Tartan – chintzy?

We’re staying in a lovely little hotel on the Isle of Skye. Well, let me qualify ‘lovely’. It’s a really nice, homey and comfortable place with friendly and attentive staff but it’s twee. There is tartan everywhere: the carpet is tartan, the sofas are covered in tartan (I’ve been informed that it’s check but isn’t that what tartan is essentially? The definition of tartan is:  a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours. Tartans originated in woven wool, but now they are made in many other materials eg, carpet) and even the curtains in some rooms are tartan (fortunately in our room the curtains were chintz).  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike tartan but I think there’s a place for it – like picnic rugs and kilts and at a stretch throw rugs. The dark green and navy tartan on the stairs just looked weird.

Then there are all these quaint little touches like plates on the walls. Even in the bathroom. Why? What’s the point of putting plates on the walls? Flying ducks I understand, but plates?  They weren’t even particularly decorative or interesting – just standard old fashioned crockery).

Our room is smaller than the size of the bathroom of the place we last stayed at – barely enough room for the bed, a wardrobe, dressing table (!) and two side tables but only one chair. Cramped is an understatement. As for the bathroom, suffice to say that two people can not be in it at the same time and the toilet seat has to be put down to use as an extra surface to put toiletries on.

Still, when you’re travelling you make do. And it is comfortable enough; the sheets are crisp and white and the duvet is big and down filled and there are local toiletries in the bathroom and nice china cups and saucers and a good selection of teas, coffee and hot chocolate with a bonus of shortbread biscuits and a small bottle of the local whisky on arrival. And the bar with an open fire is just a short stumble down the tartan stairs.



5 star spas

I’ve become a fan of 5-star hotels. How could you not? King sized bed with pillows that make you feel that your head is resting on clouds and doonas so light you feel that you’re in heaven and never want to get up. Turn down service. Bathrooms with the biggest fluffiest towels you could ever wish for and all the amenities you could ever want. Room service that is prompt and friendly and nothing to do but relax. This is holidays. I think that spending a week (or even just a few days) in a fabulous hotel is a holiday all on its own – never mind the journey or the destination.

And then there’s the hotel spa. Sure they’re expensive (sometimes incredibly so) but it’s an indulgence well worth the price. I badly needed a massage. A long flight followed by hours of walking, pounding the pavement in shoes not meant for more than prettifying my feet and a serious morning work out in the gym gave me a sore back and tight shoulders. In Kowloon I thought I’d just go to one of those cheap massage places the city has in abundance but on reading reviews of massage places it turns out that many of them are fronts for brothels or else they’re so dirty (report of one where a dead mouse fell on to the head of the masseur) that I had to rethink the proposition. My husband suggested I just have a massage at the hotel. I thought it was too expensive but he persuaded me – we’re on holidays so may as well indulge. And so I rang and booked a session. I was asked to come in 30 minutes earlier in order to have a sauna and relax in the warm spa pool before hand. What bliss. The massage was exactly what I wanted/needed and without a doubt this was the best spa/massage experience I have ever had. I’m now won over. Bypass the ordinary and go for luxe. Your body is worth it.

Hong Kong bustle

Hong Kong is a giant city full of skyscrapers, teeming with people. 7 million people live in Hong Kong. 3 million of those are in Kowloon where we are staying.
We arrived very early in the morning – 4.30am – half an hour earlier than our scheduled arrival. In the quiet hours of the early morning the airport was almost deserted. We sped through Immigration and collected our baggage and were quickly whisked by taxi to our hotel. I had estimated that it would take at least an hour to get through customs/immigration and another hour to drive into Kowloon but our driver had his foot to the floor and we arrived at our hotel before 6am.

We had decided that rather than book an extra night so that we could check straight in to our room we would simply drop off our bags and go out in search of breakfast and then spend some time at the pool while we waited for our room to be ready. Alas, it didn’t go to plan – the weather was cold and miserable and there was no room at the inn. Lovely lady at check in tried to see if there was a room available immediately but the hotel was fully booked the night before so she suggested that we wait upstairs at the spa till the breakfast place opened at 6.30. So we sat and waited and then went down to have a coffee Before venturing out into the streets for breakfast.

