Sunday was my birthday and Fletch, the wonderful man that he is, surprised me on Friday evening by telling me that he had arranged for our work to be covered until Monday afternoon. We would be going to Suva for the weekend.

Suva is the capital of Fiji, and the biggest city in the South Pacific. We take the two-hour bus ride there every second or third Saturday afternoon to do some grocery shopping and see the movies. It is so nice to have a movie theater here. Fletch and I both love going to the movies and the last few places we’ve lived have not had a movie theater. So we are in seventh heaven having one just two hours away.

During our first few trips to the capital, we stayed at a place called De Vos on the Park. Its central location (a five minute walk from the bus station) and reasonable price tag were what lured us in. The place was old and run down, but had a certain dilapidated charm, which inspired me to write some nice words about in on TripAdvisor:
The location is ideal, within walking distance of the malls and cinema. The vibe is very low maintenance. You can tell this place was really something 20 or 30 years ago which gives it character, and nothing much has happened since then. The signs excusing the elevator as 'old and quirky' really describe the entire hotel. If you are comfortable not being waited on hand and foot then this is the place for you. Breakfast was laid out for us but no staff in site. There is a full bar but order anything beyond a beer with caution. Our bartender had to leave three times to ask how to make the sangria on the menu. The quirks of this place are what made it such a surprisingly nice stay, and excellent for the value.
The second time we stayed there, we opened the door to our room to find no amenities or sheets on the bed. We had to remind reception to send the maid in and make up the room.

The third time we stayed there we had no hot water in the shower. When we informed the reception, they were perfectly well aware of the situation, but had still opted not to tell us when we had checked in.

The fourth time we stayed there, it was to find a horrendous smell in the bathroom, and all the windows left wide open. Further inspection revealed that crumpled up towels on the floor were hiding and mopping up the leaky sewage. Needless to say, that was our last stay at the quirky De Vos on the Park.

We tried the Best Western Suva Motor Inn. The only room available was a two bedroom apartment that felt about as dingy as a budget motel. The toilet and bathtub and everything else in the bathroom were all an unappealing, faded shade of mud brown. From there it was a much longer walk to the downtown area through a dodgy neighborhood. Perhaps I should add a disclaimer here that I am perfectly happy to sleep anywhere, but am trying to provide a realistic description should anyone stumble upon this blog who is looking for information on Suva.

After a steady downhill stream of ever worsening experiences (does anyone know how to knock some stars off of a review on TripAdvisor?), imagine my delight when Fletch surprised me with a stay at the Grand Pacific Hotel.

The Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva, Fiji

The Grand Pacific Hotel is one of Fiji’s most dignified, colonial-style buildings. The former hotel closed down in 1992 and sat neglected and decaying until it reopened just last year, the inside completely renovated, as a five-star hotel. The historic grandeur of the hotel reminded me of one of my favorite movies with a similar title, The Grand Budapest Hotel. We walked up to the beautiful building after a pleasant, 15 minute walk from the bus station, down a street speckled with other old colonial buildings, now used for the government. Walking inside, you could almost feel the countless stories this building had to tell from over the years.

The discovery of some words written about the historic hotel by author James A Michener in his book The World is My Home further enhanced its charm. He wrote that it had “…a huge central dining area filled with small tables, each meticulously fitted with fine silver and china…and the barefoot Indians who served the meals had a grace that few hotels in the world could offer and none surpass.”

When Fiji was still a British colony, members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II, would stay at the Grand Pacific, and address their subjects in the park below from the portico.

Fletch and I were shown to a beautiful corner room with a large balcony that overlooked the bay. While the hotel’s facilities were located in the historic building, the majority of the rooms, including ours, were located in a newly constructed wing. The room was big and spacious and luxurious. Fruit baskets and plates of cookies from the Swiss bakery downstairs greeted us on the table in the center of the room. The bathroom was stocked with lovely locally made soaps that were so beautifully wrapped with paper flowers that I almost hated to open them. The only thing that threw both Fletch and I off guard were the glass walls to the bathrooms. The majority of these walls were opaque, but nice little swirly designs that were left transparent allowed movement to be seen from one side of the wall to the other. Sure, the glass walls gave the room a nice open feeling, but I don’t want to know what anyone else is doing in the bathroom, no matter how much I like them. The swirly designs should have been painted silver instead of being left transparent. 

Room 213 at The Grand Pacific Hotel

Ocean View Balcony

Pure Fiji Soap

Harbor View 

Fletch had made us dinner reservations at a nice restaurant, but living the lifestyle that we do, neither of us had clothes aside from shorts and tshirts. So we walked the 15 minute walk downtown and did a little shopping. Shopping for clothes in a another country is almost as much fun as trying to find your way around the new ingredients in the grocery store. Do you look for something familiar? Or work with the unknown? The Fijian style of clothing is brightly colored fabric with loud patterns, either as a button-down shirt for the men (a bula shirt), or a long dress for the women (a bula dress). The Indian style is the traditional sari, but those are really only worn here on special occasions like weddings. After looking at three different stores, Fletch ended up with a smart pair of grey, almost-pinstripe shorts, and a blue, rugby, bula shirt. Yes, it’s a rugby shirt, and a dress shirt, all at once, and it’s actually a really cool shirt. After not having any luck in the bula dress department, I made a beeline for the small selection of Billabong clothes. Billabong might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of dress clothes, but it was the closest thing I could find to the style I like to wear.

