Sweet, sweet Shoalhaven

You know when you find that place, that place where time stops and preferably phone reception does too. The sort of place where you’re happy to lose track of time and where you left your shoes.

Where a walk along the beach can be the entire plan for the day, but there is still plenty of time for spontaneous decisions. It’s the sort of place where the simplest of things become magical; the sand feels softer, the waves clearer and the sun hitting your skin like a hug.

It’s the sort of place where as soon as you get there your body seems to switch. All you need is a weekend to feel completely refreshed. You find yourself retelling your stories and realising how little you actually did and how relaxed you were.

A place where you can find the most beautiful shells lining the waves as they lap up on the shore, and sting rays coasting the shallow bays. Where twisting your toes into the sand finds pipis, and throwing a line into the lake can provide dinner for six.

Everyone needs hidden secrets like this, so this one I’ll keep hidden. But jump in your car and head south to Shoalhaven and see what you can find.

E x

Dayyymn Amsterdam

I am just going to get it out of the way: I went to Amsterdam and didn’t get high. I must admit I had my hesitations before coming to this city due to the expectation that often accompanies it, but once again I was reminded of how the best thing that travel teaches you is to throw all preconceptions out the window.

I did get high on Amsterdam, though. How can you not? The energy is contagious. It’s uber-stylish sprinkled with a touch of grunge that just gives it character. And when you’re staying in the boutique district on Haarlemmerdijk, in a studio that looks like it’s from a page in a magazine I’d normally have to wipe my dribble off, how could I not fall in love.

He’d been to Amsterdam before with the boys, so instantly I knew I had to shake things up to make sure it was completely different to his last trip. I think the mere fact that it took us until the third night to visit the infamous Red Light District cleared that up though. And that we got up early each morning and went for brunch at places like TOKI and The Breakfast Club. Surprisingly though, the best coffee we found was from the cafe inside Urban Outfitters, served by a guy from Manchester that was up for a chat. Shame we couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Apparently it’s still considered English?

Apart from the free walking tour we did on the first day to get the gist of the city, Amsterdam was the city we just lived in the most. We walked the boutiques for hours, got snacks from Stach to keep us going through the day, wandered from one side of town to the other to get lunch at the Foodhallen, dodged through the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum and their teems of tourists, and scoured vintage markets we found dotted around the city. All things I do in Sydney, but it just felt so much cooler over there.

With absolutely no itinerary, we just did exactly what we wanted to each day, even if that wasn’t a lot. Subsequently days rolled into one another and before long I felt like I lived there, or at least that I really wanted to. I’m pretty sure one afternoon was spent looking into both of our ancestry to see whether or not he’d have to pop a particular question for a visa. All I can say is: damn you, Brexit.

With this being my last blog of the trip, I’m going to cut to the chase and just give you the good stuff you actually want to read about. Without further ado, I present to you: Amsterdam.

Where to eat //
We had dinner on the first night at Pizzabakkers which was awesome, recommended by our host and just down the road from where we were staying. I had a margherita with burrata (because I promised myself a while back that if burrata is on the menu I have to order it) and because it was delicious. We sat near the kitchen and enjoyed the staff playfully switching their conversations between Dutch, English and Italian and felt very…inadequate. As the man at one of the markets told me “come on, even a three year old can speak Dutch!”

Another one down the road was Le Sud, a cheeseboards heaven, with the best falafel wraps I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. And trust me, it was pleasurable.

If you’re into burgers, you must try Cannibale Royale. Stacked burgers in a stacked restaurant, I’d recommend booking if you can. Oh, and the elderflower gin and tonic. Served in a glass a goldfish wouldn’t mind swimming around in. Yes, please.

To finish off we treated ourselves to a fancy night out at Bak. We got lost at first, but found it at the top floor of a massive and empty warehouse in a very quiet area of Amsterdam. The food was unreal – think hare-blood sauce and a dessert made from carrot. Worthy every and all the pennies it cost.

