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.

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

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.

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

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.

Related posts: It’s a Winery ThingAdventurous vs Risk TakerAll creatures great and small

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.

Related posts: Old Colombo, 2015It’s a Sri Lankan ThingSri Lanka, 1998

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.

Related posts: It’s a Sri Lankan Thing, Sri Lanka, 1998, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 1994

 

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.

Related posts: Fiji 2008, It’s a South Pacific Thing

Dolphin Swim in Hawaii, 2014

The one thing that I definitely wanted to do while I was in Hawaii for my bestie’s wedding was swim with wild dolphins. I had previously had a Sea World dolphin experience with my bestie, where we had swum with trained dolphins, but I still really wanted to make contact with the animals in their own habitat, where it was their choice if they wanted to approach you. A few of the others had swum with manta rays at night, but this didn’t appeal to me, it was the dolphins that I wanted.

We took a boat trip out of Honokohau Harbour. It was lovely to get out on the water and get a perspective of the coastline and all the places I had seen while I had been here. We saw Kona town, Mokuaikaua Church, the bungalows where we were staying plus other mountains and beaches I had not seen on land.

In the water we saw manta rays, whales and of course lots of dolphins. I couldn’t wait to get in the water with them. We put on our snorkels and dove in. We swam next to a pod of Spinner dolphins and the first thing I noticed was that they were very fast! It was very calming floating above them and they weaved around below us, but also very tiring swimming in open ocean.

Back on the surface, the dolphins weren’t tired at all and seemed very fond of performing jumps, spins and flips. It was a wonderful experience and I was so glad that I had been able to have it along with my bestie’s parents, her new husband, Janeen and her boyfriend.

After the boat docked, it was time to leave for the airport for some last minute shopping on the big island before an overnight stay in an airport hotel in Oahu and an early morning flight back to Sydney and my little family.

Although being away from my husband and daughter had been strange, I wouldn’t have missed my bestie’s special day for the world and it also inspired the idea for us to take a child-free girls trip at least once a year no matter where we were in the world.

Related posts: A Hawaiian Wedding, 2014, Hawaiian Road Trip, 2014, Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014, USA, 1990

 

A Hawaiian Wedding, 2014

I had never been a bridesmaid before, despite having attended 50 weddings; so it was awesome to be asked by my bestie, have a dress and jewellery bought for me and get my hair and make up done. Most of all, I felt incredibly honoured to be a part of my bestie’s special day and to have the opportunity to feel like a part of her fantastic family.

The day of the wedding, it was raining. There had been talk among the locals of a 50-year storm that had been brewing, but I really hadn’t paid much attention until then. But raining it was, with waves so high, they were crashing over the sea wall onto the area reserved for the ceremony and reception.

Panic ensued, as well as a trip to Walmart to see if we could stock up on umbrellas, gumboots and tarps. With the ground soaked through and the waves and rain showing no sign of abating, the groom put in a call to the bride to postpone the wedding until the next day. My bestie took it quite well all things considered.

Being housebound due to rain, the evening turned into a pre wedding party with much drinking and dancing- Australian style. The groom was an Aussie after all, so there were enough of us around to take control of the tunes.

Wedding day take two went much more according to plan. The beauty team returned to make us all look more beautiful than we already were again and there was pre ceremony photos and champagne for the ladies of the wedding party.

The sun was out and the waves were still curling beautifully, but not too big; except for that one where my bestie, my bestie’s sister Janeen and I were taking sunset photos with our back to the ocean and it sneaked over the wall, making us run!

The ceremony was lovely and the guests were few enough that we could all fit on one long table under chandeliers for the reception. Dinner included gazpacho and lobster with an ice cream station- definitely my kind of desert.

It rained a little on the dance floor, but that didn’t stop anyone. Some of the wedding party ended up jumping in the pool, including the bride and her two bridesmaids. Hair and make up came out unscathed and the party continued – now that’s value for money.

