Tantalising Turkey!

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I’ve always been a bit weary of Turkey. A country spanning two continents, some crazy politics and reportedly some of the worst drivers in the world. Luckily, what we found was a beautiful, kid friendly country filled with some of the best food in the world, amazing scenery and very hospitable people.

We started our Turkish adventure in Istanbul, home to some of the world’s great Mosques and best Turkish delight. We ended up staying in the old town, which is an easy walking area of Istanbul, filled with historical sites, small restaurants and the great bazaar, where you can pretty much buy anything.

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We were only really passing through Istanbul on our way to Cappadocia, so spent our three days lapping up local life and our evenings wandering the streets, knowing that we were always protected by Batman, of course.

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We also managed to visit an Andy Warhol exhibition in one of the more modern areas of Istanbul called, Tunel, which was great as we literally only saw ten people during the entire time at the exhibtion.

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Our next stop was Cappadocia, in central Turkey. We arrived late at night in Goreme, which is this mystical little town surrounded by massive rocks, which humans carved out thousands of years ago into large caves and tunnel complexes. We splurged a bit on our accommodation and stayed in a “cave” hotel. It’s a pretty weird experience, as the sound in the cave is completely dead and has no natural light, but it’s an amazing place to sleep and even with kids its very quiet.

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Goreme is filled with touristy shops and great little restaurants. One of our highlights was hiring a horse carriage for an evening and visiting the Rose Valley and the Love Valley, stopping amid the caves and watching the sun go down drinking Turkish wine. Definitely one of our travel highlights.

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If you’re ever in Turkey, visit Cappadocia, its one of the most fascinating places we’ve ever been to. One of the most popular ways to see the landscape is to take a hot air balloon ride, which we didn’t manage to do with the kids this time, but its definitely on our bucket list for the future. We did however manage  to take them to Avanos where pottery has been produced for centuries and some of the techniques date back to 2000BC. The kids spent some time making their own pots…

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Our plan for Turkey was to head in-land and then bus around. The busses in Turkey are unbelievably cheap (unlike the beer) and we booked a one-way to Antalya, a coastal resort town in the South of Turkey. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a 12-hour overnight bus, where they never turn the lights off, stop every 45 minutes for a smoke break and has free wife! The kids were very good on the bus, even though they were still wide-awake at 03h00.

Antalya is a very large seaside town with rows of beach chairs and small shops selling fake goods. We stayed in the old town, which had a lot of charm and the best mezze platters.

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One of the reasons we stayed in Antalya was that it was very close Olympus and was en route to Gulluk, a stopping point for two weeks.

Olympus is the quintessential backpacker town, famous for it’s tree house accommodation, beautiful beaches, ruins and Mount Olympus. We’ve had all sorts of accommodation and stayed in some cool places along our travels, but Olympus was different as we got to interact with backpackers from around the world in a very chilled environment.

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Ronelle stayed in the tree houses ten years ago, so it was cool for her to see the evolution of the place, which I’m told has evolved considerably. Part of the Olympus charm is the beach, which is extraordinarily beautiful. The walk to the beach is quite an experience, as you pass through Roman ruins from 78BC before reaching a sea, with bright blue warm water, needles to say, we couldn’t keep the kids out of it.

It’s quite amazing how “backpackers’ have changed. Firstly, there aren’t many backpackers these days that actually carry backpacks, secondly the age group has widened considerably. It seems that the only common denominator is the spirit to travel and the lust to explore the unknown.

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Another reason to visit Olympus is Yanartaş or the burning mountain. The mountain has hundreds of small fires that have been alight for 2500 years. We visited it at night, as you get the best experience. It’s about a one kilometer climb and we were both really surprised at how the kids managed to easily make it to the top and back with no help. Sometimes we underestimate what they are capable off.

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Our next stop was Gulluk, on the West coast of Turkey, where we were lucky enough to be given an apartment by our friends the Goldswaine’s. This not only helped the budget, but also allowed us to stay in one place for a longer period of time. Gulluk is a sleepy little town, surrounded by thousands of empty apartments, as it’s a very seasonal place.

