I've lived my whole life in Philadelphia. Daughter of a teacher, I later became one myself. When I heard about teaching overseas, I jumped feet first. Finally told yes, my two boys and I prepared for our new life abroad. Join us on our journey in Qatar!
When you’ve been an expat for a while in the same country, the glamour and newness begins to wear off. I’ll admit, I’ve gotten quite comfortable in my routine just sitting at home, cuddled up, watching Kodi or Netflix. Once my personal training sessions ended I GOT LAZY! So I began looking for some fun and active things to do here, at least until I re-open my gym membership. You may be quite surprised by what this little country has to offer.
It started out with Paintball. It only lasted an hour as I purchased the voucher from Qgrabs for a one hour session but we had a good time. Our party of 6 got a little beat up and for 3 of them it was their first time. Jennifer was not ready for the pain that comes with getting hit with a paintball. The course is in Sealine and if you’ve ever been to paintball before, you will automatically think as I did, “Is this really the course?”. They should get a little more creative with the course. Nevertheless we made the most of it.
A couple of weekends later, we rode out to Sealine again, but this time to ride ATV’s over and through the sand dunes. It’s different than riding through the mountains and mud in the Pocono’s like Darryl and I are used to. Instead of getting dirty in mud, you get covered in sand. I recommend riding the bikes with 4W drive (350+ riyals) because they can handle the dunes. The smaller bikes will get you stuck in the sand (250- riyals).
If you want to save the world by killing off Zombies or Robots, head over to Zero Latency. It is a multiplayer virtual reality game. It’s located in the Tawar Mall, inside Bounce. For 35 minutes, minus the 15 minute introduction, and 70 riyals = $20 you can do just that. For more money you can play more games for longer periods of time.
You and a few friends will battle together. You step into this empty, dark room, that is until you gear up with your heavy artillery back pack, gun, ear phones and virtual glasses. Then the room is transformed into a virtual world that looks real. My back was hurting afterwards because well I’m old and I have a bad back and that backpack is heavy, but it was loads of fun. I killed 71 zombies, all in a days work but they also killed me and I came in last for kills. I’ve never been that good at video games anyway.
Something I am good at is real shooting. You can even do this in Qatar. Well you can’t actually buy a gun and go bust some rounds off, like in America, at least I don’t think you can. But you can do some clay pigeon shooting at the Lusail shooting range. It’s located very close to the Lusail Circuit, along Al Khor road and about 10-15 minutes pass Festival City and Ikea. It’s open Sat-Wed, 4-8pm. You get 25 shots for 100 riyals almost $1 per shot. (You can shoot shot guns if you are a member)
My accuracy was 20%. That’s pretty good for someone who has only done clay shooting one other time. I’m so much better with a real gun.
The point is, your host country is what you make of it. So get out there and find some fun. What are you waiting for?
If you are an expat, I’d love to hear of some fun you’ve found in your host country. Be sure to leave a comment.
I enjoyed the museum more than any others in Qatar
When I first moved to Qatar, I used to marvel at the architecture. No two buildings looked the same, which was very different than the ones in Philadelphia. But there was one building in particular that I thought was so ugly. It was being designed in the likeness of a desert rose on the Corniche.
Rose-like formations of crystal clusters including sand grains are called desert roses. Desert roses only grow in arid temperatures and are native to East Africa and Arabia.
Well several years later the building is complete and its’ official name is the National Museum of Qatar. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to visit it, I have to eat my words. (What do I know about architecture anyway) The place is beautiful, inside and out and it was built around the restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani!
If you are a resident of Qatar, the admission is free. For everyone else, admission is quite reasonable at 50 Riyals= $13.00. Parking is also free of charge and you can get a ride on a golf cart from the parking lot to the main entrance and back. You can wear what you want (but please have some respect for the culture, take a scarf along with you). You can take pictures too without flash.
Before or after going into the Museum, I suggest walking around and checking out the grounds. Along the exterior, are 114 individual sculptures of black, Arabic Calligraphy that make up a fountain set within the museums lagoon. In the Museums courtyard is a sculpture of hands holding up the Qatari flag.
