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Ashgabat - Dubai - Heathrow - home

The long journey home


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After breakfast we wander down to the lobby – partly to access the internet, and partly to get away from the drab room. An English-Danish couple approach us, asking if we know anywhere around the hotel to change money. They are very well travelled, and we hit it off immediately; so much so that they end up sitting there chatting to us for nearly three hours, sharing travel stories.

By this stage we manage to arrange a room swap, and thankfully return to something more comfortable. While we have stayed in very much worse rooms on our travels, they were never part of a four-star hotel!

With the help of a porter, we move out stuff over, followed by another room picnic using up all the leftover snacks. This room is a big step up from last night, with two chairs, a nice rug on the floor, two sets of towels, extra loo paper (that's a first in Turkmenistan!), two dressing gowns, extras pillows, a bolster on the bed, pretty bed spread, and two bottles of complimentary water.

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We take a nice long nap, followed by a shower, and get ready for dinner at 18:30. The restaurant is deserted. We are the only people there (yet they couldn't find us a decent room yesterday?), and the menu is limited.

We both order chicken in cream sauce and I ask for a Fanta. No Fanta, only Coke. Not being particularly keen on naked Coke (without rum or vodka, that is), I ask for an apple juice instead. As with everywhere else, they don't seem to provide individual cartons, so I end up with a whole litre of the stuff!

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They have no Berk beer (but there was some in the mini bar in the room earlier), only Zip Light. Light? At 11%? As Boney M says: “Oh, those Russians!”

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The waitress brings over a huge basket of bread while we wait for the food. It is very fresh, and would be delicious with lashings of butter. No butter.

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After a few minutes the surly-looking waitress comes back to explain that they have no chicken. I ask for beef stroganoff with rice instead, while David chooses beef in cream sauce with chips (or rather fries, we've made that mistake before here in Turkmenistan). When the food arrives, David's dish comes with rice and mine is accompanied by chips. Oh dear. The chef had TWO meals to make this evening.

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Locals do not eat with a fork and knife like we would, only a fork, using the bread to push the food onto the fork. The food is quite tasty, albeit a little greasy. We don't linger in the restaurant after the meal, but return to the room for a very short night.

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Tonight's sunset

Friday 20th September

We're up at 01:00 for a 02:00 pick-up. There is quite literally no traffic, so we reach the airport in just ten minutes, ready to start the rigmarole of getting through the bumbledom of official pomposity and nonsensical regulations.

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In order to enter the airport terminal, we are scanned and the luggage is X rayed, and passports are checked. As soon as we are deemed suitable to be able to get inside, we request a wheelchair for David. Airports in general are such huge places with miles of corridors to make even the most able-bodied traveller weary.

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At check in, we yet again have to show our passports, and by the time we reach the pre-security passport check, we are waved through in front of the queue waiting, without anyone even looking at out passports.

The security check is much the same – the carry-on luggage goes through the X ray, which detects what the official suggests might be a knife. I show him my nail file and again we are just waved through.

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By the time we reach the boarding gate, our passports have been checked five times, and we've been through three X rays. Should be safe then. One of the benefits of travelling in a wheelchair, is that you do get priority boarding. Pushing David in the chair down the slope to the plane is hard work, not made any better by the fact that the rubber handles come off the chair where I have held on so hard to make sure it doesn't run away from me.

The plane between Ashgabat and Dubai is nowhere near full, and we get to have a row of three seats each. One poor chap has paid for two seats in order to have the extra space, and not only could he have got that without paying, the two seats he has been allocated are actually far part! Doh!!!!!

The second flight from Dubai to London Gatwick is full, however, and we end up with the two middle seats in a row of four – our least favourite seats. Arriving at Gatwick, we are amongst the first off the plane, and the porters point to a bunch of wheelchair just inside the tunnel “pick a wheelchair, any wheelchair...” It even comes complete with a porter to push this end, so I don't have to. In fact I struggle to keep up with them, and when the lift is not big enough for the three of us, I end up taking the escalators and have to run to catch them up again. We end up in a holding area, which has a great atmosphere, and while we wait for the electric buggy to come and collect us, we bond with fellow kindred spirits (ie other invalids).

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In the buggy

At immigration, the buggy driver gathers up all the passports and takes them over to an official, who brings them back as soon as he has checked them out. The buggy drops me off at the luggage carousel and takes David right through customs to a pre-agreed meeting area while I collect our bags. After helping a girl who is on crutches get her bag, I meet up again with David outside Marks & Spencer for the short walk to where the Valet Parking chap is meeting us with the car.

