Kandy, 2015

Next stop in our road trip around Sri Lanka was Kandy. My parents, husband, daughter and I started with the main attraction first- the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic- said to house the tooth of Buddha.

The temple complex was large, vast and white washed. Part of the grounds weren’t even open to the public. We had to wear sarongs to enter where brightly coloured lotus flower offerings were for sale. There were lots of school children visiting in groups and many stupas.

Intricately carved stone made up the floor of the entry which was next to elephants on the walls and the temple itself was surrounded by a moat. The tunnelled ceilings were painted beautifully. The main area in the middle of the temple that held the tooth was carved in wood with elephant tusks at the closed door.

Upstairs was a room full of more permanent offerings, like gold leaved trees. The Audience Hall next door was an impressive structure with many pillars with designs carved into them.

The temple was located next to the lake- a beautiful blue green oasis in the middle of the busy city. We had lunch at the newly renovated Olde Empire Hotel and met a lovely couple from Singapore. We went shopping and found retro buses renovated and painted artfully.

We stayed up the hill at the Serene Grand Hotel with signs all over the balcony doors to keep them locked due to monkey activity. And they were not joking. We watched a few of the cheekier ones ransack a room in the neighbouring hotel after moving a chair on the balcony and opening the door to get in. The views of Kandy and the lake from up here were beautiful.

My daughter’s favourite thing about Kandy was the cultural show. With fast moves and many different costume changes for each region in Sri Lanka, it kept her entertained from start to finish. There was the peacock dance, the many different types of drummers, the fire dance, the witch and the masked man. The show ended with fire walking.

Related posts: Upcountry, 2015Ebony Springs, 2015Ella, 2015Mirissa, 2016Galle, 2015Cooler Colombo, 2015Old Colombo, 2015It’s a Sri Lankan Thing

Upcountry, 2015

While staying with my aunt Pauline and uncle Bernard at Ebony Springs, we explored the surrounding areas upcountry. One day, my parents, husband, daughter and I were taken to Mas Villa overlooking Kotamale Dam.

The old colonial dwelling once housed the prime minister and was now a luxury hotel. We went for lunch on the verandah, to nose around the indoor courtyard with koi filled fish ponds and for a swim in the pool. The house was almost as beautiful as the view from the garden and the signature desert.

On another day, we drove past tea pluckers to visit the factory at Norwood tea estate. My uncle Bernard had been managing this particular tea estate last time I had stayed in Sri Lanka.

The factory was obviously much bigger than Ebony Springs and it had many rooms of large machinery with no smoking and no betel chewing allowed. There were rollers, mixers, fermenting beds, drying areas, grading and packing rooms. Followed by a professional tea tasting of the finished product with aprons and spitting.

On the way back from the factory we saw Adam’s Peak, the Virgin Hills which was the site of a well-known plane crash and a colourful festival at a Hindu temple.

The next day, we decided to go into the closest town- Nawalapitiya- for some shopping. My daughter was delighted that we were taking a tuk tuk on this journey and one that she could pose in, being away from the busy city.

Nawalapitiya is a functional hill town for the locals. Most tourists would not stop here, except to catch a bus or a train to somewhere else. And I guess that’s what I liked about it- a little bit off the beaten path, and authentic.

Most shops held clothing or bags of produce- coconuts, betel leaves, chillies and rice. We stopped at a bakery for some dine in short eats that were very tasty.

And so ended our retreat at Ebony Springs. Good food, beautiful scenery, top notch tea and great company, as always.

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Ebony Springs, 2015

As we continued our journey into the hills, my parents, husband, daughter and I stopped at Nuwra Eliya to visit the manicured Victoria Park, including trees shaped like pineapples and flowerbeds with signs telling us to ‘Behave Decently’.

The kid’s playground was the old style colourful metal play equipment that would not pass safety laws in Australia, but all the kids seemed to enjoy it and nobody got hurt. Our daughter’s favourite was the ride on the miniature train.

We went to my favourite shoe shop in town, Bata, which had the cheapest kids shoes ever. There were many grand buildings in Nuwra Eliya- the bank, the post office and the Grand Hotel. We stopped at the famous Hill Club, but didn’t venture inside as we were not properly attired and were tired from all our playing in the park.

The next part of our drive wound through Mackwoods Tea Estate, past Ramada Falls to a lookout point over Kotamale Lake. We were getting higher and also prettier. Another drive past Kotamale Dam and we reached our destination- my  aunt and and uncle’s boutique tea estate and homestay- Ebony Springs.

