our calls obviously didn’t think that a power outage in a luxury holiday property was worth waking anyone up for. And so we spent the night in a $1525-a-night house with no electricity. Which was significantly worse than a mere “inconvenience”.

Look, Annette, ultimately it wasn’t the electricity failure that pissed me off. It wasn’t the dirty socks or the sadistic, empty promise of coffee. It wasn’t even that the fuse box was stupidly locked in a room that we couldn’t access – even though that was fucking ridiculous. I mean, come on. If you were going to give us the key anyway, why lock the door in the first place?  Mess with your guests, much?  (For future guests staying in Oceania Retreat, the key is in a small bag, in a box, on a middle shelf in one of the cupboards in the laundry – good luck finding it in the dark.)

No Annette, what really upset me was your email. How long it took me to make my initial complaint is irrelevant; I’m a busy person. And I’m sorry that most of your guests are in bed by midnight, I truly am.  But we paid for the privilege to stay up as late as we wanted.  So sure, we called after midnight, but the power had been out since 9.30pm. We called only because we were out of options and we were worried that the fridge situation was going to become a health hazard. The meat was starting to smell and the beer was getting warm. And that is most certainly not OK.

I know you’re not a hotel. Duh! I’m not interested in a 24 hour concierge desk.  I’m interested in 24 hour electricity.  I have stayed in over 50 holiday homes through companies such as yours, as well as 72 Airbnb rentals. I have never seen a fuse box locked in a room with no access. You know why Annette? Because I’m fairly certain that it’s illegal. And the reason the room was locked? To protect the secret treasure trove of wine and coffee hidden inside (oh yeah, there was fucken coffee!!!). Seriously, if the owner is so concerned about their mediocre wine collection they should find another place to hide it. The fuse box needs to be accessible 24/7.

Your final comment was: “We consider that his matter has been finalised as we dealt with the situation in an appropriate time frame and don’t consider Facebook as the appropriate forum when the situation was resolved.”

Listen, seven hours to respond to what I would call an urgent situation is not dealing with it in an appropriate time frame. And indeed Annette, Facebook was definitely not the best forum on which to air my grievances about Holiday Shacks. High five for pointing that out. Hospitality, you see, is an industry that relies on excellent customer experiences and positive word of mouth. Particularly the rarefied realm of luxury hospitality in which Holiday Shacks lurks. Your website bandies around terms like, “luxury holiday accommodation business”, “luxury coastal and rural holiday homes”, “luxury villas” and “guest luxury experiences”. That’s a whole lotta jive about luxury, Annette. But do you know what I don’t consider a luxury? Electricity. I tend to think of electricity as more of your “essential” type item. You rent mansions (not caravans); on the Mornington Peninsula (not outback Australia). Unlimited access to running water and electricity is not optional. And ten hours without electricity is not an inconvenience. It’s fucking unacceptable. And even worse, avoidable.

Before I finish, I’m going to leave you with a suggestion. Some constructive criticism, if you will. Seeing as you work in customer service, perhaps you could try using a bit more diplomacy next time you receive a complaint. Instead of blaming us, your customers, for a situation that was not our fault, perhaps you could … oh, I don’t know, maybe just think about apologising instead?? Just saying, Annette. I have a feeling that your email to me was so dismissive and contemptuous because you presumed that the final word was yours. But you were wrong, Annette. It’s mine.

And now the matter is finalised.

Ejo #100 – A Love Letter To Melbourne

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not
be questioned.

Maya Angelou

Melbourne, my beloved, you are not the city of my birth, but you became my home before I was old enough to form memories of anywhere else. You will always be my hometown. And no matter where I live, you will always be my home.

I became aware of my capacity to love you only after we parted ways, nine and a half years ago (ack, has it really been that long?). Oh dear Melbourne, when I moved away in search of adventure, to “broaden my horizons” and to see more of the world, can you believe that I was actually happy to leave you. I was excited to embark on that brave new endeavour. It wasn’t that I was leaving you, it was just that I was going somewhere else. And even though my journey has been more difficult than I could have imagined, even though I left behind all my family and all my friends, and even though I have struggled with that, I don’t regret any of it. I have seen the world, and it’s wonderful. I have broadened my horizons and I have had adventures. Hopefully I will continue to have them.