The Museum tells the story of Qatar, its’ people and its’ history. The museum tour begins with this…
I am curious to find out why this was the first of the exhibits to see but as it was pretty crowded when we went, I didn’t get a chance to read the signage. (If anyone can provide some insight, I would greatly appreciate it)
Once inside, you walk in a circle through three chapters: Chapter One-geology, archaeology and natural environment of Qatar, Chapter Two-history of life, Chapter 3-how Qatar became the nation it is today. There are many artifacts, videos and photos. It is also interactive and would be a great place to take WELL-BEHAVED CHILDREN! Children and students can learn about habitats, inventions and tradition here. I was amazed at the amount of history I learned there and the jewelry.
At several points through out the walk through, I got a little dizzy. There are points where the floor dips and the entire museum uses the structure of disc to showcase history. At several points I also got a little upset at the blatant disregard for museum etiquette, examples: children climbing on displays and picking up things while parents pretended not to see them, or allowing it to happen repeatedly, people touching things that clearly have pictures of hands with an x through it. However, there are workers in the museum to keep order and alarms that go off if you get to close to certain displays.
There are small eateries in and around the museum and two gift shops. One of the gift shops is just for kids, which brought a smile to the face of this teacher on spring break. I did not go near that one. But in the other gift shop I was able to purchase this…
Once your tour concludes, you will be in the courtyard where the restored Palace is located and where you can take great pictures like these..
To sum it up, I enjoyed the museum more than any others in Qatar. Visiting the Zubarah fort is a good complement to this museum as well. You will learn a lot here. Take some time to read some of the signs. I used to think the structure was awful, but now I think it’s absolutely beautiful. Well Done!
I was invited to an Indian Henna party by a friend. Her brother was getting married so Jennifer and I attended the brides party. I felt much more comfortable attending this wedding-one because I had recently attended a Qatari Henna party, two I had the inside scoop being a friend of the grooms sister.
I regretted not purchasing the Saree, I’d tried on in Sri Lanka, because it would have been perfect to wear to this wedding. At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever have anywhere to wear it, but this is one of the unexpected things that happen when living abroad, you get opportunities to experience other cultures.
Since I didn’t have anything Indian to wear, I got something made. This is a Lehenga Choli and Dupatta. Although blue is my favorite color, I fell in love with this hot pink and gold material. Jennifer wore blue. How do we look?
Only women were allowed at this party as this is the Muslim way. Jennifer and I was pulled up to the dance floor as soon as we entered. I couldn’t do the traditional dances but they didn’t care; they told me it was all in the feet. I noticed it was also in the hands. We thought it a little strange that several women also asked to take our pictures. I’m used to being stared at when I wear my baldness, but taking pictures not so much. Jennifer and I both decided that this is what it is probably like in China, when you are the only tall blonde, white women at a party, and the only black bald woman at a party. We weren’t offended; we just smiled and kept dancing. I actually felt quite comfortable. Being asked to be photographed amongst a room full of hair and beautiful women, made me feel special. I’m glad I decided to go as my beautiful, fun, bald self. The strangest part was phones were supposed to be collected at the door, but no-one seemed to mind the many phones and pictures being taken, so I whipped mine out too.
These women had dance routines and everything
I thought I was in a Bollywood film. That’s the bride by the way in the green and pink.
Watching these women dance was the highlight of the night. These women sure know how to cut a rug. I tried to be respectful of the ‘no phones’ policy and only film in short clips but I wish I could have captured more. The bride’s family even battled the groom’s family in a dance off. Everyone was so nice and friendly.
We ate and even got henna tattoos.
The groom and company arrived later and did some dancing too.
Thank you friend for the invitation. I had a fun and lovely time. All the best to the bride and groom!
The major differences, I’ve noticed in American weddings and Desi and Qatari weddings are these: the exchanging of gifts, separation of sexes and the separation of the ceremonies and receptions. In both the Desi and Qatari wedding, the guest received gifts, male and female celebrated separately and the actual wedding did not occur on the same day as the party. The major similarity is this: Life is about being happy and love brings us all together!
On this night, they were just women having a good time and it was a reminder that we are all human regardless of race, religion, culture or socio-economical status.
