The Royal Welcome from Tintagel: A Unique Private Hotel in Sri Lanka

Tintagel, like the castle in Cornwall for which it is named, instantly offers a royal welcome. And like King Arthur, you will feel that you deserve to be there, surrounded by such opulence.

Though it has an illustrious past, this home-turned-private-hotel has never before invited the public to enjoy its glow. Most recently it was home to the family of the world’s first female Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike. During one of her three non-successive terms in the office, her daughter was the President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, again the country’s first female in the office and an impressive mother-daughter team.

Prior to the family which produced so many of the country’s leaders, it was occupied by British soldiers during World War II. They had seized it from its first owner, a doctor who built it in the 1930’s and lived an aristocratic lifestyle, complete with peacocks wandering the garden!

Upon entering, you’ll get the sensation that you are being warmly embraced by your kindest, most beautiful aunt, who wants to cater to your every whim. You will certainly feel drawn to wander inward to investigate the colors and flavors of each nook and cranny, and you will not be disappointed, but rather thoroughly enchanted.

The proprietor and designer of Tintagel, Shanth Fernando, has struck the perfect balance between comfort and beauty, classic and chic, without seeming overdone. From just inside the entrance, his eclectic style juxtaposes towering vases ornamented by spheres of greenery with a Flemish chandelier, and an ornate mirror from a chateau in Marseilles with muted ash-toned elegance.

Even before you see you see your room, you will long to visit the terrace and sit among the flowering Thunbergia vines to sample the chef’s delectable dishes, or to take a moment to explore the 500 handpicked custom leather-bound volumes in the cozy library.

You’ll find yourself secretly planning the perfect time to visit the pool and make yourself a part of this work of art, and then tiptoe up the stairs to the spa for more in-depth pampering.


It is only having seen all of these things that will draw you out of your room once you’ve arrived. The beds are plush with feather and down comforters and quilts and Egyptian cotton sheets that bring to mind childhood dreams of sleeping on clouds. The colors are like sampler platters of the dining experience that waits below with avocado, cream and chocolate on the menu. The furniture includes Chinese cabinets and Burmese reliquaries while the carpets were hand-woven in Nepal. Modern conveniences add comfort with flat screen TVs, and Bose music systems to enhance the multi-sensory experience.

The private balconies will make you want to linger, while the luxurious bathrooms will entice you to take your time with your personal beauty rituals. And each of the 10 rooms is individually designed, making you want to come back again and again to experience each of them.

Tintagel mixes the classic and the modern to create an atmosphere that soothes and enlivens and leaves nothing wanting. It even houses a private dining room for events, should you want to try being a host of the aristocratic lifestyle for yourself, and a gym to work off the fusion fare that melts in your mouth from either or both of their two restaurants: al fresco in The Courtyard or in The Dining Room surrounded by grey silk wall panels and dusky burgundy glassware, again custom-made for Tintagel.

Tintagel is obviously a labor of love, and it is warmly felt from the moment you arrive to the moment you depart. Conveniently located in the midst of the bustling city of Colombo, it is the perfect place to pamper yourself after seeing all that the rest that the island has to offer, and to use as a base while you enjoy the city’s kaleidoscope of delights.

A visit to this special place on the paradise island of Sri Lanka is sure to leave you with fond memories and an inner sparkle that will never be extinguished.

Malayna Dawn is an American freelance writer and author who lives in Sri Lanka.

For more from her, visit her website at, her blog, Symbolic Themes. For more about Tintagel go to 

All photos provided by Tintagel, and used with permission.

Cutest Airline Safety Video Evah!

I fly a lot, especially on this airline, and had the previous safety video memorized.  This new one is the CUTEST!


I love the traditional Sri Lankan family and the international passengers. And I think it’s so cool that the Kandyan drummer is always drumming–on his legs, his tray, etc. Gotta love the thumbs up from the pilot too. It’s just the best!

