Weekend in Maui

I had the opportunity to spend five delightful months in Hawai’i, as an Asia Pacific Leadership Program fellow at the East West Centre back in 2012. During my time in Honolulu, a close friend from my undergrad years, who lived in mainland US, made plans to visit me in Hawai’i with her family. She suggested Maui and selected a hotel on the beach.


The highlight was catching up with her and getting to know her twin toddlers better, who were more excited about tent canvases and lamp shades, than the sunset or beach.



We did enjoy short excursions outside the hotel we were staying. Her husband, who was also a batch-mate from undergrad years, had rented a car and we decided to drive along the famous road to Hana. Our stopping points were more dictated by the needs of the toddlers, anticipating whether they needed to run around a bit or get a snack break etc. And, we didn’t go beyond the Garden of Eden, as the kids were quite tired after our walk around the garden.

One of the points we stopped at was the Ho’okipa lookout, where we watched surfers in action.



The Garden of Eden stop was great, because while it was a beautiful garden to explore, it also turned out to be fascinating for the little ones and allowed them to run around as they wished.


Keopuka rock overlook





As we drove back to the hotel, we saw dark clouds on the horizon and anticipated a heavy rain.


However, fortunately for us, back at the hotel, there was hardly any sign of rain clouds and we experienced a beautiful sunset as we had dinner at the restaurant on the beach.


Have you visited this beautiful island? What was your favourite part of your visit or what would you like to explore, if you visit it for the first time?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard and Faraway Files #30]

Two Traveling Texans
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: a weekend at Blenheim Palace

Ever since I saw a full feature magazine spread on Blenheim palace in my pre-teen years, that is the image I envisioned whenever I thought of a perfect palace. However, it was only during my most recent visit to the UK that I finally managed to visit the place. While my friend and I discussed, where to take her daughter for a special 13th birthday celebration during my visit, Blenheim palace popped up in my mind.

We spent friday night in Oxford and took the bus to Woodstock on saturday, after walking around Oxford university in the morning. After checking in at the lovely Pollen B&B in the village, we walked the few minutes to the side entrance of Blenheim palace. There was a notice on the outer wall, requesting fishermen to be quiet when they arrived within the palace premises.


We decided to explore the palace that day and some of the parkland the next morning. These were the special six highlights of our weekend at Blenheim.

  1. The landscaped garden, especially the lake area

The lake immediately catches your eye, as you enter through the side gate, or when you near the palace, if you enter through any other gate. The lake in question, with the partially submerged bridge, is man-made and is one of Capability Brown’s(considered England’s greatest gardeners) legacy to Blenheim.


The palace was built by the first Duke of Marlborough, in early 18th century.


During our visit, the palace was decorated for Christmas and we learnt that though there were many different tours on offer, only the exhibition and the state rooms tour was open to visitors that weekend.


2. The Winston Churchill Exhibition

The  exhibition focused on Sir Winston Churchill’s life. It was during a dinner at the palace, that his mother started experiencing labour pains and was ushered to a nearby room. The room, where Winston Churchill was born, is the start of the exhibition. Another section of the exhibition that caught my attention was about his marriage, and how he met his wife and that he proposed to her at Blenheim palace.


Room where Winston Churchill was born

3. The stateroom tours

The staterooms tour started in front of two key portraits. The first was a family portrait of the first Duke of Marlborough and his family, including his eldest daughter who became his heir through Queen Anne’s command in the 18th century. The other portrait that the tour guide pointed out was the portrait of the woman whose marriage to the 9th duke of Marlborough in 1895, helped recover the palace and its estate from heavy debt. She was Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress, who was unhappily married to the Duke before they divorced and she remarried a French pilot. Her autobiography, Glitter and Gold, is available at the palace gift shop.


Consuelo Vanderbilt


The Red Drawing Room, is one of the first rooms that one visits and the huge picture at one end is the family portrait of the 9th Duke of Marlborough and his family.


Red Drawing Room

Each of the state rooms was packed with portraits and tapestries, from across the centuries. The Green writing room had the Blenheim tapestry, one of the tapestries in the Victory series and commissioned by the first duke, which depicts his victory at the Battle of Blenheim.


The Green Writing Room

The third state room, was the state bed chamber, and therefore glowed in gold. There were temporary art installations, in each of the state room, as part of an art exhibition. We didn’t get most of those art installations – like the one, which was a heaped bundle of rags in the middle of a state room.


Third state room

My favourite of the state rooms was the long library. I thought it did not seem quite like how a library would have been envisioned and I learnt that it was originally designed as a portrait gallery but later housed the 9th duke of Marlborough’s collection of over 10,000 books.


Long Library

On the day we visited, it was being organized and decorated for an evening function at the palace.



4. Afternoon tea at the Orangery

As part of the birthday celebration of Nikki’s birthday, we decided to have afternoon tea at the Orangery, which looked onto the private Italian gardens of the palace and which is not accessible by the public.



Nikki and her afternoon tea


Private Italian gardens at the palace

5. The pleasure gardens

On sunday morning, after a lovely breakfast at the B&B, we decided to walk across the grounds and visit the pleasure gardens. I think Nikki loved this part of the palace the most. There was a miniature model of the village at the entrance.



Peter Pan fountain

We tried out the Marlborough maze, which Nikki soon figured out and was zipping in and out to the centre of the maze. It was funny that my friend and I kept taking the wrong turns, until we finally decided to retrace our steps back to the entrance.

There was an interesting Blenheim Bygones exhibition at the pleasure gardens, which exhibited various gardening tools that had been used at the palace over the years.