My uncle Bernard had worked for many years at several of the large tea estates Upcountry and had recently decided to branch out on his own with speciality white teas. The statue of Letchmi the tea plucker had been rescued from a previous place of employment and now stood at the front gates as the icon of estate.

We spent a little time out eating the lovely food that my aunt Pauline and her helpers prepared- fresh sambal, curry crab and hoppers. We played karum, read and played with the dogs.

I went inside my uncle Bernard’s small factory where his three workers cut and hand rolled tealeaves into various shapes and sizes. Equipment, now out-dated in the bigger more automated factories, found its home here for drying and sorting the tea.

My uncle Bernard’s favourite invention was the tea urchins that opened up like a lotus flower when hot water was poured on them. Ahh bliss!

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Ella, 2015

On the way to Ella my parents, husband, daughter and I stopped at Kudwella. We took a short walk past stalls of dried fish to the Ho-o-maniya blow hole- and boy did it blow! The water was bright blue against the dark rocks and stretched far into the horizon.

The next part of the drive took us through Udawalewe National Park and we were lucky enough to stop and see an elephant on the side of the road by a lake. A local bus had also stopped and he seemed to enjoy the attention.

It was raining by the time we started climbing into the hills, but that didn’t stop me jumping out to take a picture of Rawana Falls. Our daughter was sick after all the winding roads so we were glad to reach our accommodation for a couple of nights at the Zion View Hotel.

And what a view it was- right across to Ella Rock. The restaurant had the best views from the top floor and they also had a handy kids play area with a swing and other toys. We met another family with a young boy and our daughter was in play date heaven.

Our family room was a couple of floors down, but still had an amazing view of the rock, Ella Gap and Rawana Falls with a strategically placed hammock on the balcony to watch it from. Early morning sunrises with the little one didn’t seem so bad sitting there with her as the morning fog lifted to reveal the view.

My husband and I ventured into the small town for supplies and stumbled upon a film crew shooting. It was a fight scene so most of the locals were watching excitedly. We also found one of the many funky new cafes that have cropped up in Ella.

Not brave enough to climb through the gap to and up Ella Rock, I was still glad that we had come to see such a beautiful place and taken in the peaceful hill town.

Related posts: Mirissa, 2016, Galle, 2015, Cooler Colombo, 2015, Old Colombo, 2015, It’s a Sri Lankan Thing

Mirissa, 2015

Mirissa was the required beach rest stop that my husband requested for our Sri Lankan trip. We stayed at the Paradise Beach Club on the recommendation of a relative whip worked in the travel industry and it did not disappoint.

Our room had a view of palm trees and the quiet end of the beach from the balcony and was air conditioned. The hotel also had a pool, bar and reastaurant that served good food, not too expensively.

The beach itself was gorgeous and we spent most days strolling one way and then the other, especially at sunset. The tides rose high in the evenings and occasionally took out one of the resatuarants on the beach that served fresh seafood.

We found a roti and hopper stand in town, the former proving quite popular with my daughter when paired with a cold ginger beer. She also enjoyed swimming in the pool everyday, and probably just being out of the van for a few days.

One day we walked all the way to the island at the northern end of the beach. The island was connected to the mainland at low tide and you could climb up a staircase for a view back to the beach. On the way we passed bars, fresh coconut stalls and whale watching cruise sellers.

On our last night we had a sunset dinner while we watched surfers take to the waves and finished off with stage dancing with the little one, before it was bedtime. It was lovely falling asleep listening to the waves and I was glad that we had taken the time to slow down and enjoy some relaxing luxury on the beach.

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Galle, 2015

Galle was my favourite new place that my husband, daughter and I visited on our trip to Sri Lanka. The town is contained in a walled fort area, which made it easy to navigate and explore.

We arrived at the fortification near Flag Rock and walked around the top of the city walls. The water was clear and blue with only a few small waves and fishing poles breaking the surface. We found the white Meeran mosque, the tall Galle lighthouse next to it and the sandy beach in front of that.

The old bell tower was close by and the All Saints Anglican church. The court square was being taken over by large fig trees and ordered lines of school children in white uniforms. The police barracks proudly proclaimed its 1927 inception and we went inside the Dutch reformed church for a little peace and quiet.

We wandered the streets, past the orange marine archaeological museum and an old gate with colonial shield atop it. We forwent the old Galle Fort Hotel and stopped for lunch in Sugar in the newly renovated Old Dutch hospital instead.

Sugar served old style Sri Lankan fare with a modern twist. It was unexpected and delicious. My daughter loved the novelty of drinking out of a fresh coconut and I liked the familiar looking décor that could have belonged in a wine bar in Sydney.