Bhaktapur Nepal | City of Culture & Town of Devotees

Bhaktapur Nepal - Residents off to work?

One of the gates to the city of Bhaktapur Nepal.

We arrived around 8:30 on a January morning to a city enshrouded in mist – one of the most magical sights I’ve ever experienced.

We came from the west, having spent a night in Kathmandu about 10 miles away; and the van we hired let us off at a ticket booth just outside one of the gates. The entrance fee cost US$10, which I only remember because the ticket was printed specifically in English, with a US price listed on top.

Bhaktapur Nepal the Town of Devotees

Early morning fog added a magical quality to Bhaktapur Nepal.

The residents of Bhaktapur were just coming awake, though the shrines and temples all stood silent and somnolent.  Though everything seemed to lie still, we could sense movement here and there. People hurrying off to work, the farms, or wherever they go so early on a January morning.

Even the 3 year old who insisted on accompanying us on this day trip seemed to feel the peace of the place. He was unusually quiet for a young person just coming out of his terrible twos – for the first hour anyway.

As the fog rose and dissipated, the city woke up and came alive. Architectural detail became more apparent, and we all could readily appreciate the craftsmanship of each individually carved window and each tribute to the deities.

Bhaktapur is an ancient city, and once served as the capitol of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal through the 14th through 16th centuries, which may explain so much artistic splendor in the architecture.  However, a 1934 earthquake destroyed many of the temples and buildings in Durbar Square. The German government helped restore much of the city in the 70’s and 80’s, reviving many medieval structures.

Exploring a Bhaktapur Nepal residential neighborhood.

A winding passage through a Bhaktapur residential area.

Despite the significant help from Germany, Bhaktapur inhabitants are very self-sufficient. They farm the surrounding countryside and continue to chip away at ancient stone and wood to maintain the temples and homes within the city walls.  You’ll see scaffolding everywhere, as restoration continues on.

Most of the workers and Bhaktapur inhabitants are Newars, a people grouped by the common language called Nepal Bhasa. The Newaris primarily practice Hinduism, though about 15 percent are Buddhists.

TIP #1: When traveling India and Nepal, don’t be surprised to see specific ticket windows for the natives and separate windows for foreigners or tourists. The fees will differ too.

TIP#2: Some areas of Bhaktapur are off limits to non-Hindus. These areas will be guarded, so no worries about accidentally violating someone’s sacred space.

NOTE: You should know that there are THREE Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley, one at Bhaktapur, one in Patan, and the third in the city of Kathmandu itself – and that UNESCO (or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) lists the entire valley as a World Heritage Site.

A Travel Conversation on Facebook

Hena Cuevas Airplane announcement arriving in La Paz: “Ladies and Gentlemen, as required by law we will be FUMIGATING the aircraft for INSECTS. This spray is not toxic to humans.” What??? In an enclosed space??? Then sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh as the flight attendants sprayed the entire cabin with insecticide!!!!!!!!!!

2 people like this.

  • Taime Bengochea I am sure that is good for you!

    6 hours ago ·
  • Chris Podbielski Are you KIDDING me?

    6 hours ago ·
  • Zue J-M Hahahhahaahah!! For real? Are you joking?

    6 hours ago ·
  • Ron Palmer Sounds like the treatment for a Samuel L Jackson movie.

    “I’M TIRED OF THESE *bleeeeep* INSECTS ON THIS *bleeeeep* PLANE!!”

    6 hours ago ·
  • Hena Cuevas It was so shocking I didn’t have time to take a picture of the actual fumigation… AND the look on the passenger’s faces!

    6 hours ago ·
  • Chris Podbielski You have the best travel stories Hena…and I know a little blog that could use your input! 🙂

    6 hours ago ·
  • Juline Jordan oh my gosh, Hena – I would have freaked!

    5 hours ago ·
  • Charlene Love OMG!

    5 hours ago ·
  • Christopher Turner Did it work?

    4 hours ago ·
  • Liliana Escalante welcome to Bolivia!!