Where to look //
I’d honestly couldn’t recommend the area we stayed in more – Haarlemmerdijk, located in the Jordaan district. The street was lined with boutiques like Restored, Six and Sons, Store Without A Home, Sukha, and so many more I would have to rent six apartments to be able to fit all the things I could have bought. Plus the street was lined with vintage shops that sent me spiraling back to when I had time to thrift.

What else //
Yes, I feel like Amsterdam is the sort of place that will always have little hidden secrets waiting to be discovered. One of them for us was The Movies, also located on the same street (yes I know, it’s starting to sound like a plug now), which was the oldest cinema in Amsterdam, and where we escaped the drizzle on our last afternoon to see Bohemian Rhapsody.

To be completely honest, I couldn’t have planned our Amsterdam trip more perfectly than it happened. It’s just the beauty of travel. And I can’t wait to do it again.

Where would you recommend?

E x


Blown away by Bruges

Putting Bruges into words can only be described as writing something of a love letter. With it’s cobblestone roads, bridges dressed in vines, Gothic squares and high-pitched cottages, it was something of a fairytale. More than midway through our trip, having nothing to do other than wander the canals of Bruges, dodging the horse and carts as they trotted past sounded pretty damn good.

Tucked away just off the main square was our perfect little cottage, with stairs so steep that we left our bags in the kitchen before climbing two flights to bed. With a roaring fire and a list full of restaurants within a five minute walk from us, Bruges was a massage to our tired legs.

But also, Bruges means beer. And within ten minutes of being there, he’d pulled me into about seven beer shops and was already trying to convince me that I’d really like the fruit beer. It would be really nice, apparently. Just like cider. Well, it wasn’t. But I tried. A few times. I even went on a brewery tour of the De Halve Maan Brewery, the only brewery to remain in production Bruges, now run by the sixth generation of the family; the proud owners of a three kilometer underground pipe that sends beer flooding through the city to their bottling factory just out of town. Not a lie. But beer aside, the view from the top was sweet enough for me and saved us the 12euros each to climb the Belfry.

First things first though, lets talk food. Pieter, our host, had given us a list of things we had to try in Bruges which was long enough to take a normal person three months to get through but, yes, you guessed it, we managed it in three days. L’Estaminet just around the corner served the best lasagne diablo – the Dutch version with a little bit of spice. The best thing about it though was that there was not a word of English spoken on the tables around us so we knew we’d escaped the tourists. And trust me, there’s a few of them around. For good reason though. Many day trip from Brussels so it gets quieter at night.

Chocolate from Stef’s, recommended to be the most reasonable in town (the locals go out of Bruges to get the good stuff), and then again at The Chocolate Line – the Heston Blumenthal of chocolate shops with prices that would make a fat duck sing. Think of the novelty though.

Breakfast the next morning was a Sanseveria Bagelsalon, just around the corner. A place which I’d found in my research the weeks beforehand and had already picked my order back in Australia. Needless to say, it lived up to the suspense. Oh, and if you go, request their special grapefruit juice.

The coffee shop we’d looked up was closed for the days we were there, but glass-half-full, the owners were in Amsterdam (our next stop) and were sharing all their favourite cafes there on Instagram. Waiting til 11am, yes that’s when things start happening in Bruges, we got coffee at Vero which did the trick.

On the second night we walked for a whole ten minutes to get to the other side of town to Tom’s Diner, another recommended from our host, but apparently also by the rest of town as it was fully booked on a Wednesday night. Once being told no we decided we really wanted to go and our lovely host helped us book for the following night. Delicious tapas and wine. Great atmosphere and a locals only vibe, it was perfect. For the night before, we’d just wandered until our noses found a little restaurant on a corner serving the traditional Flemish stew and mussels we’d been told to try. Passing the memo on to you now. It’s finger, licking, good.

