Holidays at Home

Exciting times. We’re going away.

We are going on our first little holiday in a long long time.

Travel for everyone has been postponed this year. Our Qld borders are closed so we can’t go out of the state without quarantining for 14 days on return. So it’s Queensland – a beautiful big state, we have to explore.

Finally we are heading off. A road trip with our Sri Lanka travelling friends. We’re missing Anne & John Dunphy who live in Melbourne and they are still in lockdown. They can’t go anywhere. They can follow along from the comfort of their lounge looking out over their beautiful country garden.

The group in Sri Lanka last November.

This holiday has been in the planning stage for awhile but today we are hitting the road. 14 people in total, in 6 cars. We are the only ones travelling in an open top car. Our British Racing Green 1970 MGB will have everyone queuing up for a turn to drive or be a passenger!

Planning was started by the Graces who concentrated on stops for good food and drink places, Jill and Helen found accomodation, map man Steve helped plan the route and I booked a few activities. Namely the Bundaberg Rum distillery and Kalkimoon Gin distillery along with finding a few open gardens.

We’re heading north towards Maryborough with our first stop for coffee at Kenilworth.

Kenilworth is NW of Nambour about an hour and a half from Brisbane in the heart of the Mary River Valley. it boasts dairy farms , olive groves and vineyards. It’s also home to the cheese factory, yoghurt and Ice cream factories!

On a Sunday it’s full of people out for a drive. The bakery is famous not only for its baked goods. It for its wall art.

We got talking to the owner who pointed out all the famous faces in

We have christened the trip the ‘Empty Eski Trip’. We are taking along eskis hoping to find products we can spend up on and bring home. Three things we know we’ll find are Kenilworth cheese, Bundaberg Rum and Kalkimoon Gin!

Kathy takes over the driving from Steve.

The line up at the bakery was out the door so we moved on down the hill to the cheese factory and enjoyed coffee in the garden as Steve gave out the road maps and lollies for the tour!

The cheeses here are great so we made a few purchases for our evening drinks before heading off in convoy north towards the Theebine pub where we will stop for lunch.

It was a great pub but oh so slow.

There was a small stage and a local woman and man took turns entertaining us with country & western hits or well known songs from the past. This was a distraction whilst we waited , and waited for our lunch.

We waited around 1.5 hrs! So our food tasted magnificent when it finally came. Apparently they are getting a new kitchen soon with a big grill so they can cater for the number of people who crowd in each weekend. Too bad for us the kitchen hasn’t arrived just yet.

The music was fun and the juke box was a classic. A choice of songs. …..

All about beer!

We had time to explore the old pub and loved the letter from a mother to her son.

Back in our cars we drove north stopping at another pub at Tiaro. Another classic.

A great beer garden, herb garden , children’s playground. The food looked good. We should return for the Sunday roast.

We arrived into our motel in Maryborough and took over lots of the rooms. Some of us rested and some went walking to explore.

We have dinner booked at the pub next door. Not that we need too much after a late late lunch!

Preparing for a baby shower. American style

Feeling refreshed after a lovely long sleep I heard chatter in the family area at around 6.30. Jordan and her parents were up drinking tea and catching up.

I went back to sleep!

By 8 am I was ready for a walk and coffee. We walked through the quiet streets of Lodi towards a cute little coffee shop.

The houses are mostly low ranch style with nice gardens and the occasional American flag.

The Donati’s have lived in their comfortable house for about 32years and it’s a lovely big family place with a beautiful pool out the back.

John & Lisa outside their house

We called into Jordan grandmas house after coffee. Everything is nice and close here and nice and flat for walking.

Lisa has a list of little jobs to do that would have me exploring Lodi and nearby Stockton as we prepared for the baby shower. Jordan was off to a bridal shower with her friends.

Jordan in her way to her friend’s bridal shower

First stop for us was The Hobby Lobby! A giant craft type place filled with everything needed for setting up your arts & crafts. We bought a selection of glass vases for the white flowers we got later at Costco ( along with a Speedo swimsuit!). We also got ribbons.

Then it was the party place for baby shower napkins, table decorations, a banner and other bits and pieces. As we queued up a lady commented on my lipstick colour! She was very impressed I had come all the way from Australia for a baby shower.

