On the road to Sigiriya

An early morning swim set me up for the day. It was quiet by the pool as the waves crashed against the the rocks below.

Breakfast on the terrace was relaxed and fun with our group coming together to plan the day ahead. Eating egg hopper with curry and dahl certainly lines the stomach.

We even had breakfast entertainment provided. A man in uniform had a slingshot and was shooting stones at the local crows. Quite a sight !

The bus with our guide Hema arrived on time at 9.45 and we headed off. Today we head to Sigiriya Rock. The ancient rock is probably the most visited site in Sri Lanka and tomorrow some of us are climbing. It has something like 12,000 to climb to reach the top where there are the remains of the palace.

The bus trip was slow, the roads fairly narrow with the usual style of driving. Cars overtaking & lots of beeping feature. We passed paddi fields, business selling all manner of things, tuk tuks not yo mention trucks! We had a short stop to buy bags of local cashews. So tasty.

We reached Karunegala and Pinnawala Elephant refuge just before the daily wash began. We had time to see the elephants where they roam, before heading down to the river to watch the elephants enjoy a little freedom.

It is a refuge for elephants injured or orphaned. It started in 1982. There are varying reports that say it’s not humane to keep the elephants like this and that they are never released back into the wild. Yes, we did see some chained. They are apparently the males who can be hard to control. But the elephants we saw in the river seemed to be really enjoying their time playing and lying in the shallows.

We had lunch on a terrace overlooking the river while the elephants were relaxed and playing. It was beautiful to watch.

It will be interesting to compare with seeing elephants in their own environment in the national park in Yala when we get there.

We continued on after lunch for the final drive past Dambula to the hotel Aliya. The bus bar opened and rum & coke and G& Ts were served. There was a little singing and the boys down the back were relaxed and having fun. We arrived at Aliya. A truely beautiful place. Our welcome was warm and our welcome drink cold and yummy. The hotel has rooms set along pebbles paths, surrounded by trees which in time should grow and disguise the resort from above.

Our room is big and comfortable with lovely leaf designs on the bed. ‘Welcome’ it said and we did feel very welcome.

Dinner was a buffet. Full of tasty curries it was hard to know where to start. But we all finished with curds and treacle a local favourite.

Tomorrow we climb Sigiriya. I hope my knee holds up. Only about 1,000 stairs.

Colombo

Our late night after a long day of travel didn’t slow us down.

After a good sleep at the Galle Face Hotel we met for breakfast in time to enjoy the beautiful offerings before our walking tour commenced.

Breakfast in India, and now here in Sri Lanka, is a treat. Very different to an American, British, European or Australian Breakfast. I love the fact different countries offer their own twist on breakfast.

Here we had egg hoppers – a rice pancake with an egg in the middle. You can add dahl curry and coconut sambal. Delicious. Then there are curries, fruit, curd, breads, freshly prepared omelette. And delicious fruit drinks.

Following breakfast we left with guide Jude on our walking tour. The architecture here is lovely. Much of the Colonial style has deteriorated but buildings are gradually being restored.

It’s so sad to think of the bombings earlier this year. This city is a lovely place. It’s clean and trying hard to to win tourists back.

We covered some distance around the port (being rebuilt by the Chinese – they have their fingers all over this place).

The markets were another eye-opener. In an abandoned building almost entirely run by men selling the most amazing looking varieties of vegetables. Apparently tropical aubergines are good for smokers. They use many plants for health purposes. Ayurvedic medicines are as popular here as in India.

I’m hoping for a good Ayurveda massage.

Tired and thirsty after 3.5 hours’ walking, some of the group headed to the Ministry of Crab. A very stylish restaurant in the restored Old Dutch Hospital shopping precinct.

We had crab – some pepper, chilli, crab salad, a prawn curry and a cold, cold beer. Delicious.

Back to the hotel in a tuk-tuk for a refreshing swim and a visit to the hotel’s museum which houses a car owned by Prince Phillip!