The surrounding seaside is beautiful and there is a small centrally located harbour where tourists can take daily boat trips, which is exactly what we did. We met a cool Captain and headed off for a day of sailing the Aegean. It turned out to be one of our best Turkish experiences. It felt like it was a private cruise, as it was just us and the captain’s family on board.

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There is something to be said about spending the day swimming in 28 degree water, eating great home cooked food and drinking icy cold beers. We loved it so much, that we returned the next week for another day out on Moonrise.

Overall, Turkey blew our minds. Ronelle has travelled there a few times before, but I was really surprised about the infrastructure, transport and most importantly the people. It’s the most kid friendly country I’ve ever been too and everybody really made us feel welcome. It’s the kind of place where people go out of their way to help you, regardless of what’s in it for them. It’s a country that we will definitely visit again and again…

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The Allewell’s hit Europe…

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You really don’t get two more polar opposites than Sri Lanka and Switzerland, After spending three glorious months experiencing Sri Lankan culture, we were all excited about heading to Europe to continue our adventure.

We did a quick tour of Switzerland, with a car and house provided by our Tourism Radio Chairman (Thanks Luka) It took us a few days to acclimatise to Europe, as its both a long flight from Sri Lanka and well, everything is perfect in Switzerland.

 

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The great thing about travel is being able to make changes to our itinerary (most of the time based on costs) We originally left Barcelona off our list, but after much thinking, we managed to get some cheap flight s and a sponsored BMW station wagon, nogal. Thanks to Melissa from First Car Rental for organizing us the transport, we felt very special driving through Spain in that fancy car, as we’ve become accustomed to Tuk Tuk’s.

Barcelona isn’t just an amazing city, but one that holds a lot of really great memories for us, having lived there in 2008. Its also the place where we got engaged and it felt as though we had come full circle taking our kids back to our old haunts and “our square”. There isn’t a better experience than sitting in a Spanish Plaza sucking back on a glass of Sangria and eating patata brava’s.

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Kerala has been looking forward to Barcelona for the last 6 months, as we promised to buy her “hakskoene” high heels. As you can see below, she fell in love with these ones and hasn’t taken them off since.

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Part of our travels is for Ronelle and I to share some of our favourite places with each other.  One of those places for Ronelle, is Cadaques, a traditional Spanish fishing village on the east coast and previously home to Salvador Dali for most of his life. We decided that it was the perfect place for Ronelle’s birthday.

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We started off the day  with a bottle of bubbles, French pastries and a lot of swimming, at ten in the morning.  We both have a passion for art and we tend to visit museums, galleries and exhibitions whilst in a town, so it was a perfect birthday present to visit the Dali Museum, which showcases Dali’s life. The museum is based in his old house and it was fascinating to see how he lived, his art and the life that he led.

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A really big part of my life was Pamplona, running of the bulls. Quite a few of my favourite memories come from those hazy “pamps” days and I really wanted Ronelle to get a sense of where Id spent my early 20’s, come to think of it, most of my 20’s and early 30’s. Amazingly, not much has changed in 20 years at Camping El Molino (The windmill) that place I worked at. The people are still the same, the furniture is still the same and they still serve warm cheap Sangria!

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Spain has everything, sea, sun, food, friendly people and some of the best roads I’ve ever driven on.  We paid about 60 euros (R900.00) in toll fees the first day, so I have no idea what the Guatengers are bitching about.  We crossed Spain in one day and ended up in a dream town…

Eat, drink and be merry!

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San Sabastian is a town on the North West coast of Spain and it could rival any place in the World for beach, food and culture . We stayed right in the middle of the old town, which is surrounded by tapas bars, restaurants and uber culture.

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It really is one of the most amazing places on earth and just sucks you into eating, drinking and being merry. We were unfortunately only there for four nights, but the lazy beach days, kids carousel/play parks and the warm chocolate croissants in the morning are something to behold.  Not to mention lazing about at the local square, eating tapas and drinking chilled cava and cerveza!