Little blue bundtinis

Then to Stockton for the bundtini – little decorated cakes. we couldn’t but look at Flair a ladies boutique owned by godmother. I bought a lovely shirt. Not there – at another store Lisa likes.

Back home for crab salad lunch , flower arrangements decorating and family gathering before heading to a family style brewery. It was perfect for pizza, beer and games for the kids.

Travel: has its ups and downs

Receiving the invitation to Jordan’s baby shower at the end of January started me thinking!

Why not surprise Jordan by arriving for her baby shower?

Rob and Jordan live in New York but the baby shower was to be in Lodi, north California.

I checked…… I could get a points flight. Done – booked.

Flight day arrived ( Lisa and John were in on the secret and ready to meet me in San Francisco)

Arriving at the airport nice and early I tried to check in. No!

Qantas had no record of my ESTA. ( Despite having seen it was valid until March)

So no check in!

I had to apply for a new ESTA and rebook on a flight the next day. Only problem. It was out of Sydney.

Long story short. I flew to Sydney and onto a 6pm flight. Luckily I still was able to get a whole row of seats to myself ( thank you Pat)

Jordan’s dad picked me up at and we drove to Lodi. It’s a small place about two hours east of San Fran. In a wine region.

Passing through Stockton we collected crabs for dinner and headed home to surprise Jordan.

The reaction was amazing. I walked into the house. Jordan was on the phone with Rob( who was back in NY) and screamed and started sobbing! I think it was a joyful sob!

Rob was just as surprised – but with out the sobbing. Then asked why I hadn’t told him, as he would have come across from NY!

We had a big, happy, family night with crab, salad and lovely local wine. From Ann ( Jordan’s grandma down to Poppy aged 2 ) it was a fun night. My jet lag was non existent. When surrounded by happiness it’s hard to be jet lagged.

But finally into bed

Our last day in Sri Lanka: Aywbowan.

Aywbowan is a greeting in Sri Lanka. It means a long life to you. Such a beautiful way to greet someone with hands joined together in prayer style.

A later start this morning. A smaller group. Holiday is almost over.

Our usual lovely breakfast was followed by a walk through the streets to our favourite coffee shop.

Then it was time to go. Our clever bus driver managed back down the narrow road to load the bags. And away we went.

The highway was clear, so we were hoping for a good fast trip. The group who left yesterday at around 3 pm took about 4.5hr to do 90 km. They were headed for Nagombo , north of Colombo where the airport is, but had to detour into Colombo to drop off Marcelle. They got caught up with the election traffic.

The elections are causing a lot of interest. No alcohol was served anywhere today because of the elections.

To pass the time on the bus we had a Q&A with Hema, our guide. He is such a gentleman and so knowledgeable about Sri Lanka. It was funny the questions asked. Everything from ‘Why is Buddhist robe colour orange ‘ to ‘what countries have you been to be ? ‘ to wages (for doctors 120,000 rupees teachers, 60,000 rupees) per annum!

Then we invited him to ask us questions. Hema was great fun and we enjoyed him so much.

We made good time on a very good highway. Lots of green on the way.

Then we hit the outskirts of Colombo. Past the Geoffrey Bawa designed Parliament House

Through busy streets.

Then on to the airport just north of Colombo. Carmel , our fearless tour organiser and Peter are off to the Maldives for a few days.

We waved goodbye after many hugs. We’ll miss them. Who will be our leader now? There are only 10 of us left and Pam and John leave later tonight.

We arrived at our hotel the rather grandly named Grandeeza which we immediately called The White House – for obvious reasons.

We were now officially starving so raced to the cafe nearby for a snack. It was 4pm and a long time since breakfast. No bus picnic today.

We were longing for a swim in the pool. The hotel had been described as having a big pool right by the beach.

How disappointing to find the pool closed as someone vomited in it and it had to be cleaned! And there is water our the front but no beach in front of the hotel (it is 6 km away!). Then it rained. Not the last evening we planned.

We discovered the hotel empty except for us! So we made our own fun in the big room Kath and Mark were given.

We played lots of games involving music from movies, tv and musicals! And drank some gin ( just to empty the bottles) I think we went downhill with out Carmel.

So our last night with just 8 was fun but quiet.

Tomorrow the airport.

A special day near Galle : The Foundation of Goodness

Travelling in a country so different to mine, makes one realise how fortunate we are.