The journey home takes almost twice as long as it normally does, due to series of traffic jams every few miles. David has booked an appointment with the chiropractor this afternoon, but we have to ring him and cancel, as we won't make it. Which is probably just as well – for the last few miles David's stomach has been feeling increasingly unsettled, and as soon as we walk through the door, it explodes both ends. It must have been something on the plane, as mine follows half an hour or so later. Welcome home!

Posted by Grete Howard 14:46 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged flight airport security dubai passport luggage plan wheelchair gatwick ashgabat diarrhoea room_picnic grand_turkmen_hotel delsey_dining fanta Comments (2)

Bristol - London - Dubai - Dar es Salaam

First leg of the journey

30 °C
View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

Where do I begin? I know a lot of you have been anxiously looking forward to reading all about the challenges we faced on our trip to the Comoros, and I shall try my best to make sure this blog lives up to expectations.

So, stay tuned and follow along as we make our way to – and to a certain extent around – Comoros, also known as Cloud Coup Coup Land (explanations of this moniker to follow in the next instalment).

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Flight changes
Our (potential) problems start a few weeks before we lave home, when we receive the email below from Precisionair. All our flight tickets are booked through Budgetair, using Emirates from London to Dar es Salaam via Dubai, and onwards to Moroni (Comoros) on Precisionair.

"Dear Sir/Madam
Kindly be informed that your flight from DAR to HAH on 17th Aug is cancelled and you will depart with ATC departing at 08:00hrs same day. Kindly be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your precision airline document."

As this really does not cause us a problem, I print the email ready to show at the check-in desk at the time and file according.

Fast forward to five days before departure, when we receive a phone call from Budgetair, our flight agent, offering us a refund on the flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni which is cancelled. It seems Precisionair didn’t inform Budgetair that they rebooked us on the Air Tanzania flight. I explain the situation and forward them the above email and all is well: they are happy and we are happy.

Five minutes later they ring back. The timing has changed. The 08:00 Air Tanzania flight is now leaving at 06:00. I have to admit that I am impressed with the service from Budgetair, they do seem to be diligent and on the ball. Little do I know…

Check in on line
48 hours to go, and it is time to check in on line for our main Emirates flight. When inputting our details returns an “Unable to process your request” message, I open an on-line chat to find out what is happening. A very nice lady called Yasmin informs me that it is because we have two different airlines on the same booking but reassures me that the flight is confirmed and that we have seat numbers allocated. I am happy with that.

The next day (the day before departure) we receive a confirmation email from Emirates with all the above information as per my conversation with Yasmin, although it seems Precisionair haven’t informed Emirates of the cancellation and re-booking of their flight either, as we are still shown on today's itinerary from Emirates as being on the (non-existing) Precisionair flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni, not the Air Tanzania one that we have been re-booked on.

I am still not concerned, I am sure it will all be fine when we get to the check in desk in Dar es Salaam. Then we notice the details for the return journey.

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According to the Emirates itinerary, we are now departing Comoros one day earlier on an Ethiopian Air flight. Where on earth did that come from? Having to travel a day early puts all sorts of spanners in the works: it means we will not just lose a day in Comoros, but we will have to rearrange the flight coming back to the main island from the smaller island for a day earlier; and we'll have to get a hotel, transfer and visa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in order to catch our Emirates flights the following day.

Panicking ever so slightly, I contact Budgetair, first by email and later by phone to try and find out what is going on. The guy on the other end of the phone (most likely in an Indian call centre) does not appear to understand my problem, and he “will get back to me within 48 hours”. Doh! After explaining the situation for the fifth time, I can feel my irritation rising: 48 hours will be too late, we leave in less that 24! He tries to pass me off and says I should contact Precisionair or Emirates, but I strongly remind him that my contract is with Budgetair and stress the importance of this. Eventually he reluctantly promises to get back to me as soon as he can. I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

Surprisingly enough, we do not hear from Budgetair before we have to leave for the airport the following day.

Check in at Heathrow
We start our journey at Heathrow Airport, where we encounter our next challenge at the check-in desk. We have a single ticket all the way through to Comoros, but are breaking the journey for 19 hours in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (it was the cheapest flight option and we are cheapskates), and the airline representative (or rather the system) wants to check our luggage all the way. Normally this is also what we would want, but as we have an overnight stop in Dar es Salaam, we would very much like to have access to our clothes and toiletries. The guy totally agrees with us, and eventually manages to get his supervisor to override the system.

