Hopping into life in Sri Lanka

I was looking forward to breakfast this morning.

Yesterday we had a late high tea, complete with bubbles, so we skipped dinner. I woke up hungry !

You may have heard me mention egg hoppers , once or twice so far in this blog. I love them.

They are a light rice type pancake cooked in a bowl shaped pan and when half cooked an egg is broken into it.

After my paw paw topped with curds and treacle I headed for the hopper station.

A lovely smiling lady greeted me again this morning. I complimented her on the hopper and said I needed her to move to Brisbane to make me an egg hopper each day. She said I could buy a pan and recipe to take home and she could teach me.

So the next minute I’m behind the stove learning how to make a hopper.

Season the pan!

Rub with a mix of butter and egg yolk

Heat the pan. Spoon in the rice pancake mix. Then swirl it around.

Heat with the lid down.

Wait until the edges are browning. Crack the egg in.

Lid on. Wait

Use the spatula to loosen around edges and slide onto a plate.

It was such a fun lesson with this lovely lady.

From here it was onto the bus to the lake nearby. It’s a man made lake and gives an area for recreation- little boats, jet ski, fishing , walking but I doubt anyone swims there. It’s a little brown.

Back to the bus I was sitting up the back swaying as we went round corners.

Helen and I started writing limericks. We set a challenge to everyone to have one ready to read at drinks tonight.

It was definitely heads down to work on our limerick. Which was a blessing as the narrow road was dangerous to watch. Trucks overtaking trucks or buses overtaking tuk tuks. Not for the feint hearted.

The landscape was covered with terraces and everywhere there were vegetables growing and tea plantations. The soil is rich and the labour plentiful.

By now the constantly winding road was making me – and others, feel a little sick. We stopped for a break before heading into Ella.

This was a little surprise. It felt like a young people place. Lots of bars and coffee shops dotted along the narrow road.

Arriving at our accommodation we climbed up a stone staircase to be met by golf buggies to drive us to reception-an open air hut.

The cold tea and the little welcome sash was a fun way to greet us at this very special place. There are 28 cabins set among the tea bush plantings of a working farm. The workers walk past our cabins at breaks and at the end of the day.

Our rooms are large, rustic but so well planned the walls are made of tea boxes, there’s a huge bed with a net over it, a spacious stone bathroom and views towards cloud covered mountains.

The mist rolled as we had a late lunch then drinks in one of the rooms.

We’re doing well emptying the gin bottles. But there are 17 of us!

We read our limericks. They were great!

Here’s a sample:

There was a great gal called Carmel

Who thought it wouldn’t be harmful

To go for a trip

with old friends with some zip

Now she’s shaking her head, poor Carmel. ‘

Dinner was up in the main restaurant and was quite a performance with each dish delivered with a cloche which were ceremonially removed.

Tomorrow we are climb up Little Adams peak. Not the big Adam walk which is longer, harder and more of a pilgrimage.

Legend has it:

Adam’s Peak is a 2,243 m (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It is well known for the Sri Pada, i.e., “sacred footprint”, a 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) rock formation near the summit, which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of Buddha , in Hi du tradition that of Shiva and in some Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam or that of St. Thomas.

So we are not attempting the pilgrimage . We’ll do the shorter climb then back up by walking to the 9 arches railway bridge.

So to sleep in our very luxurious cabin on the tea plantation.

A Garden Walk

I opted out of the trek this morning. My poor knee wasn’t feeling great.

So the team left very early and I went for a more sedate walk through the hotel gardens and the Victoria Park gardens nearby.

Follow my trail.

Past the fountain to the children’s playground

Good morning to hotel staff and past the sculptured hedges.

Reading each of the little signs along the way.

To the one under our top floor corner room.

I followed the track down out of the hotel to the Victoria Park gardens which at 7.30 only had workers in there. It was a quiet oasis.

The children’s garden

Then out and around the town before heading back to the hotel, spotting Mike and John other non trekkers.

Breakfast was wonderful. I shared it with Mark, who also didn’t walk due to an ankle injury.

I’m now waiting for the walkers to return. I know I’ll be sorry when they tell me about their adventures.

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.

Temples, Cricket and lunch in Gardens in Kandy

A slower start today and we enjoyed breakfast with a beautiful selection of foods by the most gorgeous staff. So willing to help.

I made the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast ( after the egg hopper)

It is milk rice topped with treacle with a banana mashed in and topped with fresh cinnamon. Delicious.

We left for the Temple of the Tooth, a short walk through busy little street. Our street seems to be the hardware street. Shops selling basins, toilets, lawn mowers , brooms etc.

On arrival it was shoes off and a full body search including a pat down. Security is high since bombings in 1989, 1998 and again this year.

The Temple is famous throughout Sri Lanka.