    4 hours ago ·
  • Malayna Dawn They do that on Sri Lankan Airlines flights too. Everyone covers their noses and mouths and holds their breath. Afterward there’s a lingering scent of cotton candy. But you don’t want any bugs following you home OR on vacation, do you?

Travel Nepal for Real Adventure

Travel to Nepal from Darjeeling requires a stop at customs.

Indian Customs, where we found out about the transportation strike in Nepal.

If you plan to travel Nepal, keep in mind that your plans could change at any given moment. That’s what happened to my friends and me – a group of four adults and three very small children weaving our way from Darjeeling, India through mountains, forests and hairpin turns to make our way over the border into Nepal.

It was going to be a three or four hour ride by van to get to the border, and then another 30 minute ride through the Nepalese countryside to Bhadrapur Airport to catch a flight on Yeti Air to Katmandu.  Piece of cake, right?

Well not really.

Travel to Nepal Might Entail Surprises

Bicycle rickshaws take travelers to Nepal to points beyond the border.

Before crossing over we made a customs stop, where we learned that there was a transportation strike in Nepal. That meant no motor vehicles on the roads, unless you were driving a police car or ambulance.

So what were our options? Basically, bicycle rickshaw. With three very small children and an Everest-sized mountain of luggage (my friend, a Sherpa I met in California in fact, was returning to Nepal to visit family. So we all had gifts and other paraphernalia stuffed in with our bulky winter clothing). Rickshaws were pretty much our only choice. Being the least maternal of the group, I got most of the duffel bags in my ride – the other adults got a piece of luggage or two and a kid.

Anyway it turned out to be the BEST tour of Nepal I could ask for. This was even better than seeing the Taj Mahal in India! Why?

Rickshaws a great way to travel Nepal.

My rickshaw driver seemed to be the fastest...

Yes, it was initially annoying and uncomfortable, but I got to experience parts of the countryside I would have missed had I been sitting in a van, primarily because bicycle speed allows you time to see, hear and smell a lot more of everything.

I had time to sit back and enjoy the ride through the forest, or through farm country. I waved to small children on the roadside like I was royalty. I shot a whole bunch of photos, breathed in the smell of yak shit and somehow enjoyed every moment.  It really was unforgettable.

You want to know the best part? Despite arriving at Bhadrapur Airport about two hours late, we still made our flight because it too, had been delayed.

Travel Nepal by rickshaw for a closer look into day-to-day living.

Farm life in the Nepalese countryside.

Now, I will have to admit that it was fairly easy to make the best of a bad situation in this case: Traveling with a native who speaks several of the regional languages, does all of the negotiating for fares, and deals with the customs officers…takes a lot of pressure off me…all I had to do was be patient and follow directions.

Still, I’d like to believe I would have enjoyed this trip just as much had I been alone or traveling with non-natives. The experience was just too special for me to doubt it.

TIP #1: Befriend a Sherpa whenever you can. You’ll be glad you did, for many more reasons than for having a great guide in Nepal.

TIP#2: Transportation logistics are often a problem in India and Nepal. Stay flexible and have a back-up plan in case things go awry.

Traveling Istanbul – Top 3 Must Sees

Hello, Travel Friends!

We’re back to talking about Istanbul, my favorite city in the whole world, thus far. I think it’s the ever-evolving history of it that is most fascinating for me. And here are simply some things that absolutely cannot be missed if you’re in Istanbul, even if you’re there for just one day.


Hagia Sophia Istanbul - Christian art restoration.

Archaeologists slowly revealing hidden art, covered over by the Ottomans in the 15th century.


#1. Hagia Sophia

The locals spell it Aya Sofya, and it has been standing since the Byzantine period, through earthquakes, political change and religious reformations. Who knows how much longer it will survive? One giant ground shaking and it can all wind up a pile of rubble tomorrow.

Not that I truly believe that. I have a feeling the old girl will be around for a few more centuries at least. Still…one never knows.

