Back from Batti and Banda Aceh
Yes I'm back after 2.5 weeks of creating the most ginormous carbon footprint (which I'll be asking Andy P about how to deal with), endless hotel rooms including those which came with free frogs and cockroaches in the bathroom, around 50 interviews in total with aid agencies, local journalists and those who are still waiting for their lives to be rebuilt more than two years after the tsunami.
Of my findings, more later.....I'm going to be blogging the main findings on alertnet.org once I've finished them and I'll link to them here.
On a lighter note here's the hotels I stayed in and my recommendations and also the books I read in the long flights and solitary hotel nights.
Best hotel: Hotel Polonia, Medan.....Looked horribly reminiscent of communist-style hotel I once stayed in in Bucharest, all dark browns and gloom, but reasonable, a decent bathroom with hot water, good internet access and really helpful staff.
Most overrated hotel: Swiss Belhotel in Banda Aceh. Billing itself as the first international hotel in Banda Aceh it was around double the price of the Polonia, no internet access available for the four days I was there, phones extremely dodgy. Food was great though.
Best place for lunch: Mount Lavinia Hotel, Colombo. I went here on my one day off in three weeks. Great pool and good Sunday lunch buffet. I spent the rest of my time in Colombo at the Global Towers which was fine but make sure you insist on a room with a) a window and b) with a modern bathroom.
Place that I cannot with hand on heart recommend for romantic break: Hotel Bridge View, Batticaloa. To be fair it loses straight away under Trades Description Act given that there is no possibility of a view of the bridge from there....This is also the place that I shared with frogs and cockroaches. As a result I stuck to the vegetable fried rice the whole time I was here. Good news is that you get used to the shelling every night. The fact that due to the military situation, there has been a blackout on mobile phone coverage, means that it is certainly isolated if you want to get away from it all (get away from everything but a war that is).
Books I read while away
Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan. I read this novel twice I enjoyed it so much. Great account of the madness of the mental health system.
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Fabulous. Great evocation of the 1980s. The schoolboy slang reminded me of Kingsmead so much (my first school) plus the account of what it's like to be bullied at school brought back the horror of LIVG at Birkenhead High School
Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka. Doesn't stay with you as long as A Short History.....and the sheer amount of characters means you don't have a strong relationship with them but I thought this was a really original take on immigrant workers. Am never eating a factory chicken or a strawberry again.
Chart Throb by Ben Elton. The characters are the same as Dead Famous or Popcorn - evil maestro, naive and dangerous young girlc etc but you don't read it for the characterisation. Made me think about all the wiles reality TV shows use to manipulate you to vote (And just why Will Young won rather than Gareth Gates)
Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult. I had really enjoyed My Sister's Keeper although I will never forgive Picoult for nicking the title I'd wanted for my book. Had tried and failed to read others of hers. This one however worked, although the ending a slight cop-out
Londonstani by Gautam Malkani. Neither as good as the pre-publication hype or as bad as the subsequent reviews. I really enjoyed this up til the end when the final twist made me feel really cheated as a reader. The world he'd created and its dialect was hugely compelling and I felt that the revelation at the end detracted from that. It's not often I feel really shortchanged - but I did with that.
The Dilemma by Penny Vincenzi - my least favourite Vincenzi, I've read it before but was running out of books at Colombo airport. Still took me all the way from Colombo to Medan completely engrossed.
The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld. Nowhere near as good as the totally amazing Prep which I loved.
Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster. One of those books that you think 'I wish I had had that idea'. Takes a picture by Gwen John and looks at the women who own it. About how art affects us. I put off reading this til late - wish I had read it earlier.
Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. Great read for the plane home (in between watching the Queen, Music and Lyrics and Catch and Release)
Babyproof by Emily Giffen. In this novel it's the woman rather than the man who doesn't want the baby.
Sorry this is a REALLY self indulgent blog post. But I'm always looking for book recommendations....