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If there is one thing that Spain has, it’s a great modern culture. The streets are filled with art and sculptures. It’s been a dream for both of us to visit the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, which is a work of art in itself.  Kai and Kerala have become quite the art experts in their travels and we managed to spend a few hours viewing the various exhibitions, with out breaking anything!

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Spain is quite easily the most kid friendly country we’ve visited along our travels. The government seems to have made it a priority to build educational parks, play centres and anything that can help adults out with their kids. We’ve just added a few more great memories to our Spain travels, which will keep us coming back year after year!

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The daily grind, Sri Lankan style…

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As grown adults we don’t often get the opportunity to take a few months off and do nothing. Just wake up each day with no external expectations, walk down the beach, have a swim, cold beer or just lay in bed the whole day. For the last two months, we’ve been privileged to live that life and have met some amazing people along the way. One of the reasons why we have been shielded from any pressures is also support from our families who have taken care of some of life’s normal stresses, so thanks Mom, Dad, Ma, Pa and Francesco!

We’ve spent the better part of the last two months, meeting people, exploring the local surroundings and enjoying two of the countries biggest festivals, New Years, which is a drunken two day extravaganza of local cheap whiskey, driving recklessly on the beach and very loud music and Vesak, Buddha’s birthday which is a much more spiritual occasion.

We recently spend time on the lagoon, close to Hikkaduwa, where we were really surprised, as it wasn’t exactly a lagoon, but more an ocean, as it was that big. We started with an extraordinary foot exfoliation, which was pretty weird, but my feet felt beautiful afterwards!

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The lagoon is scattered with hundreds of islands and there is an amazing Buddhist Temple run by monks. We all received blessings from the monk, which would cover us for 12 days of good luck. I’m hoping the translator meant twelve years! We also managed to leaf through the Buddha book of wisdom, which was 600 years old. I’m still a little perplexed that they let you page through a palm leaf 600 year old book at your leisure, but hey, this is Sri Lanka, most things go unexplained here.

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One of the beauties of where we stayed was that it was literally on the beach and each evening the local guys would play cricket and volleyball, which was really great, but I’m quite certain that they don’t have much hope for SA cricket based on my 2 month average! It really was the quintessential waterlogged bat and old tennis ball beach cricket. What made matters worse was they half of them would have made the SA 20/20 team.

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Although the water is warm and idyllic, the waves are very big and the currents strong. I may be bad at cricket, but growing up around surf helped me to save a Chinese tourist who got swept out to sea, thinking she was swimming in a pond. Sri Lankans may be good at a lot of things, but they don’t enjoy swimming in big waves and by the time got in to help her they were all standing watching, not wanting to go in. I guess the old adage “swim where the locals swim” rings true.

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As I mentioned above, we were really lucky to spend time here during Vesak, The streets are filled with lanterns, which represent the light of Buddha and for some reason, little old Hikkaduwa held a parade rivalling Carnival in Rio. It was a massive sober occasion, as no alcohol is allowed to be sold on this day, being extremely important to Sri Lankans. Even the most hardened alcoholic tends to stay dry for two days, so you can imagine the run on the bottle store at the end of the festivities!

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Kai and Kerala, got extra special attention when we visited Buddhas Temple on Vesak, with all the local kids beautifully dressed up in white for the occasion.

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Our home at Cinnamon Gardens became a wedding venue for two separate couples last weekend. Close to 700 hundred people pitched up over the two days of festivities. It was great to be part of the occasions and the kids were a big hit with the guests as they put on their best clothes and joined in, dancing, eating and having fun. We also got to see how much food needed to be prepared for the guests, starting with 25 kilo’s of rice. Weddings here,  are very similar to a South African wedding, except that they start at 10h00 in the morning and by 14h00 most people are ready to go home as the whiskey is finished.