What I do regret are all the years that I took you for granted. All the years that I failed to appreciate how entwined we were, and how dependent my sense of self was to yours. I moved away to have new experiences, arrogantly presuming that I would find the same sense of belonging and the same sense of security and oneness that you and I have always shared. Naïvely thinking that these things were inside of me.  But they were not.  I found that I did not belong anywhere else. I do not belong anywhere else. I blamed myself, for years, thinking that there was something wrong with me. Only after a great deal of painful introspection (and therapy, lots of therapy) could I see that you and I have something special, something that I will never find anywhere else in this world, no matter how hard I might search for it.

Melbourne, you have contributed so much of yourself to so much of me. I spent my formative years, my growing up years, inside of you. But until it was gone, how could I have known the extent of your influence? Does anyone ever realise how much they’re shaped by their environment, until they leave it?  The place I live now is nothing like you. The place I live now hates me, and quite frankly, I hate it back. I will always belong to you. And you will always belong to me.

I recently spent two wonderful weeks back in your embrace. In the comfort of your big sky, your clean air, your beautiful light. Enveloped in the glow of your sparkling constellation. You are my galaxy, and though my chosen orbit forces us apart, I am forever drawn to you. We resonate, you and I.  My cherished family is with you. My friends live in you. My history resides within yours. When I am “home”, I am normal.  My guard drops.  I breathe more deeply, and with less effort.  I remember who I was.  I know who I am.  I like myself more.  I regain a sense of belonging. And I do belong.

My beloved Melbourne, please, wait for me.  I promise you, one day I will return.

IMG_4829

Best fucking coffee in the world.

 

IMG_4827

David and I missed out on the “smashed avo” trend, so we make up for it every time we go back.  Also: bacon!!!!

 

IMG_4860

Afternoon cocktails at Madame Brussels. A quintessential Melbourne experience.

 

IMG_4831

Of all things, a lichen covered mailbox in Mount Waverley brings on waves of homesickness.

 

IMG_4834

Park.  Land.  Every.  Where.

 

IMG_4837

A track behind my childhood home.  You don’t realise how much you can miss trees and dirt and insects and bark and grass and fallen leaves and dappled light and twigs and Mother Nature until you have to live without them for so many years.

 

IMG_4939

The light.  Just, the light.

 

IMG_1093

A delightful afternoon in a delightful garden with delightful friends.  Melbourne.

 

IMG_1108

Yes, you can hire a yacht anywhere in the world.  But only in Melbourne is it helmed by such a good mate.

 

IMG_0988

Mah bitchzzz!!!!  Melbourne is where I am free enough to be my crazy self.

 

IMG_4909

Friends.  I’ve lived with these people.  I’ve danced with them.  I’ve gone to university with them.  They know me.  I know them.  Love is in the air!

 

image

My gorgeous Mum in her incredible garden.

 

FullSizeRender2

My best friends in the world.  My sisters.  Melbourne girls.  ❤

Ejo #98 – Drunk In….. Colombo

Last week David and I popped over to Sri Lanka for three days.  Yup.  We popped over.   I know, I know – don’t hate.  Look, Emirates Airline was having an amazing sale, so it was cheap to get there.  I’m talking dirt cheap.  And in terms of flight time, it’s not much further than flying from Melbourne to Cairns.  So why wouldn’t we go?  Sadly we didn’t have enough time to explore the amazing beaches and mountains of the country (which just means we’ll have to go back another time).   But we did manage to do a lotta eatin’ and a lotta drinkin’.  Coz you know that’s our specialty!

NUGA GAMA

So when we travel somewhere, we want to eat the food of that particular place. For instance, I would never go to Japan and eat Italian. That just doesn’t make sense to me, especially when there is so much amazing local stuff on offer. So the first station on our whistle-stop tour of Colombo was a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant called Nuga Gama at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Actually Nuga Gama was the second stop. The first was the Lagoon bar at the hotel, where we hydrated with a Seabreeze (for David) and a Salty Dog (for me).

IMG_4305
A Salty Dog for a salty lady, at Lagoon Bar.

Ready for dinner, we headed to Nuga Gama, where we were greeted by staff dressed in traditional village outfits who just went ahead and painted ceremonial red dots on our foreheads. Turns out they were having a Jaffna Festival!! How lucky are we!?

