And breathe ….

Thursday 25th October 2018

Another day in our lovely ‘Ellen’s Place’ hotel and another delicious breakfast. While we wait for our eggs to be cooked each morning, they provide us with freshly baked ‘warm from the oven’ cakes – sometimes banana cakes, sometimes pineapple cakes – ooh the calories!

Pineapple cakes

Sorted out some laundry before leaving this morning – this item on the laundry list made me giggle – well at least it means that Steve’s not the last person in the world still using handkerchiefs!

So today’s plan was to ‘nip in’ to Immigration to renew our visa (we’re here longer than 30 days) and then head to the beach. Suffice to say there was no ‘nipping’ – a crowded, stressful and irritating 4 and a half hours ensued as we were passed from desk to desk, photographed, interviewed and endured long periods of waiting (including their lunch break)! Finally at a cost of $54 each our passports were returned with gleaming new visas.

Off to the beach we headed and enjoyed a late lunch and much needed coffee – the wind was already getting up and within a very short space of time the black clouds started to gather – so without even a swim we packed up and headed back to the hotel. The rain continued most of the evening … but we managed to fit in dinner at Sugar Bistro and then a quick night cap at The Cheers Bar. “Norm!…” (for any Cheers fans out there)?

Friday 26th October 2018

A pretty straightforward day today – arranged to meet Richard and Judy at Sugar Beach. Headed out there nice and early to maximise the day. It’s a beautiful beach we’ve discovered, predominantly a locals’ beach – just the odd tourist. Today it was fabulous to be there as there was lots of fishing activity. It’s incredible the lengths they go to to bring in a few fish – not sure how lucrative it can be as there’s a lot of men to share the profits.

We got a couple of great swims in and Steve even got to use the restaurant’s bodyboard – so he was in his element playing in the waves.

Richard and Judy unfortunately ended up at a different end of the beach so we didn’t get to meet up – made plans for tomorrow.

Had the usual torrential rain in the evening so rather than walk we got a taxi to the Italian restaurant Bayleaf which we’d been to on our first night in Colombo. Fabulous meal again and we were entertained with fireworks as apparently there’d been a sudden change of Prime Minister … just like that!

Saturday 27th October 2018

Poor Steve’s having a real time of it … he had a troublesome night as he developed a sore throat, chesty cough and some breathing difficulties. For someone who’s so rarely ill he’s certainly packing it in on this holiday! At 5.00am he was drawn to look out the window at the sound of a marching band … he initially thought he had become delirious. But apparently there was a full-on parade, marching band, fire-eaters, whirling dervishes … the works! The hotel staff were oblivious to it when we asked them, but decided it was probably connected to the installation of the new Prime Minister.

After breakfast we hit the streets of downtown Colombo 8 to find a pharmacy. Then equipped with cough mixture and lozenges we walked a but further to track down an ATM. Now Sri Lanka IS a beautiful country … but not so the back streets of Colombo. Many of the buildings and pavements are in a state of decay and sadly ridiculously dirty. Our pretty and clean hotel just seems to have been planted in a ‘not so pretty and clean’ area of town. But it was all an experience and even Steve with his breathing problems soldiered on amidst the fumes emanating from the hordes of tuk tuks and their cheap petrol. We had just been discussing tripping hazards when literally about 20 yards from the hotel Steve went flying off the pavement into the gutter … into the biggest and muddiest puddle we’d seen all morning. He was covered in mud from head to toe and had grazed his hand and knee …. but mostly his pride was wounded. We managed to sneak back into the hotel unseen and all was recovered.

Once cleaned up we set off for the Mount Lavinia Hotel where we were meeting Richard, Judy and family. This is another colonial heritage hotel and has great charm. We had some time around the pool, some buffet lunch then spent a short time on the beach. All really pleasant and great to catch up again with the Benmores … but we had to head off mid-afternoon because of course there was cricket this evening – and we couldn’t possibly be late!

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View of Sugar Beach from Mount Lavinia Hotel

This time we got it right … we had pre-booked Hushni to take us to the stadium and to meet us later (to avoid a repeat of Tuesday’s getting home nightmare). We got there in plenty of time and enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere of this T20 game – the Sri Lankan supporters were out in force.

Lots of items on sell for cricket fans

The England boys did well from the start and it was exciting to watch. I can understand why the younger folk prefer T20 to test matches – it seemed a lot more lively (probably not supposed to say that)! But inevitably the rain came, not torrential this time but the covers came on and play was postponed. We made the decision to cut our losses and get clear of the stadium in case there was a sudden evacuation. A wise decision – Hushni met us, with his lovely wife in the car too, and we returned to the hotel to watch the resumed match from the comfort of our bed, with snacks!

Sunday 28th October 2018

More suitcase packing and more farewells today as we leave the lovely staff at Ellen’s Place. It wasn’t the greatest of locations but everything else about the hotel was amazing, including the warm hospitality.

Swing sitting beside the jacuzzi/plunge pool at Ellen’s Place Hotel

Hushni arrived promptly at 10.00am for our drive from Colombo to Hikkaduwa. Before we left the city we took a little tour of Galle Face, the Fort area and the bustling markets of Pettah.

Fort area of Colombo

It was a reasonable drive down, some incredibly busy areas where lots of beeping went on, particularly if a bus happened to be tailing us. Once on the highway it was a lot quicker and smoother. Reaching the green forest areas felt such a welcome relief after the mad city life we have experienced this week – it just looked and felt so fresh. Reaching the familiar area of Hikkaduwa and its coastline felt like coming home and as we wound our way down the village lanes to Vesma Villas we felt so excited. This is where we stayed earlier in the year.

And what a welcome we had … all the staff came out to greet us with genuine excitement. We were presented with the most beautiful and scented of flower garlands and proudly escorted to our chalet which had been dressed up fit for a King and Queen.