Next stop was shopping at Barefoot and Maison where we picked up some souvenirs and a lovely summer dress for my bestie. I regret not having the sense of mind at the time to buy one for myself as well.

Wishing we had more time to stay, we bundled back into the van and hit the road south to Marissa. On the way to the beach resort, we found some more fishing poles with stilt fishermen sitting upon them. An iconic image and one that we had to pay for to take home.

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Hot air ballooning in the Hunter Valley

I had wanted to go hot air ballooning for a long time. I saved up birthday and Christmas money for 2 years and finally had enough for the ride and some nice accommodation in the Hunter Valley. I jumped on Red Balloon straight away and booked the experience with Balloon Aloft and then counted down the days until it was time to take flight.

The excitement started the night before when you have to check in by phone at 6pm to make sure the next days flight is going ahead and to confirm you were coming.

The next day I woke at only a little earlier time than usual at just before 5am- yes, my name is Roshan and I have a toddler. I drove myself to Peterson’s Champagne House to check in in person with my pilot Richard, by all accounts a very experienced hot air balloon pilot who had flown everywhere from the Swiss Alps, to, well, the Hunter Valley.

There was 20 to a balloon basket, so our team, the blue team, piled into our allotted bus and we drove to the first launch site to release a test balloon- the same as the ones you get at kids parties- except with a red light on it.

The wind was not right, so we were driven past Margan and Cockfighters Ghost to another launching site in Broke which was nestled at the foot of a very nice looking mountain range.

We got off the bus into a very chilly field, just as the sun started rising. And then we all spread out the balloon in a fashion reminiscent of the parachute game I used to play at school.

I met a balloon enthusiast and his wife, who had been ballooning in my dream destination, Capadocia, plus also Egypt and a few other places. They were planning for Portugal or Morrocco next.

Our balloon was inflated with cold air by dangerous looking and noisy fans. While this was happening I watched 3 other balloons be inflated and take off into the dawn. It was a beautiful sight and you could almost feel your spirits lifting up with the balloons as they went. My excitement built as I knew we would soon be joining them in the air.

Richard added hot air to the now inflated balloon, using four gas cylinders and then the basket started lifting from horizontal to vertical and it was time for all the passengers to jump in quickly before the man on the ground holding the balloon was taken away. I had to switch sides and was scared the balloon would take off without me.

And then we lifted up and drifted off. It was so quiet and still that you could hear dogs barking in the nearby farms.

We floated around, away from the mountains that now had the early morning sun shining over them.

Taking in the other balloons drifting around us and the shadow of our own in the fields.

The scenery was shrouded by early morning fog that lifted to expose vines, farmland and kangaroos, just waking up and hopping around.

A camera suspended on the balloon took a group photo and I took a terrible selfie shot.

We flew up and down and through the valley taking in the gorgeous view and enjoying the moment.

The silence only punctuated by the occasional burst of gas into the balloon to keep us afloat.

Before too long, it was time to land in a friendly field with enthusiastic cattle dogs and startled kangaroos. We braced in the landing position, took a couple of hops and then it was all over.

Time to pack up the balloon- a lot harder than unravelling it- and head back to Petersons for a champagne breakfast with chocolate. We were also given a thoughtful thank you pack with discounts at other wineries and shops for rest of the day.

What a great experience, definitely not one for adrenalin junkies. More peaceful than I thought it would be, I was glad that I had done it. Now, just to get myself to Capadocia for round two.

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Cooler Colombo, 2015

One evening, my husband, daughter, parents and I went up the hill to another opulent old colonial hotel- the Mount Lavinia Hotel. We had missed the sunset and it was dark by the time we arrived through rush hour traffic, but we could still hear the waves crashing down below and see the train weaving its way along the coastline. We sat outside near the pool where a band was playing some old favourite tunes and relished a bit of the cooler atmosphere up here.

The following day, my husband, daughter and I set off in our own tuk tuk to find the little oasis of South Biera Lake in the big city. City buildings surrounded the lake, but they seemed far away, especially when you took the footbridge to the island in the middle of the lake. It was my favourite new discovery in Colombo and I was glad that the three of us had come here together.

There was a meditation centre on the lake also that my husband visited by himself as I was wearing shorts. The centre was very interesting as it had both Hindu and Buddist statues along with the obligatory Adam’s foot. My daughter and I amused ourselves by watching the cormorant’s fish and then we all cooled down with a fresh fruit juice from a local stall on the side of the lake.