When I was there in 2006, archaeologists were uncovering all of the old, Christian art which had been painted over by the Ottomans in the 1400s as they converted it into a mosque. You’ll probably get to see a lot more than I did.

TIP: Hire a local guide hanging around the entrances – you’ll get interesting bits of information as you walk around. I picked the oldest one of the bunch: a charming, sweet man who kept pulling my leg the whole tour, to see if I would believe every single thing he said. Luckily, he had a tell: a slight twitch of the lips and a glint in the eye. I THINK I always knew when he was joking!

#2. Turkish Bath

The second thing you must see (and do) is a hamam. Yes, go get a Turkish bath.

The attendees will scrub you down to the deepest layer of skin, removing dirt you had no idea you’d been carrying around for years. Then they’ll anoint you in lotion and by the time you’re finished you’ll feel like a new-born baby.

Seriously, after the rough scrubbing part of it, I felt like a very small child being given a bath by my mother. All I wanted to do was sleep for several hours…and I did.

TIP: My guidebook at the time said that the natives go naked at the hamams. My guidebook lied. All of the other women (Turkish and Tourists) kept their panties on, so bring a pair you don’t mind getting wet, and then bring another pair to change into afterwards. Unless you like walking around in wet panties.



Jewelry area at Istanbul Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar Istanbul jewelry section, but where are all of the women?

#3. Shop & Talk

The third thing on the MUST DO list is the Grand Bazaar, grand-daddy of all souks of the world. It’s massive, and you’ll probably get a little lost wandering the halls. Don’t panic, it will be worth it. And you’ll notice that the Grand Bazaar is divided up in sections, the gold sellers in one, textiles in another, etc. etc.

Anyway, it wasn’t the size and the great selection of shoes that most impressed me. It was the people doing business there, many of whom invited me to have a cup of tea and chat. Some of them just wanted to practice their English and others were truly interested in American lifestyles. Either way, I was content to be social, even though I practically exploded my bladder in the process.

This was how I found out about the required army service for young Turks, and how most of the natives serve the green apple tea to the tourists, but drink plain tea themselves.

TIP: Istanbulis don’t really like to talk politics with the tourists.

Anyway, aside from great conversations, I also wound up with a fantastic new purse, some souvenir items, and a fabulous pair of shoes. No problem mixing business and pleasure in the Grand Bazaar. Be prepared to bargain and be prepared to walk away from the goods if you’re not getting the price you want. You’ll figure it out.

Leh, a Himalayan Experience

And now, I present to you the out-of-the-ordinary destination of Leh, a small town in the Indian state of Ladakh. All the preparatory research did little to prepare me for the experience of the Himalayas.

Our flight from Delhi took us over a dramatic landscape that seemed to have been carved from sandstone. Small pockets of vegetation and water appeared in the Valleys, leaving me to imagine that the denizens of the Shangri-La of legend were watching us pass overhead, leaving them in peace another day.

We were warned about the effect the altitude would have on us, but I didn’t really notice until I felt my breathing took extra effort, and my head began to ache. To combat it, we reminded each other to walk as if we were in slow motion, which only heightened the effect of being on another planet as we looked out over the alien landscape.

The roof of the Dalai Lama's Photang Palace

Leh is full of beautiful people with Asiatic features made brown seemingly by the sun and the wind. Approximately 80,000 Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama across the Himalayas into exile. His summer home in Leh, known as Photang Palace, includes grounds nearby for him to address his many followers in the region (his permanent home is in Dharamsala). 

From inside the Leh Palace ruins

Visiting the ruins of the Leh Palace gave us a sense of history and the chance to look over the Valley’s architecture amidst the imposing mountains.  We made sure to wake up early enough the next day to attend the morning prayers at the nearest of many monasteries, Thikse Monastery. The 12-story complex contains numerous stupas, statues, wall paintings, swords and a large pillar engraved with the Buddha’s teachings as well as sacred shrines. It was an oasis of warmth and color in a monochromatic landscape.

photo of Thikse Monastery taken by Malayna, with permission.

