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I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. ~ Neil Gaiman

Weligama, Sri Lanka

December 31 – January 1, 2015

Weligama Beach in front of Fisherman's Bay Hotel

Weligama Beach in front of Fisherman’s Bay Hotel

In a nutshell, all you need to start your new year off right…good company. Whether that is spending the evening cuddled up with someone you love or a festive night with close friends, either way you can’t go wrong. We were lucky to have both. And even more fortunate to be spending it on a beautiful beach in Sri Lanka.

New Year’s Eve

After leaving Yala, we headed to Weligama where we would meet back up with our friends and begin an evening of celebrations – a birthday and New Year’s Eve. I often find myself with my eye glued to one side of the camera and as much as I like photography, I realize that this little habit can really prevent me from being present in the moment. For this reason, I (for the most part) hid my camera and let the night unfold shutter free.

Yep, for the most part.

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My love…

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My beautiful friends…

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…and a little debauchery.

New Year’s Day

After nursing a bit of a hangover, we headed out to go snorkeling. We rented equipment from a company right around the corner from where we were staying (Fisherman’s Bay Hotel) and then headed directly out past the boats in front. I’m not a fan of going far out from the shore or too far away from a boat so I spent the time following everyone’s flippers rather than looking at the beautiful fish. Regardless of me allowing my fears to take over, I still can say that I saw enough to know there must be better places nearby to snorkel. My highlight was finding a sea cucumber, or did someone toss it at me? Either way, they seem to always give me a good laugh.

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Hydration station on the way to Mirissa Beach

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Coconuts!

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Alex not wasting a single bit of her coconut ūüôā

Want to read more about our trip to Sri Lanka? Check out our itinerary here. Check back soon for my next post about our stay in Mirissa.

 

 

 

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Think of the beauty still left around you and be happy. ~ Anne Frank

Ella, Sri Lanka

December 30, 2014

SLELAP

Feeling on top of the world at Little Adam’s Peak

Captivating. Simply put, no other words will do. Standing atop Little Adam’s Peak I feel a gush of joy and the type of weightlessness that only seems to accompany true happiness. The mountains crest¬†and roll in every direction. I fight the urge to immediately photograph the views and remind myself to experience the moment as is.

The Hike to the Top

Little Adam’s Peak is a relatively easy hike. It’s nearly 3 miles round trip (about 35-40 min hike each way). The first 25 minutes or so uphill are quite easy but the last remaining bit is steep and the stairs in the hillside aren’t easy to navigate. The path leading you up winds through a tea plantation. If you are hiking early, you will see the tea pickers hard at work.

Tea plantation workers on the path up to Little Adam's Peak

Tea plantation workers on the path up to Little Adam’s Peak

Collected tea leaves in bags

Collected tea leaves in bags

Village girls exchanging smiles for rupees

Village girls exchanging smiles for rupees

The Views

Imagine 360 degrees of pure beauty. Sri Lanka’s landscape in the hill country is like none I’ve ever seen. Much of the mountains are covered in tea trees. This gives the mountain sides a texture unlike anything else. The green is lush and at various times of day, the clouds descend upon the peaks adding a beautiful softness. Without a great camera handy, I never felt like I could truly capture the beauty before me but luckily, the views were so fantastic I will never forget them.

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Taking a break and capturing the moment!

Taking a break and capturing the moment!

Considering Ella?

If you’re undecided on whether to stay in Ella, I would suggest that you at least make time for the quick hike up to Little Adam’s Peak, especially if you are driving through anyway. What a better way to break up a long drive from one town to the next?! As far as whether to stay nearby, I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a night in the area but if you are looking for a place that’s close and want to escape further into the mountains, check out my previous post on Bandarawela. It’s a very short drive and can be combined with Little Adam’s Peak in your itinerary.

To read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary, check out this post. Next up, we head to Udawalawe National Park for a safari, check back soon for the newest update!