For many expats in Qatar, the Qataris are a mystery. They tend to stay to themselves, identities covered and hidden and with that comes perceptions of who they are and what they are like. Most relationships with them are business, so of course I said “YES” when I was invited to a Henna Party/wedding event by a Qatari business associate. I was super excited to receive my invitation to get a glimpse into their world. One of the reasons I left the U.S. was to engross myself in other cultures and this presented a great opportunity.
The person that invited me also invited me to her parents house to pick out a Jalabiya, after I asked for suggestions about where to purchase one. A Jalabiya is an Arab garment, sometimes worn under an abaya and the fancy ones are worn to celebratory occasions like a wedding. Her mother was very welcoming and brought out many Jalabiyas for me and my friend to try on and choose from. She even gave us jewelry to wear with the outfits. Before we left the house, we enjoyed sweets, tea and coffee. They were very hospitable to us.
There were a few things I understood about a Qatari wedding prior to attending. It is different than a traditional American wedding as the bride and groom have two separate events. The groom usually celebrates in a tent in the sand (traditional) and the women celebrate in a hall. Also guest do not bring gifts to the wedding. It is similar to an American wedding as there is lots of music and food.
This wedding was at the Ritz Carlton and our phones (cameras) were confiscated before we went in. Taking pictures is not allowed at these ceremonies and we planned to respect the culture to the fullest as guest. Of course, there were several people who chose to ignore this rule. The ceremonies were to start at 7:30, Britney and I arrived around 8:00. Most people did not start showing up until around 8:30. We chose a table not in the front but not in the back either. Seats were not assigned. At every seating there was a gift of oud and a Arabian Mubakhar to burn it on. Oud comes from the wood of the tropical agar tree and the wood chips are burned as an incense. Oud can also be used as an oil and a perfume.
The women were dressed to the nines. Most women attendees wore some form of Arabic traditional garments, some Indian, some Moroccan, all beautiful. (I really wished I had purchased that Indian Saree from Sri Lanka. I would have fitted right in) The rainbow was definitely represented this night, because there were many colors worn. Makeup was flawless and Britney and I felt a little out of place because we didn’t have a professional makeup artist beat our faces before coming. For once there were no shaylas and I was able to see the faces that are usually covered and hidden. I was able to watch them let their hair down. On this night, they were just women having a good time and it was a reminder that we are all human regardless of race, religion, culture or socio-economical status.
There was a live female singer, whose voice sang Arabic songs the whole night. Arabic music never sounded so good to me. The music was loud but I enjoyed it. Women took the stage in the middle of the hall and danced to the music, while others went up to them and threw money at them and over them. They was making it rain up in there. The money was collected and I was told the money goes to charity. I’ve never seen that at an American wedding. Since I’m never getting married again, because that would mean a divorce from Darryl, then the next wedding I help plan will include this Arabic tradition. They dance different than Americans. It was just like subtle limb swinging and hips swaying, very sexy. I also heard that it is at these weddings that mothers and grandmothers look for potential wives for their single sons. I would assume that several of the women that chose to dance are looking to be seen as well. There was no tossing of a bouquet, there was this instead.
Food kept appearing at our table, most of it Britney (vegetarian) and I (vegan) could not enjoy but we did have some tabouleh, hummus, olives, vegetable rice and some sweets. Gifts also kept arriving at our tables. Makeup mirrors and chapstick rolled in tulle, mascara and nail polish on a silver tray. We went empty handed but left with a bag of feminine goodies.
When the bride arrived, she didn’t wear a white gown, she wore an Arabic garment and a long veil. She was beautiful. She walked to the stage, then back to front and stood for a long time as the photographer and videographer took many shots. I don’t know if I could have stood still for that long time in those heals. Family members eventually made their way to the stage to congratulate her.
Britney and I left around 11:30 and the party was still going strong. I don’t know if the groom arrived to the ceremonies later as we had left but I had read online that this is what happens. The groom and his party arrive towards the end of the wedding, women cover back up as the men arrive and then the men leave again and the groom retrieves his wife.
Britney and I didn’t talk to anyone besides the family that we knew, probably because we don’t understand the language and probably because we are outsiders but we never felt uncomfortable. We thought we were going to get henna tattoos because it was a henna party but I guess it wasn’t that type of henna party. Nevertheless we really enjoyed this experience and can’t wait to get another invite.
