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.

Sri Lanka: Land of Smiles

Visiting a new country is always exciting. Not doing any of the planning is also exciting.

I started the year with Southern India thanks to Linda and finishing with Sri Lanka, thanks to Carmel.

This trip is a bonus for the year. Our friend Carmel has worked and travelled in Sri Lanka and suggested a trip with friends would be fun. We started talking about it, then the bombs went off in Colombo- so we waited and watched and decided when things settled we would go. Carmel made all the plans. We booked and today is the day.

There are 17 of us. We’ll have our own bus and guide and our itinerary is tailored to our needs.

The fun started at the airport waiting for our 11.50 flight to Singapore. The Wilsons, Harrisons and ourselves swapping packing stories. Carmel has the heaviest bag but that is due to several bottles of wine. The wine in Sri Lanka isn’t the quality? taste? Whatever we are used to. So thank you Carmel for packing for the team. The rest of us have Gin!

We’re meeting the rest of the group in Colombo. Tomorrow starts with a walking tour. Always a great way to walk off the jet lag and get to know Colombo.

Arrival in Colombo was around 9pm. For our body clock around 1am. Being greeted with an orchid lei immediately makes it feel like a holiday. Somehow our guide missed Peter out of this photo!

Follow along with the blog. Discover Sri Lanka.

Ephesus to Canakkale for the Hellespont swim

We shared a taksi to İzmir dropping Betty at the Airport and then onto the bus station for our Pamulkkale bus north.

It was going to be a 6 hr drive but the buses here are great.

Off we went on time and after a ticket check our ‘steward‘ – a young man neatly dressed – brought around the free ice cream. What a treat.

The free wifi was good if somewhat slow and the ride was comfortable. After another hour our host came along with a cart and provided tea, coffee, cola or water with a selection of snacks. All free. This was better than some airlines!

We had a comfort stop at the next town and then a few more pick ups in towns. We were a little late arriving as we got stuck behind a truck.

I’ve been to Canakkale before many years ago. We visited Gallipoli, a very moving experience. We had stayed at Canakkale. I think it’s grown since then. There’s some very modern buildings and lots more bars and restaurants.

Steve is here to do the iconic Hellespont swim. It’s the Lord Byron swim from Eceabat across the straight to Canakkale. It attracts a huge number of swimmers: many Turkish and the foreigners who book through Swim Trek.

Tomorrow we head to Bozcaada an island nearby.

Sight & Sounds of NYC.

Finally made it to The Whitney Museum. It’s at the start of the High Line walk in West Village.

Unfortunately 3 floors were closed due to installation of the Biennial due to open on May 16. Get there if you can.

Having limited floors to cover actually allowed us to take our time and really enjoy the exhibitions.

So what we saw were 2 great exhibitions:

I love the work of Edward Hopper and Georgie O’Keeffe and they both featured in the ‘Where We Are’ Exhibition.

Leaving the Gallery we headed uptown to Mykonos Blue in 29Street. We met friends Lynn Sherr and Lois Dubin from our Galapagos swim trek two years ago.

Such great ladies who have become great friends. Both still involved in their professions – Journalism and Landscaping. Lois did the landscaping on Roosevelt Island several years ago. It’s worth a visit.

Walking down 29 street we noticed many trees and flower shops. Turn out it’s one of the main wholesale place for larger trees and planets. The hydrangeas the lillies and the orchids were fantastic. There was also every accessory imaginable for arrangements. Ribbons, vases, coloured sands. Etc etc.

NYC is great for walking if you have the stamina. It’s set out in a grid system so easy to follow and you just count how many blocks you have to walk. We decided to walk back along to the High Line. It’s like a spine running along the east side of the city for about 20 blocks. The sun was out and so were the walkers. It was crowded.

We started at the Hudson Yards. It’s newly finished with it’s new sculpture feature. The Vessel.

It an amazing honeycomb type gold copper type material. It has steps going up and down like a maze. It reflects what is going on around it.

We didn’t climb it. 2.500 steps if completed it. That would be too many! So we viewed it from the new shopping centre. It’s all shiny and filled with big brand names.

We enjoyed the walk in the sunshine and couldn’t help but comment on the building projects and street works going on.

We are staying right near Chelsea Market so got off there and explored the markets. Lots of great eating places and great little shops. It’s an interesting area to stay if you’re wondering where to base yourself in NY. It adjoins West Village another terrific area to stay. If you watched the TV series Friends then this is where the apartment is set. And Magnolia Bakery is here. It’s smells delicious!

In the evening we made our way to Time Square. We all had tickets for the The Temptations. We collected the tickets and had a drink nearby. We got back to the theatre and found like all the theatres here, there is no real foyer area so the line forms outside on the footpath. Somehow everyone gets into their seat on time.

We had great seats in the balcony but so close there was no room for legs!

The show told the story of how the Temptations formed with all their ups and downs. There were something like 42 guys making up the Temptations over a 25 year period!

Interval came and we decided on a quick trip to the restroom and boy did we get a laugh out of that. The queue went zig zagging up and down stairs with at least 100 in it.

Elizabeth and I decided we were chatting anyone so we’d try our luck. The lady who we christened the ‘toilet monitor ‘ was directing with all the energy and authority of a NY Police officer. Perhaps more because you wouldn’t want to cross her!

Sure enough they managed to get everyone through when the bells rang. Perhaps it works the other way round. They don’t ring the bell to return to your seat until all the ladies have been through the restroom!

The night finished with us all dancing and singing all the way home.