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Fresh air impoverishes the doctor. ~ Danish Proverb

Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

December 29 – 30, 2014

Breathtaking views from The Hideaway Hotel in  Bandarawela

Breathtaking views from The Hideaway Hotel in Bandarawela

Standing silent against the railing of our balcony, I look across the horizon. Every shade of blue and green is visible in the late afternoon light. I had no idea I would be so lost for words. My mind races with thoughts on how to enjoy the views and the lovely escape into the mountains of Bandarawela but not a word leaves my mouth. I try to think of the best ways to spend the next 24 hours and as the answer hits me, I feel annoyed that I had those thoughts in the first place. It dawns on me as I inhale the fresh air…be present. Do not waste the time finding ways to distract yourself from your surroundings. Envelope yourself in the beautiful present.

The Hideaway Hotel

Tucked into the mountains around Bandarawela, you will find a beautiful hotel, The Hideaway, with eight rooms, all sharing the same view as the one picture above. The hotel itself is hard to find and luckily our driver got us there with few problems. This is an escape where solitude and relaxation are highly valued. The Hideaway is not in a bustling town or easily located next to dining and other experiences.  The purpose seems to be to escape into nature and into oneself.

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Ayurvedic Massage

After basking in the beauty of the mountains and sitting peacefully on our patio, Jonathan and I decided that we should experience our first ayurvedic massage. The hotel offered massages in a basic hut on the hillside. We figured we had time before dinner and we were both in the need of a little rejuvenation. The massage hut only allowed for one person at a time so we both decided I should go first.

This became a bit of an adventure…first I slid down the hillside to get to the hut. After 20 minutes into the massage the power went out. There was only one lamp lighting the hut in the first place so luckily the candles that were lit for ambiance served the purpose of also being our only source of light…not a problem. Who keeps their eyes open during a massage anyway? Towards the end of the session, the masseuse began massaging my face and scalp with additional oils. This felt lovely and I particularly liked the scent. Unfortunately, I had to shampoo my hair twice to get out most of the oil and my clothing definitely was sticky and saturated with excess oil in the short time it took for me to get back to our room.

When Jonathan returned from his massage, we had a good laugh. The experience was interesting yet far from rejuvenating. He too had to shower again after his massage and my hair looked a bit rough for several days. Was it enough to keep me from trying an ayurvedic massage again? No. But next time, it will not be in a hut on a hillside.

The massage hut

The massage hut

Worthy of a Visit?

If you are¬†looking for an escape with views of the Sri Lankan mountains and literally want to feel like you have stopped time, then The Hideaway is a great choice. It’s beautiful and serene. This is a great place to come to if you are traveling through the area and need a good night’s rest with lots of peace and quiet. However, if you are looking for adventures and to fill your time with activities, I suggest finding another location. I didn’t mention above but should mention for those who may be considering this hotel…the food at the hotel (your only choice in the area) was our least favorite of the trip. We had dinner and breakfast here and didn’t finish our plates even though we were very hungry.

After leaving Bandarawela, we headed towards Ella to hike Little Adam’s Peak. To read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary, click here. For more about our previous stop at a tea plantation, check out my post on Nuwara Eliya.

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You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~ C.S. Lewis

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

December 29, 2014

Woman harvesting tea

Woman harvesting tea

From an outsider’s point of view, it seems as though tea is the heartbeat of Sri Lanka. Mountains and hillsides all around are inundated by tea trees. It’s breathtaking and picturesque. Ceylon tea is known worldwide for being a high quality and desirable tea. But I’m a coffee drinker. Well, it’s more like I’m a coffee addict. However, once we arrived in Sri Lanka I fully embraced tea. In fact, I came to look forward to my morning pot.

Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Center

After spending several days decompressing in Kitugala, we headed west into the highlands towards Nuwara Eliya. Our goal was to visit a tea plantation then head to Bandarawela/Ella for another secluded night at a beautiful resort. Our driver suggested we stop at Mackwoods tea plantation so that we could try the tea and take a tour of the factory. The drive there was the highlight but the factory did not disappoint; although, the tour was brief and not as comprehensive as I would have liked.

Enjoying the grounds and the factory at Mackwoods on a very misty afternoon...

Enjoying the grounds and the factory at Mackwoods on a very misty afternoon…

There are many other plantations and factories to visit in Sri Lanka. We chose Mackwoods above a few others because we knew it was going to be easy to get a tour and it wasn’t far out of our way. One thing I would have wished I had known before going is that you cannot explore the actual tea grounds. Some other notable tips; the souvenir shop is overpriced but you can sit down in the cafe area and get a free pot of tea. If you have to wait for the next tour, grab you free pot there and someone will come and get you when the tour is ready.