Sri Lanka has suffered so much over the years and the devastation of the 2004 Tsunami left the people of this beautiful country with even less than they had before.

My friend Carmel, who has organised this trip for us, came to this area about 8 years running. She brought students from the  childcare training company, Charlton Brown, where she worked.

They volunteered at the Foundation of Goodness which started up after the tsunami hit.

It’s based in Seenigama in the Hikkaduwa area. It started in a villa donated by a man called Kushil Gunasekera, who is now Chairman of the board.

After a beautiful breakfast on the terrace we headed for the bus for the drive up the coast.

It was Rob’s birthday, so we had organised a little surprise on the bus.

A petite cake and a card!

We arrived at the turn off and walked the 500 metres down the road.

It was hot!

Carmel was greeted by her old friends from over 8 visits and I was already tearing up as you could see the effect the place has on so many lives.

We were officially welcomed and Ludmila talked about the Foundation and how it impacts on the lives of people in surrounding villages.

Kushil now does fundraising and seems to be successful, as all the donors are honoured on the boards displayed in the entrance. It’s impressive.

This is Kushil.

They have many programs on offer to empower the people into education towards a better life. All the programs are offered free.

We visited the preschool, which Carmel and her students supported, and of course were charmed by the gorgeous little children. They put on a little dance show and made us a flower which acted as a fan, as it was now very hot and steamy.

They sang to Rob for his birthday which moved us to tears.

We joined them for a rousing version of the Hokey Pokey with everyone giving it their best!

Such a wonderful experience.

We moved on to the computer classes offered free to 16-35 years olds, who after completing the course move onto employment, often in tourism.

Ludmila was keen to show us everything but we were SO hot. We saw the Library, and the shop, with it’s hand made products from the sewing classes.

We visited the medical centre where people come for free consultations and the dental surgery, where the doctor and dentists are volunteers.

I was chatting to the dental nurse, as my daughter in law is also a dental nurse. The uniform here is slightly more formal.

Into the mini bus and down to the sports centre. They are very proud of the sports achievements. Sports stars from all over the world visit here and donate time and money.

Several of the students have gone on to careers in world teams.

There’s a swimming pool, an oval, a gym

Such a wonderful place. By now , more than hot and sweaty, we were keen to wave goodbye and head for a cooler spot.

We drove to a nearby restaurant right by the sea. A beer and lunch later we felt revived and headed back to Galle.

After a short rest we broke up the group. Some went on the history walk with Hema. Some went shopping. Carmel, Jill, Pam and myself went to the Geoffrey Bawa designed Jetwing Hotel. What a place.

The staircase tells a story.

Meeting a delightful young staff member really helped us have a great look at this amazing hotel. She took us around and explained about the design and showed us a room and a suite. Beautiful.

Simple, understated architecture producing beautiful comfortable spaces.

As we sat sharing a bottle of Rose on the terrace, we felt we’d made the right decision about our afternoon. Our guide was so much fun and the place was magnificent.

We returned to meet everyone for dinner at a lovely hotel in the old fort.

Another lovely day.

On Safari in Yala

A 5.30 start for our safari. We gathered for tea in the dark and then down to the lagoon where our safari trucks were waiting.

All aboard the trucks and off we went

The early morning light was beautiful. Serene and soft.

Down the main drive of Cinnamon Wild and along the dusty red road to the National Parks ticket office : that’s when we noticed the number of other safari trucks!

A herd of trucks? A flock of trucks? More a convoy.

First thing we spied was the peacock. Gorgeous turquoise fan tail. We loved it. But I must say, by the end of the day it was ……. get out of the way bird we have bigger things to see! Poor thing.

We were searching for the elusive leopard. Would we see it?

We saw deer, warthogs, buffalo, birds, and the amazing elephant. But no leopard.

We even saw several crocodiles. But no leopard.

We stopped at the beach which was where the tsunami hit. There is a memorial there outlining what happened. It’s hard to believe the devastation it caused. 47 lives were lost just near where we were. Strangely, no animals died. They sensed it and had moved away.

It’s sad to see where it happened. We stood on the beach and remembered.

Then it was back into the truck and off again. The search was reaching a climax. We only had an hour of our safari left.