We are back in the Sri Lanka we love … and we can breathe the beautifully fresh unpolluted air. Here’s to two weeks of relaxation. ūüėé

Bats and beaches … from city to seaside

Tuesday 23rd October 2018

To be perfectly honest this was not a good day!!

Started off keen with an early rise & breakfast, so we could get to the cricket in plenty of time.  Luckily we got into conversation with another hotel guest who pointed out it was a day and night game, starting at 2.30pm!   Not quite that keen.  So had a leisurely morning and big catch-up blog time.

When it came time to go all the Ubers seemed to be stuck in traffic – the city grinds to a standstill early afternoon as the schools chuck out.¬† ¬†Our hotel chappie sourced us a car from elsewhere and so off we set, not quite as early as planned but we were on our way!¬† As we inched our way through chaos there was a sudden bang … a tuk tuk had driven in to the back of our car.¬† The two drivers proceeded to rant and rave leaving us deserted in the middle of about 4 lanes of heavy traffic … and time was getting on!¬† ¬†Eventually they decided to pull over to continue their ‘discussion.’¬† So we took the opportunity to get out, pay up and flag down a tuk tuk in desperation!¬† We got to the stadium just as the first ball was bowled.¬† Phew!

We met up with Richard, Judy and family … the sun was shining and there was some good cricket – the Sri Lankans batted well.¬† During the day we enjoyed a few beers together, ate a bit of chicken and rice (as you do!) and all was well.

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The Sri Lankan mascot came to entertain the R.Prenadasa stadium crowds

We marvelled at the pelicans flying overhead and as it got towards dusk the bats arrived … some extremely large ones too!¬† England came into bat and there were some early wickets … we tried to keep the faith but our batsmen were dropping like flies.

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The rain clouds sweeping in

And then came the rain.  And extremely ferocious thunder and lightening.   So the end of play was announced and Sri Lanka had won the day Рthey genuinely deserved it.  We however now had the problem of getting home in this most torrential of rain.

Thousands of bodies were leaving the stadium en masse – the local roads and transport systems just weren’t up to this volume of traffic.¬† We had to wade though deep puddles of muddy water along the edge of what felt like the M25 … we walked and walked in darkness, in the pouring rain, until we found what we thought might be a suitable place to book an Uber – no such luck – the main roads were gridlocked too.¬† So we walked on, not really even sure of the direction to our hotel.¬† Eventually, again in desperation, we took a tuk tuk.¬† And boy did we regret that – he drove like a bat out of hell, taking us in a large loop around the city, down lots of bumpy passages and side roads, and half an hour later passing where he had picked us up from.¬† I was pretty much traumatised – and after an incredibly near miss when he drove through red traffic lights, Steve demanded he stopped (+ a few other words)!¬† … and we got out and walked the rest of the way.¬† ¬†It really was two hours of hell – we got back to the hotel drenched and fed up – that is definitely the last tuk tuk we will use in Colombo!

 

Wednesday 24th October 2018

We slept off all the stress of the previous day – today just had to be better.¬† We set off to find the beach area of Mount Lavinia – nothing like sea, sand and sunshine to make the world feel better.¬† And that’s just what we found on Sugar Beach.¬† Rocked up at a seafood restaurant that allowed us to use their sun loungers as long as we bought refreshments.¬† It was a simple place but food and hospitality was superb.¬† Our first sea swim of the holiday – fabulous, we had a perfect day.

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Loved the quirky fact that you had to walk over the train line to get on to the beach!

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Sugar Beach, Mount Lavinia

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Shelton’s Seafood Restaurant, Sugar Beach … Mount Lavinia Hotel in the background

Today was a Poya Day which is a monthly full-moon inspired National Holiday for the Sri Lankans.  So the beach was full of local families and groups of youngsters enjoying themselves Рit was lovely to watch them laughing in the waves and playing cricket on the shore.

We got back to the hotel just in time to avoid another heavy downpour.¬† We were determined to make up for our misery of last night, so got all dressed up and called a taxi to take us to a restaurant called Barnesbury’s that Steve had found online.¬† It was a stylish restaurant with a grand looking bar area – this was more like it!¬† ¬†My mouth watered as I settled in for my pre-dinner G&T … but it turned out they didn’t sell alcohol.¬† The waiter smugly informed us that we wouldn’t get alcohol anywhere tonight anyway, as it’s a Poya Day.¬† ¬† The food however was superb … as were the mocktails.

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Barnsbury’s restaurant in Colombo

 

When we got back to Ellen’s Place, our bijou hotel, the lovely waiters allowed us some beer.¬† They informed us earlier in the week that they’re not allowed an alcohol licence as they are near a school – they can sell their local Lion Beer however as it’s only 4.4%!!

So city versus beach … it’s beach for us everytime.

 

 

From elephant orphanages to 5* hotels

Sunday 21st October 2018

The drive from Kandy to Colombo was an estimated 4 hours, but we agreed to make a couple of stops on the way.¬† The first stop was to the Millennium Elephant Foundation Orphanage which is dedicated to improving the welfare of captive elephants in Sri Lanka.¬† As well as being able to be up close to the elephants, you are provided with clear information to the Foundation’s objective in rescuing working elephants from the logging industry and the howdah tourist industry.¬† We enjoyed our short time there, sitting with the elephants and watching them being walked and bathed.¬† Bare-back riding is still permitted but they are trying to replace this with ‘walking with elephant experiences’ instead.

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We drove on through places such as Mawanella and Ambepussa Рthe traffic was busy but the roads of a good standard.  It was tree-lined pretty much all the way Рcoconut palms and jack fruit trees as well as other luscious vegetation and paddy fields Рthis country is SO green.  It was so interesting to find that at each settlement area they had their own area of expertise which was clearly evident in their roadside stalls Рclay pots, leather, blow-up beach toys, cane/baskets, cashew nuts, spices and car-seats.