Related posts: Hawaiian Road Trip, 2014, Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014, Canada, 2011, Fiji, 2011, Destination Thailand, 2010, The Seven Year Itch

It’s not how good the music is, it’s who you’re dancing with

I heard this saying the other day and it made me think.

The dance floor could be the coolest one in the country with the hippest people and the best beats. But if you are there by yourself, with people you don’t really know and don’t really like, then its really not that much fun.

The funkiest cocktail bar with the best drinks can end up being a dive in the basement if you go with the wrong people and the music is too loud. The best restaurant in the trendiest suburb can be lack lustre if you go with people who aren’t that fussed with fine food.

Of late I have been catching up with a few friends from various parts of my life and it made me remember that these people are in my life for a reason. No matter what we are going through in our lives, even if it means we can’t catch up as often as we would like, when we do see each other life seems better when shared with these people.

There are the old work friends who I’ve kept in touch with because it’s not just about the job we did together, but I actually really like them as people as well. Their lives are diverse and interesting and they offer different perspectives on life.

There’s the wives of my husbands friends who have been around for over a decade or more and are now my friends in their own right. They make restaurants more fun and Saturday nights a family bonding experience for everyone.

And there are the special friends from near and far who and know my history and me better than I do myself. It is for these friends that I am truly grateful as they have the ability to pull me out of a dark place for a reality check and make me smile no matter how bad life can seem at the time.

Friends remind you that you are not alone, you are not crazy and it’s actually the rest of the planet that has gone mad.

So whether your daily soundtrack is Portishead or Ministry of Sound, it’s the people you are listening with that can make all the difference in the world.

Related posts: Real Friends vs Digital Friends, Friendship: Great Expectations?, People vs Place, By special request 

Hawaiian Road Trip, 2014

My bestie’s sister Janeen was tour organiser extraordinaire and had many activities planned for us all while were in Hawaii for my bestie’s wedding. A girl after my own heart, she wanted to see as much of the big island as she could, so I was happy to tag along with the family and other assorted American and Australian wedding guests.

On my first day we headed straight to Kona Brewing Company for a morning beer tasting. In Kona town we checked out Mokuaikaua Church, Hulihe’e Palace and the harbour. We also found pearls in oysters at a local jewellery shop and some cocktails in a bar with a sea view. For lunch, we went to for a real soft shell taco Mexican lunch- very tasty.

The next day, a van of 11 of us went on a road trip to Umauma Falls to go zip lining. I was excited for the road trip and the opportunity to see more of the island, but not so much the zip lining. While everyone was busy doing flips as they zipped along I was apparently gripping onto my line “like a koala bear.”

The green countryside, the river and the waterfalls were beautiful though, and worth my discomfort. I also enjoyed the less adrenalin pumping activity of walking across a suspension bridge to a viewpoint of the falls.

On the way back we stopped at Akaka Falls State Park for a pleasant stroll through the forest to one of the highest waterfalls in the world- Akaka Falls- that drops into a crater.

Back in the van, we drove on the Saddle Road from Hilo through the middle of the island in volcanic fog- a gentle reminder that we were living on an island with an active volcano. I had seen some amazing pictures of lava flowing into the sea at an art gallery in town and wish that I had more time to travel over to the other side of the island to see that.

We stopped an the infamous Fish & Hog café for dinner which had great American diner style food, including the biggest slice of lemon meringue pie I have ever seen in my life.

The day before the wedding Janeen and I donned our custom made bridesmaid t-shirts and took the bride for a manicure and pedicure in her matching bride t-shirt. In an impromptu hen’s night, we decided to go to the luau at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel for a dinner and show with my bestie’s cousin Lyle as the honorary male bodyguard.

We got seashell necklaces, tried to dance the hula and twirl balls on string. Dinner was a traditional pig dug out if the underground oven and as much punch as you could drink. The show started with the shell trumpeter of the royal procession and there were dances from all the islands of the South Pacific including fire dancers. On the way back to the car we met a man with a macaw.

Related posts: Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014, USA, 1990, It’s a South Pacific Thing