Update: I got invited to another wedding, but this one is an Indian Arabic wedding and from what I’ve been told they sure know how to turn it up and at this henna party, you get your tatts.
On Monday, I drank a cup of coffee with no sugar and guess what I survived. I’ve also just completed my 2nd 4 day streak of no sugar and it’s getting easier. At first, I didn’t think I felt any different, but last night I went out to dinner and enjoyed a full plate of pasta (which I never do) and topped it off with a Krispy Kreme donut and as soon as I got home I felt extremely lethargic. Carbs turned into sugar and took over my body and my body was not used to that.
This has been my year (school year) of self-care, regular spa and nail appointments, exercising, relaxing, detoxing, healthy eating. Since I’ve been hearing so much buzz around sugar intake and how it affects our bodies, I decided to give it a rest. My vegan diet is already very limited but I’m always trying to find ways to be better and healthier. This seemed like a natural progression.
I started on a Sunday, since my husband does the food shopping on Saturday. But then on Monday, I received a care package from my sister from home. It included all kinds of goodies and sugar, butterscotch krimpets, peanut chews, sour patch candies, starburst, etc… and Cinnabon opened up here in Qatar. I mean could this be any harder?
I went cold turkey Sunday morning-Thursday afternoon. I didn’t even eat fruit. The menu consisted mainly of vegetables and soups, snacks were raw vegetables, air popped corn with nutritional yeast and activated nuts. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy.
Over the weekend I did eat a few sweets, a couple of mini peanut chews. But during the week, I was completely sugar free. By the end of the second week, the desire for sweets decreased tremendously. I didn’t feel like a drug addict denying myself as I did in week 1.
During this short time, I have learned several things. 1. I had a slight addiction to sugar. 2. There is a lot of sugar in products that you wouldn’t believe and I will check content labels for carbs and sugar more closely. 3. You can enjoy things without sugar. I actually got used to drinking tea without sugar. I think I’ll stick with it. 4. You can have energy without sugar. I never felt tired while staying away from sugar. In fact, I think I had more energy. 5. Sugar-less items cost more -surprise! Why does eating healthy cost more than the alternate when there is less ingredients?
I don’t plan to give up sugar altogether but I do plan to be more conscientious of my sugar intake. I’ve read that natural sugar is actually healthy, like the sugar found in berries and melons. I’ll try staying away from sugar during the work week and enjoy a treat or two over the weekend.
There is a lot of information out there about how enjoying a diet with reduced sugar leads to many health benefits and I believe them. Craving sugar the way I did the first week, was not a good sign. Going two weeks without it gave me a lot of insight. I don’t need as much sugar as I was consuming. Someone once told me, “my body is a temple, if I take care of it, it will take care of me.” Listen to your body, it’s the only one you get!
(If you haven’t read part 1, you can access it by clicking here)
Before I traveled to Sri Lanka, I spoke to several people who had been prior, read blogs and researched websites to find out all I could. I went with a wealth of information and still was unprepared. I hope my thoughts, tips and suggestions will help someone going to visit after me.
Sri Lanka is an island located South-East of India. Below is a picture of its’ location on a map. It is relatively cheap and easy to get to from the Middle East, just a short 5 1/2 flight from Qatar. It is a Buddhist country, but is home to many cultures, ethnicities and languages. It is famous for its production of cinnamon, rubber and tea. It is a developing country.
Once you arrive
You must obtain a visa to visit Sri Lanka. If you are not from a SAARC country, the fee to obtain a visa prior to arrival is $35 USD. You can apply here. You can also obtain a visa on arrival. Before going to the Immigration window and standing in that long line for nothing (like I did), look for a small window that says visa, go there. Show your passport and pay $40 or 15800 Sri Lankan Rupees (SLR) That’s what they charged us even though online it says $35 for a tourist visa. Note that you are required to pay in USD. The following countries and categories are exempt from the visa requirement:
The Republic of Singapore.
The Republic of Maldives.
The Republic of Seychelles
Crew members of flight / ship
Children under 12 years of age
After you get your visa and proceed through immigration (the agents are not very nice btw, sort of like the government workers in the USA), it’s probably a good idea to purchase a sim card. They are pretty reasonably priced in the airport and they will set it up for you. Mine worked very well, the entire time I was in Sri Lanka and I had great wifi.