Want to know what else we did while exploring Sri Lanka?  You can find out more here. Curious about where we headed next? Follow my blog or check back soon!

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Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.  ~ Unknown

 Sri Lanka

December 24 – January 4, 2014

Sri Lanka Flag

The first snow fall of the season always fills me with a sense of calm.¬† I can’t help but to stare up into the sky and try to follow a snowflake dancing its way home to¬†a final destination.¬† Something about stopping and taking in the beauty of the first winter snow day entrances me.¬† The chill in the air, the tingling of cheeks and the desire to cozy up to someone you love is a grand feeling.

As blissful as the moment is,¬†it is sadly, only a brief one. When living in a city of over eight million people and nearly 14,000 taxis the once beautiful snowfall quickly turns to grimy piles that seize up¬†the¬†already limited¬†space on the sidewalks.¬† You¬†suddenly realize you’re¬†under dressed¬†and are¬†a long walk from home, the subways are packed and every taxi in sight is taken.¬† This is when the moment of bliss disappears and you begin fantasizing of the warm sun on your face and lazy days at the beach or in the park.

The Escape

I’m not quite sure what led us to Sri Lanka other than the fact that our friends, David and Alexandra,¬†threw it out as a suggestion.¬†¬†My first thought…it is warm.¬† My second thought…I’ve never been.¬† My third thought…I’m all in!¬† Goodbye dirty snow piles.¬† Goodbye oversized down coat.¬†¬†Hello breathtaking mountains!¬† Hello sun-kissed island!¬† Hello hiking boots and bikini!
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Itinerary Overview

Colombo:  Eating & Exploring the city

Kitugala: Relaxing and White water rafting

Nuwara Eliya:  Tea Plantation & Factory

Bandarawela:  Ayurvedic Massage & Scenic Overviews

Ella:¬† Hiking Little Adam’s Peak

Udawalawe National Park:  Safari

Yala:  Safari

Weligama:¬† New Year’s Eve on the beach and snorkeling

Marissa: Whale watching and lazy beach days

Galle:  Ananda Spice Garden and lunch

Colombo:  Eat, Drink, and Relax

Interested in what we did in each city?  Follow my blog or check back soon for posts on each of the above destinations.  Also, look forward to tips on where to stay and how to find the best driver to take you everywhere your heart desires!

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Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. – Unknown

HANOI & HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

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A few years ago I came across a friend’s photograph on Facebook.¬† I typically take a quick look at photos in the news feed,¬†sometimes I¬†comment,¬†but mostly I just¬†move on down the feed.¬† This particular photo entranced me.¬† It awakened my desire to see and explore more than any other¬†photo¬†that I can remember.¬† It was magical.¬† It was breathtaking.¬† It simply blew my mind.¬† The photo was a scenic view of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.¬† I knew from that moment I would have to¬†travel there one day.

A majestic view from above Sung S√īt (Surprise Grotto)

A majestic view from above Sung S√īt (Surprise Grotto)

Day Four

  • Leave Hanoi by van to Ha Long Bay
  • Over night Paradise Luxury Cruise with stops at Sung S√īt and ńźŠļ£o Ti TŠĽĎp

From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

By staying at the Hanoi Elegance Ruby, we were able to easily book our trip to Ha Long Bay.  The hotel arranged our pick-up, held our bags overnight, discounted our stay since we were not staying one night out of our planned stay with them, and booked us a new (and even nicer) room for the evening when we returned.  Amazing service.

After looking at several options, we choose to book our overnight cruise to Ha Long Bay through Paradise Cruises.¬† This company was one of the few that had spacious rooms with balconies as an option.¬† We booked and were very happy with our room.¬† The energy on the boat was quite low from most passengers.¬† This did put a bit of a damper on our stay since we like to eat, drink and be merry.¬† We still did…just by ourselves!¬† Towards midnight, we heard a boat that appeared to be having way more fun – great music, cheering and excitement echoed from their boat.¬† Ours was quiet and dim by that time.¬† So warning – if you are looking for a party boat or want to socialize¬†and meet new¬†people, then you should try a different boat.

Paradise Luxury & Cabin

Paradise Luxury & Cabin

 

Enjoying everything there is to offer...