My uncle Tommy was an established businessman in Colombo and is the member of quite a few exclusive clubs. He took us to the Colombo Swimming Club as his special guests for lunch that was very traditional and very tasty. We all also enjoyed a dip in the pool of course, which overlooked the ocean and seemed to stretch out onto the horizon and beyond.

On our last night in Colombo, my aunt and uncle hosted a party with many assorted aunts, uncles and cousins. A lady came to the house to make fresh hoppers and there was lots of drinking and smoking as is the Sri Lanka party way. It was nice to see many familiar faces again- everyone was older, perhaps not wiser- but we had all seemed to multiply.

And so, it was time to leave the city, jump in the van with our driver Ravi and set off on our road trip around Sri Lanka. First stop- Galle.

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Old Colombo, 2015

When my daughter was 2 years old, we decided to go to Sri Lanka. My husband had never been before and my parents came along for the ride. We landed in Colombo in one of the hotter times of the year when you are sweating after five minutes and as soon as you get out of the shower.

My Aunty Maryann and Uncle Tommy were kind enough to put us up in their house in the city- big enough for us all now that their two daughters had moved to other parts of the world. The house was tiled and airy with an open courtyard and many fans.

My daughter loved the tuk tuks in Colombo. Nothing delighted her more than setting off in one with her grandparents and chasing my husband and I in another. On our first tuk tuk ride to the local Kol Pitti market, we happened upon a parade for the St Thomas College annual cricket match. There were lots of floats with music, people hanging out of cars waving flags and revellers zooming around on motorbikes.

Kol Pitti market was filled with colourful fruit and vegetables, live chickens, raw meat and a fish stall. From there we took another tuk tuk to the Galle Face Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean. A white washed leftover relic from the colonial era, the hotel was beautiful and the kamikaze cocktail in the 1864 bar was well made.

The next day we went to Colombo Fort- an old part of the city that had only just been reopened. The clock tower was tall and striking and I loved the elephant heads on one of the old buildings. My parents enjoyed pointing out old eating and drinking haunts that they hadn’t been able to get to for a while and we stopped at a yummy short eats restaurant for lunch.

One of my favourite buildings was the old Dutch hospital with its various courtyards and fancy shops. From here we braved the FOSE market in Pettah. It was ridiculously busy and a world away from the local market. Every imaginable item that you could want was for sale- from toys to food and souvenirs to clothes.

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New Caledonia, 2014

In the approaching winter of 2014, my husband’s family including assorted partners and children, flew to Noumea for a week. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel where our balcony overlooked the pool, Anse Vata beach and Canary Island.

The weather was not the beach weather we had hoped for, being rain with sunny periods. Definitely not swimming weather. Although that didn’t stop me trying, resulting in a very short lived dip in the cold pool, before it started raining again.

We made the most of it anyway and the holiday became all about eating instead. And what a great place for this to occur- in French food heaven. There were the decadent coffee shops, the fantastic French bakeries with sticks of bread and fancy cakes; and our favourite, the French supermarkets with Cote D Or, French wine and yummy carbonara chips. All delicious.

My husband and I also managed to escape for a date night in a French restaurant called Astrolabe in the next bay for a lovely traditional three course dinner. And I had the best Carbonara pasta with raw egg that I have ever had in an Italian restaurant in the hotel complex.

On our first day, we caught the bus to the city market. The bus trip was entertainment enough for our one a half-year-old daughter, but she was very excited by the local musicians playing when we got there too and danced up a storm.

The market overlooked the boats of Port Moselle and had lots of fruit and vegetables for the locals, plus colourful souvenirs for the tourists.

The following day, we caught the bus all the way into town to Coconut Trees square, which funnily enough had lots of coconut trees; and a gazebo. I found a Mango shop amongst all the expensive French clothing shops and we found some French children’s books for our daughter. We also saw the old coach house, Moselle Bay and many colourful murals.

We took a walk along Promenade Roger Laroque to Lemon beach- the beach next to ours. The promenade also had a train running along it that my daughter enjoyed along with the statue of Marilyn Monroe outside the Rock café once we go to the beach.

One day, we dragged the whole family to the Aquarium of the Lagoons to see the coral, fish and related sea creatures. My daughter liked the hands on kid’s section and I liked the porthole windows that you could see luminescent jellyfish through.

On our last day, we took a walk up the hill to Rte Due Ouen Toro for a view over the island and all the beaches we had visited. On the way back we found a large park with lots of swings and dolphin bins. It was heaven for the kids and I’m sure they wished we had found it earlier.

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