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One of our goals this year was to give our kids the opportunity of spending time with the local kids in a school environment, learning the language and understanding some of the customs. The school we chose was a very basic Montessori, based in Galle Fort, and turned out to be an amazing experience for them. We decided to spread some South African love at the kids farewell party!

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So, what else is there to say about this country. We came not knowing much, but are leaving a lot richer for it. We have to mention some of the people who have made our stay so amazing and that’s the staff, owners and all people involved at Cinnamon Gardens, Samatha, Janith, Janicker and Charmarin to name but a few. You guys will live in our memories forever for your kindness, especially to our kids. They have grown immensely because of the love you showed them.

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Sri Lanka is a country where its difficult to scratch the surface as a tourist, even if you spend three months here. So many things happen around you and without speaking the language it just goes over your head. It works one day, broken the next, he’s here one day and gone the next, who knows why. If you ask, you’ll get 20 different answers, but that’s the great things about being here, you never have to get involved.

The last two months has been a life reset for us. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, we realize how privileged we are to have this time together. But, as they say in the movies, all good things must come to an end. We’ll miss Sri Lanka and all of the wonderful things she has given us, but Europe awaits with all its wonderful architecture, art, food and culture.

And the journey continues…

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Life on the Island…

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Sri Lanka is an amazing country, filled with amazing people, which was one of the reasons why we decided to settle down here for a few months.  We wanted part of our travel experience to be “more local” and to get the kids into school to learn a bit of the culture and meet some new friends.

We settled at a little beach resort called “Cinnamon Gardens”  run by Samantha (pronounced Samata) and his son Janith. It’s about 3 km’s from the busy tourist town, but close enough for us to tuk tuk in when we need groceries, or want to visit one of the posh hotels for a swim.

We enrolled the twins into a Montessori school in Galle Fort, which is a 30 minute bus ride from Hikkaduwa. The school is very basic, but the teachers are amazing and obviously having Kai and Kerala in their school is a bit of a talking point amongst the locals.

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We take the kids to school two to three times a week, taking the local bus. Driving in Sri Lanka isn’t exactly normal by western standards, but it’s a fun way to start the day. The route to Galle drives passed some of the best beaches in the world and the return journey costs about R8.00. We didn’t know the exact fare to start with (they wont tell you) , so started at R20 return; gradually reducing the amount each time we travelled, eventually getting to the sweet spot!

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The kids got into the school just in time for their annual sports day, which started with a fancy dress pageant. Luckily we travel with Princess and Superman attire in our backpacks!

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I’m proud to say that Kai placed 1st and 2nd  in his races and Kerala 2nd and 3rd. Kai also won the musical chairs, which started with 20 kids. It was amazing to see how he whittled down his opposition, finally destroying just beating the last challenger to take GOLD!

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Side note: Nell and myself also won the adults competition which was throwing a balloon filled with water to each other as far as possible. Team Allewell took the most prizes for the day.

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One of the beauties of staying in a place for a while allows us to explore things the average tourists don’t see.  There are so many things that the Sri Lankan people still do the traditional way by hand, such as making lace and polishing precious stones. One of the big exports are gem stones, with the world’s biggest moonstone mine being in Sri Lanka. Turns out Lady Dianna’s jeweller got the saphire for her engagement ring just down the road.

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We’ve slipped into a routine and most days we start the day with a walk on the beach, some breakfast and then a swim at our “local hotel” called Lavanga. We bought a monthly membership at the hotel, which includes the gym, an amazing play centre for the kids, a movie theatre and a beautiful pool on the sea front.  The kids still sleep in the afternoon, so we normally head back to our place and then play some afternoon beach cricket and watch the sun go down. It’s a good routine!

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We’ve just celebrated our 3rd New Years Eve for the year, having done South Africa, China and now Sri Lanka.  We headed to the Chaaya Hotel in Hikkaduwa to join festivities with local dancers, singers and a tug of war competition.  I was roped into joining a team, which we named the “Happy Russians”, a play on words, as they are possibly the unhappiest people in the world. I did my best to gee the team up and we walked away with the 1st prize. I must admit, I never thought I would captain a Russian tug of war team, in Sri Lanka, whilst drinking beer – the mind boggles!