Enjoying everything there is to offer…

 

FYI, there's no shop for miscellaneous items on the boat...  We were hanging out on our balcony when we heard voices down below.  We looked down and saw a small raft approaching with goods for purchase.  These ladies had everything from chips, candy bars, water, fresh coconuts and more.  We turned them away as we didn't expect we would need anything.  A few minutes later another lady came by and it occurred to me that we might need a bottle of wine for the room.  What are my chances?  Sure enough, she had a bottle of Vietnamese wine for sale.  Then I thought, is she going to throw it up to us?  Then, how I am going to pay her?  My thinking didn't last long...she had a net to make exchanges.  Awesome!  What's not so awesome...hot wine that has spoiled.  Oh well!  It was a fun purchase.

FYI, there’s no shop for miscellaneous items on the boat… We were hanging out on our balcony when we heard voices down below. We looked down and saw a small raft approaching with goods for purchase. These ladies had everything from chips, candy bars, water, fresh coconuts and more. We turned them away as we didn’t expect we would need anything. A few minutes later another lady came by and it occurred to me that we might need a bottle of wine for the room. What are my chances? Sure enough, she had a bottle of Vietnamese wine for sale. Then I thought, is she going to throw it up to us? Then, how I am going to pay her? My thinking didn’t last long…she had a net to make exchanges. Awesome! What’s not so awesome…hot wine that has spoiled. Oh well! It was a fun purchase.

 

As part of the cruise, the ship stops at several places to give you an option of hiking, kayaking, swimming or visiting a cave.  Here we are at Dao Ti Top.  We were able to climb to the highest for a scenic overlook and then hang out on the beach to relax.  It rained when we were climbing but cleared up just as we were heading to the beach.

As part of the cruise, the ship stops at several places to give you an option of hiking, kayaking, swimming or visiting a cave. Here we are at Dao Ti Top. We were able to climb to the highest point for a scenic overlook and then hang out on the beach to relax. It rained when we were climbing but cleared up just as we were heading to the beach.

 

Ha Long Bay - Bay of the Descending Dragon; a UNESCO-declared World Heritage area

Ha Long Bay – Bay of the Descending Dragon; a UNESCO-declared World Heritage area

Day Five

  • Return to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay
  • Dong Xuan Market
  • Dinner at Pho 10

After a wonderful night of dining, gazing at the stars, playing games on our balcony, we slept like babies.¬† The next morning our boat headed back to the port where our van was waiting to take us back to Hanoi.¬† My last thoughts on Ha Long Bay…simply majestic!

Our return trip took a few hours.¬† Along the way we planned out how we wanted to spend our last night in Vietnam.¬† There was one¬†restaurant we had yet to try…but we had one very important stop to make before dinner.¬† After learning how to make traditional northern-style pho, we knew we would want to recreate it at home.¬† That meant we needed the secret ingredient since we were told it would be quite difficult to find it in the states…back to the market we went!

Sa sung; dried sea worms for pho from Dong Xuan market. They add a wonderful savory sweetness to the broth...all natural umami!

Sa sung; dried sea worms for pho from Dong Xuan market. They add a wonderful savory sweetness to the broth…all natural umami!

Dinner at Pho 10

A wonderful friend bought me the book, Where Chef’s Eat – A Guide to Chefs’ Favorite Restaurants.¬† I made a point to look up if there were any chef recommendations before heading to Hanoi.¬† Sure enough, I found one!¬† Pho 10 was recommended by¬†Chef¬†Neal Fraser as being a restaurant worthy of traveling out of your way to enjoy.¬† He was right on point!

A must try in Hanoi!  Delicious, inexpensive, packed with locals, and great service.  Don't expect to hang out...this is an in and out stop.  The servers are quick so that everyone can eat without a long wait.

A must try in Hanoi! Delicious, inexpensive, packed with locals, and great service. Don’t expect to hang out…this is an in and out stop. The servers are quick so that everyone can eat without a long wait.

Day six (really day seven but the first day was cut short) was spent eating a quick breakfast and heading to the airport.¬† We were sad to leave as we could have used a little extra time to travel to other cities in Vietnam but we had other plans… off to Taiwan for a road trip with friends!