The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is its’ official currency. One LKR is approximately 0.005 USD and 0.020 QR. USD can go very far there. Some places accept USD but many do not. We exchanged some QR for LKR before we went but found out very fast how very fast the money goes. To help you better understand let’s go back to the visa price above. In LKR, one visa was 15800. (In the picture above, my husband is holding 10300 LKR) Now double that for two visas, and that’s quite a lot of money to carry around and that is just for one transaction. You would have to carry around quite a lot of paper if you intend on using cash for everything. Of course, you could use credit/debit cards. We used our debit card quite a lot at the ATM and accumulated too many withdrawal fees. Every time we took money out, we were charged between 200-400 LKR or $4-$8 USD. This is a pretty big chunk and remember you can only withdrawal so much each time.
Pay for what you can in advance, before even going, eg… hotels, drivers, excursions. This way you decrease the amount of cash you have to carry.
Find a bank/ATM that you can withdraw large portions of LKR with a minimal ATM fee. Halfway through our vacation we found Hatton bank that allowed us to withdraw double the amount that Commercial bank did and with half the ATM fees.
Use credit/debit card rather than cash in as many places as possible but check your bank for international transaction fees first.
Carry USD to use when possible and to exchange while there because you will get more bang for your buck.
I DO NOT recommend driving in Sri Lanka. It’s crazy. I think I only saw 3 traffic lights in the entire 9 days that we were there and we moved around quite a lot. A few times I thought, ‘this is it’, because we were almost run off the road. They also drive on the opposite side of the street of Qatar and the U.S. One day we were in Ella, Ella is very mountainous, and it rained so hard, we had to dodge mudslides.
We had a driver. His name is Rifaan. Here is his contact information: Coconuttaxitours.com, instagram: coconut_taxi_tours, #+94716285486. He was an excellent driver. He stuck with us for the entire trip, offering suggestions of places to go, where to eat and translating . He even invited us to his home to meet his family whom cooked us a wonderful Sri Lankan dinner. He booked all of our rooms, which is better as natives get better rates, and made purchases for us. I felt completely safe with him. Call him for anything Sri Lanka related. Thank me later.
There is many things to see and do in Sri Lanka and several things to consider. When packing keep in mind that you must be modest when entering Temples. You can not wear a head covering of any type and your shoulders and knees should be covered. When visiting mosques, your head must be covered as well as your knees and shoulders. Long comfortable pants and a scarf should be your staple. In most places, people remove their shoes.
You will have to pay a fee when visiting most sites, the prices ranged from 600 to 5500 LKR. The fees for locals are way less. The Fee to climb Lion Rock is $30. The fee to climb Piturangala was only $3. That is one of the reasons we chose to climb Piturangala instead. Both offer great views but I can only speak about the climb to Piturangala. (You can read about it by clicking here) Maybe one day I’ll go back and climb the other and make comparisons. Better yet, if you’ve climbed both or either, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comments area.
If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka and climbing one of the famous sites, be sure to pack hiking boots or good old sneakers. If you plan on hiking in the early or late hours to catch a sunrise or sunset, take a flash light with you. The paths were generally dark even though there were lightbulbs, none were on and we couldn’t see our way. Thank God for cell phones. Take some extra water too. I love to watch new days begin and end, so I like to hike during those times. It has been my experience that hiking before sunset is usually less crowded.
If you plan to see the 9 Arch Bridge try to time your visit when the train comes. Then stay after the train passes, when most tourist start to leave. After the train passed, I left and then halfway away from the Bridge, I noticed that most people had left as well and I could have taken better pictures had I waited them out.
The train ride to Ella is a must do. From what I’ve heard, it is very difficult to get tickets, easier if you know a local that can get them for you off the black market. We were in 3rd class and we lucked up because you can sit at tables with windows in 3rd class or choose to hang out the door but you’ll still have a seat. Second class was over crowded and we met a family who was in 2nd class that had to stand for 4 hours. I can’t speak for first class. Third class also comes with friends, roaches. Right after we ate our food, they started appearing everywhere. It grossed me out, thank goodness we didn’t have far to go and our driver had our luggage in his car. Other than the roaches, it was a very delightful ride.