Shopping proved to be a pain because all the sales people standing on the floor were overly eager to help. I’m not a big fan of shopping to begin with, and like to be left in peace to look at my own leisure. Having three different men breathing down my neck and asking what size I was looking for nearly encouraged me to stop looking and just wear the sarong that was crumpled in the bottom of my backpack. As soon as I had managed to shake off the first few sales people, someone new would take their place, trying to show me items they thought I would like; everything from bathing suits to crop tops fit for Coachella. By the time an Indian lady took her turn at trying to shop for me, I silently declared defeat and let her hand me everything she could find in my size, then ran to the fitting room to hide.

Amongst the six items of clothing available in my size I chose a peasant style top and a very soft, flowy, black skirt. It was such a nice feeling to clean up and put on new clothes. Small treats like that are something that we forgo a lot with the dive bum lifestyle, but it just makes it that much more of a treat when we do get to indulge.

We went back to the hotel for happy hour. Our room included access to the VIP lounge, where drinks were complimentary during happy hours. The VIP lounge was up a small, out-of-the-way staircase and through an old door that was identical to several other old doors in the hallway. Had in not been for the gold plaque on the door, we would have never found it. We walked through the door and emerged into a cozy, old-fashioned room, which opened up to a grand veranda that wrapped around the entire building. We quickly became addicted the the Fiji coladas, a smooth blend of coconut cream, pineapple juice, coconut rum, and honey rum. They weren’t overly sweet, and they were ever so satisfying.

Victoria Lounge

Dinner was at a Japanese restaurant called Daikoku. They offered both sushi and teppanyaki. Fletch and I both opted for sushi, as we hadn’t had any since being in Fiji. It’s always interesting ordering foods of different ethnicities in different countries and seeing the different variations that country will put on the cooking. Korean barbecue in Thailand was outdoors around picnic tables with portable grills. Indian food in Palau was one of the most expensive meals you could buy. Sushi in the US is usually some concoction of dozens of different fillings, all topped off with a variation on spicy mayonnaise sauce. Sushi in Fiji turned out to be dirt cheap and included egg in every roll. We had a delectable feast of sake, miso soups, two orders of nigiri, three massive rolls, and crème brûlée (because why not throw in a French dessert) all for $42.

As if I didn’t feel pampered enough already, on Sunday, my darling Fletch treated me to a spa day at the Grand Pacific Hotel. I checked in at 8:00 and was lead upstairs to a dim room with two massage beds and nice fragrances wafting about. First was a body scrub, which ticked my feet even though my feet are not normally particularly ticklish. (Say particularly ticklish three times fast). After my skin was exfoliated and glowing pink, the spa girl pointed me to a corner where I hadn’t noticed a door with a shower before. The water pressure was fantastic. I was only supposed to be rinsing the scrub off but I had to stay under the hot water for a few extra minutes. When you live the simple life of a vagabond, showers that have both hot water and sufficient water pressure are a rare treat.

Then came the massage. Whatever oil she used on my skin was softer than soft. It was as if the finest of oils had been poured through an endless series of sieves until not a single imperfection remained. I’d never felt anything so silky smooth.

When the massage was over, and I felt as though every muscle in my body was as soft as butter, the spa girl wrapped my hands and feet in saran wrap and then put them in what felt like oven mitts stuffed with hot rice. She had another hot rice stuffed blanket which she laid over my chest, and then set about giving me a facial. First one cool cream would be applied, and then gently brushed away. Then a warm oil, then that too would be brushed away. Everything had its own unique texture.

After the facial, we returned downstairs where the girl gave me a manicure and pedicure. When we were all finished I asked her what oil she had used for the massage, and she handed me a tub of Pure Fiji coconut milk and honey body butter. The coconut oils and coconut based skin products in Fiji are really some of the nicest I have found.

It was noon by the time all of my pampering was complete. Fletch and I sat on our massive bed and ate all of our leftover pizza from the previous day for lunch while the sunlight cast a cheery glow on our pretty room. Then we walked into town for a showing of Alice Through the Looking Glass. No trip to Suva is complete without seeing at least a couple of movies. Yes, a couple. After walking back to the hotel for happy hour and our free Fiji coladas, we walked to the theater yet again to watch the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Breakfast the next morning at the Grand Pacific Hotel was a wonderful affair. Most of the hotels and resorts in Fiji offer free continental breakfast, that is literally just fruit and toast. Anything like eggs or pancakes you have to pay for. The Grand Pacific’s breakfast buffet had everything you could want, from fruits and cereals, to yogurts and muesli, to a juicer with a whole assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables to make juice with, to any style eggs to order, to an entire table of assorted breads and rolls and pastries. I feasted on carrot and ginger juice, whole, fresh papayas, and salmon eggs benedict.

Our stay at the Grand Pacific Hotel was a wonderful treat. Thank you Fletch for a magical birthday. I am an extremely lucky girl to have found a loving man who treats me like a princess.