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Winding through Hill Stations in Sri Lanka

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A tale of two towns is how to look at Kandy & Ella. Kandy, the central highlands capital, hosts chaotic traffic and crowds that loop a peaceful lake. It is also a sacred city for Buddhists thanks to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. We trained up the mountains from Colombo to arrive in Kandy with no plan, no hotel, and a big appetite! Relying on the tips of our Tuk Tuk driver (a big no-no for travelers!), we were promptly taken to Kevin’s Inn, which did sit on the lake (sounds pretty but isn’t) and provided us with a big room at a reasonable price. What we didn’t know until late in the evening was the paper thin walls; every scream from our loving neighbors stirred us into giggles of laughter!

We went for an all day tour north to Sigiriya, the 8th wonder of the world. It’s amazing and known widely as Lion’s Rock because of its shape. We hiked, sweated, and hiked to the top; the views are amazing and the climb can definitely be scary as you are on a tiny stairwell on the side of the rock.

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Standing at 200 meters high, the rock became the home for King Kasyapa 1500 years ago as protection from nearly everyone after he overthrew his father (and murdered him). He also usurped his brother to steal the throne. This evil guy eventually died in battle after his brother returned with a larger army to take back the throne.

As you climb the rock, you see paintings on the walls depicting daily life of the time; amazing that these are preserved. You can see stairs carved into parts of the rock that were once used to get to the top. On top, there is the former palace along with large areas for water and storage of supplies. This is one of 8 World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka and quite impressive indeed.

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paint sigiriya

Back in Kandy after a long day that included an expensive stop at a Spice Market thanks to the ladies, we ate a delicious local food that is basically chopped up noodles with veggies and some of the best juice drinks we’ve had. This weekend was Lord Buddha’s birth celebration; as you can imagine, Temple of the Tooth was packed with locals and tourists. Another World Heritage site, the Temple houses the relic tooth of Buddha after he died in 543 BC. Legend has it that Sri Lanka was chosen to be the home of the tooth relic because Buddha declared that his religion would be safe for 5,000 years there.

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Hopping the train to escape the crowds, we took a beautiful ride along the mountains to the small town of Ella. The train ride itself was worth it as we passed through lush jungle to tea plantations and mountain top views. Fortunately, we planned this stay and are thankful for that. Our accommodation at Mt. Zion gave us glorious mountain and valley views as well as a great starting point for day hikes. One day we hiked through tea plantations to the top of Little Adam’s Peak – a holy site and then ate a delicious lunch at 98 Acres resort before hiking some more. The next day, Leticia and I abandoned the kids to hike the biggest mountain with our guide sporting local flip-flops; a great workout and fun day together.

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We hike to this mountain top!

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View from our place of waterfalls + train

 

 

nap time!

nap time!

We enjoyed 3 of the best days of our trip in Sri Lanka with Ella. The weather pattern was amazing too as we would wake to sunshine and enjoy that until the late afternoon fog rolled in with a little rain; soon enough the sky would clear for the star gazing above. The food at our hotel, Mt. Zion, was so good that we never even ventured out for dinner; every night, they served a veggie spread of local dishes. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our friends at Zion and take a short (5 hour) bus ride down to the beaches of Arugam Bay, one of the top 10 surf spots in the world.

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Goodbye Ella!!!

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Zion’s guard dog

Wines of the Great OZ & Cool Kiwi

One-third into our journey and farewells to Oz & Kiwi – but wait! We can’t leave without a tribute to wine. Last summer, I gathered a short list of recommended wines from a sommelier at Jean Georges in NYC which was a nice start to a great experience. Here are the results with links to explore further:

  • Marlborough, New Zealand
    • Nautilus EstateHighly recommended
      • Champagnes (esp. rose) are impressive
      • Solid portfolio across the board as I’d be happy with any of their wines
    • Hans Herzog Estate – Highly recommended
      • Montepulciano is my kind of wine – a big Italian varietal
      • Hans has 20+ grape varieties on his estate and experiments quite successfully.
    • Spy Valley Wines – Easy Peasy!
      • All drinkable but nothing spectacular
    • Brancott Estate Great views, not wine
  • Central Otago, New Zealand
    • Felton RoadExcellent
      • Best Pinot in New Zealand
      • Low key but real good wines
    • Quartz ReefNice champagne
    • RipponHighly Recommended
      • All around quality winery in beautiful setting
    • Maud & Akitu – Recommended
      • Consumed these with our Wanaka host friends Steve & Shannon Turner
    • Craggy Range Nice wine
  • Barossa Valley, South Australia
    • A fantastic day thanks to our Air BnB Host, Mel, who took us on a special tour of wineries VIP style
    • Two Hands – Nice winery recommended
    • Hentley FarmWorld class restaurant
      • Nice wines too but the chef rocks
    • SeppelsfieldPartner with Fino for lunch
      • Historically significant
    • Murray Street VineyardsHighly Recommended
      • Big reds that I like! Shirazzzzz!
    • RockfordHighly Recommended
      • Awesome red pinot champagne
      • Buys grapes from small batch vineyards
    • Artisans group – Cool grouping of 7 wineries
    • LangmeilStrong recommendation
      • Missed the winery but shared a bottle of this delicious stuff!  Also missed Pewsey Vale
  • Clare Valley, South Australia
    • Following 3 fantastic days in Flinders Ranges, we spent 2 in Clare Valley. A mellow and fruitful time!
    • Jim Barry – Everyday nice
      • Just like 2 Hands, a solid start and everyone is related to the Barry Family in Clare!
    • Knappstein – Wine & Beer Winner!
      • Ok, we prefer the beer
    • KilikanoonHighly recommended
    • Sevenhills – Good wines
      • Beautiful grounds on church land
    • O’Leary-Walker Wines – Recommended
      • Wonderful views of Clare Valley too
    • Claymore – Rocker wines
    • Hop & Vine for beer and wine
      • Clare Valley Brewing Co: Monkey’s Uncle Red Ale! Cool and tasty
      • Good Catholic Girl wine – ok, next
  • Additional tastings and thoughts:
    • Planned to visit the Margaret River in Western Australia but school exams stopped that trip cold
    • Cleanskins – bottles sell for $5-12 and are same as cover label in USA. Box wine – perfect for campers and cheap! 

Conclusion: Both countries have great tastings and are worth a visit. While the wines may not match up to Napa’s finest, you do get a great diverse tasting ranging from Shiraz to Grenache to Malbec and Mataro. A second benefit is the old school open cellar doors that Napa used to have (but now you have to pay a fee to get a glass). Oh and the mountains that surround these wineries are a great escape as well. Cheers from Down Under and we are on the wagon in Indonesia!