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The inflatable beach toy area …

We stopped to have a light lunch in Ambepusso and then headed on through Nettanbuwa and eventually into the busy city of Colombo.  Sheik found our little 3* hotel tucked away behind some building works and so we settled into our new home for the next 7 days.  Fond farewells to Sheik who has been an amazing driver for us in Kandy Рwould thoroughly recommend him.

Our new hotel is called ‘Ellen’s place,’ named after a former Prime Minister’s wife.¬† It’s small and friendly – just how we like it.¬† Having since discovered the delights of Galle Face however, we sort of wish we’d splashed out on some 5* living – but hey ho, we’re pensioners!¬† We ventured out for a walk in the evening, finding ourselves a beautiful Italian restaurant to eat in (still avoiding spice) … and it was fabulous.

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The Bayleaf restaurant, Colombo

 

Monday 22nd October 2018

Had a bit of a lay in, followed by a delicious breakfast with real bacon!!¬† Then we called our first Sri Lankan Uber!¬† It’s so much cheaper and hassle-free.¬† Had a lovely driver called Alex who spoke perfect English and knew everything there is to know about cricket.¬† We stopped off first to collect our cricket tickets – then another Uber to the train station to check out options for travelling to Hikkaduwa next week.¬† The sweet information man ensured us that the best option was to take a driver as taking our luggage onto a packed train would not be advisable – I was relieved … but Steve’s dream was shattered.¬† Next time I think we’ll be bringing rucksacks!

Then we walked … and we walked … in the baking heat, thinking we were heading to the seafront.¬† Turned out we were walking in the wrong direction.¬† Resorted to taking up the offer of a passing tuk tuk – in our haste, forgetting all the warnings to make sure it was a metered tuk tuk.¬† And so the crazy ride to Galle Face began … and just as we arrived at Galle Face we were flagged down by an angry policeman – the driver was told off big time and the policeman told us he was a dangerous driver “crazy in the head!”¬† To be honest we’ve had worst but at least it got us out of continuing the journey!

We had a lovely stroll along the promenade Рgreat to be back on the coast again.  Stopped off at the plush 5* hotel РThe Raj Рfor a juice and to envy how the other half live!  We sat at the poolside cafe area and looked longingly at the amazing swimming pool and loungers Рbeing used by one resident only.  We checked but it was definitely for residents only Рso mean.

We returned to our hotel and had a little splash in the small plunge pool and jacuzzi – still refreshing after our hot walkabout.

Then at 5.00pm we went to meet Richard and Judy at their most amazing 5* hotel – The Galle Face Hotel, oh it’s beautiful.¬† They had invited us to join them for sundowner drinks at the Pool Bar.¬† We also got to meet their 3 fabulous children – Aaron, Scott and Kathleen.¬† There was a large party of Naval Officers all dressed up handsomely in their whites, real ‘Officer and Gentleman’ stuff – just missing Richard Gere!¬† We had a couple of beers as we watched the sun go down (a little cloudy unfortunately).¬† At ‘the going down’ a set of pipers arrived on the scene and marched to the flag on the sea-wall, where it was lowered and removed – quite a spectacle.¬† We were also entertained by one of the hotel staff, dressed in colonial garb, whose job it was to use a catapult to shoo away persistent crows – hilarious!

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Man with catapult … watch out crows!

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The pipers of Galle Face Hotel

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The lovely Benmore family

 

After drinks, we joined the lovely Benmore family in a walk to the Cinnamon Hotel (yet another 5* establishment) where we dined in the Lagoon seafood restaurant.¬† Scott and Kathleen skilfully sorted out a selection of starters and main meals – choosing fish and seafood from the amazing fresh display in the centre.¬† We had such a fun evening – I tried octopus for the first time and loved it – the food and sauces were incredible … and some perfectly chilled white wine too.¬† We got back to our hotel at 10.30pm – that’s late for us these days!¬† A great evening, great company, great food, great wine – now hopefully a great sleep.

But what followed was a heavy night of rain and thunder!

 

Tuk tuks, tall trees and the Tooth Temple

Friday 19th October 2018

Steve was feeling a shade better today so we headed out early to find an alternative breakfast venue – local options were egg & onion or fish rolls so we headed back to the hotel for the more palatable option of eggs on toast (so English)!

We had decided on a trip to the Botanical Gardens this morning … thinking it was a 10 minute trip we bagged ourselves a tuk tuk.¬† It turned out to be more like 25 minutes and a fairly crazy 25 minutes at that … it’s like high-speed dodgems, how it all works I just don’t know.¬† I clung on to Steve most of the time with my eyes closed – but it got us to the most beautiful of places, definitely the best Botanical Gardens we have ever visited (and we’ve been to a few)!¬† ¬†First opened in the 1820s it’s so impressive, with the tallest of trees, stunning palm avenues, a section of pretty flowering trees, an orchid house with magnificent scents – and all kept in immaculate condition – full credit to the team of smiley gardeners.¬† Highly recommend a visit if ever you’re in Kandy.

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And then another mad tuk tuk ride back to the hotel – another lung full of fumes!¬† I love tuk tuks in other areas of the country but in a busy city it’s not the most pleasurable of experiences.¬† Am I losing my sense of adventure – I hope not – I just prefer more chilled places.

The morning had pretty much washed Steve out as he was still not back to full strength. So we had a little pool time and then he crashed out for most of the afternoon and evening while I caught up on blogging.  The internet in the hotel is painfully slow so it took great effort and patience Рbut at least it killed the time while Steve continued his recovery.

 

Saturday 20th October 2018

Steve definitely on the mend Рfunny how it coincides with cricket day!  An early breakfast and then Sheik came to collect us to drive us to the stadium.  We met up with Richard and Judy in the ground and sat with them for the day.  It was perfect because Steve and Richard were able to sit together and talk all things cricket, and Judy and I got to sit together and talk all things not cricket (although we did concentrate on the game too)!