Then we all ventured up to the Khardungla Pass, considered the highest motorable pass in the world. At 18,380 feet, we stand surrounded by snow, looking down on a desert.

Khardung-La "Highest Motorable Road in the World"

That trip to the Himalayas offered me a new perspective on the strength of the human spirit, and a new appreciation for the incredible variety of landscapes and ecosystems available on our incredible Planet Earth.

Dodging Istanbul Carpet Salesmen & Conquering Fears of Traveling Alone Part 2



Many Istanbul carpets for sale.

This 200 year old Turkish carpet costs thousands...


Ahhh, the Istanbul carpet salesmen. They are a pain in the butt and they are EVERYWHERE.  And they have insidious ways of getting you into their stores, as you shall soon see.

Turkish carpets are gorgeous, and there are many styles and traditions wrapped up in the weave. But they can also cost hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of dollars, so they’re not really in my budget. Somehow I wound up with two of them.

Why? Because of the damn carpet salesman, that’s why! Oh, and I’m sure my over-willingness to “be nice” had something to do with it too. Turns out there are some common sense tactics you can employ to avoid the situation altogether. I wish I knew before I went to Istanbul!

Here’s how they’ll approach you:

  1. “Good Morning! You are an American, are you not? What state are you from?” A friendly conversation ensues, followed by an invitation to have a cup of tea in the store. Tends to happen as you’re passing by a storefront.
  2. When sightseeing, watch out for the guys offering helpful information: “Do you know why the Blue Mosque has six minarets?” This helpful native proceeded to tell me a convoluted story about the Turkish word for six, “alti” getting mixed up with the word for gold, “altin”. And so poor Sultan Ahmed I had his orders misconstrued and the Blue Mosque wound up with six, tiled minarets instead of four gold ones. Apparently having six is presumptuous, because the mosque in Mecca has seven. (Wouldn’t four gold ones be just as audacious?)   Anyway, I wound up with a carpet, because this guy was just so darn helpful and informative, I couldn’t say no to stopping in at his cousin’s store. And what’s even more amazing is that the cousin with the store laughed when I asked him about the six vs. gold story. So. Sometimes you get good information. Other times you get a new carpet.
  3. Watch out for hidden stops on guided tours. Yep, I signed up for a tour of the city with a cruise down the Bosporus. The tour was informative and well worth the money, but it also included a stop at a high-end carpet store. Thankfully I was able to truthfully say I had already purchased two carpets and was not interested in a third. Whew!


No escape from Istanbul carpet salesmen...not even on the Bosporus tour.

You'll need the Fortress of Europe to protect you from circling Istanbul carpet salesmen!


Ok, so what have I learned about dodging the carpet salesmen? Don’t be so damn smiley and approachable. If you don’t make eye contact with anyone your vacation budget will fare a lot better.

Most of the residents and shop owners in Istanbul are pretty friendly…but they also want your business.  Once I learned how to walk down the street without looking like a “mark” no one bothered to approach me again.

In my next blog I’ll tell you about the fabulous time I had at the Grand Bazaar—spending and socializing on MY terms…

Falling in Love with Angkor Thom

No, Angkor Thom is not the name of a guy who hangs around Angkor Wat. It’s not the Cambodian equivalent of Indiana Jones. It means “Big City” and it’s part of the Angkor Wat temple complex.

Being raised on Indiana Jones, I have a thing for temple ruins. If I weren’t so lazy and squeamish about creepy-crawlies, I might have gone into archaeology or some such thing. But due to my love of comfort, this is the closest I’ll probably come to Indiana Jones-esque adventure–being driven to temple ruins in an air conditioned car. Good enough for me! 

I’m glad we went to Angkor Wat first, because this way I got to enjoy Angkor Thom’s Bayon and Ta Prohm in the beautiful late afternoon sun. The entrance was entrancing, with it’s greenery and welcoming committee.

