As I have written elsewhere, and as the Beatles so correctly put it “my life has changed in oh, so many ways“.
I was facing my sixtieth birthday and didn’t fancy spending it moping at home, so I decided to spend a week ‘somewhere sunny’.
I have a great affection for Sri Lanka – Val and I had visited in 1996, and again in 2009 – and my friends Phill and Anne live in Hikkaduwa, down south near Galle.
We had caught up with Phill and Anne on our 2009 visit, and they both came to Val’s 70th birthday bash last summer.
So, Sri Lanka it was to be, and a quick trawl identified the Citrus Hotel, in Hikkaduwa, convenient to visit Phill and Anne.
A week, on the beach. All Inclusive. Sorted.
Via Abu Dhabi, more of that shortly.
My friend Terry ran me to the local station and I arrived I arrived at Heathrow in good time to check in. Once through security I found the lounge (I’ve paid for access to lounges for the next 12 months) and settled down for a couple of Bloody Marys.
The flight was probably half full, so there were lots of empty seats at the back. Sitting with an empty seat next to me was poignant, kind of a ‘this is your new life‘ message.
I managed to get a few hours sleep and we landed on time – just after seven – the purser slipped me a ‘fast pass’ ticket for the immigration queue and I checked into the hotel at about 9am.
They’d upgraded me to a room on the ‘club’ floor, but with a view away from the beach to the F1 circuit and the Ferrari World theme park.
My birthday fell on a Friday and Friday Brunches in the gulf are the stuff of legend. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza on Yas Island, still ‘burning’ loyalty points from my two years in Manchester. Brunch on my birthday was agreed to be at the Ritz Carlton.
Half a dozen of Gaz’s colleagues / partners and one of my friends – with his partner and child – attended.
I had high expectations for lunch and it didn’t disappoint – even if I only tried half the twenty or so service points.
The seafood, freshly cooked scallops and full leg of Wagyu beef – cooked rare – were simply stunning. The Chinese, Sushi and Indian stations were great, as was the ‘Port & Cheese’ room. Val wouldn’t have made it past the seafood and even I kept returning.
There were several other birthday parties being celebrated, and I was presented with one of several small birthday cakes to be deliver to guests.
Bizarrely, one of the other parties had a Disney theme, which meant I bumped into Tinkerbelle and Sleeping Beauty!
From the Ritz Carlton we adjourned to the Y Bar at the Rotana, opposite my hotel on Yas Island, until I ducked out, I had a relatively early flight next morning.
I slept poorly and with some very strange dreams, but woke a few moments before my five thirty alarm call. I checked out and took a taxi to the airport, arriving a few minutes before Gaz. Check-in, passport control and security checks were painless and we settled into a bar for our now traditional pre-flight Bloody Marys (ninety five quid for pre-flight drinks?).
For the first time in memory I walked straight through duty-free without purchasing anything.
We arrived at the Citrus Hotel in the early evening after a two and a half hour drive from Colombo airport, The hotel, check in was friendly enough with a glass of fruit juice, cold towel and an explanation of the restrictions (not many, to be honest) of our ‘all inclusive’ package.
We were then shown to our ‘deluxe’ rooms, on the top floor, looking out over the pool and beach. I’d been dreading this moment after reading recent reviews, but was pleasantly surprised. It was clean, dry and not in the least bit musty. And yes, I smelled the bedding and pillows, no problems.
We’d been invited out to dinner on Sunday evening, to a restaurant set back off the main drag. Phill sent his ‘driver’ Lakshan to collect us and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening, including the best curry I have ever tasted!
Next morning (Monday) Gaz and I walked the mile or so in to town, had a look around, and wandered back, then chilled in the hotel grounds. Late afternoon we headed down to Phill’s tailor but couldn’t remember which it was. I phoned Lakshan and he said he could see us – he was literally fifty yards away, what were the chances? I delivered the waistcoat and fabrics to the tailor and she said she would work on them and have them ready for Thursday.
I also called into a jewellers and ordered an emerald ear stud, my birthday gift to myself.
We then headed back to the hotel bar and learned that we’d drunk them out of draught beer! Not bad after three days.
Phill and Anne called by in the evening, which was nice, they were able to give Gaz some useful information about the financial implications of their ex-pat life. The Government demands a £10k bond (which is kept in a segregated account and refunded if you leave), you have to bring at least $1,500 a month into the country and have to take out private health insurance. They’ve lived in Sri Lanka for fifteen years and are pretty much acclimatised, although the language is impenetrable and time keeping ‘flexible’.
Mañana, without the sense of urgency.
I woke early on Tuesday, and learned the dreadful news about the bombing in Manchester, simply terrible, I’d visited Manchester Arena several times during my stay. I kept one eye on social media through the day. The morning was spent sunbathing by the pool, the sun had made an appearance out and the sea appeared calmer than of late. Phill arrived at lunchtime and the three of us chilled and chatted in the bar until just before eight!
On Wednesday, we’d agreed to ‘borrow’ Lakshan for the day, and that he would take us to the nearby town of Galle, on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. It rained for the half-hour journey in his Tuk-Tuk, but cleared as we drove into the old Fort.
We spent a couple of hours wandering the ramparts before adjourning to a bar. The weather brightened more in the afternoon and we caught a bit of sunshine, and I picked up my new emerald.
Phill and Anne came over for dinner, they used to visit the hotel in the past and were welcomed by some staff who recognised them. They’ve attended three ‘openings’ at the hotel over the last fifteen years.
The heavens opened after dinner, I have never experienced rain so heavy. The swimming pool over-flooded! The weather also disrupted the power and TV signal, I went to bed in darkness, but was woken when power was restored and the lights came back on in the early hours.
The rain eased slightly overnight, the pool filters restored its normal level, but it was still raining first thing on Thursday morning. It had dried out by midday so I wandered down to a bank to get some cash to pay for my waistcoats.
When we headed down to look at them, they were okay, nothing special, but – aargh! The beautiful ‘antique map’ waistcoat had been made upside down! The other three were okay, but Anne – who’d recommended the tailor – thought she was ripping me off on the price.
I’m not getting stressed, this week is one of much needed chilling, and while it’s annoying, I’m not going to get stressed.
We were invited to Phill and Anne’s for dinner, Lakshan collected us at 7pm in his Tuk-Tuk and we spent a very pleasant evening in the pergola in their garden.
The heavens opened at about ten and the rain continued through the night and until mid-morning. We were in ‘heading home’ mode anyway, bags packed ready to check out at midday.
Overall, the food was good, yes the buffets weren’t the most adventurous, but this is a smallish hotel, just ninety rooms, and we were travelling off-season. At each meal there were selections of both western and Indian dishes, all very tasty.
The bar, overlooking the lawn and the beach, was cosy, the bar staff reasonably attentive – unless ‘distracted’ – there’s a reasonable selection of cocktails, draught Lion lager and several other bottled brews. As all inclusive guests we had a slightly restricted selection of drinks, but it was no hardship.
We drank them out of draught Lion beer within our first two days, the following night we drank them out of tomato juice for Bloody Marys.
Interestingly, on my penultimate day, I was sitting in reception, chilling, and a member of the management team enquired about my stay. I told her that generally, I had no problems, but they had still not re-stocked the draught Lion beer.
Sri Lankan time is pretty much ‘mañana’ – but without the urgency.
Overall, I would rate the Citrus 3½ – 4 stars. Certainly 4 Sri Lankan stars; if you set your expectations accordingly you’ll have a great time.