A few sleep ins, a stroll through the Christmas markets in the main square, some window-shopping and a sneak peek inside the incredible Sint-Salvatorskathedraal – you didn’t think we could get through Europe without visiting a least one chapel did you? Ahhh, Bruges…

Bruges was everything and not a lot all at the same time, exactly what we wanted it to be. It’s got to be one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been, and seeing the fairy lights reflecting in the still water of the canals as I walked hand in hand with him back to the warmth of our cottage is a moment I’ll keep locked up for a while. Oh, and the waffles lathered in nutella. I’ll dream of that too.

Bruges, you’ve taken my breath away. I thought only he could do that.

E x


Listing off London

You will never believe the following occurred in just over twenty-four hours. But it did. Because if you’re going to do it, do it right. And do it all.

Day one / we rose and walked all of three meters to The Watch House, a cafe-come-bar that I’d been ogling through the windows the night before, as it was closed on the weekends. Not amazing, but warmed our fingers while it lasted. With a bit of pep in our step, we headed for the Tate Modern. We may have been up and at it early that morning, but a little research would have warned us that London doesn’t actually wake up til 10am. So save yourselves our wait and stay in bed until things open.

A visit to the Crying Room installation let out some of the tears that I’m sure wanted to at the reunion a few nights prior, and the new viewing deck at the top dropped jaws all round. Some eyebrow-raising art and some powerful pieces. Whether you’re a lover or not, the building is impressive enough to warrant a visit. And don’t get me started on the gift shop. Sorry for the wait, boys.

A wander through the Borough Markets on the way back to the tube, we ended up showing Henry something he’d never heard of (when the guide becomes the guided), and he outdid all of our lunches with a loaded pie that I can still taste on the tip of my tongue. Plus I recognised chips with beef dripping from dad’s stories.

Next stop the National History Museum, which he’d hyped up quite a lot. While the dinosaur bones that originally hung in the main hall appeared to have wandered off, they had replaced them with a whopping blue whale that swam through the monumental pillars of the museum. Not sure which part to take a photo of first, I could see how you could get lost in this place for days. And considering entry was free, why not? But if museums aren’t your thing, they also had an ice rink out the front where we watched two girls nail the perfect ‘gram, so there is that too.

It was Harrod’s for a juice (that’s all we could afford), and then off to find  the fairy lights I’d been dreaming of since I was a little girl. Yes, we walked it, and I’ll leave you and Google Maps to work out the distance. Coincidentally, or not, at both Regent and Carnaby Street there were also football shops. I know right! Ehh, everyone’s happy.

A beer at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese where it took longer to find a seat in one of the nooks and crannies of the pub than it did to drink it, and a lot of talk about ordering the three-week old scotch egg sitting at the back of the fridge, but luckily no action taken there. And like the ending to a fairytale, we feasted like kings on beers and burgers at the joint across the road from our apartment until I was hot enough that I was sitting at the bar in my thermals.

Day two – yes, that was all one day / we headed to Angel as I’d been told it would transport me to the ‘101 Dalmatians’ world that my seven year old self would have probably cried over. Row upon row of neat white terraces, I looked in eat window for a puppies face to pop out as we walked to Brother Marcus for breakfast. While we didn’t spot a puppy in the window, he did spot a fancy coffee machine so we stopped for another one, and with a neat thumbs up to the barista we were on our way again.

Covent Garden ticked another off Henry’s London List, and with another hundred photos taken of Christmas decorations, we were on the move again as we had somewhere to be at 3pm. Sketch. Yes, I’m still excited about it. The weirdest and most fabulous afternoon tea I’ve ever had, we were wined and dined by a waiter in a boilersuit, a caviar man in a panama hat, and waitresses that look like the stewardess of a flight to Mars. Pink walls, velvet chairs and toilets that looked like the eggs of the dinosaur who has gone walkabout from the National History Museum, it was an experience that will be relived through stories for a long time. And with a cake wishing ‘Sydney’ a happy birthday at the end, it’s endless thanks to Jane and Peter.