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And that pretty much sums up life in Sri Lanka. We have one shelf of clothes and live in a small room, but jeez, we’re happy 😉

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Syntalating Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka was never really on any bucket list of mine or Ronelle’s, but as its so close to India, we decided it would be a good place to meet Piet and Renette, Nell’s parents.

Its possibly one of the best travel decisions we’ve made, as its really exceeded all expectations. Leaving India was bittersweet, as it’s one of our favourite places in the world, but we both found that it’s a different country when travelling with kids.

Sri Lanka is still very young in terms of travel, with the civil war ending five years ago.  It’s really nice to visit a country where the smiles are genuine and not just for a “tourist dollar”

We started in Colombo, a name synonymous with bombings and general violence. Five years on, it’s a thriving hotbed of hope.  Our aim was to meet Nell’s parents at a fancy five star hotel to celebrate Renette’s 60th birthday.

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We arrived a day early and surprised them at the hotel. The Galle Face is a lot like Cape Town’s, Mount Nelson and is one of Colombo’s oldest hotels, with the pool and bar situated right on the beach.

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We spent four great days seeing the sites, including the Gangaramaya temple, the local markets, lazing around the pool drinking G&T’s and celebrating.

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Paradise in Hikkaduwa

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Hawaii meets India is how I best can describe Sri Lanka. It literally has all the best of both countries and possibly some of the finest food in the world.  Hikkaduwa is a touristy little town about 2 hours drive South of Colombo with white sandy beaches, thousands of palm trees and a range of accommodation right on the beach.

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We booked a little cottage about 3 km’s from the centre of town, as we wanted a place for the kids to play. The house was perfect, right on the beach, uninterrupted views, a braai area and a big fridge for the cold Corona’s.

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Although Thailand got a lot of press during the Tsunami, Sri Lanka was the 2nd worst country to get hit, with close to 50 000 people dying.  Hikkaduwa and Galle, right next door to each other, were two towns devastated by the Tsunami.

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The Sri Lanka people are some of the most friendly and positive I’ve ever met and although many people lost family members in the civil war and the Tsunami, they have such a positive outlook on life. We spent quite  a few days, exploring the local market, the Turtle hatchery and the very emotional Tsunami Museum.

The hatchery was run by a local family before the Tsunami hit, but as it was directly in front of the 10 meter wave, it was completely destroyed and the whole family, except the son, were killed. The son has taken the reigns and now buys the turtle eggs from the locals, as they believe that eating them will make them strong. He then hatches the eggs and releases the turtles back into the ocean.

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One of the more moving experiences on a trip so far, was a visit to the Tsunami Museum, run by a lady whose house was destroyed in the disaster. I’m sure there are a lot of museums around the world depicting death, but this one seemed so real, as it’s a ladies house with hundreds of pictures of people, who lives were changed forever in a few hours.

The Tsunami came in two waves, the first being quite small then drawing the sea back about a kilometer, with locals walking out to see what was going on. The second wave was 10 meters high and was travelling  at 150 km’s an hour. One thousand seven hundred people died in a matter of minutes, many whom had found shelter at the train station in stationary trains.

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Part of our travels is to spend time in places and get to know people, let the kids go to the local school and generally enjoy daily life. We really thought that we would do this in India, but Hikkaduwa really changed our minds and we’ve hired a small place on the beach and will be staying here for another six weeks or so.

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Sweet like Kandy

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Sri Lanka is famous for two things, cricket and tea. With “Ouma” and “Oupa” in tow, we left Hikkaduwa for a short while and headed up North to see the tea plantations, stopping briefly in Kandy. Kandy is one of those places that you just can’t miss. It’s a mix of British stiff upper lip and Hindu Temples.