The golden roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most famous relic – a tooth of Buddha. You don’t actually see it as it’s contained in a special multi layered box. It’s heavily protected and holds not just religious significance but political as well.

There were so many locals there with offerings to leave. There are three rituals a day called Tevava. It’s similar to a puja. We happened to be there at the 9.30 one when many of the people were praying as the three drummers and trumpet player walked around the altar.

The ceremony then moves upstairs where worshipers line up with their offerings to file past the room with the tooth.

It was hectic , noisy and difficult to negotiate with our big group!

Back outside Steve our a candle for a friend

and walked through the grounds and watched as more and more locals arrived with their offerings.

Next stop was a bus ride across the lake and out to the new cricket stadium.

The cricket tragics – Mark #1 loved seeing the new oval and would love to have seen a game in action.

Back on the bus through the traffic and chaos that happens when schools are let out for the day.

We spied an outdoor laundry.

And the view back across the lake

Before arriving at the gardens for lunch. What an oasis in any city to have this green space.

We sat under a large tree eating our ‘take away ‘ lunch provided by the hotel. The wrap was nice but were not sure about the cold chips!

The trees and bamboo in the gardens were spectacular.

Our final stop before some free time was an outlook over the city. Where, of course , there was an opportunity to buy something.

A few of us went to the local markets , where we were assured we were getting local prices ! If only they realised we would probably buy more if they left us alone.

Feeling weary, our group of shoppers went to find the boys who had gone for a drink. There we were in a busy Kandy street looking for them when a man approached saying. ‘I’ll take you to the Australians’. We trusted! We followed! And two blocks later we entered a bar and there they were. Mike had paid him to find us! And he did. The wonders if the Kandy bush telegraph.

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.

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.

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.

Climbing Sigiriya

Today we are going to conquer Sigiriya, the ancient rock we can see from our hotel.

We left at 6.30 to avoid the heat and the crowds and breakfast was provided in a beautiful white bag with the hotel’s signature elephant on the front.

Hema did his best with a sound system that sounds like an echo chamber. Between his lovely Sri Lankan accent, the echo microphone and his waving it around, we really couldn’t understand every word. Mike was heard saying I need a translator or I’ll be hiding his microphone.

Our guide, Hema led us into the park. It costs $US30 to climb. We walked in and saw the gardens and the water gardens.

Then the climb began. We were told 1200 steps but Hema said more like 800.

The history of the rock and it’s cave shelters date back nearly 5,500 years ago. There is evidence of human settlements from 9-10th centuries and use by Buddhist monks. Then there was the construction of the palace by King Kasyapa

After a long introduction we started the climb. Fortunately we stopped regularly which made it easier.

At one point we climbed a spiral staircase to view the mirror wall of art and script / ancient graffiti.

Reaching the top was wonderful. The view, the remains of the palace, the water system, the throne – and it was hard to imagine getting everything to the top of this strange beautiful place.

Coming down was almost harder than going up. Fortunately, Kathy kindly offered her shoulder as a crutch to help as I stepped down the steep stairs. We all made it and felt so pleased with ourselves.

Back to the hotel for refreshing swims and a wonderful relaxing massage.

Massage is different in every place you go. This wa nothing like the Hamam in Turkey. No bubbles! No cold shower at the end.

It wasn’t like India with the oil dripping off. This was gentle but quite good for my poor knee.

Drinks on the terrace had started by the time I’d finished my massage so I joined them in my dressing gown!

Mike is the bar tender and he has everything organised – the gin flowed.

This set us up for dinner. Once again a lovely buffet.

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.

Last Day in London

Our last full day is Sunday – always my favourite day in any city. It’s when the locals relax usually in a park.

We started at Westminster Cathedral at a choral Mass. The Cathedral was packed and the singing was beautiful.

We skipped the invitation to have tea with the congregation in the church hall. We had a lunch date!

I had booked at Tredwells – a restaurant recommended by a friend. It does a Sunday roast for £29.

Tredwells is near Covent Garden and it was great. We had a table looking out over a terrace to the street. For no extra we got a great little drama. The police pulled over a car. Not just any car but a rather bright blue Rolls Royce with a casually dressed man behind the wheel and another man – perhaps his boss? As the driver engaged the policeman in chat the passenger got out threw on his expensive jacket, looked at his Rolex and strolled off! What were we witnessing? I could speculate……

What to do after Church and Sunday roast? Go to the park.

So off to Hyde park to visit Kensington Palace, to see the flowers and words for Diana on the gate. To sit on the green deck chairs and watch the world go by. And believe me there were lots of people of the world here in the park today.

Kensington Palace gates decorated for Diana

We walked for an hour or so before heading back to the hotel to collect our bags and head to the airport hotel. We have reached the end.

With an early flight, we had the last night at the Premier Inn at Heathrow Terminal 4. What a great find. For £49 it was great. Best airport hotel I’ve stayed in.

Now just the long flight home.