So, Jaffna is a city in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka, known for its traditional Tamil cuisine.  And let me tell you, it’s bloody delicious.  We felt so incredibly fortunate to experience this amazing celebration of a region we’d never even heard of before that night.  We ate egg hoppers (check out the slideshow below of how a hopper is made), we ate curries, we ate breads, we ate traditional seafood soup (called Jaffna Kool), we ate ten different types of sambol (mmmmm, sambol).  And of course we drank.  We were offered two typical Jaffna choices – a sickly sweet, viscous rosé wine or arrack, which is a spirit distilled from the sap of the palmyrha palm tree (think coconut flavour, without the sweetness).  We went with the arrack.  It’s 60 proof, and it goes down easy, so the choice was a total no-brainer.  The rest of the night went by in a swirl of food, arrack and trippy dance performances.  It was a total blast and a wonderful introduction to Colombo, and Sri Lanka.

IMG_4307
Getting into the Jaffna spirit!  In more ways than one.  😉

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

IMG_4328 - Copy
We were offered cutlery, but chose to eat the traditional way, with our fingers.  It’s the only way to go kids.

 

IMG_4331 - Copy
I’d like to say we finished this whole bottle of arrack in one night, but alas we did not.  We must be getting old, or wise, or something.

 

Jaffna Kool – an amazing soup made with seafood and palmyrha flour.

 

Ceremonial Jaffna dance (either that or someone slipped us a mickey!!)

INFO:
77 Galle Road, Colombo 03
+94 112 437 437
Lunch: 1200-1430
Dinner: 1900-2230
CLICK FOR MAP

 

MINISTRY OF CRAB

Ministry Of Crab does what it says on the box.  Crabs.  And lots of them.  In all sorts of different sizes, and all sorts of different cooking methods and sauces.  And they’re super fresh and super delicious!!!  Even better, they are sustainably fished so you can enjoy them totally guilt-free.  We arrived about ten minutes early for our reservation so we went across the street to the Taphouse for a couple of ice-cold local Lion beers.  Perfect start to the meal.

IMG_4414 - Copy
Pre-lunch local beers at The Taphouse, right next door to Ministry of Crab.  

 

IMG_4422 - Copy
David ordered the specialty Sri Lankan pepper crab.  So much peppery goodness. 

 

IMG_4423 - Copy
I went with butter sauce on the side.  My doctor would probably not be very happy with that choice, but my tastebuds surely were!

 

IMG_4427 - Copy
Thank god for bibs!!  Crabs are messy bastards to eat.  But totally worth the stains.  

INFO:
No 04, Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo 01
+94 112 342 722
Lunch: 1130-1530
Dinner: 1700-2300
CLICK FOR MAP

 

“EAT, EAT REPEAT” BY COLOMBO URBAN ADVENTURES

We don’t normally do tours when we travel.  Of any sort.  But since we had such a short time in the city, and since we wanted to eat as much local food as possible, and since the tour was called “Eat, Eat, Repeat” we figured it’d be worth a shot.  And it totally was.  Unfortunately, because I was constantly stuffing food in my mouth my fingers were always smeared with delicious food, so I didn’t really get a chance to take too many photos.  But trust me, if you want to sample Colombo’s finest street foods then you should definitely do this three hour walking tour of the city.  We ate fried pastries, nuts, pickles, lentil cakes with prawns, porridge, ginger tea, hoppers, paratha and kottu roti (a delightful blend of veggies and chopped up roti bread).  We also got the chance to walk through Pettah vegetable market which was a wonderfully riotous attack on all the senses.

IMG_4431 - Copy

 

IMG_4432 - Copy

 

IMG_4433 - Copy

 

IMG_4434 - CopyINFO:
+94 76 831 6000
info@colombourbanadventures.com

 

THE MANGO TREE & THE BERLIN SKY LOUNGE

While the Eat, Eat, Repeat tour introduced us to many of Colombo’s yummy treats, most street vendors in Colombo are Muslim, and so there was no alcohol involved (just one cheeky beer, dodgily wrapped in a white paper bag at the end of the tour).  So once we were done, David and I went off in search of cocktails.  Thanks to Google Maps we found The Mango Tree and The Berlin Sky Lounge close by.  The Cosmopolitans were huge, strong and very tasty!