We finished the afternoon with a visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s house at 11, 33rd lane. It’s a quiet spot and demonstrates the famous Sri Lankan architects style. It’s minimalist, invites the outside in and the inside out. It’s natural and is all in black and white. It was a haven.

The man Laki, who I had corresponded with was a little upset that we arrived late! Our tuk-tuks were late so we arrived after the start time of the movie. https://geoffreybawa.com/number-11

It’s a beautiful place and won us over with it simple approach to design.

Leaving the house we walked for about 10 minutes to the Gallery Cafe – another Bawa design. It’s a beautiful space to enjoy a drink or dinner in a courtyard setting. Again it is inside / outside with black and white dominating.

Tonight dinner is at the hotel. A seafood buffet included in our room rate. I thought it might be a bit ordinary but it was wonderful. So much beautiful seafood cooked on a grill to order.

The hotel is right by the water and it was lovely sitting on the wide verandahs with the fans above gently turning enjoying the company of our fellow travellers.

Swimming the Pond at Hampstead Heath

Today it’s catch up day with friends made through our swim trek in Montenegro several years ago.

Somehow swimming is a social sport- something I didn’t realise until I took it up several years ago.

We’ve now been on about six Swim Trek holidays. They involve a week of swimming with like minded people. We’re there for fun, exercise a holiday.

This group from Montenegro: 6 came from England, 1 each from France, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. And us!

We’ve kept in touch and the ones from England, France and Switzerland have all caught up and swum together. So when we said we’d be visiting London we organised a catch up.

And where better than the pond / lido ( as pools are called here in England) at Hampstead Heath. You may have been there so let me know if you have. This area has featured in a few movies including one last year starting Diane Keaton. It looked great so I was keen to visit The Heath.

We caught a bus there. I prefer a bus if the traffic is flowing as you can see where you are going. We arrived at Hampstead for coffee then walked down some charming streets towards the Heath.

It’s a beautiful area to visit. Both the village and the Heath.

There were lots of people out walking, most with dogs, as we made our way along the track leading up the mixed pond. There are three bathing areas: a mixed pond, a women’s pond and a men’s. We were meeting at the mixed pond in case Steve wanted a swim. He didn’t!

I’ve heard the women’s pond is amazing and I bought a book in a book store which is a collection of women writers writing about their swimming experience st the Ladies Pond. Anyone read it?

Well the two brave girls, Lucy and Catherine jumped in ! not a problem. Water temperature was 18! Yeeks.

When they got out they had to have a cold shower !

Brrr. We must be soft Qld swimmers.

We then went to the nearby pub – the Freemasons Arms , where we were joined by Ellie, Rosie and Lexie. And that’s where we stayed all afternoon.

Steve was the only guy there – Chris couldn’t make it today so we’re seeing him tomorrow.

What a great group.

Walking London

London is a great city to walk. Not hilly and so much to look at.

I set off this morning across Hyde Park. Steve went off to the Imperial War Museum and I wanted to see the Saatchi Gallery.

The park is wonderful. So central but you feel miles from anywhere. You can only see one high rise building.

I passed the Serpentine with ducks paddling and little blue boats all lined up for people to pedal them around the lake later in the day.

I crossed out of the park to Sloane Street and followed the road down past the high end shops. Vuitton, Hermes, Tom Ford. Not for me. I took a detour to walk past the houses. There are some beautiful houses in this area.

I came to a cobbled street so pretty it could be a movie set. Motcomb St. And there was Ottolenghi deli. I’m a Yotam Ottolenghi fan. We went to Rovi his restaurant in Belgravia two weeks ago and this is a little deli. There a lot of cakes etc and most come and take away. There are two little tables outside but as it was chilly I sat at the round shared table inside. It seated 6 and had a big vase of flowers in the centre for privacy?! On the table a young couple sat sharing food from the one plate then a woman with a headscarf and dramatic eye make sat spooning cake into her mouth as she talked loudly in her mobile phone. Not good company when it’s loud and in a language other than English.

I continued on, weaving in and out of streets, then through Peter Jones , a department store I didn’t know. Rather lovely and expensive !