Grabbing Henry again, we headed to Ye Olde Mitre for one last beer in a place where Queen Elizabeth is rumored to have danced around a cherry tree. With sore feet and heads full of fresh memories, we hugged and separated once again, this time knowing only for a month. Not giving ourselves time to think, we raced off to a late night showing of The Book of Mormon and laughed until we collapsed back in bed.

So to London, the city where there always seems to be masses of people walking somewhere on the street, where there are no bins anywhere, and the subway conductors sing Christmas carols to the commuters on the platform as they remind you to watch the gap, thanks for helping me get my steps up this week. I’ll be seeing you again soon. No doubt. Definitely.

E x

A library of London

I don’t believe there is ever not a good time to travel, and leaving a Sydney summer for a European winter is no exception. Plus, for a girl who finds herself as entranced with fairy lights as I do, London leading into Christmas is a fairytale. Too busy staring up at the strings of lights floating above to navigate the streams of people falling out of buildings, cafes, and tube stations below. But ever so happy.

The first glimmer of the trip sparked from the idea to surprise his younger brother who had been living abroad for the year by turning up at the local derby at Wembley Stadium, creating a memory that floods warmth through your body – “no f#@king way” – and didn’t take much convincing from there.

So with four days in London, and an excited and unexpected tour guide, what do you do?

The first twenty-four hours were a whirlwind. Filled with surprises, station-hopping, and sub-par temperatures, we rode the high until we collapsed back in our perfectly positioned London pad. At 7.30pm – thank you, jetlag.  Wandering around Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland we wasted our first few pounds on carnival games we knew we couldn’t win, and warmed our weary fingers with Bailey’s hot chocolate and good old German beer. With Mariah already filling the air, it really was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, and with his brother back by his side I could tell he already had all he wanted.

One of the things that excites me about travel is having an excuse to eat out for as many meals as you just can’t seem to justify back home. And when we eat, we do it well. Warned about the state of coffee in the UK, our first breakfast at The Modern Pantry was very well received. The savory waffles drizzled in maple syrup and pulled pork eggs benedict definitely didn’t disappoint either. And apparently, without realising, we’d brought a taste of home back to Henry. Coffee. We even stopped for a second cuppa at Prufrock on the walk home.

A stroll through the Camden Markets, where a bubble-machine from the circus shop almost had me in tears thinking it was snowing already, was followed by a proper stuffing at Southwark Tavern with a bunch of Breislin’s who we worked out, I hadn’t seen for almost ten years. Many jokes were made about putting the ‘convicts’ back in their cells (the tavern used to be a prison), and it just felt like home. Funny thing about family.

A walk along South Bank and across Millennium Bridge, we ended up watching the the setting sun trickle through the city’s shades of grey from the top story of a boutique shopping center across from St Paul’s. It pays to know people who know the city inside out. Looking at you, Viv.

Anyway, that’s enough words for now. But don’t worry, there are more to come. A whole load more. For now, have some pictures.

E x

Venturing to Kangaroo Valley

Growing up sometimes means awful things like annual leave. But saying no to a summer in Europe doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to home detention. And if you’re clever enough to pick a keeper like I did, a surprise weekend away might even be on the cards.

The clue: eggs and meringue.

The answer: unyoked.

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In words I wish I’d written myself, it was boring in the most exquisite of ways. Located in the unused paddock of a farm in the Kangaroo Valley, the solar-powered, out-of-signal cabin is the perfect excuse to switch your emails to out-of-office. There’s nothing to do and it’s perfect. Hours spent staring at the fire that will later cook your dinner, flicking pages of your book like the light through the trees around you.

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It had everything you needed and not a thing more. Luxurious linen, stunning scenery, torches to spot the wombats at night, and windows to reach the stars. You and me.

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Waking up to a frost that sparkled in the morning light and stumbling my way through a yoga flow as the steam rose from the sloping valley around us. Utter nothingness.

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A holiday where photos speak a thousand words, but those words could never quite capture it.

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Thank you for the most magical escape.