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We saw a decent amount of cricket today, from 9.45am – 4.00pm – and then the heavens opened, so all was abandoned.¬† England won though on ‘Duckworth Lewis method.’¬† It’s all about the winning!

The drive home was torturous – heavy traffic from the cricket added to heavy rain – it took us over 2 hours to get back to the hotel, and our clothes were drenched.¬† Being a dark miserable evening we didn’t fancy venturing far … and Steve was still not ready for a return to spice so I’m embarrassed to admit that we crossed the road to eat in Pizza Hut.¬† As we tucked into our Margherita and coleslaw however, we had a great view of Sri Lankan city life from the window – passengers getting on and off buses while the buses were moving, pedestrians taking life in their hands crossing the zebra crossing, tuk tuks grinding to a halt to pick up fares with cars having to emergency stop behind them, dustbin men in flip flops clinging on precariously to the back of the lorry whizzing around the busy streets … there’s always so much life to observe in a city, just nice from the safety of an upstairs window.

 

Sunday 21st October 2018

So today we leave Kandy.¬† We had just left ourselves time to visit the Temple of the Tooth … and as the entrance was directly opposite our hotel it was a fairly simple task.¬† The temple houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha making it a significant temple – all Sri Lankan buddhists are required to visit once in their lifetime.¬† There has been some comings and goings with the tooth over the years and there is some debate as to ‘the tooth or not the tooth!’

It was a beautiful and serene experience however.  Once we got through the militant clothes check, we joined the throng of visitors, predominantly ladies in white cotton and broderie anglaise dresses, and walked along the path leading up to the temple, bearing our lotus flower offerings.  Once inside we mingled with the devotees as they prayed and laid their offerings Рthe interior elaborately carved and painted.

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After the temple visit we managed to get checked out of the hotel, after a line up of smiley staff all waiting for their tip.  And so we set off on the long journey to Colombo.

Kandy’s been brilliant – we didn’t get to see as much as we possibly could have done due to ‘loose motion’ problems (as they like to call it here)!¬† ¬†I couldn’t help but think of the Burl Ives song …. Big Rock Candy Mountain … “oh, the buzzin’ of the bees and the cigarette trees, the soda water fountain, where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings in that Big Rock Candy Mountain.”¬† We saw plenty of trees but not quite of the cigarette variety!

Colombo … here we come.

 

 

Upset tums … and train rides ūüöā

Tuesday 16th October 2018

Unfortunately Steve had been up most of the night with an upset tum (you know what I mean) and was feeling pretty washed out. So we skipped breakfast and took up post by the pool … with easy access to rest room facilities!! It was really hot this morning but the pool is a perfect temperature for cooling down and there’s shade under the trees. It’s lovely to watch the palm squirrels scurrying around and lots of different bird life. Not so much the cheeky monkeys who swing down from the palms and try to pinch anything going!… the pool staff are generally at hand to usher them away.

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The Queens Hotel swimming pool

Steve decided to retire back to the room and I went to find some sustenance. Chanced upon Karen, George, Ciderman and Harry in the hotel bar (a lovely party of friends we had met in our Dambulla hotel) so stopped off and had some lunch in their company. They’d popped in for coffee and to view the hotel, which is a famous Kandy landmark, and had then planned to sightsee further. I left them to it and went back upstairs to nurse my poorly husband. Early evening I popped back down to find Steve some suitable food and, lo and behold, Karen, George, Ciderman and Harry were still in the bar, enjoying a sesh!! I was so chuffed when they invited me to join them so, after sorting Steve out, we all walked down the road to ‘The Pub’ where I modestly tucked into three large glasses of red wine and enjoyed a chat and many laughs. George, having finished his fish finger supper and with his rucksack securely attached to his back, gallantly escorted me back through the chaotic streets of Kandy (although I had to point him in the right direction!) to the safety of my hotel and back to the bedside of my still ailing husband. I’m sorry for Karen’s loss of a cultural afternoon, not having been able to extract ‘the lads’ from their beer and TV cricket, but her loss was my gain as I really enjoyed the company – thanks guys. ūüėä

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The Queens Hotel in Kandy. Formerly the Governor’s house.

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The foyer of the Queens Hotel. Spot the monk who’s been staying for a few days!

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The landing of the Queens Hotel with its dark highly polished floorboards and incredible antique furniture.

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The Queens Hotel dining room – very grand (food doesn’t quite match up)!!

Wednesday 17th October 2018

Steve felt a little improved but still delicate – we attempted some breakfast in the hotel’s fine dining room. A very grand setting – not such an inspiring breakfast buffet! Afterwards we took a walk around Kandy Lake which is just at the front of our hotel – an easygoing 3km walk. We saw lots of interesting ‘going to work’ life, vendors of course, a variety of birdlife and terrapins and … what we originally thought was a crocodile but in fact was a water monitor lizard! Huge! Apparently they are 2km on average- such a long tail. We passed the famous Tooth Temple which we intend to visit this week and spotted a group of Buddhist monks with their co-ordinated orange brollies!

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Kandy Lake

 

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One of a few water monitor lizards spotted at the edge of Kandy Lake. It really was as long as Steve!

Returned to the room so Steve could rest up before the afternoon’s cricket – there was no way he was going to miss that – no matter the state of his tummy!! Our driver, Sheik, turned up promptly and drove us the longish journey to Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, dodging as you do between the various types of transport, pedestrians, cows and dogs!! A great stadium … and they sold beer! It had been a sunny morning but as we entered it started to rain and it was announced that the start was delayed! This was at 2.30pm and at 6.30pm we were still sat (patiently/impatiently – delete as appropriate!) waiting for play to commence. Met up with Richard and Judy during this time and also with Karen, George, Ciderman and Harry – so time passed between chats and watching the covers go on and off. Nevertheless, it looked unlikely that there would be play so at 6.30pm we called for Sheik to pick us up (he had requested an hour’s notice). And you could write the script – within half an hour of us leaving, play started! All was not lost though … we got back to the hotel to watch it on a big screen in the bar … Steve was near to much needed hygienic toilets and I could enjoy a glass or two of wine!