I passed a children clothes shop with a hairdresser in the back of the store – for kids. They got to sit and watch fish swimming around in a large tank. Very inventive.

the Saatchi Gallery has a lovely setting with a small oval in the front, tall white pillars and flags advertising Free Entry. That’s good I thought. I went in and the rather sullen lady on the desk looked at me with no smile and said ‘£10’.

I ventured a return comment ‘ I saw a sign outside saying Free Entry. ‘No she snapped. We charge now. I paid. No smile just a curt ‘ £12 for the special exhibition. ‘I declined and went through to find out that for my entry fee I got two small galleries. That’s it.

So I walked to one of the 7 galleries with the special exhibition and just walked in. No one on any of the doors to check tickets. Lucky! Also because I didn’t really love it! It was called Rave and it is…….

An immersive exhibition that celebrates the birth of dance music and the impact of rave on youth culture today. 

https://www.saatchigallery.com

So I relived a few memories and left the gallery.

I walked along Kings Rd Chelsea and window shopped or popped into some I found interesting.

I came upon The Chelsea Gardener and spent done time soaking up the garden settings both plants and furnishings.

I walked onto St Luke’s and nearly stopped for lunch in the church cafe. It was set up in the back of the church and on the portico. It looked good but the queue was long so I walked on.

The shops around Chelsea are good to look at …….

Arriving at the Brompton Oratory is always exciting. It’s wonderful. The surrounding road and building works aren’t so appealing. It seems half of London is being rebuilt or renovated.

I stumbled into a cafe. It was another great people watching place.

Delicious salads

I headed back onto the street and just had to call into Harrods. It’s iconic. It’s a pity it’s so expensive these days.

I finished by retracing my steps through Hyde Park. It was a lot more awake than this morning.

It’s a really great place to visit and walk.

Visit London.

I got back to the hotel around 4, met Steve and off we went to Kew Gardens.

I must have been mad. Walking all day then heading to the wonderful Kew Gardens which involves lots of walking.

I’ll do a seperate post on the visit to The Chihuly exhibition. It was an incredible experience. So read the next post.

Has anyone seen it? Please comment.

Sunday in London

We finally had a sleep in! We’ve been so busy – up and swimming and running around.

Today we had a slower start. We heard the Church bells from St Mary Abbots, a very old church at the back of our place. They got us going. We wanted to investigate.

Coffee at the same cafe as yesterday. When you find a good place I think you should stay with it. This place is great.

Then a wander down the street to look at the Church. We went in and chatted to a lady there about the history of the place. Steve’s sister nursed at the nearby hospital of the same name when she lived in London in the 70’s. It’s gone now – turned into luxury apartments!

Our good friend from our first swim trek, Chris invited us to lunch today. It’s nearby in Kensington. We really looked forward to going there and meeting his French wife, Cecile. She doesn’t do the swim treks, so hadn’t come to the various swims since we met Chris back in 2013.

We bought some gorgeous flowers and headed to their house. It’s a lovely 4 level house with a garden and sun terrace. Very special in this part of London. I didn’t like to whip out my camera so have very few photos.

The sun was out so we sat on the terrace and their daughter Susan was home from Paris where she works for a fashion company. She’s very sweet.

Then their eldest son Tim arrived. He’s been living in NY but is transferring back to London with his Australian girlfriend.

They are a lovely family. Cecile was a teacher Librarian like me! But works now as a careers advisor at the French Lycee.

Later in the day Steve went to the Science Museum and I went walking and window shopping in the area. It’s so nice around this part of London.

The blue spot is where we are staying. Quite close to Kensington Palace.

Later in the evening we walked to The Ivy Kensington Brasserie just down the street. We just had one simple course – but it was very nice. I had a fish curry and Steve had Shepherds Pie. Both little serves and quite delicious.

Now we are packing to leave this little Airbnb. Tomorrow we head towards Henley. Our friend Bill – yet another friend from our Galapagos swim trek – has a ‘camping’ spot on an island in the Thames! Yes. We are camping tomorrow night so that will be a change of pace. And the temperature is dropping.