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E x

 

Hack: what to pack

Have you ever arrived late at your hostel and had to creep into your dorm in the dark and wished you’d packed a torch? Or found yourself draping the clothes you’ve just washed in the sink over every dusty corner you can find in your hotel room and teared up over your washing line at home?

Every time I travel, I learn new hacks on things to pack to make my life easier on the road. But come the next trip, I never seem to remember them, so I thought it was about time I wrote them down.

The list doesn’t contain the essentials (ie. passport, duh), but possibly a few things to add to your letter to Santa.

1. Powercube

Say goodbye to scrambling around that dusty drawer of international adapters looking for enough plugs to charge all your devices. Forget organising a schedule stricter than school camp to make sure your phone, GoPro, laptop and camera are all fully charged for the next day. A powercube has four plugs and two USB ports in one nifty little device. Say hello to filling all your devices with power, in the time it takes you to shower. (That is not an ad, but it should be).

2. Pegless washing line

A lot of places in Europe won’t let you hang your washing out on your balcony, and there is nothing worse than losing your limited stock of underwear after it flies off the precarious perch you hung it over to dry. A pegless washing line not only looks cool, but ensures the delicates you quickly washed in the bathroom sink the night before are actually dry before you stuff them in your bag and hop on the train the next morning.

3. Flexlible travel lock

This is a tip I got before my first backpacking adventure around South East Asia. Locks become much more than just security on long-haul flights. Particularly when you’re backpacking, locks are your life. Passport, money, that scarf you really love. Lock ’em up. But what happens if your lock doesn’t fit into the latch that’s been dented and deformed from years of abuse. Get a flexy lock. With bendy arms, it’ll hug any catch. Nawwwww.

4. A shampoo bar

I’ve never actually used one before but I saw a video on Facebook recently (pretty much how I learn about everything these days), and it looks pretty cool. Save yourself the room big bottles take up and the risk of everything exploding over your limited wardrobe and grab yourself a shampoo bar. Just like soap, only shampoo. Plus, any excuse to head into Lush is one I’ll take.

5. Rechargeable phone case

Forget carrying around heavy power batteries and just slip your phone into a rechargeable phone case. Practical, powerful and yep, you guessed it, packed.

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So what do you never leave without?

E x

Off to Orange

Not a fan of driving? Not a problem. As I’ve found out, catching the train to the country is easey peasy, and actually aesthetically-pleasing, thanks to TrainLink. So when the parents went up again and I found a couple of days to spare (literally), I hoped onboard and headed out west.

There is nothing more alluring to a city slicker than the promise of rolling brown hills, stunning sunsets, and a paddock of alpacas just metres from your bedroom window. And that’s exactly what I got. Oh, plus an overflowing garden with more vegetables than your local Harris Farm, the most adorable pup called Fergus, heritage-listed barns, and a neigh-bourly horse. Sorry, I had to.

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If you’ve ever dreamed of dropping everything and moving to the country, but haven’t quite been able to muster up the courage, I’ve discovered the perfect solution. It’s a website called TrustedHousesitters. But it’s not just your average house-sitting gig, it’s better. It comes with pets. With worldwide stays available, it can open the door to some amazing opportunities. Like looking after three alpacas and a pup on a small property in Orange.

As a bonus, once you find yourself there, Orange has heaps to enjoy, even if most of it is closed over the long-weekend. And with the Taste Orange food festival headed their way in the coming weeks, Orange has never tasted so good.

From homewares to housebrew, find a few of my favourites from the last trip below.

To eat //

Arriving in late on the first night, I was spoilt and treated to dinner at Lolli Redini, Orange’s very own hatted restaurant. The portions are small but the flavours are strong, and if you’re a girl after my own heart, just read the dessert menu and you’ll know. Creamy fig, rhubarb and honeycomb frozen parfait, with squashed caramalised puff pastry, whipped mascarpone, honey jelly and fresh figs. Yeah.