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Waiting oh so patiently for the rain to stop! Pallekele International Cricket Stadium.

A stressful night followed. About 11.00pm a loud mechanical noise started above us, probably coming from the roof. Steve called down to report it. An hour later we called down again and were told we didn’t need to worry about it! “I’m not worried about it, I can’t sleep” was Steve’s agitated but trying to be polite reply! This resulted in us temporarily changing to a different room about 1.00am + a night of frequent bathroom visits for both of us!!

Thursday 18th October 2018

We’d booked an early trip so were up at 6.30am, both feeling washed out now! Skipped breakfast – not taking any chances. Sheik had picked up Richard and Judy and got to us for 7.30am. Drove us to Kandy Railway Station in his boss’ luxury minibus – escorted us in, gave us our tickets and waited till we had safely secured our reserved seats. I managed to buy some dry (non-sweet) bread rolls to keep our tummies from rumbling. Also took full advantage of the “Foreigners Only” toilets on the platform.

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Kandy Railway Station

Judy soon sorted out some ladies who were trying to bag our seats and we settled in for the 4 hour train journey to Nuwera Eliya. A magnificent journey, once out of the city the views were breathtaking as we wound our way up through jade-green tea plantations with mountain backdrops. We had only managed to get tickets for 3rd class travel – 1st and 2nd class tickets generally get bought up by large tour companies and sold off at an inflated rate which seems scandalous. But 3rd class was great for us with its open windows and doors. There were vendors a-plenty … not quite 1st class buffet but you could get everything – every variety of local fruits, pastries, nuts, soft drinks, sandwiches … even Pringles!

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Settling in after a fight for our seats!!

 

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School children waiting for their train

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Selling oranges – I know – they’re green!!!

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Ticket inspector

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Jovial guard

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Our train as it rounded the corner

Sheik met us on the platform in Nuwera Eliya and gathered us all safely back to the luxury of his mini bus – he was very proud of that! He then took us on a tour of this beautiful town set up high in the hills. It is often referred to as “Little England” and definitely has that feel to it – colonial-era bungalows and Tudor style hotels – famous particularly for its tea estates. I had visited here 35 years ago and stayed in the Hill Club hotel – I remember it being so beautiful and steeped in history so we stopped by for a peek. From there we headed to Damro Tea Plantation where we admired the estate and did a tour of the factory. Seems to me that it’s the ladies that do all the work around here – both picking the tea and working in the factory! The tour was polished off with a delicious cup of tea and a huge wedge of chocolate cake (I was better by this time but not poor Steve – just water for him)! We stopped off at a few more viewing points (not too heavy on the retail opportunities!) – saw some stunning waterfalls and then started out on the long journey back to Kandy.¬† As with the train journey, there were some incredibly steep drops to the side – breathtaking though, literally!¬† ¬†Sheik did us proud – it was a great day. Really enjoyed Richard and Judy’s company too – fitted in such a lot of conversation – feel like old friends already!

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The Hill Club Hotel where I came to stay as a young 25 year old – back in the day!!

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Tea plantation

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Tea pickers

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Tea factory – leaves first washed and dried

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Viewing the stunning sites of Nuwera Eliya with Richard and Judy

Back at the hotel we discovered that they’d been unable to repair the noise problem in our room so this necessitated packing up all our gear and shifting to a new room. Grumble grumble … Steve was pretty washed out after a busy day and not having eaten much for 3 days – so it was quite a chore.

Then it was dinner – what could be risked? Steve definitely not up to a spicy option so we settled for the hotel’s International Buffet. Pumpkin soup to start – fine. Only non-spicy main option was pork chop and boiled vegetables – OK but nothing to rave about. The most entertaining part of the evening was working to avoid the three wandering minstrels who were doing their rounds of the tables … as they neared us each time we got up to explore the buffet – we were just not in the right frame of mind to be serenaded, and certainly didn’t want to buy their CD!

So a new train adventure today, a new non-spicy diet, a new room and … hopefully tomorrow a newly restored hubbie, now that I’ve persuaded him to take medication. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!? ūü§Ē

 

Head-banging hotels … and a little more cricket!

Saturday 13th October 2018

A fabulous day of cricket today (get me)!!  We sat ourselves in one of the lower stands amongst the local supporters Рboy, they know how to have fun.   England batted first so it was great to see our boys perform against the eager Sri Lankan team.  Some great bowling from the home team, especially Malinga who the crowd seem to hero worship.  A sweltering day so the shade was appreciated Рhad a few ice-creams and, in the absence of alcohol, a few chilled lemonades!

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Steve’s new (Malinga lookalike) friend!

With hot dogs for lunch our total spend for the day on food and drinks was the equivalent of £5 Рscandalous!!  Just a little different to The Oval.

And, yes you guessed it, rain stopped play … we got to see the amazing performance of the ground staff pulling on the covers again – priceless.¬† My goodness did it rain – so no further play … and England were declared the winners on the Duckworth-Lewis method (I could probably tell you all about that … but I won’t)!!

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Phenomenal amounts of rain

The owner of the hotel kindly came to our rescue, did a few bus trips to bring all his ‘cricket fan’ guests back to the safety and comfort of the hotel.¬† They looked after us so well.

Chilled the rest of the day and had dinner at the hotel.  Made two new friends in Richard and Judy (not likely to forget those names)!  Planning to meet up again in Kandy.