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We were privileged enough to tour The Sacred Relic of the tooth temple, which houses the tooth of Buddha. As it was a full moon Sunday, the place was teaming with locals, all dressed in white with offerings to Buddha.

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After that we bid Ouma and Oupa farewell and moved from our plush hotel into something more  within the budget.

One of the best things about travel is “choice”. We don’t have any set plans except out pre-booked flights and we take each day as it comes, moving from one place to the other as we see fit.  There was one place that I’ve really wanted to see since I was young and that’s the famous tea plantations of Sri Lanka.

On top of the world in Nuwara Eliya

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Tea. Tea and more tea. The road to Nuwara Eliya is possibly one of the most beautiful drives in the world. It’s akin to driving around the winelands in Cape Town, but substitute wine for tea. You start at sea level and within 30 km’s you’re up over 2000 meters.

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Kai is now a tea aficionado and can explain the tea making process in detail. They call Nuwara Eliya “little England” as I guess the poms liked the coolness at 2K meters and being surrounded by tea. There are still English pompous jacket/tie wearing clubs in town, as well as a host of things for travellers to do, including riding a duck boat in the local lake and a visit to the highest village in Sri Lanka.

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There is something special about travel in Sri Lanka. They only got their first highway a year ago and all other roads are, should be say “tight”.  Its not the white knuckled rides like in Vietnam, as there isn’t enough space for a triple overtake, but never the less, its always good to take a spare pair of undies.

Unless you’re on the train, driving takes forever, as we found out to our detriment on the way back to Galle. Google lied, as they said 252km’s would take 3 hours.  We weaved our way through the tea plantations and rain forests and eventually made it to our destination 10 hours later. The ten hours spent was worth every second, as the scenery was truly breathtaking. Having briefly stopped in Galle before, we’re looking forward to a couple of days of relaxing.

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Incredible India!

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If you ever want to feel alive, visit India. It could be the smell, the heat or the people but, love it or hate it, you’ll remember the feeling of walking out of the airport into the chaos for the rest of your life.

Having visited on numerous occasions, the first whiff of India hits you hard, especially when you have two blonde babies in tow. Its a pretty weird feeling, as you never really feel in control in India, no matter how many times you have been there.

We arrived in Delhi late at night after a 12 hour flight from Japan. In Japan, the taxi drivers wear white gloves, drive slowly and respect the road. In India, the taxi drivers only job is to get you to your destination as fast as possible, whilst driving via his cousin’s jewellery shop, fleece you for as much cash as possible and then get back to the hunt for the next tourist. Regardless, we were in India and heading to Kerala, whom we named our daughter after, without visiting the state.

Transport in India

After a quick sleep and short flight, we arrived in Kochin, Kerala. As it happens the first face we saw was our friend from Cape Town, Alistair Campbell, strutting his stuff with his go pro attached to his chest.

We spent a few days in Kochin with our friends Kristina and Ali, visiting some great historical sites and watching the crazy Indian world go by.

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Including watching a Kerala dance called Kathakali, as pictured below. Kai didn’t sleep that night, in fact I don’t think he has slept since. Ive bought myself a replica costume and now bring it out when he is naughty.

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One of my favourite Kochin experiences was taking the kids to the local playpark. Normally this is a mundane experience, but in India with blonde children, one would have thought Justin Bieber had arrived when the twins hit the roundabout. They even wheeled out the deaf and blind children to come and meet the newfound celebrities. They both took it in their stride, as little pop stars do.

In India, you never really get what you ask for, as we found out on our “sundowner cruise”. Nellie asked for a typical cruise to watch the sun go down and we got something quite “unique” After a one hour tuc tuc ride to nowhere, we ended up deep in the backwaters of Kerala , only to be dropped of next to a very small wooden boat with 5 local teenagers, who to turned out to be novice tour guides. It was one of those typical travel moments of getting an experience of a lifetime without having to look for it. For the next 3 hours, were we taken on a guided journey through the backwaters of Kerala without a tourist in site, something quite special!

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