I highly suggest researching accommodations on several booking websites before actually booking rooms. Pictures can be deceiving. We stayed in a variety of places, from a couple of homestays to a shitty room, to 4 star resorts. Our driver booked our rooms and for the most part they were okay but if I go again, I will be sure to pick my own, take his thoughts into consideration, and have the final say.
The rooms in homestays are pretty big in Sri Lanka but the homes themselves lack tlc. Of course, some are better than others. But if you are on a tight budget, homestays are the way to go. Some cost as little as $10 a night and most include breakfast. Also don’t be fooled by a number of stars. I’ve learned through traveling that 5 stars around the world have different standards than the U.S.
If you stay in Sigiriya, I recommend, Hotel Sigiriya for a mid range budget. The rooms are adequate with good A.C., hot water, comfy beds and nice bathrooms. They have a good breakfast buffet, a great view of Lion Rock, a beautiful pool and is in the perfect location. You may even see an elephant walking around. You are sure to see monkeys but watch your food around the pool.
For a wonderful time in Mirissa, stay at Imagine Villa Resort for a mid range budget. The rooms are large with good A.C., hot water, comfy beds, nice bathrooms, sitting area and balcony. The grounds offer a big pool, beach and pretty good cooks too.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. If you travel around, you can see rainforest, jungle, tea plantations, the beach and mountains. On the other hand, you will also see people dumping or burning their trash on the side of the road. You may see men urinating in the streets. You will see animals living very close to people, some free and roaming, others in chains. There is A LOT of bugs, from ants, small to giant roaches, to spiders and some other things that I didn’t recognize. The weather was great when I visited in late December with a fair amount of rain. The people seem genuinely nice but manners are different than what I’m used to. They do stare unapologetically. There are so many things to do and see in Sri Lanka. After 9 days, we were Templed out though; they are everywhere. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check a few out though, they are beautiful. If you are considering a trip to Sri Lanka, definitely go. If you’ve already been, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The beat part of Sri Lanka is its’ natural beauty, which is why we chose to spend our Christmas break there. While Qatar is improving in its’ outward appearance, most of it is man-made and the rest is just flat and beige. We were literally starved for some palm trees on the beach, green country side and mountains and Sri Lanka delivered. I didn’t know if I’d ever return because it was never high on my ‘to visit list’ so I wanted to see as much of it as possible in 9 days.
We tried out some Sri Lankan dishes at Tusker Restaurant: Prawn Curry, Dahl, Snake Gourd and purchased some Arrac for our room. Arrac is a distilled alcoholic drink made from coconut flowers. It’s strong and tasty mixed in a cocktail.
We had some street food on our way to Sigiriya for breakfast, stuffed aloo paratha. It was spicy and the best street food we had the entire time in Sri Lanka. Our driver also got us hooked on small, red, peel bananas and king coconut. We had a King Coconut almost every day.
We stopped by the Golden Temple of Dambulla- a UNESCO World Heritage Site and climbed the stairs. We regretted not having enough rupees to enter the caves but we enjoyed the view, the crazy monkeys and more street food.
We stayed at Hotel Sigiriya and admired the view of Sinhagiri also known as Sigiriya rock also known as Lion Rock. The hotel is nice, nothing glamorous but one of the nicer hotels we stayed on a budget. The breakfast buffet is delicious and had many authentic Sri Lankan dishes that were vegan approved. I was able to try sour sap fruit which I later realized was the same as the custard apple that I tried in Peru (click here to read about my adventures in Peru). I enjoyed some green gram (which I just found out is mung bean), milk rice (coconut milk that is), string hoppers, samaposha, dhal curry, and had my fill of passion fruit. Here is also where I fell in love with coconut sambal, a must try in Sri Lanka. We liked Sigiriya as you get to see animals just roaming around and it’s just so beautiful and green. We even had a close encounter with an elephant, who obviously didn’t take kindly to having her picture taken. She let out a loud noise and ran towards our car. We got out of there pretty fast, hence the blurred picture below.