Sunday 14th October 2018

Check-out day from Dambulla.¬† Sad to be leaving this lovely hotel – they’ve become like family – funny how we always seem to get so attached to staff.¬† It seems an age ago that we checked in and, to be honest, we weren’t sure at first¬† …¬† (1) it was pouring with rain and looked miserable¬† (2) we were the only guests at the hotel¬† (3) there was no wardrobe in the room and (4) Steve kept banging his head every time he walked through a door or down the stairs!!¬† ¬†But we grew to love the place and the people, and by day 3 all the other cricket enthusiasts arrived – it’s been great fun.¬† So we bid a fond farewell, promising to be back etc.

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Can recommend this hotel if you’re ever in Dambulla

And so the hotel driver drove us, and another guest Paul, to our next stop in Kandy.¬† An interesting journey, lots to see … and this driver was good, felt safe in his hands.¬† We dropped Paul off first at his hotel and then we drove on and on and up and up and even further up till we got to our place – The Eagle Regency Boutique Hotel.¬† It was on the steepest slope I think I have ever been driven on – how the brakes held the vehicle I don’t know!¬† Such an amazing spot, nestled into a forest area – completely remote and almost in the clouds!¬† ¬†Once again the staff were so welcoming … there were views to die for and the bedroom was fabulous … but, clearly these buildings are not designed for western heights, well particularly not Steve’s height – it was back to head-banging!

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Views from the Eagle Regency Boutique Hotel

There really wasn’t a whole load to do locally – nothing in fact.¬† We had a little chill time by the pool and then went down for dinner.¬† The big question was – would they serve alcohol – ‘cus it was helluva trip down the hill to get a beer!¬† We had a lovely young waiter who found the whole alcohol thing enlightening.¬† We asked for a bottle of red wine and got a glass of wine.¬† When I’d finished that we asked again for a bottle … “a bottle!!?” he questionably exclaimed “I will have to talk to the manager.”¬† He shortly returned with a bottle of red Cinzano!¬† So having educated him on the difference I asked for another glass of red wine … “another¬†glass!!?”¬† And when I asked for a third it nearly blew his mind.¬† He didn’t bat an eyelid at Steve’s beer consumption however!

Dinner was delicious¬† – once again we were the sole diners.¬† The rain was lashing down by this point but it was all very atmospheric amongst the trees.¬† The waiter kindly informed us that there are cheetahs and wild pigs in the surrounding forest.¬† We were also joined by a jolly large spider … not my favourite but I was so brave!

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We knew pretty soon though that we’d made a mistake – we were so incredibly far away from everything – as breathtaking as it was it just wasn’t going to be practical.¬† So we secured another booking in the city and then explained to the Eagle hotel that we would have to check out tomorrow.¬† They tried to talk us round offering us a tuk tuk to take us everywhere, even if Steve wanted to drive it himself!¬† Now I like tuk tuks but I was not trundling up and down that mountain in one – whoever was driving!!¬† They also offered us free wine tomorrow – clearly recognising that I was a lush!¬† ¬†They were so lovely about it though – we felt terrible and made it clear that we were to blame.

Waiting to check out from the Eagle Regency Boutique Hotel

Monday 15th October 2018

More farewells today … and even after only one night (and the fact that we were checking out early) the staff all gathered to help and say goodbyes.¬† And so we left our second head-banging hotel.

The driver the hotel had arranged was a good man, a careful driver plus his English was pretty good.  Looks like we may well have teamed up for the week (as you do)!  On the way to the hotel he explained many of the sights (he is studying tourism) Рwe stopped off at the Kandy War Cemetery, a British military cemetery for soldiers of the British Empire who were killed during World War II.  The age of some of these young men was so poignant.

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Before driving us to the hotel, we stopped off at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium to pick up our tickets for later in the week.¬† And what excitement, not only did we pass Malinga walking down the road, but we also got to watch our English lads training at the stadium – I’m becoming quite the groupie!

And after a few more viewing spots the driver took us to our hotel – The Queens Hotel, located in the centre of the city, overlooking Kandy Lake.¬† It is a British Colonial 3 star hotel, one of the oldest hotels in the city with over 160 years of history.¬† It has a great feel, SO grand yet so tired at the same time … but we love it.¬† And get this … the doors are plenty tall enough for my giant of a husband!¬† I think we’re going to love Kandy.

Finished off the day with a wander round the sites of Kandy and then walked by the lake till we found the ‘Slightly Chilled Lounge’ for something to eat. And who should we bump in to but a crowd of new friends from our previous hotel in Dambulla. Had a few drinks and catch up, exchanging our stories from the last couple of days. Hoping to meet up again.

Kandy is going to be a spectacular place to explore – really beautiful at night too when all lit up.

This is our hotel in the forefront – The Queens Hotel in Kandy

Sigiriya Rock … just the 1200 steps!

Thursday 11th October 2018

We took full advantage of this morning’s sunshine to swim and enjoy some poolside lounging.¬† Then late morning we headed off to explore the local delights of Dambulla.¬† There’s nothing fancy about this town – you just get a feel for the true Sri Lankan way of life.¬† We had a good mooch around the local shops, selling just about everything – washing machines, brightly coloured and patterned clothes, toys and homeware, endless flip flop shops +¬† fruit and vegetable stalls galore.

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We stopped off for some lunch at Mango Mango … and for the equivalent of ¬£4.00 ate like kings!¬† Food is amazing but service leaves a lot to be desired.

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Walked back to the hotel in the now baking heat – stopped off at the local market for a nosey –¬† even more fruit and vegetables plus a whole selection of interesting items, including goldfish in plastic bags!¬† I’ve not seen this since my teenage outings to Portland Fair!

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Friday 12th October 2018

And today was all about the BIG climb.¬† We’d been here for 5 days and couldn’t put it off any longer – I’d been using my cold as an excuse but now the excuses had run out.¬† So at 8.00am we set off in the hotel bus to Sigiriya Rock – also known as Lion Rock … and said to be the 8th Wonder of the World.¬† This rocky outcrop has near vertical walls and a flat-topped summit – it contains the ruins of an ancient stronghold.¬† So it was a piece of history not to be¬† missed.