This image is printed on their money!

The Bayon is a temple that’s made of 54 towers with 4 faces each. The faces are supposed to belong to Avalokiteshvara, Mahayana Buddhism’s compassionate Bodhisattva, or maybe they’re a combination of King Jayavarman VII and Buddha. But I found the faces to be not immediately obvious.

Angkor Thom

The Bayon entrace. See the sign?

To see what happened when I finally found all the faces, read the full report (with lots of photos and video) at my blog, Symbolic Themes!  (Mostly cuz I’m too busy and lazy to re-post it all again here!  Sorry!)

Istanbul – Conquering Fears of Traveling Alone Part 1


Istanbul - Fairly safe for women traveling alone.

Istanbul carpet weaver at her loom.


“Where are you going so early?”

It was only 7:30 in the morning and I hadn’t eaten breakfast or had any coffee yet. It was also my first day in Istanbul and I was still jet lagged after arriving at my hotel around 1 a.m. But I was too excited to sleep.

So needless to say, I was a bit surprised to be addressed directly, and in perfect English.

I looked over to see an Istanbuli man hosing down the sidewalk in front of his restaurant.

“I’m going to the Haghia Sophia,” I said.

“But it is not open yet. Nothing is open yet, it’s too early. You should go after ten.”

I thanked him, and we continued to chat, while I kept wondering where he learned to speak English so fluently.  Finding out that so many Istanbul residents are actually very fluent in English and a number of other languages wasn’t my first pleasant surprise.

My first pleasant surprise occurred the night before, when I realized my hotel did not send the van to pick me up from the airport. Ok…maybe that wasn’t really a surprise, and maybe it wasn’t so pleasant either. And though I tried calling the hotel, no one was answering the front desk phone after midnight.

All I could do was walk outside and ask a taxi driver how much it would cost to get to my hotel in Sultanahmet—or Old Istanbul. He quoted me a price of 26 Turkish lira. I jumped in the cab, and off we went.


Old Istanbul - The Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet District

Blue Mosque in the morning, in Old Istanbul.


I tried paying attention to where we were going, but it was impossible. And I was amazed by how many people I saw lounging around having picnics in the parks by candlelight.

After about 30 minutes of driving around and getting mentally lost I figured if I hadn’t been kidnapped by then, I wasn’t going to be. So I settled back and let the man drive. He hadn’t said a word since we started off.

Finally, we wound up in a very different part of the city. You could tell by how narrow the roads got, and we were suddenly making steeper climbs here and there, with a few hairpin turns thrown in for good measure. There were a lot of old stone buildings too – the first signs that we were now in Old Istanbul.

My driver stopped to converse in Turkish, with a man on the street. I get a little neurotic when I’m sleep deprived, and so thoughts of Ottoman prisons entered my head, as I imagined the conversation, “Hey how much you want for this white girl? She’s American.”

Then he turned to me and asked for the address of the hotel again. I nearly jumped out of my seat. But it turns out he was just lost—and the streets in Old Istanbul are not clearly marked. Twice more he asked for direction, and eventually we arrived.

So what did this little drive into Old Istanbul cost me? There was no meter in the cab, another thing that was vaguely worrying me during the ride. So I handed the man 30 TYL, thinking a 4 lira tip would be sufficient. He handed me some change, which I tried to refuse, telling him I wanted to tip him. But he insisted I take the money. When I counted it later, he had actually returned 7 TYL which meant he only charged 23 – making him the most honest cab driver without a pay meter I had ever encountered!

Good things were going to happen in Turkey…I could tell. I considered yelling at the front desk clerk about the “no show” shuttle service when I checked in, but who am I kidding? I’m not that confrontational.

Tip: Not much is open before 9 a.m. in Sultanahmet. But those who want pictures of the city without crowds of people in them should definitely take advantage of those early hours.