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As honeymooners, my new husband and I were excited to arrive in Columbo for the first part of our once in a lifetime, two-centre trip to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. We were driven to the Hilton by our lovely driver Stanley, who was included in our tour, and on arrival were greeted by smartly-dressed, courteous porters who opened the door for us and wheeled in our luggage. On first impressions this hotel looks very grand. The lobby was open plan, with huge potted plants dotted around and luxurious leather sofas to slouch on, underneath hundreds of glittering spotlights. While waiting to check in, we were served lime juice, which is commonplace in Sri Lanka and its zingy flavour awakened our taste buds and refreshed us instantly. That was a very nice little touch for us weary travellers! Our room was on the third floor and very spacious with a large bathroom, lounge area and floor to ceiling windows affording a great view. The decor was simple and fairly standard, a little bit floral chintz but not offensively so. Everything was clean and comfortable. The hotel has the grand total of ten restaurants and we chose to eat at the pizza place by the pool which was very reasonably priced at around £10 a head if I remember correctly. The food was fantasic, if unadventurous, and it was nice to sit by the pool, but have the protection of the open-air, but sufficiently covered eaterie. The pool itself was lovely, but it's a bit of a trek from the main building. After negotiating the large hotel space, it is then located on the other side of the street and is reachable by a private walkway above the road. This was not a problem for us at all, but some people may not like this feature. There is a childrens' pool and an adult one, and plenty of sun loungers available. From the water, you can hear the trains which pass directly alongside every so often, and can see the skyline of Columbos trade centre. On our first morning we had breakfast, which is served in one of the largest restaurants just off the main lobby. And how my tastebuds were thoroughly tantalised at the mere sight of the mountains of food displayed elegantly on huge platters. The buffet comprised of piles of tasty treats arranged in order of country of origin. So for example in the American section there were muffins and pancakes, traditional fried food in the British section and so on. Fresh fruit and juice was plentiful and I delighted at munching on delicious melon, papaya and pineapple. No other breakfast buffet will ever compare and the choice was truly astounding. The staff cannot do enough for you at this hotel, and obviously a lot of it comes at a cost but that is only to be expected. For example imagine my horror when I discovered I had come on holiday minus my swimsuit, a necessity for the diving course I had booked in the Maldives. Panic ensued until a chat with the receptionist assured me that they could arrange a driver/cab to take us to the local shopping mall so I could buy one. So myself and my hubby trudged around two shopping malls before finally purchasing a basic swimsuit. The less said about the moulded Madonna-esque cups it sported the better! Having looked at our bill after the holiday, this service cost around £10, which is the same as a local taxi ride costs me back home. The Hilton Columbo is a lovely hotel. It feels very luxurious and we were treated brilliantly, but a wander around the city streets really brought home the fact that this is a far cry from the poverty of the local people, and made me appreciate it more, while also prompting feelings of guilt. I would recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Sri Lanka. It's very well located, right in the middle of the shopping district and a short walk from the main tourist attractions and beach.
Five years ago - well five years and 2 days to be precise - the Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 shocked the world with its ferocity and ever since Boxing Day is stuck in my mind as a sort of Tsunami Remembrance day. Like most of the world I was stunned by the scale of the damage but perhaps more personally affected by the tragedy because only a week before I'd been in Sri Lanka on a business trip. Whenever I think of the tsunami my thoughts go to that trip and to how close we were to being caught up in it. I spent at least the next week or two waiting for confirmation that nobody from our local factory had been killed and whilst the good news was that everyone was still alive, many had lost friends and family and some had lost their homes. Perhaps one of the reasons I felt so strongly about the local team was because we'd all had such a nice evening together at the Hilton in Colombo on the night before I and the people I was travelling had left to go back to India and eventually home for Christmas. I was fortunate when working for that employer that their travel agent had a good 'deal' with Hilton so we often got to stay in their hotels (there wasn't much ELSE to be thankful for as the rotten so and sos made me redundant the next year). Of these, the Hilton in Colombo was one that I really warmed to. It's not the fanciest of the Hilton hotels but it's a place with real 'heart'. Arriving in the run up to Christmas, there was a lovely buzz about the place, with richly decorated Christmas trees and mock gingerbread houses and lots of decorations everywhere. The lobby with its high ceilings and fancy chandelier would look good at any time but was particularly special at that time of year. I tend not to notice the approach of Christmas but this place really got me in the mood. Despite being a capital city hotel, there's quite a holiday feel about the place and you can actually see the sea from several sides of the hotel, including my room. The Hilton Colombo has one of the few gyms that stuck in my mind. I'm generally pretty lazy but this was near the end of a 3 week trip round the Far East and I was getting to be a real lard-arse after too much good food and drink. To get to the gym you have to pass through the gardens and across an over-pass over the street then down to the gym. It was really well equipped with plenty of cross-trainers and treadmills and staff lingering around to make sure you didn't accidentally kill, maim or make a total fool of yourself. A sweaty version of me in baggy gym gear walked back to the hotel after 45 minutes or so and found 20+ smartly dressed local colleagues sitting in the bar waiting for us. Talk about not dressed for the occasion - I was pretty disgraceful. There had been a bit of a mix up on the communication front and they'd all come too early and the restaurant wasn't booked until much later. I rushed off to my room to change and about 90 minutes later after rather a lot of beer we headed out to eat in the garden restaurant called the Curry Leaf. The hotel has a total of 10 different restaurants but we used the outdoor hot-buffet which did an excellent deal which (from memory) was about £15 per head and had a splendid selection of food. My boss liked fancy wine and ordered a few bottles of a mid-range wine only to get offered a much better and much more expensive wine because the one he'd chosen was out of stock. I ended up picking up the bill and was shocked at how reasonable it had been both for the food and the wine. I'm normally absolutely paranoid about eating outdoors after dusk in tropical countries for fear of getting malaria or other bug-borne diseases so I wasn't entirely at ease to be outside. However, I think the Hilton probably had security staff turning away any inappropriately dressed mosquitoes and we didn't get attacked. We must have been eating for nearly 3 hours in total and one of the funniest dishes was a strange mix of chopped bread and scrambled eggs which was made to order. My boss stood watching the chef construct it and then made the mistake of wandering off and not coming back to the table until it had all been eaten. He sent one of the local colleagues to get some more and the poor chef, not realising it was for the big fat white guy, cooked it to local chilli strength and nearly took his poor head off. I have to say we all laughed like drains at the look on his face. Rooms at the Hilton were large, beautifully decorated and well-equipped. Large picture windows went the width of the room and gave fantastic views of the sea. I really could have just sat in my armchair and watched all day. Bathrooms were spotless with lots of granite tiling and nice toiletries. Bathrobes and slippers were supplied along with daily newspapers. The details fade with time but not the sense of well-being that I got from a really pleasant hotel where the staff seemed to care about doing a really good job.