It was baking hot even at 9.00am when we started to walk up … and boy those 1200 steps are definitely a challenge.¬† I kept being approached by ‘helpers’ but I kept saying “I’m OK” and they would leave me alone.

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The stunning Sigiriya Rock

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The steps begin …

The rock steps are narrow so you have to constantly watch your footing and try not to look back down.¬† Nearer the top the steps turn into metal stairs but with rails they were more manageable, except for being able to see the drop more clearly.¬† We both put our brave heads on though and kept going … to the very top.¬† Unfortunately just short of the top I started to struggle badly with the heat and had to sit down with dizziness – Steve had to keep going because of his fear of heights.¬† And so it was that a ‘helper’ came to my rescue and, after I’d revived myself with some water, he took my hand and guided me up the last flight of stairs.¬† ¬†At this point he refused a tip saying he officially worked here … and we thought “how kind.”¬† Then he insisted on escorting me around the ruins of the King’s palace on the summit, not letting go of my hand, taking our photos, giving us a guide to the area etc. – and we still thought “how kind.”¬† But very soon he started to tell us about the family he had to support and practically dived into Steve’s wallet – insisting that R5,000 was the going rate!

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Views from the top were amazing – the Kandy Mountains in the background

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The King’s swimming pool

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It was a fairly hairy walk down too.¬† On the way up they advised you not to look down, but when you were going down there was no choice!¬† To celebrate being back at ground level we treated ourselves to an ice-cream and attempted to sit on a bench to recover our shaky legs … only to be pestered by monkeys … well, makes a change from seagulls I guess!

 

Caution Cricket and Weather Updates….

By remarkable coincidence we appear to have rocked up in Sri Lanka at just the same time as the England cricket team, what a result, oh and it also appears to be the rainy season! ¬†I know, I know don’t ask me I just book the holidays.

Anyways, no problem as the English cricket authorities obviously know their stuff and will have have not hesitated with planning the first One Day International as a day / night game starting at 2.30pm. ¬†Now anyone who has travelled these parts will know that you can have a scorching hot day then all of a sudden about tea time from no-where an enormous storm breaks out. ¬†Hope I’m not giving away the plot here?

Having secured the priceless tickets, well 15 quid actually for the best seats in the house, locals have a terrace where tickets are ¬£1.00, amazing value and they love their cricket here, it’s the national sport with very little of that Premiership football stuff. ¬†I’m sure you know the excitement of looking forward to that concert or sports event, well I can assure you this was no different and we spent ages planning how and what time to leave for the ground even though it’s only two miles away. ¬†Actually we were sat around by the pool until 12.30 in the scorching sunshine..remember that bit?

So ¬†with the weather set fine for the day off we went to the Rangiri International Stadium in Dambulla, there really is nothing like away games. ¬†I’ve also been to Accrington Stanley several times so maybe you can understand the excitement. ¬†Seriously though the England cricket team are currently No 1 in the world with the Cricket World Cup approaching next year. My last two games attended have seen England beat Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and The Oval, so yes looking forward to this one.

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The Rangiri International Stadium is still in reasonable shape, maybe not quite to the standards of English grounds but all ready to welcome the 1000+ Barmy Army supporters to this very quiet northern town.

Without boring you too much with the cricket Jason Roy and Johnny Bairstow gave England a good start before both were dismissed with Joe Root and Eoin Morgan taking over, lifting the score to 92 and all going well.  However our grandstand seats had given us a birdseye view of the clouds building up in the distance and even before the rain arrived the umpires had call for the ground to be covered.

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There followed a precise operation by dozens of groundstaff dragging out plastic covers and old tyres to cover the entire playing surface in probably less than 10 minutes, quite a sight to behold, a military exercise!

This then led to the ‘hanging around to see what is going to happen’ phase of the afternoon. ¬†Generally if this happens at game in England you just go to the bar and drown your sorrows, did I mention that this ground is dry… well of alcohol at least!

Loads of chat and stories then ensued over the next couple of hours with fellow ‘Barmies’ who were generally with organised tour companies and big business it seems. ¬†All this time we were looking for signs of improvement in the weather, the English certainly know how to do this. ¬†But at 7.00pm and with it still raining we decided to set off back to our hotel, in t-shirts and flip flops, of course we didn’t know it was going to rain. By good luck we managed to get a Tuk Tuk just outside the ground costing the outrageous ¬£2.50 to take us back to the hotel.

There was no further play that day but are we disappointed, of course not, because we have tickets for the next game tomorrow…and I need to go now as we’re busy planning what time to leave and how to travel and is my England shirt clean, oh the pressure!!

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We‚Äôre going on an elephant hunt …. we‚Äôre not scared!

Tuesday 9th October 2018

Woke up bleary-eyed to a full on rainstorm. ‚ėĒÔłŹ

It had been an interesting night!! Although we were the ‘only’ guests staying in the hotel, they had catered for a large non-resident dinner party which later in the evening moved from the restaurant to the garden area literally below our first floor bedroom. Although it would seem no alcohol was involved, the party did consist of gigantic speakers with loud dance music and lots of chattering and raucous laughing till the early hours of the morning! Grumble grumble!! Oh well, I’m sure we’ve been the guilty party many a time in the past!

Luckily by late morning the rain eased off – just as well as we had booked a safari trip from lunchtime. So, at 12.30pm we climbed (literally) into our jeep and headed out on the 40 minute journey to Minneriya National Park. We had a super friendly driver who secured himself in with his seatbelt – then turned round to apologise that there were no seatbelts in the back …. we also had no view out of the front (just a board and a low down window between us and the driver) and open sides … so hurtling along the crazy Sri Lankan roads at 50mph was interesting to say the least.