Apparently we’ll be swimming in the Thames, perhaps a little rowing and hopefully a Gin & Tonic!

London

Arriving back in London was a change of pace.

Our Air BnB in Kensington is centrally located and great. It’s small but has everything.

Landing at 8.30pm it was late – so straight to bed.

The morning was clear and fine and I explored out the back of our apartment.

It backs onto a garden which is private and quiet. Really lovely.

We got ready and headed off to Covent Garden and Somerset House to explore it before lunch at Spring.

Covent Garden was alive with buskers – very good performers including an Australian opera singer. There’s so much life to the place. It’s infectious.

Then a tour of Somerset House built into 1547.

https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/plan-your-visit

In the new wing of Somerset House is Spring. It’s a restaurant owned by Skye Gyngell, an Australian.

http://springrestaurant.co.uk/about/skye-gyngell/

It’s elegant, pretty, delicious. I’d heard about from Gourmet magazine and a friend, Shelley who visited it earlier this year.

She was right. The sommelier, Monique from Cape Town, was welcoming and friendly and looked absolutely gorgeous in her ‘uniform ‘ as did the young waiter.

Everyone admired her ‘uniform’ and she demonstrated how it tied up!

If they looked so good, with attention to detail , then the food would be great.

We had the set menu at 27 pounds. It was delicious. I had a salad then octopus (yes can’t get away from it), Steve roasted beetroot with tomatoes and onglet (hanger steak) with beans. So pretty, so delicious. But light!

Passing by the restaurant we saw the latest demonstration about Brexit. They are heartily sick of it here. Boris is standing arrogantly against opposition and I think not worrying what the demonstrators are saying. They blocked the bridge near Somerset House causing disruption to Saturday traffic.

So we escaped the blocked traffic and caught the tube to the V&A where we were meeting Bill, our Galapagos swim trek friend.

The V&A is wonderful. Another tribute to Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

We saw the exhibition on baths (pools) or Lidos in Great Britain.

Then an eye opening exhibition on Food.

We really need to wake up and get moving with sustainable food practices. It’s a wonder we could eat after we saw the way some food is produced – en masse. We should all be growing our own and never waste anything.

With that in mind we went to Royal Albert Hall, another magnificent building used for big concerts notably the BBC Proms – one we were attending tonight.

https://www.royalalberthall.com

We had a pre-concert dinner at Elgar one of the lovely restaurants.

Then into our box for the Henry Wood tribute concert. Henry Wood a former great conductor, musician and composer. He died in 1944 after a long career. He started the Promenade Concerts in 1895 now called the Proms. What a legacy.

The concert was wonderful. A real mix of music types but all told his story.

The Royal Albert Hall is a great place to visit if you come to London.

Hellespont: Race day arrives

Steve left at 5.30 for a light breakfast before heading to the wharf for the 6.30 boat across to the start line – 800 staters for the race!.

I stayed and packed and made my way to the finish line. It was quite the scene.

Many Turkish families gathered to cheer on their sons and daughters.

It was hard to see the swimmers arriving. Some were being swept by the current past the finish line – adding a difficult swim back to finish.

I was hoping Steve wasn’t amongst those unfortunate swimmers.

I saw Vanessa. She was beaming. She’s had a great swim and came in under one hour. A really great time.

I couldn’t see Steve and started to worry. Not another swim like Hong Kong!

Finally Hussein, our local Swim Trek guide, came and found me. ‘Steve arrived about 10 mins ago. He came in around 1hr 5″. Then George arrived around 1hr 15. All three had great swims and were jubilant.

They all wore their Hellespont finishers medal with pride.

After photos and watching the last swimmers arrive (or not! – as some were pulled out) we had a beer before racing back to the hotel to change for our flight back to London. When booking we made a mistake with dates and booked a day early.

Steve was lucky he got to do the swim!

We had time to watch the award ceremony – we were hopeful Vanessa would get a medal.