The building also housed two tiny rooms, one of which was the gardener’s office and the other was the night room, where the junior gardeners took turns to spend the night, attending to the boilers and glass houses.


Gardener’s office


Night room for junior gardener

6. The majestic oaks at Blenheim

An impressive part of the palace park was the magnificent oak trees. The largest collection of ancient oaks in Europe can be found within the Blenheim palace park.


We were not able to visit a lot of the outdoor areas that we had wanted to, since it was too large a place, but we enjoyed our first visit to the palace and its parkland. The entrance ticket to the palace is valid for a year, so for those living in England and especially relatively closer to Oxford can visit the place in smaller doses.

My friend also loved the B&B we had chosen for this weekend getaway. Pollen B&B, in the heart of Woodstock village and within minutes to the palace was such a charming place with a friendly manager. Our space was the entire top floor, which had a sitting room, a lovely writing space, two cosy sleeping spaces with three beds and a lovely bathroom. It was filled with stuff that the owners had collected from their travels.





Which of the special six features intrigues you the most about Blenheim palace?

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday]
Wanderful Wednesday

Lunuganga – a garden tour

For quite some time now, I had been meaning to visit Lunuganga but it didn’t quite work out till earlier in April. Ever since I learnt that my favourite place in Colombo, Seema Malakaya meditation centre, was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I have been interested in his other work around the country. I went on the tour of No 11, his Colombo residence. And, it was time for me to visit his first landscaping work, considered his masterpiece.


The country home of Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect, was his first landscaping work which led him to his passion – architecture. After completing his law studies in England, he realized that it was not the career he wanted to pursue. After spending some years traveling around the world, he returned to Sri Lanka and bought an abandoned rubber estate in Bentota in 1947. He started landscaping the place and continued working on it till 1998, when his illness prevented him from doing further work.


The garden tours, at Lunuganga, allow the public to visit the place. For those ready to splurge a bit, one can stay overnight at one of the guest rooms at Geoffrey Bawa’s country home.


The Glass House

There are fixed time tours, and you simply need to be at the gate at the specified times for the tours, and ring the bell. One of the staff takes you to the ticket office just in front of the Glass House, one of the spaces that is rented out to overnight guests.


Garden room

The tour starts from the Garden room, a beautiful space where Geoffrey Bawa kept his gardening tools as well as used to work from.


Lovely corner in the Garden room

Close to the garden room was his studio, which was originally the chicken shed and the cow barn. The studio is also one of the spaces that one can stay overnight in.


The studio

From the terrace in front of the garden shed, one has a beautiful vista to look upon.


Nataraja statue, with the butterfly pool in the background

This was a spot that Bawa enjoyed dining from and there was a table with a bell adjacent to it. From this spot, not only did he have a view of the butterfly pool, but also the rice fields and the river beyond.


We walked down the stone steps to the butterfly pool and the water was very clear that day, they were beautifully reflecting the blue skies and the trees above them.


Reflections in the butterfly pool

From the butterfly pool, we walked along the rice fields and came across a windmill, that is no longer used. In Bawa’s time, the windmill was used to power the motor of the well beneath. You can see the windmill and the well in the left corner of the photo below.


We walked up to the bank of the river, where during Bawa’s time, a boat could be taken to his little private island. Boat tours can now be taken by overnight guests at Lunuganga.


River bank

We came upon several benches placed at lovely spots, as well as alcoves that looked out on to beautiful views, while giving one privacy for reflection or a quiet read.


View of Pan in the woods, from my bench


The yellow pavilion

The main plantation house, which was where Geoffrey Bawa stayed at, had a view of the river on one side and a lovely frangipani tree and the cinnamon hill, on the other side.


Frangipani tree, by the plantation house


View of cinnamon hill

The design of the exterior of the gatehouse, which is close to the row of hedges seen in the above photo of the cinnamon hill, reminded me of Bawa’s Colombo residence and which perhaps, he had worked on during the same time period. The gatehouse is also one of the spaces that is available for overnight guests.



Passing the gatehouse, we came across a little corridor. The guide opened a window in the passage, which he referred to as the ha-ha window, and pointed out the public road below cutting through the estate but which could not be seen from any part of the estate ground, though it was right between the hedges seen in the photo of the cinnamon hill.


View from the ha-ha window

We then passed a mural, that had been created by another of Bawa’s artist friends, and climbed cinnamon hill to its peak and the tree with the tempayan pot, that can be seen from the main house. This tree marks the spot where Bawa is buried and as per his wishes, there is no stone marking his resting place, except for the tempayan pot which one can see placed at different spots across the estate.


The cinnamon hill house is a house that Geoffrey Bawa had built for visiting friends and it is at the edge of the hill, overlooking the river. It is also now available for overnight guests but is a bit isolated from the main house and the rest of the estate so I am not sure, I would want to stay in this space were I an overnight guest.


Cinnamon hill house

We walked back to the main plantation house and walked up the steps to a tiny terrace that led us back to the ticket office.


Steps leading to the terrace of the plantation house

We looked back one final time, from the terrace, at the view of cinnamon hill and Bawa’s resting place in the distance, before leaving Lunuganga. The place is certainly a labour of love and Bawa’s passion for landscaping can be clearly seen and experienced. I am glad that the Geoffrey Bawa Trust are maintaining this gem of a place very well.


Have you visited Lunuganga? If not, I would highly recommend visiting it next time you visit Bentota in Sri Lanka.

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #27]

Wanderful Wednesday

Untold Morsels