Unfortunately we returned happy with our adventure but felt we needed more – so 6 of us decided to go on the afternoon safari. Yesterday they saw the leopard in the afternoon. Would we?

We were dusty and tired but after a swim were ready for the Christmas cake adventure. The chefs were around the pool using 30kg of fruit to make an elephant shape. Why ?

It’s something they do every year with guests. They make the shape of an elephant out of fruit and nuts. Add the alcohol then get the guests to don plastic gloves and mix it. They put it away for 1 month then bake several large cakes for Christmas.

It was so much fun!

I had an hour to rest and prepare for safari number 2!

At 2.30 the keen leopard hunters: Carmel, Peter, Marcelle, Jill, Steve and myself headed out again!

Our driver took to the challenge with a keenness we admired. He was determined. So for 4 hours we searched.

We lurked in dusty roads. We hid behind trees! We waited.

Then we saw not a leopard but a charging male elephant.

There was a truck a hundred metres ahead of us. They must have had food on board. The elephant came out of the bush and bumped up against the truck he poked his trunk and tusk into the truck!

We backed up. The man in the checked shirt nearly burst out of the back of the truck.

He had another go. The truck rocked. Would it tip over? Fortunately not.

He headed back into the bush.

Such excitement!

We continued our search when our driver got a call. There was one nearby. We raced there. There were other trucks ahead of us. The leopard was in a tree. We waited for our turn to draw level, when he left the tree and disappeared into the bush. Such disappointment.

We searched for another hour but no luck! We did see a mother elephant and her baby.

And a jackal.

We headed back to our resort.

In time to shower off the dust and dress for dinner.

The girls certainly polish up well!

We shared our story of the search for the leopard over drink – which we had to have in a cabin, as the resort wasn’t serving alcohol due to it being poya – full moon.

We found the rules for elephants at the resort.

Read it!

The last two lines are hysterical.

98 acres of Heaven in Ella

We are very happy staying in our comfortable Cabin in the tree plantation.

The view is constantly changing. Right at this moment it’s rainy and misty looking towards the peak we climbed this morning.

It’s beautiful.

We started our day at 7am meeting at the spa hut.

We walked out past the zipline then started our climb. Stairs. Lots of stairs. My knee is getting a work out.

Up we went. Not too far, but it caused some heavy breathing. We did it early as cloud will come over later. And it did as you can see by the photo above.

The view was spectacular.

Coming back down we passed climbers of all nationalities. The young and fit were powering up. The Germans seriously climbing and the Australians chatting to everyone.

Straight to breakfast on the cafe deck. All very lovely. Fresh papaya sliced for me. Topped with lime – delicious.

A one egg omelette was perfect.

Following breakfast another walk. This time travelling in the bus for a short way – passing several coffee shops along the way!

We came to a side road going down,down, down.

Which means up, up, up later.

We finished on the train tracks where we just had to stop for a photo. Lying down in the tracks. It was like having a hot stone massage.

Getting up was another matter!

The bridge or viaduct was built in 1921 is a feat of engineering. It’s built of stone, bricks and concrete.

It is a great example of British colonial architecture but built by a Ceylonese builder along with the British.

It’s attractive and still functions. There are 3 trains a day but not due for an hour after we were comfortably lying on the tracks.

Flanked by thick jungle and tea plantations it is a little difficult to get to. There are several routes down of various degrees of difficulty. I think the path we took was a little longer but was roughly paved with lots of steps where some of them are muddy and very steep.

It was worth the climb down and then out of nowhere, coming up we found tuk tuks to help us on the last climb!

I’m now having coffee on my balcony waiting for my 2pm massage.

All aboard the Nuwara express.

Our last morning in the Radh Hotel was a flurry of activity. Our travellers were hunting and gathering snacks for our train ride.

Today is the day for our 3 hour train ride to Nuwara Eliya in the heartland of tea plantations.

The hotel staff gathered to farewell us waving enthusiastically as we boarded the bus for the station.

Our driver greeted us with a smile as we boarded the bus for the short ride to the station.

We had allowed plenty of time before the train departure which was great as we had time to look around the charming station.

I love train stations- they are central to any town or city and give a snapshot of both locals and tourists. They buzz with activity and accents of all kinds.

This one was no exception. It was clean and tidy and had some great signage.