Verdict ~ Visit Vietnam!¬† If you are in Hanoi, stay in the Old Quarter, be careful crossing the road, drink Vietnamese coffee like an addict, and take in the all the pleasures the city has to offer…great people, even better food, history, markets, street food, and more.¬† Whether you are in Hanoi or another city in Vietnam – make it a point to travel to Ha Long Bay and be prepared to revel in the beauty our planet has to offer.¬†

For more on this journey – check out Part One and Part Two

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 Little by little, one travels far. Р J.R.R. Tolkien

HANOI, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

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Day Three

  • Orchid Cooking Class with Chef Tien
  • Dinner at Nha¬†Hang Ngon
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Chef Tien

 

Orchid Cooking Class with Chef Tien

One of the best ways to learn about a culture is through their cuisine.  On our third day, we signed up to take a traditional northern Vietnamese cooking class at Orchid Restaurant (25 Hang Bac Str, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam) with owner, chef, and local food expert, Chef Tien.

The class begins with a basic introduction into traditional foods and a quick review of the menu you will be preparing.  After that, Chef Tien takes you on an adventure to the local food market to shop for main ingredients.  Next you are back in the kitchen to learn, cook, taste, share, and experience great food from start to finish.

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Orchid Restaurant & Cooking School

 

At Dong Xuan market shopping for ingredients we needed for the class.  Chef Tien steers us towards a lady selling balut and encouraged us to try it.  Jonathan takes him up on the offer and is quite surprised that it was better than his last balut experience...

At Dong Xuan¬†market shopping for ingredients we needed for the class. Chef Tien steers us towards a lady selling balut¬†(duck embryo) and encouraged us to try it. Jonathan takes him up on the offer and is quite surprised that it was better than his last balut experience…

 

Trying out chŠļ£ quŠļŅ; a delicious meat pate flavored with cinnamon, star anis and other spices.

Trying out chŠļ£¬†quŠļŅ; a delicious meat pate flavored with cinnamon, star anise and other spices.

 

Pho Bo: basically a whole day of work goes into making this delicious bowl of heaven...this particular bowl was the best I've tried and yep, I helped make it!  Secret ingredient...sea worms.  Look no further, these add a depth to the broth that is hard to substitute (that's why we smuggled into the US...shhhhh).

Making phŠĽü¬†t√°i; basically a whole day of work goes into making this delicious bowl of heaven…this particular bowl (with cooked beef and then topped with rare beef) was the best I’ve tried and yep, I helped make it! Secret ingredient…sea worms. Look no further, these add a depth to the broth that is hard to substitute (that’s why we smuggled some into the US…shhhhh).

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Hanoi style Vietnamese spring roll and a seafood salad

Here we are making cha ca (pan fried fish with turmeric and lots of dill); this is a famous dish in the area and we made it with a twist...rapped up with romaine and rice paper..

Here we are making cha ca (pan fried fish with turmeric and lots of dill); this is a famous dish in the area and we made it with a twist…rapped up with romaine and rice paper.

I highly recommend this class.¬† Just the trip to the market with a local chef was worth the experience; learning to make all these wonderful dishes…was the cherry on top.¬† No, wait, eating them was the best part!¬† So what do you do after about 8 hours of cooking and eating.¬† Nap.¬† Guess what happened after that…¬† Yes, I was hungry again.

Dinner at Nha Hang Ngon

I don’t know how we actually do it.¬† Jonathan and I don’t eat like ravenous animals at every meal when we are at home but somehow we easily fit in enough food for a family of four at almost every meal when we travel.¬† I would be ashamed or embarrassed but I’m not…because we eat it all (or nearly so) every time.¬† There’s always this looming feeling that if we don’t try ‘it’ now we may never have the chance to…so we order and we order and we order.¬† Needless to say, I was not hungry the next morning.

When you encounter a menu the size of a novela, you get one of everything that is most appealing...and if you're indecisive, just order it.

When you encounter a menu the size of a novela, you get one of everything that is most appealing…and if you’re indecisive, just order it.

What a day!¬† We learned so much and enjoyed every waking moment.¬†¬†Vietnam¬†has so much to offer and if you aren’t convinced yet…stay tuned for part three, coming soon!¬† A little teaser… on day four we head off on an overnight trip¬†to Ha Long Bay.

 

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