Another spanner in the works, this one deflected, however.

Dinner
Whenever we have a long-haul flight, especially an overnight one such as this one today, we like to have a decent meal at the airport before we board so that we can sleep through food service on the plane.

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At Planet Restaurant I have Prawn and Chilli Pasta, which at first looks a little disappointing: I can only see a grand total of three prawns. There are, however, several more crustaceans lurking underneath the surface. As they do. The fresh pasta is nicely al dente, and the chilli carries a bit of a kick. David enjoys his fish and chips too, with a crispy coating and flaky fish.

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David’s only disappointment is that they have no ‘proper’ cider, only berry.

Bar
Naturally, the next stop then has to be the bar for David to get his fix. As we are only drinking, not dining, we are not permitted to sit down at a table, but have to perch on uncomfortable, high bar stools, so we don’t linger.

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Heathrow – Dubai – Dar es Salaam
The flights from London Heathrow to Dar es Salaam via Dubai go smoothly (we both sleep a lot of the time), but not totally without incident, as David manages to pour a cup of hot coffee all over his beige trousers. The crew helpfully provides him with a number of face cloths to mop it all up.

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Ready for an adventure

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Tanzania coastline from the air

Dar es Salaam
The Arrivals Hall at Tanzania’s biggest airport is absolute chaos. The so-called queue for immigration is just one massive throng of people, with no-one knowing what to do or where to go and several flights having arrived at the same time. Passengers with connecting flights struggle to get anywhere near the Transfer desk for the crowds, and there are no signs to advise visitors that there should be one queue for people who already have visas (us) and another for those wishing to obtain visa-on-arrival.

Eventually, after a lot of pushing, shoving and shuffling for nearly an hour in the stifling heat, we get through Passport Control to be faced with the next shambles: the luggage 'carousel'. Five deep with passengers and trolleys, we can’t get anywhere near the conveyor belt. We both hop around on tiptoe to try and spot our cases for a while, then decide to go and check the pile of luggage at the end of the belt. Sure enough, there, right in the middle of a huge mound of bags, is our luggage. With much back-straining, David manages to rescue our cases and we make it out of the terminal building, fighting our way through the traffic jam of luggage trolleys, prams with kids, cling-wrapped boxes, abandoned suitcases and people milling aimlessly around.

Although it is nice to be out in the fresh air, the temperature is no cooler. Having pre-booked an airport transfer with an included city tour on the way to the hotel, we look for someone holding a sign with our name on it. Nothing. We hang around for a while, fighting off the hoards of taxi touts and tour guides. Still nothing.

Checking tomorrow’s flights
While we wait we might as well take the opportunity to visit the Precisionair counter to check on tomorrow’s flight. I hand over the email we received from them and the girl looks at it without a word. With a dismissive wave of the hand, she points to the Air Tanzania counter and states: “Check with them”. Not surprisingly I get the same response (in reverse) from the girl at the Air Tanzania counter. At my insistence, she reluctantly saunters over to the Precisionair counter with the email and comes back stating word for word what is on the email: “Be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your Precision Airline document.” I enquire if the tickets are definitely confirmed and am brushed off with a “Yes, yes”.

As there really isn’t much else we can do at this stage, we go and change some money and wait for our transfer. And wait. 45 minutes later and having been unable to contact the transfer company, we take a taxi directly to the hotel.

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Dar es Salaam street market

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Safari inspired street sculpture

The traffic through Dar es Salaam is horrendous. A new overpass is being constructed, and the police are directing the traffic. We sit in a queue, not moving an inch, for nearly 20 minutes while we watch the traffic crossing the junction from left to right and right to left. When will the police let our long line of waiting cars go? Eventually we move on.

We are so pleased to finally get to the hotel that David accidentally pays the driver in Pounds rather than US Dollars. Nice tip for the driver!

Golden Tulip Dar es Salaam City Centre
The hotel doesn’t look very welcoming from the outside. The entrance is down a dodgy looking side street and the armed security guard outside doesn’t exactly make me feel any better. The steps leading up from the road are very steep, making it difficult to haul the cases up. Eventually a porter arrives and takes over. That is better.

Reception is on the 20th floor and we travel up in a fabulous glass-sided outside lift, with great views of the city below.

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On checking in, we are delighted to find that not only are they expecting us, we have been upgraded to a suite!

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We have a comfortable living room, bedroom, the usual shower and toilet and a separate large double corner bath with Jacuzzi!