The men and women working at the station had uniforms to match their rank and importance. This man was very official but wasn’t the station master. He was sitting in his big office with windows looking out across the platforms.

To pass the time we posed for photos.

When it was time for a departure a special bell was rung. It brought everyone to a standstill.

Finally , our 10.50 blue train arrived at 11.15 ! and on we scrambled. There was a buzz of activity as everyone searched for a seat. Hema had the list and it wasn’t long until we all had our assigned seat.

Carmel has trouble securing seats and had to buy on them ‘black market’ which gave it all an air of espionage! Turns out it probably wasn’t that hard!

We settled and watched as we rumbled through the outskirts of Kandy.

Before long the food sellers arrived with their baskets of samosas, biscuits, chocolate, drinks, mangoes and mangosteen. Along with the cheese, crackers, cashews and grapes we brought we were in no danger of starvation.

We passed through lush jungle and deep ravines, waterfalls and into tea plantation country. A truely colourful interesting ride

We saw many workers in the plantations. Most workers are women – around 90% and they have a long day from around 7am -5pm with breaks. It would be back breaking work.

Children returning from school waved as we passed. They always look so smart in their white uniforms. It’s hard to imagine how they stay clean!

During the trip our group had a little home work. Each of us had to choose our 5 favourite songs. I typed them up and every had to match each person to their 5 sings! How well do we know each other? There were some great choices which did pretty much identify our age group! Winners would be revealed tonight.

We finally arrived at our station. It was great not having to deal with suitcases. Our driver had them and met us as we left the little station at Nani-oya.

Driving towards the plantation we were visiting, felt like any mountainous area above the hot coastal areas of a country. It was cooler, gardens were ablaze of colour and there was a racing track! Racing is banned in Sri Lanka and this course is allowed the only two races held a year.

We arrived at Pedro estate for our tour.

Each of us was issued with a green leaf shaped apron and led around the tea factory area. Our tiny guide explained the process from the gathering of the leaves through the drying, crushed, sifted, graded before being packaged into 50kg sacks to be sold for 50,000 Rupees. It’s controlled by the Government and most tea is sold to Iran and Russia.

We finished with cups of delicious black tea. It was mid strength. Perfect for black tea drinkers.

I purchased some orange pekoe tea as we left and headed to our hotel. What a treat. The Grand Hotel established one 1819 it is a Colonial style heritage hotel.

We were greeted with hot towels and tea before finding our rooms in the third floor. We are lucky to have an end room overlooking the gardens.

The view is gorgeous.

Drinks were in the wine tasting rooms and we had fun ‘marking’ our music quiz and singing some of the popular songs. Peter Harrison won. He must keep an ear out for people humming. He seemed to know who would choose certain songs!

Dinner was in one of the 5 restaurants on site. The Magnolia. Very nice with lots of laughter especially when Mike Grace started his joke telling.

Tomorrow most of our group are heading to the Horton Plain for a trek to a water fall to view the animal and bird life along the way.

There’s also gardens to visit and a lake to walk around. So much to do.

On the road to Kandy

Yoga at 6.30 is always a good idea in a foreign place. It wakes you up and gives you the chance to have a good stretch.

Yesterday afternoon I swam about a kilometre in the beautiful pool which got rid of some soreness from the climb up Sigiriya yesterday.

The grounds of the hotel were lovely and quiet as I walked to the padi museum for yoga. Staff we’re sweeping and raking to make the grounds look even more pristine than they are already.

Turns out the teacher was my lovely massage therapist from yesterday.

Pam, Kathy, Jill and myself lined up on our pink mats and bent and stretched ourselves into a sweat. It felt good.

Then off to pack up before breakfast. I’ll miss this lovely hotel as we leave this morning for Kandy. On the map it doesn’t look far but will take some time. The roads are narrow and slow and we have two stops planned.

I love looking at the jungle so close to the road and the houses perched in amongst the trees.

The first stop is at the Regent 6 Herb and Spice Farm. An absolutely hysterical guy took us around the garden telling us about the plants and what they could do for us. Apparently they can cure everything. We were given a bit of a massage and it was fun to see everyone getting into the spirit of it. I did buy some massage oil for my sore swollen knee and some sandlewood oil for my face. Let’s hope it works!

Funny experience but if you go you shouldn’t feel pressured to buy. It is overpriced!