All the shops had their shutters down. Hong Kong was still asleep. Finally we found a little Chinese shop where we had a rather strange breakfast: noodle soup with roast pork came with a side of a thickly sliced piece of toasted white bread and two fried eggs. A rather revoltingly sweet iced coffee accompanied it – it tasted like it had been made with glucose syrup. Not really what we were after but it filled the time and our stomachs. Walking along the streets we had a call from the hotel to say that our room was ready. We returned and checked in. It was 8am. Great service. We had a lovely room on the 22nd floor with a king sized bed and large bathroom and views over Kowloon.

A nap and then out to explore the city. It’s vast. Full of big name shops alongside small local ones selling all manner of things and all sitting alongside towers of housing that look as though they belonged in another world: tall, dirty and over populated. It felt like something from a different world.

It gives the sense of being a dirty place except that the streets are regularly swept. Perhpas its just the grime clinging to the edifices and the pollution and lack of adornment. Inside the malls all is gentrified – gleaming clean and full of expensive designer label goods. It’s not cheap. The shopping mecca that it once was is no more. Goods that were once cheap are now the same price as back home. Has Hong Kong caught up with the West or has the West caught up with Hong Kong? Now you get the same shops everywhere in the world including Sydney. And it’s all the same. So forget coming to Hong Kong to shop – that era has gone. But we didn’t come here to shop, we came as a stop over en-route to London. A break in our journey and an opportunity to indulge in some hot weather before plunging into the cold UK winter. And to just be amongst the bustle of an Asian city. Nothing beats discovering street food and market stalls and exploring the underbelly of a great metropolis.

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Homecomings – the journey’s end

Holidays are as much about the excitement of travel as the destinations:  the anticipation of  the flight out, the unknown destination, exploring, finding places to eat and drink, shopping, packing, unpacking and packing again, flights and connections; journeying. Very rarely are they about being homeward bound.

While we were sad to end our holiday we felt we’d had a wonderful time and were relaxed and ready to come home.  We were also glad that we booked the return flight to arrive on Friday morning, thereby giving us an extra day to recover before going back to work.  Even if its not such a long flight and time differences, there’s still the lack of sleep to cope with and all the unpacking, not to mention the inevitable need to shop for essentials once home.  Monday seeems to come around much too quickly – the desire to just do nothing and sleep and laze is weighted against  the need to shop and attend to all the other little things that are necessary to ensure that getting back to work is smooth (like checking the 3000 emails on both the home computer and the work webmail).

We arrived home early Friday morning having been whisked through the airport courtesy of an ariport wheelchair operator.  She even wheeled us out to the taxi stand charging to the front of the queue.  We were home an hour after having landed.  Now that’s service. A  quick and cursory unpack, shower and into our own bed.  Despite the fact that the bed was freshly made and the apartment nice and clean, it felt a bit strange. I missed the wonderful big bed at the Grand Millenium and the fabulous huge duck down pillows. They were heaven-sent and one of the things that keeps me coming back to the hotel; pure luxury (that and the turn down service which also includes a quick tidy up and towel refreshment).

So sleep, wake, shop for essentials to re-stock empty fridge and something for dinner and then back home to a very late lunch  (a bottle of champagne to celebrate return, oysters and some seared scallops) and a laze before dinner.

As I was preparing our little repast I found myself at the clean and empty sink  thinking:  what’s a sink?  I hadn’t been near one in 21 days.  It was a strange sensation. Going back into the bedroom I wished that we had turn-down service at home.  Making up the bed and tidying the bedroom I was acutely aware that our holiday was well and truly over.  It would be me who had to make the bed, tidy the room, clean the bathroom and wash the towels from here on in. Ah, holidays.  Its the little indulgences, the small luxuries that make them so worthwhile. In the hotel in KL I fantasized about how good it would be to just book in and do nothing but stay in the room, sleep and order room service and have everything with  a quick call to housekeeping.  It sounded like the perfect way to re-charge. The reality of course would be very different – for me, anyway – I would go stir crazy and need to get out – to the pool, to the gym, to the shops, to my favourite little Chinese eatery.  But it is a nice fantasy.  If only air travel was less expensive here in Australia.  Perhaps I’ll put it on my ‘to do’ list – the list ofindulgences  and experiences that are always possible but never acted on.