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On the 19th floor, we also have stunning views of the city as the sun is going down and the Muezzin calls the faithful to prayer at the local Mosque.

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Night Photography
After a quick shower and change (thank goodness we have our luggage!), we head for an outside seating area on the 20th floor to take some shots of Dar es Salaam at dusk.

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David, always the joker, thinks it is funny to point out the cladding following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

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Dinner
Not wishing to explore the dodgy-looking neighbourhood, we opt for dinner in the hotel at a restaurant named “Fire” which promises to serve “hot, tasty cuisine”.

What they don’t have, however, is alcohol. This is a dry hotel.

I order a Swahili style Miskaki chicken kebab that is advertised to come with a ‘spicy tamarind sauce’. I ask to have it extra spicy.

David chooses a Red Hot Pepper Beef Fillet, medium-rare.

After some time the waiter appears, full of apologies: the kitchen has cooked David’s steak well done. Can he bring it anyway?

When the food arrives, I am pretty sure they have mixed up the sauces, as David’s steak (or rather small pieces of fillet) comes with a dark, rich, sweet sticky sauce, very much reminiscent of tamarind, whereas my sauce is red and weak without any ‘fire’ at all. I am too tired to even be bothered to question it.

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My somewhat insipid chicken

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David's well done steak

After dinner we slope off to bed very early. Not only did we travel all through the night last night, we are also getting up very early tomorrow morning. With high hopes of tomorrow being a much better day, we drift into a nice deep sleep.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel flight adventure tanzania trip dubai uae flights united_arab_emirates heathrow emirates suite problems dar_es_salaam upgrade comoros air_tanzania golden_tulip spanner cloud_coup_coup_land budgetair Comments (9)

Birmingham - Dubai - Nairobi

We've finally arrived in Africa!


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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As we approach Dubai Airport after seven hours or so in the air, the sun rises and we get a brief glimpse of this modern metropolis from the air.

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On exit from the plane, a series of transfer buses are waiting to take us to the terminal – it’s all very well organised, with a different bus depending on your onward flight destination or whether you are stopping in Dubai. We board a bus for Nairobi. Not literally of course.

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We have a three-hour layover here in Dubai, so we spend a lot of time sitting about in the airport lounge.

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Eventually we are called for the flight and moved to another lounge at the departure gate, where we learn that the flight is delayed for over an hour – more sitting around, waiting.

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The next flight is also very comfortable, with space to spread out. I spend most of the time sleeping, only waking for food and again just before landing at Nairobi.

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At the immigration control in Nairobi, David is berated for having a Transfer Visa and is told that he should have a ‘proper’ visa if he is to leave the airport and stay overnight. This, of course, is quite contrary to the information on the Kenya Immigration Website, and the three of us go through the passport check without a single comment. David must have got the grumpy one this afternoon. Thankfully he is let through and we have finally arrived in Africa!

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The luggage is very slow to turn up, and as more and more bags arrive but ours are nowhere to be seen, we start to get a little twitchy. Eventually the last one appears on the luggage carousel and we breathe a sigh of relief. I suppose someone’s bag has to be the last one.

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At customs I am questioned at length about commercial filming due to all my camera equipment, but we finally make it through to the outside world, where William is waiting to take us to our hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi.

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As usual, the Nairobi traffic is appalling despite the fact that we are not even entering the centre of town, and we sit in one huge jam as the road improvement works causes major diversions and delays as we make our way to the suburb of Karen. Eight months ago when we came this way on the way back from Lake Turkana, the road was pot-holed, rutted and chock-a-block with traffic. It is comforting in a way to see that some things never change.

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As we pull up at the hotel, we are delighted to see our friend Abdi, who has travelled down from North Horr to meet up with us.

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Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages

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Tillya (of Calabash Adventures) came out to Nairobi last month to personally check out our rooms here at Karen Blixen Cottages, and as we are shown to our room, we concur that he has made a good choice.

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Each room is set in an individual period-style cottage designed after the historic Swedo House in the so-called first generation style , and comes complete with a four-poster bed, a seating area with a fireplace, high-beam ceiling, a dressing room and a large bathroom with separate shower, toilet and bathtub. There is also a nice verandah (with a very friendly resident cat) for relaxing with a pre-dinner drink. The room evokes a taste of the past with yesteryear historic ambience from Kenya's early pioneering days.