I know I’ve mentioned Byng Street Local Cafe before but this time I ate there. Simple but delicious, hearty food, plus I hear they’ve started a Supper Club every Thursday with a four course menu for $40 per person. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Finally you can’t go to Orange without visiting Racine Bakery. The hole in the wall in the corner of a carpark that serves up croissants and tarts and bread and quiches and all manner of good baked goods. I’d recommend the portuguese tart, or three.

To shop //

For lovers of pretty petals, you can’t go past Botanica Florist. Located in a heritage-listed turned crisp, modern warehouse, the space is part art gallery, part woodland fairy dream. With rich herringbone floors, and crisp white walls, colour bursts from the canvases hung on the walls, and the flowers stuffed in vases along the bench. If you’re into the weird and wonderful like me though, you’d probably be drawn to the seed pods and cotton tree branches. A flower that doesn’t die? Yes please. And just in case you’re not already salivating at the thought, it has a boutique clothing store and cafe attached. Ahhhhrmmm yes yes yes.

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I’ve written about it before but I love it too much not to mention it again. Jumbled is where I’m floating off to when I die. I’d have to spend hours in there just to try and find a piece I don’t like, but I’ll spend hours in there anyway. After visiting again, my new goal in life is to be able to have a house big enough to have walls to fit all the art on, beds to cover in their sheets, and shelves to fill with all their bits and bobs. If you’re ever in the market for a present for me, visit here: https://www.jumbledonline.com/

Finally, for all the things you need but never knew you did, there is Eclectic. Giant wooden dice, old salvaged leather suitcases, and refillable soy candles, it’s got that cool ‘oh this old thing?’ vibe that my dreams are made of. And apparently a lot of other peoples dreams too, as they’ve recently opened a second store.

On the bucket list //

Someone wise once told me that you shouldn’t worry about not doing everything a city has to offer the first time, because it just means you have a reason to go back.

I spotted a new restaurant being fitted out while I was there, called Frida’s Mexican. A little research led me to learn it’s being done by the guys behind the Union Bank and the Lord Anson. Needless to say, I’ve got my eye (and stomach) set on this one once it opens.

On one of the ten minute drives it takes to get anywhere in Orange, we flew by the Village Bakehouse. From the outside it looked like everything I like – polished concrete floors, subway tiles, large open spaces and exposed beams. Plus freshly baked breads and pastries. Those I really like. Definitely adding this one to the to-do list.

Down the main strip, in between the chemists and shops with big yellow ‘sale’ signs, I noticed a cool-looking bar called Washington & Co. Apparently a whisky saloon, a quick scroll on Facebook sent it straight to the top of my list.

Until next time, Orange.

E x

 

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Diving into the Maldives

The lap around the island took us a whole two minutes to walk. It was beautiful from every angle. Water the colour of blue jelly and a sprinkling of icing sugar sand. Only accessible by seaplane, fish swam just inches from the beach and there was the most soothing silence all around.

The day was shaped, not by time, but by the strength of the sun, the service of food, and the occasional shower that did nothing but delay the drying of your bikini by a minute or two.

Days started just as they ended; swimming off the back deck among fields of coral and fish. Floating in the saltiest sea water required little effort, and thus was enjoyed until the salt dried on the tips of our noses. The sun hitting the soft teal-blue ripples caused diamond-like sparkles. You could call it something like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The view above the water, though, is almost rivaled by the view beneath. Sinking to fifteen metres, him a little more, we danced with turtles and drifted by glittering fish.

If you ever find yourself in the sinking state, we’d recommend drifting to Drift.

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Archiving the Ancient Cities

A day exploring the ruins of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka will surely not ruin your day. Okay, now I’ve got that out of my system, I’ll continue.

The history of Sri Lanka is long and winding. With each site we visit, we learn of a new king, a new invasion by South Indians, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the British, each meaning a new city, capital, temple or palace. The last few days have been a jungle of information, steep steps, breathtaking buildings and sweat.