We moved onto the Matale Heritage Centre just outside of Matale. It’s a craft centre that draws on the traditions of the area and produces beautiful batik and embroidery.

We had to leave the bus on the roadside and get tuk tuks up to the centre. It’s in a jungle with trees full of monkeys!

We arrived for lunch which local woman had prepared for us. Really lovely local Sri Lankan dishes – mostly vegetable.

There were beautiful batik table clothes and napkins and the walls of the house were painted in rich colours and patterns.

The ladies who prepared the beautiful lunch explained each dish – all very traditional.

After lunch we went to watch the ladies painting the batik.

The work involved de-starching the cloth to setting out the design, waxing, dying, and removal of the wax for a second colour by boiling off the wax, repeating this process several times over…..’

We saw the house of the batik artist who is quite famous here. She had worked with Geoffrey Bawa. Her name is Ena de Silva and she died in 2015 though her designs are still being recreated. The ladies were working on a commission for a big hotel in Galle. The designs are beautiful.

Read about Ena here. She is like the Sri Lankan version of Australia’s Margaret Olley.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110724/Plus/plus_01.html

It’s wonderful to know the traditional crafts of this country are still being created.

This lady took us to the little shop and we bought a few things including a beautiful hand stitched elephants for my grandchildren.

We moved on to Kandy about 40 km distance away but it was slow going. We arrived at our hotel Radh at around 5pm. It’s new and about a block back from the lake and the Temple of the Tooth.

We had our own Melbourne Cup sweep so watched the race on the hotel’s large screen. It was rather fitting that our driver and our security guard won second and third place. They won a nice amount of money and were thrilled.

We walked to the lovely old Queens Hotel and sat by the pool for a drink, paid for by our first place cup winner John.

We finished the night with a lovely light dinner – after our feast at lunch it was all that was needed.

Cave Temple and Bawa

Breakfast hoppers are becoming a favourite with the whole group. If only the lady who makes them lived in Brisbane. She makes about 200 a day! And they are delicious.

After breakfast I wandered around the hotel taking photos. It’s a beautiful design with so many attractive features. Not a Geoffrey Bawa design but so lovely and in tune with the environment.

Into the bus and away we drove through lush countryside almost jungle like right to the road.

Arriving at the gates to the temple we were told the temples in the caves were once overgrown with jungle.

We climbed the hill to the entrance removed our shoes and tackled the hot cobble stones into the temple. Time for a group photo. The boys had to cover their legs with sarongs and the ladies their legs if wear shorts above the knee and shoulders if not wearing sleeves. We made a great looking group.

There was a series of caves, each with a reclining Buddha and a series of other Buddhas.

After visiting southern India early this year I was taken back to the temples we visited. This was different. Small caves where the Buddhas were carved from rock in the caves. The ceilings were painted and the Buddha reclining on a pillow of stone that looked like a fabric tapestry. Only it was painted stone. It was extraordinary.

We headed into Dambulla to visit the fruit and vegetable market. It is a wholesale market and distribution centre with every kind of vegetable you could imagine. Most grown locally.

There was the same kind of wheeling and dealing you would expect from any wholesale market place.

From the market we headed out to the Geoffrey Bawa designed Kandalama Hotel. It has won the ‘green’ award for design for many years. It blends into the jungle environment seamlessly.

There are huge areas with minimalist designed furniture and the hotel backs into the cliff behind looking out to the reservoir in front.

Lunch on the verandah was more western style and the beef was cold.

A traditionally dressed man took us on a tour it’s beautiful but expensive. I don’t think occupancy is very high so it must be struggling to run at a profit.

The pool areas were beautiful. One has the natural rock in the pool and tiles designed to compliment it. Stunning.

Following lunch we had 45 min drive back to our hotel and some swam in the pool while some had naps before we came together for drinks on the terrace near the pool.

Our third night in the dining area had some opting for the a la carte menu over the buffet.

Kathie and I had collected everyone’s list of favourite songs. I typed them up and has them printed.

We leave here in the morning and somewhere along the way we’ll have a competition to nominate who chose which songs ? Could be tricky.

I got to type the 17 lists of 5 songs and there are a few repeat.

Yoga at 6.30 tomorrow so off to sleep in the beautiful flower decorated bed.