The young Turks won the first 3 major places, and then they did the age groups starting with the eldest – for a change – and unbelievably “Stefan Maitland” was called out as the bronze medal winner for his age group. Third. Wow. We all cheered and Steve was a bit knocked out!

Then Vanessa won Gold in her age group!

What a day.

With Simon Murie, owner of Swim Trek and “foreigners” organiser for Hellespont.

From there to the airport for our flight to London. Talk about a busy day.

Looking forward to a change of pace and weather. It was very hot in Turkey but London will be cooler.

Bozcaada : an island to visit

A friend suggested a visit to Bozcaada – an island about 2 hrs from Canakkale.

As we had arrived in Canakkale a day earlier than we were meant to, so decided to go.

We caught the ferry down. We were told it took 1hr but it took 2hr. Mind you, it was pleasant sitting on the deck looking at the Gallipoli side of Turkey slip by.

We arrived into a blue harbour dominated by a castle with a small beach area in front with lots of umbrellas and sun lounges.

Making our way away from the harbour we found some local markets. I love markets in foreign countries. There are so many similarities but differences as well. Especially the cost! The tomatoes were about $1 a kilo. They looked magnificent.

The local crafts were beachy and not all mass produced and there was a very good book barn with its own cat sleeping amongst the books.

Coffee was under shady trees at the markets alongside lots of locals playing a version of Mahjong. We made our way up the leafy laneway and found some great restaurants, coffee shops, little boutiques and Greek style housing.

It was getting hot so we hailed a taksi and went to Asyama Bay. It’s water was aquamarine and soft sand was covered in little rattan umbrellas that swayed and bobbed in the breeze.

Renting an umbrella and two deck chairs for the day was 35TL – about $A8. There was also an excellent set up to have a shower and little cabins to change clothes.

Swimming in relays so one of us could mind our bags, worked up an appetite so we chose one of the restaurants along the narrow road above the beach.

I had stuffed zucchini flowers and a green salad and Steve enjoyed kofta.

Back to the beach for more swimming and snoozing before heading back to the town for the ferry. There was just enough time for an ice cream. And to see another bride!

We got the free ferry across to the mainland – 1/2 hr. Then a small local bus back to Canakkale. It was quite long about 1.5hr but interesting as the locals hopped on and off with their shopping and we meandered through villages.

If going to Bozcaada perhaps go down on the ferry at 9am and back on the free ferry and bus. Unless they put on a fast ferry!

Our new swim trek friends Vanessa and George are at the same hotel. They’re swimming Hellespont as well. In fact Vanessa won her age group a few years ago.

We had some great Turkish food and then a beer on the roof top of our hotel looking out across the water they’ll be swimming across in two days time.

Ephesus: a look back into the past.

We slept well but the call to prayer at 5am and the local roosters crowing made it an early start.

Breakfast of ripe tomatoes, an egg and delicious fruits in the lovely garden was a good start to our day. It’s such a healthy breakfast.

We got a ‘taksi’ to the top gate and started our tour. We decided we wanted to move at our own pace and had an audio guide – which is always a good way to go.

Amazing view of the ancient city

There were a few tour groups there but not enough to bother us. It got very hot as we moved around so we hovered like cows under any available tree as we listened to history being brought alive.

What a story is Ephesus. It’s truly amazing to see. The Temple in Agrigento Sicily was great, as are the Roman forum, the Parthenon, Pompeii – but this is altogether amazing. A walled city being rediscovered. The way people lived was described and you could see evidence of the houses, the spa, the latrines, shops, library, amphitheatre, workshops. Everything.

This was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. It was on the Silk Road which made trade so important. It was ruled by Roman, Greek, Byzantine and taken by the Arabs who destroyed it.

We walked for around 2 hours and exited along the promenade of trees to the car park.

Back to Selcuk and the bus station to plan our trip to Canakkale tomorrow when sadly Betty leaves us. It’s been wonderful having her along on this swim trek adventure but she’s heading home to LA.

We returned to yesterday’s restaurant for lunch as it was so good.

