Heading for Galle: Along the Tsunami coast

The day was warm as we walked to breakfast past the lagoon with the crocodiles. I check them out every time I pass by!

Our last morning in the wild!

Leopard lady Marcelle, our Australian /Sri Lankan, arrived back from her third safari absolutely jubilant. She had finally spotted a leopard. Her guide was the same we had the day before and was determined she would see it. And she did.

We set off along the dusty road back to the main road to Yala where we were to pick up Hema our guide. He has to find his own accommodation in town.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen” he started “I’ve missed you”. And we’d missed him. He is a gentleman himself.

The drive today is quite different to the days in the hilly areas around Kandy and Ella. It’s very lush and green lots if palm trees and rice paddy fields.

The trip was a little slow as we started to see the effect of the coming elections on Saturday, as we passed through the bigger towns.

A comfort stop by a beach was welcome. The coffee was good and the beach lovely. This place was devastated by the tsunami in 2004. It’s hard to imagine the wall of water that hit the area crushing everything in the it’s path.

A little further on at Dickwella we stopped at a centre for lace making. This is a regional craft. This centre, supported by Marcelle our Australian – Sri Lankan , has women who were previously living on the streets and has taught them this dying craft. The woman now do lace making on site.

It’s fascinating to watch.

The ladies in our group were more than happy to support the centre by buying some of the lovely products. I bought a toy (each for Oliver and our next Bub) and a nightie and wrap.

On we went along the coast. It looks so calm and lovely. The devastation has past. The buildings are reappearing – some right on the beach which was against regulations. But as usual money talks and the building rise.

We came to the first of the political rallies. The maroon-capped people trying to win the election on Saturday. They must be sponsored by the party. There were hundreds assembled and buses lined up as far as we could see.

It made our progress to Galle very slow.

We decided not to stop for lunch. Once again we enjoyed a bus picnic.

It was interesting to look out the window at the sea, the people, the traffic, the colours, and food stalls selling everything – including big fish stalls.

The stick fishermen made us stop. It’s an method of fishing not really practised now but it makes a good photo.

Carmel paid for the photos.

Eventually we made it to Galle. Though the traffic of the Green Party rally.

Our new hotel The Heritage Galle is charming. Open verandahs , flowering plants, wonderful plantation chairs, lovely rooms with a huge bed. Another feature we love a big long bench for all suitcases.

Having worked up a thirst we walked past multiple jewellery shops towards the ramparts of this old fort town.

Climbing the stairs of the Ramparts Hotel we were greeted by beautiful views and a stunning red sunset.

A few drinks later we walked to a very nice restaurant with a charming Serbian man as our host. He was very modern in appearance with short pants and no socks and glasses which a John describes as ‘square peg, round hole’

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Wonderful Wallace Collection

When I asked visiting ADFAS lecturer Viv Lawes “which London Gallery I should not miss?”, she had no hesitation in answering “The Wallace Collection”.

So today was the day.

I also wanted to check out Marylebone High Street. So off I went and Steve went to the National Army Museum (which he thought better than the Imperial War Museum).

The High Street is lovely. Lots of beautiful shops including The White Company – which just happens to make the pyjamas handed out on Qatar Air – for business class passengers.

I witnessed a rather posh baby christening where the guests looked dressed for a wedding. It was in St James’ church.

Then at 11.30am I joined the tour for an overview of the Wallace Collection. Our guide was a very little, very posh lady dressed in a lovely suit. She was a good age, so probably had been volunteering for ages. She led us around the house at a snails pace which suited me as I wasn’t in a hurry.

When it finished right on 1pm I made my way to the cafe to meet Steve for lunch.

Museums and Galleries generally have great cafes and gift shops and this was no exception. I had a lovely light quiche and salad. Just right!

The next hours were spent wandering the large house separated into rooms of various colour with an amazing art collection. Canelettos everywhere. And at the moment in each room are shoes.

Not just any shoes but Manolo Blahník works of art. They have been arranged to match the colours and the themes of art in each room. It’s extraordinary.

Steve was rather taken with the armour room and there was a ‘try it on session ‘ so naturally I tried on a glove!

Leaving the gallery we walked back to our hotel through the streets of Marylebone. I saw a little chair on the pavement! Needed some care and a new home! A lovely area of London.

The evening held another adventure. We met up with Chris, a swim friend from our very first trek in Sardinia back in 2013. We met in a pub near St Martyn’s in the Field – a church near Trafalgar Square and the wonderful National Gallery.

Again we caught the bus there as I love looking at the famous landmarks from the front seat on the top deck!

Following a pub meal and a goodbye selfie with Chris we went to the church for a performance of some “oldies but goodies”. Vivaldi & Bach just for starters. Very enjoyable.

Then the evening ride back to Marble Arch by bus.

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.