In the wee hours of the morning, 4:30 a.m to be exact, we climbed Piturangala Rock to watch the sunrise. Many people climb Lion’s rock but we opted for the road less traveled instead. We made it to the top in time, but sadly the overcast was too heavy to see the sunrise. It was quite a climb and we had a wonderful view of Lion Rock. We almost missed the Piturangala Vihara on the way up because it was so dark but we made sure we stopped by on our way back down.
While in Sigiriya we visited a gem store, where we learned Blue Sapphire is only mined in a few places in the world, Sri Lankan being one of these famous regions. Sri Lanka also produces a lot of silk so it was only right to visit a silk store as well. At the silk store, the workers dressed Darryl and I up in traditional attire and took our picture. They even put a red dot on my forehead between my eyes; this means I’m married.
Kandy was next on our list. It was lovely and we wished we had scheduled more than 1 day there. We visited a spice garden and Temple of the Tooth. I wasn’t impressed by either place honestly. The spice garden was over priced and a tourist trap, as we were able to purchase the same items at a local market for less than half the price they were charging and the Temple of the Tooth was boring. I also got tired of being stared at, at the Temple. Perhaps it was my bald head, since you can’t cover your head at the Temples.
The highlight of Kandy was with friends. Our driver invited us to his home to meet his family and have dinner that he and his family cooked for us. He sent a tuk tuk driver to fetch us from our hotel, The Sky Pavillion, to bring us to his house. His family was lovely and dinner was terrific, by far the best meal we had in Sri Lanka. His sister even drew a beautiful henna tattoo on my hand for me. We went back to our hotel feeling full and beyond blessed.
The next day we went to visit another friend, Nazma, my henna partner from Qatar. She is from Sri Lanka and coincidentally was there on holiday like me. She invited us to her home to meet her family. In true Sri Lankan hospitality style, which I came to appreciate, they prepared food for us.
This food came in handy on our train ride to Ella. More on that in a minute. Once we left Kandy, we drove toward Nuwara Eliya, admiring the vast tea plantations, monkeys on the road and Talawakalle waterfalls. We even stopped at a tea factory to see how tea is produced in the oldest tea factories in Sri Lanka.
Our first night in Ella was not good. It was pouring rain and there were mudslides all around. We didn’t stay at our original booked hotel because something was wrong with the room and they tried to have us stay in another room but all I saw was spiders and dust. Most of Ella was all sold out so hotel rooms were in short supply and we wound up staying in this shitty room that I almost had an asthma attack in due to the mold. But after the storm comes the sun and our driver was able to find us another suitable hotel, Yoho Nilara Resort, for day 2. No visit to Ella is complete without a visit to the 9 Arches bridge, where we were able to take some cool pictures. This place was crawling with tourist which means it’s a happening place that many want to see. Our driver planned it perfectly because not long after we made the climb down to the bridge, a train passed.
We also climbed Mini Adams Peak to catch the sunset. The sunset was not to be had as we got caught in the rain. I was beginning to think that I would never catch a sunrise or sunset in Sri Lanka. Good thing I like the rain and rain usually keeps the crowds away. Less people make for better pictures of the wonderful scenery.
Afterwards, Darryl and I threw on some nice digs and enjoyed dinner at Ceylon Tea Factory in Ella. We even got to to enjoy some drinks at this popular place called Chill (definitely the party spot in Ella) before heading to Mirissa.
We stayed at Imagine Villa Hotel in Kamburugamuwa, right outside of Mirissa. This was the best hotel we stayed in Sri Lanka. It was right on the beach and was a beautiful resort. Outside of Whale watching, we spent our two days in Mirissa at the resort relaxing and socializing. I even found a little vegan gem of a restaurant (Ahimsa) to enjoy Christmas dinner.
Galle was our last city to visit. On the way, we made a few stops: a boat ride to visit Cinnamon island and to see wildlife, and a turtle hatchery.
Of course we had to see the infamous Galle fort and I’m so happy to say that on this final night, the sun was nice to me and showed me it’s setting. And you know what, it was worth the wait!
On the drive back to Colombo airport, we stopped at Bentota beach to grab some food and I felt sad because Bentota beach was beautiful and we didn’t spend any time there. Does this warrant a second trip to Sri Lanka? Maybe…