IMG_4445 - Copy

 

 

UPALI’S BY NAWALOKA

In our tireless search for quintessential Sri Lankan food, we booked lunch at Upali’s, a very popular restaurant in town.  We were taken to our table by the owner, who picked up on our Australian accents and asked us if we’d been to the sister restaurant in Melbourne, which as it turns out, is about a two minute drive from my Mum’s house!  It’s a small world, people!  We’ll definitely have to try it next time we’re in Melbourne and see if the quality of food is as good as the Colombo branch.  Lamentably, as seems to be the case in a lot of yummy eateries in the city, Upali’s doesn’t serve booze – the Melbourne restaurant bloody better!!  😉

IMG_4447 - Copy
In the absence of beer, a crisp ice-coffee hit the spot while we waited for our food.  Sparkling water sufficed for the rest of the meal.  

 

IMG_4452
We ordered a crab pancake, paratha with chicken curry, fried rice and fish head soup.  Mmmmmmm, all the flavours were amazing.  My mouth is watering just looking at that fish head!!!  

INFO:
65 C.W.W. Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 07
+94 112 695 812
Mon-Thur: 1130-2230
Fri-Sat: 1130-2330
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CARNIVAL ICE-CREAM

Colombo was hot.  Stinky, sweaty hot.  And when it’s hot, and I can’t find a beer to save my life, I turn to ice-cream.

IMG_4453

 

IMG_4454

 

IMG_4459
INFO:
263, Galle Road, Colombo – 03
+94 11 5 346139
Hours: 1000-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CAFÉ FRANÇAIS

So, as I’ve already implied, we would never EAT at a French café in Sri Lanka.  But nothing’s going to stop us from DRINKING there.  We turned up to this French bistro at about 1.56pm and asked if they were serving drinks.  The two barmen looked at each other, then they looked at their watches, and then they looked at each other again and said, “Of course, take a seat at the bar – but we have to stop serving at 2pm”.  Legends!!  Turns out there’s a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol between the hours of 2pm to 5pm.  We snuck in a couple of Negronis, tipped the barmen handsomely, and then walked home for a lovely afternoon nap.  Coz that’s just how we roll.

IMG_4461INFO:
48 Park St, Colombo 07
+94 114 502 602
Tue-Sun: 1000-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TRAVELLER’S BAR & SEASPRAY AT GALLE FACE HOTEL

OK, so, I have to admit I don’t like eating or drinking at fancy places anymore.  I like to keep things real.  I like to keep things authentic.  Genuine.  Down and dirty, even.  But sometimes, keeping it real means embracing history.  And Colombo’s history is steeped in colonialism.  There’s no getting away from that.  The Portuguese, the Dutch, and most recently the British have all put their stamp on Colombo and, despite how I might feel about that, it has become an indelible part of the city and its history.  And so, it was that we found ourselves at Galle Face Hotel on the last night of our trip, having sundowners at Traveller’s Bar.  And, check this out!  At sunset, a Sri Lankan man with lovely legs wearing a rather short kilt played bagpipes while another dude lowered the flag out the front of the hotel.  Talk about a flamboyant (and not a little bit ostentatious) mixing of the cultures.

 

IMG_4479
Cocktail Round #1 (the one in front was made with my new favourite booze – arrack!!!)

 

IMG_4484
Cocktail Round #2 – A sangria thingy and a minty thingy.  

 

IMG_4488Cocktail Round #3 – a couple of pink grapefruit numbers.  David had the negroni and I had the margarita.  Most refreshing.  

 

We had initially just planned to go to the hotel for drinks but we were lured by Seaspray restaurant advertising “a traditional Sri Lankan seafood experience, crafted entirely from fresh seasonal Island produce and coastal seafood”.  Hard to say no to that.  So we had drinks and dinner (and then drinks again) at the hotel.  It was pretty nice.  I’d recommend it.

IMG_4492
The menu at Seaspray.  You can mix and match, but their recommendations of cooking style and sauce with the featured seafood is pretty spot on.  And the seafood itself?  Super fresh goodness.  I don’t know how, but we managed to score a table right on the beach, and we literally got misted with seaspray.  It was pretty fucking romantic. 

 

IMG_4493
Whitebait with fresh lime and chilli salt (and the ubiquitous and delicious curry leaves).

 

IMG_4494
The most tender salt and pepper cuttlefish you’ve ever eaten in your life.

 

IMG_4495
Condiments.  

 

IMG_4496
The pièce de résistance, local fresh rock lobster.  YUM!

INFO:
2 Galle Road,Colombo 3
+94 11 254 1010
TRAVELLER’S BAR
1000-0000
SEASPRAY
Lunch: 1130-1430
Drinks: 1700-2230
Dinner: 1900-2230
CLICK FOR MAP