Then the Ephesus museum gave respite against the middle of the day heat. It’s a wonderfully curated museum with many examples of the items people of Ephesus used in everyday life – pottery bowls, utensils, weapons, coins along with statues and busts of famous people.

The carpet men of Selçuk.

Walking back to our hotel we passed a carpet Emporium. It looked good and quiet so we went in and met a very nice man who explained the techniques of weaving – .they are keeping these traditional ways of weaving alive as they are a centre for weaving workshops. It was so interesting.

We got talking about styles – Kilams, wool on wool, wool and cotton, silk.

I started thinking about our house and where I could put a Turkish rug. We have one already but to buy a beautiful one here and get the story would be special.

Betty has a kilam hanging on her wall at home. She’d bought it for $US259. She had a photo of it and the master historian was able to explain the meaning behind the symbols.

We ending up loving a hall runner. It has stripes, running water and tree houses – which really appealed as Steve is about to build one for Oliver! It also has tied off fringing which indicates it’s a dowry rug.

So we bought it – to be shipped home. Hopefully it arrives. But I did feel confident. The men were not at all pushy. – not like when we’d been in Istanbul! We accepted their hospitality and had drink with them.

We had another BBQ in the garden at Paradise. Such a great day, our last with my wing woman Betty.

Day 5. Last day in Turkish Paradise

The heat was fierce as we walked to the boat on our last morning. We were a little later than usual and we felt it.

Ten minutes on the boat and we were ready to jump in.

We swam a short distance and came to a cave opening. Eoin went in with the torch. Five at a time we followed. It was dark, eerie somewhat scary. But looking back out the water was blue.

The water colours here are amazing aqua, turquoise, cerulean, aquamarine, azure. When they invented paint charts they got the blue colours from the waters here.

We swam along as a group and found a tunnel. Diver Diana was the only one to swim down and through. She has the scratches to prove it.

Nearly 3 km later we swam into a gorgeous blue bay and boarded the boat for our usual tea ceremony.

Waiting for lunch gives a chance to relax and chat but some, notably B1 & B2, got back in the water for more swimming. A few butterfly strokes, a bit of backstroke a dive or two. Boundless energy.

Once again a delicious lunch. And then siesta time. After lunch activities include Noirin giving Eoin some Pilates instruction. Some muscle work. It was interesting to watch that’s for sure. Eoin is a Brad Pitt type ( in his younger days) and was putting on quite a show. Sweetie Helen, fish spotter Ali and I watched. Mmmm

The energetic took to diving – off the top of the boat, the walkway, the front of the boats. Screams of laughter and encouragement led to a competition and videoing session. All was good until ‘they broke the boat’.

The ropes holding the walkway with the shower pulled away. Mustafa, Zeynap and Effie came running and the show was over. No more silly antics!

The last swim on a trek is always rather special. We cruised along. Everyone was very pleased they had made it to the end.

The traditional swim trek awards were made. Each swimmer gets a tailor made comment on something noticed about them during the week. I got the ‘Blogtastic’ award, Steve the Jolly Swagman, Betty the American Nightingale, B1 the Clown Prince, B2 the arrow ( swims so straight!) Noirin Drama, Rachel the most improved , Pam the Mother, And so it went. Lots of laughs. Steve spoke for everyone to thank the boat crew, Mustafa, Zeynap and Effie. He did it in Turkish!

And we all sang Happy Birthday to Zeynap.

It was bittersweet saying goodbye after a week of fun swimming and making new friends.

We did the ‘fit the smallest person into a bathing cap trick!’ Poor Betty was lifted into a water filled cap. Then it broke!

The last afternoon saw us having a cocktail, visiting room 211 for a G & T and finally heading to Pebble Beach for dinner.

With our singing nightingale Betty.

Sunset at Pebble Beach Steve, George and Vanessa

What a way to finish! Magical.

Special thanks to our wonderful guides Eoin and John. They made a team from 16 swimmers from different places with different abilities.

And to our fellow swimmers – thank you.