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History

Much history is attached to this place - Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Restaurant and Cottages (that is the longest hotel name we have come across since the 'Best Western Premier Amaranth Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel' in Thailand) is set in one of the largest and oldest formal gardens in Kenya, in what was once the estate of Karen Blixen (the author of the best selling book 'Out of Africa' which was later made in to an award-winning film).

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Meandering paths lead through the gardens, connecting the cottages with the main buildings, gym and swimming pool. It is hard to imagine how the original house was surrounded by indigenous forest, bush and grasslands at the time of its construction in 1906 – the 5½ acres of formal hotel gardens are now full of ornamental trees such as candelabra cactus, jacaranda (my favourite tree when in bloom) and bottle brush, as well as numerous (over 200 species I am told) exotic flowers.

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I am a little disappointed however, with the lack of bird life – I expected the flowers to attract a number of birds, but all I see is this ‘measly’ little sunbird.

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Swedo House

This building within the grounds was once the hunting lodge, and the farm manager's residence for Karen Blixen's coffee farm. Later Thomas Dinesen (Karen Blixen's brother) lived in this house, and Karen herself also spent a great deal of time here. It has since been refurbished to its original style.

The architectural style of Swedo House is typical of the pioneering days of Kenya, being built on stilts with the original walls of corrugated iron lined with wood inside; and sporting raised verandas with arched roof supports. The corrugated iron walls were later replaced by cement plastered over chicken wire. These days the house contains the lounge and gift shop.

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Meaning ‘medicine’ or ‘magic potion’ in Swahili, Dawa is the signature cocktail at Tamarind (the chain which owns the hotel restaurant). Based on the famous Brazilian Caipirinha, the cocktail it is made from vodka, sugar, quartered lime, ice and honey, and is apparently one of the most widely consumed cocktails in Kenya. As I really don’t like honey, I didn’t think I’d like it. I was wrong. The honey is served on the little wooden stick in the glass, and just tastes sweet rather than a strong honey taste.

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The curiously named Elephant Mudbath cocktail is a must as we are going to be visiting the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in the morning. The cocktail comprises of coffee liqueur, Amarula, Vodka and ice. A little drop of heaven in a glass!

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To go with the cocktails, an amuse bouche of chilli chicken and crab cocktail arrives.

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The chicken is surprisingly bland, whereas the crab cocktail is nicely spiced and absolutely delicious.

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At dinner I practise the little bit of Swahili I have tried to learn in the last few weeks, much to the amusement and delight of the staff.
“Nataka chakula cha kiafrika” (I would like African food) I ask, and John, the waiter, suggests the Chicken Ndogo Ndogo, a whole spring chicken grilled with ginger, soy sauce, garlic and lime juice.

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Ndogo ndogo apparently means “young lady” or "nice thighs" in Swahili, and a few slightly risqué comments are banded about.

I ask for the chicken to be served kali (spicy), but instead they include a selection of pili pili (chillies), hot sauce and freshly chopped coriander. The chillies certainly pack a powerful punch!

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To go with my chicken I order ugali – the staple food throughout East Africa – a stiff polenta-like dough made from millet flour and water.

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Chris settles for the Fish with Mushrooms, a fillet of fish topped with mirin-flamed mushrooms and served with fried rice and creamy champagne sauce. From the contented murmurs and delighted exclamations, I am deducting that he is enjoying it.

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My request “tafadhali nakata nne bia Tusker baridi” gets us exactly what we want – four cold Tusker beers! This Swahili-speaking lark sure is fun!

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At the beginning of the meal John (the waiter) asks Chris to write down all our names on a sheet of paper, and from then on he calls us by name as he dishes up our food. Very personal service indeed. I am even more impressed when the dessert is delivered. Only David orders a pudding – crepe suzette – but the rest of us get complimentary petit fours, beautifully served on personalised plated with a Swahili saying and our names written out in chocolate! This certainly is a first for me!

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As we leave the restaurant, the serenade of the frogs in the grounds is almost deafening as you can hear from this little video. There is no picture as such as it is pitch black by now, but it is worth a listen for the sound alone.

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Having travelled for 24 hours through the night to get here, jetlag descends on us after dinner and we retire to bed for an early night.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for a great start to our trip!

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:00 Archived in Kenya Tagged food fish restaurant travel vacation flight holiday fun africa safari packing chicken dubai karen kenya cocktails emirates birmingham gourmet nairobi good_food tamarind african_food calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators karen_blixen_coffee_gardens_and karen_blixen dawa_cocktail dawa Comments (1)

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