We nevertheless arrived at the National Park in one piece and, after a short rest break, commenced the safari. We discovered pretty soon that we were in for a bumpy ride … starting off through some fairly narrow rainforest paths – spotting local bird life, monkeys and deer. And then we hit the open plains and very soon were whizzed off for amazing viewings of large herds of Sri Lankan elephants, eating, playing and bathing in their natural environment. Such beautiful animals – dusty brown in colour, all shapes and sizes and ages, so peaceful to watch. They apparently eat for 20 hours a day and there certainly seemed little let up in their munching. They elegantly twirl the end of their trunk around in the grass until they’ve gathered a sufficient trunkful, then they swing their trunk backwards and forwards as though drying the grass out … finally placing their pickings into their mouths. I could watch them all day.

There were plenty of other jeeps out and about on the safari and the afternoon was spent in rally style manoeuvring through muddy terrain and deep puddles to spot the various herds gathered. And we were given plenty of time to just watch – it was not just being zoomed from one place to another for photo opportunities.

All gathered to walk in a long line to the watering hole

Apart from the elephants, it was mostly a bird-spotting activity but that was magnificent in itself. We saw varying types of eagles, cranes, pelicans, egrets, peacocks and pretty bee-eaters. Oh and we did see one crocodile – apparently they hide away during the rainy season – suited me!

Spot the croc!!

Although very much a bone-shaker and probably not for the faint hearted, it was a helluva ride! Fabulous experience to see these majestic animals in their natural environment and not chained up or being used for rides.

And so we made our way home, back on the tuk tuk/bus/lorry and car filled roads … only to come across one of our Nellie friends walking along the road!! …trump trump trump!

Ceylon tea for two

6th – 7th October 2018

Apart from a bout of food poisoning I received from Prezzo earlier in the year, Steve and I have avoided any lurgies since we started our travelling adventures last summer.¬† So it was annoying to say the least that I picked up a pretty gruesome cold the day before we flew to Sri Lanka.¬† We flew Saturday evening by which time I was bouncing between bouts of shivering and hot sweats – so I dosed myself up and hoped for the best.¬† It was an 11 hour night flight on Sri Lankan Airlines.¬† Ear plugs and eye mask in place, swaddled in blankets and pillows, we both managed to have quite a restful night, woken up two hours before landing by a stewardess dishing out hot flannels and the offer of ‘Ceylon tea.’

We were met at the airport by our hotel driver and had a pleasant, though wet, drive to our hotel in Dambulla, in the Ancient Cities area of Sri Lanka.

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Oh yes, we have discovered that this is well and truly the rainy season!¬† We are still trying to fathom out why the England Cricket Team would arrange a tour at this time of year … it’s going to be interesting to see if any cricket is played!!

We arrived at Hotel Freedom Village after a 3 hour drive, to be met by lots of smiley and welcoming staff.  A lovely secluded hotel Рjust the job.  Several of the staff showed us to our room, carrying the baggage, telling us all about the hotel and room options, restaurant choices, holding umbrellas over us etc.  We soon found out that we were the only guests staying here for the next couple of nights so they were tripping over themselves to settle us in.

It’s a relatively new hotel but the rooms are colonial styled with dark woods, ornate furniture and ceiling fans, very authentic.¬† By the time we’d unpacked and rested a little it was time to explore the restaurant for our evening meal.¬† I was still feeling rotten with my cold so not up to venturing far or for too long.¬† So a simple dinner in the hotel was perfect …. cooked by three chefs and with two waiters to serve us … it felt like ‘the days of the Raj.’

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Although beautifully warm, the rain was still persisting … beginning to think there may be no let up.¬† After a couple of beers we decided to retire to bed early … on enquiring about mosquitos we had a team of staff accompany us to our room armed with sprays and fluorescent pink mosquito zapping bats to clear anything that may be lurking!!¬† I am happy to report a mosquito-free experience so far.

Monday 8th October 2018

We awoke to sunshine – still cloudy but the sun was definitely peeking through and it was warm.¬† A fabulous breakfast – all sorts of delicious fresh fruits, eggs and toast … and of course ‘English Breakfast Tea’ (but the label clarified that it is pure Ceylon tea).¬† This reminded me of when we were here earlier this year, the hotel waiter enquired about the tea we grew in Yorkshire!!¬† Suffice to say we enjoyed the tea black rather than sample the warm condensed milk provided.

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These lovely little palm squirrels entertain us while we’re eating breakfast.

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We decided to enjoy some leisure time at the hotel pool while it was not raining – it’s actually a perfect temperature – in true Goldilocks style … “not too hot and not too cold!”¬† Managed 20 laps of the pool and then just chilled – still trying to shake off this lingering cold bug.¬† Some beautiful mountain views in the distance.

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Later in the morning the Hotel Manager offered to drive us around the local area and to take in one popular local attraction – the Dambulla Cave Temples.¬† We had explained that I was still feeling under the weather so didn’t want anything too strenuous.¬† Caves sounded pretty manageable.

First stop was the Cricket Stadium to ask about tickets – as they do not return monies if ‘rain stops play’ we decided to wait till nearer the time.¬† Sampath showed us around the local high streets and then we drove out to the Cave Temples.¬† I had been informed that I would need a sarong to cover my legs and longer sleeves so had come equipped.¬† What we hadn’t come prepared for was the 300 odd steps up to the Caves … and with extra layers of clothes and still sporting a temperature I was well and truly overheating!!¬† Naturally there were a few retail opportunities on the climb up … and one very persistent stall-keeper ensured us that Steve would need a skirt to cover his knees!

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It was so worth the climb though Рfive separate caves with buddha statutes and paintings, first created over 2000 years ago.  Absolutely stunning and a very peaceful and meditative place.

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Then back to the hotel for more relax time … and afternoon Ceylon tea for two!