Instead of attempting to explain the serpentine story of the two hundred and sixty-something kings and five ancient cities of Sri Lanka, as guide books tend to do a much better job at that than I ever could here, I’ve decided instead to archive some of the most bloggable* facts that lingered with me at the end of each day.

*I’ve also learned that bloggable is actually a word. And I’m lovin’ it.

Anuradhapura
The fortunate thing about having a car for this trip is that we’ve had the opportunity to visit places off the beaten track that many tourist don’t know about or can’t be bothered to journey out to.

Our first stop was to the ancient Buddhist library building in Padeniya Temple; a beautiful wooden temple encased in intricate carvings, from the lion heads guarding the walls to the swirling patterns scored into the doors of the temple. A small complex used by the King when he needed to escape the capital, it was definitely off the tourist-map. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetNext, we ventured on to Yapahuwa. All that remains now is a stairway so steep you have to crawl, that rises out above the clouds and is guarded by monkeys. While seemingly small, this rock fortress became the capital of Sri Lanka for eighteen years from 1272.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetFinally we reached the ancient city of Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka and home to the oldest tree on record – the Sacred Bo Tree. Along with our guide, Channa, we bought the most beautiful lotus flowers from the stall surrounding the temple as offerings. Channa explained that the reason we offer flowers is reflective of Buddha’s teachings about life – as the flowers that we offer today will be dead tomorrow, reminding us that we should live in the present and not the past or future.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetNext we moved on to Jethawanarama, or the brown stupa, believed to be the largest brick monument in the world following the pyramids in Egypt. Channa explained that using the ninety-three millions bricks that make up the stupa, you could build eight thousand and four houses. The whopping structure took forty-five years to build, but only seconds to take your breath away.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThroughout the day we visited the ruins of architecturally astounding ponds used for water meditation (some could remain under water for up to two hours meditating), hospitals, kitchens and toilets, all of which demonstrated an incredible level of irrigation for the fifth century. Even I was impressed. About drains. Yeah.

There were stupas everywhere, some still remained submerged in soil yet to be rediscovered, all with unique quirks and designs. We had king coconuts and roti for lunch, and found many the stray furry friend along the way. One of my highlights, however, was a special place Channa took us, where no tourists go. It was a functioning monastery that had a tree which had built a cathedral with its roots. Pictures cannot do it justice.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset
We ended the day at Mihintale – a hilltop complex heralded as the place where  Buddhism was first introduced into Sri Lanka, plopped atop one thousand, eight hundred and forty-three steps. At the very top you can pull yourself up a sun-drenched rock to an incredible view across the hills and valleys, even making out some of temples we’d seen previously. As the sun began to set, it all felt very Lion King-esque.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetPolonnaruwa
In the eleventh century, Polonnaruwa rose as the capital after many an invasion at Anuradhapura. Apparently, there were also less mosquitoes. Bonus.

After driving through leafy national parks, we met our guide, Rahul, who took us through our paces. The Royal Palace, where the King lived with his five wives…and five hundred concubines. The Quadrangle, where each King built a new temple to house the tooth of Buddha. The lake, which is surrounded by electric fences because on occasion  the water drops low enough for the elephants way across the bay to walk on over. And the Gal Vihara, the most impressive monument we’ve seen yet. Across one granite stone, standing seven metres high and over twenty metres long, four different sculptures of Buddha have been carved. Immense, inspiring, inconceivable. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetSigiriya
Woah, you really don’t realise how much you can achieve in a day until you try to write it down.

That afternoon, we headed for Sigirya. The giant rock that someone once upon a time had the splendid idea of building a kingdom on top of. Surrounded by the ruins of what sounded like an opulent ‘pleasure’ garden with ponds, pools and fountains (‘like a nightclub’ our guide told us), Sigirya was once the epicentre of the kingdom of Kassapa. We climbed rickety staircases that gripped casually to the side of the rock, passed by frescos painted god only knows how, and finally reached the summit. And what a view.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

My legs may be aching but my smile is wide.

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