Galle, Sri Lanka

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We love

1/ The Lighthouse Hotel by Geoffrey Bawa. AMAZING rooms and beautiful sunset views.
2/ The Galle Fort for sightseeing.
3/ Shopping at the Galle Fort. For unique items: Barefoot, The KK Collection by Kahanda Kanda.
4/ Fort Printers, a small boutique hotel that’s also known for its delicious lobster curry.
5/ The best damn mojitos at the Amangalla Hotel

Sri Lanka

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Half of my partner’s family is from Sri Lanka, a remotely distant notion to me before we’d ever met. It’s such an enchanting land to visit, full of friendly folk and delicious food. There are sights to see, places to visit. Our driver brought us to a batik and arts & crafts centre where they made batik fabric and carved decorative figures. Theirs is a method that uses natural dyes derived from ingredients around the land. Red was grated from a tree bark (can’t remember what kind), which was then mixed with chalk to create a deep, natural red. A simple squeeze of lime changed the colour to purple.

If you’re travelling with family or just want some comfort on your holiday, definitely use Jetwing Hotels. They provide very affordable vans to get around, which is much easier throughout the day than finding public transport, and especially so if you’re travelling between cities. They also make wonderful guides, explaining the landscape and history throughout the drive. Our journey started at Kandy, then Colombo, and finally, Galle. Good hotels are really affordable and we loved the Cinamon Citadel in Kandy.

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Nice, France

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How is your 2014 looking like, folks? How has the last 22 days been for you? Are you up to your eyeballs in resolutions or have the drunken vapours dissipated, work has begun to feel like toiling, and you realise that maybe those resolutions aren’t your priority since this year is THE year for your promotion. Oh dear. Perhaps that’s just me. But I don’t make resolutions.

Meh, life is too short. In a blink of an eye, hey, I’m just ONE year closer to being thirty now, and boy does that clock tick faster than I remember when I was twenty-five. Work-life balance is more important. Setting aside time to achieve things outside of work is equally, if not more, important. REALLY. I woke up one day and just snapped into it.

So that’s where I am, frame-of-mind speaking. In 2014, there are so, so many things I’m excited for. My partner and I are preparing our home together, and this is the most anxious/crazy/grumpy/scold-y/argumentative/ecstatic I’ve been. My anal retentive side, usually on sleep mode, kicked into overdrive and I’ve been on a personal mission to uncover and point out every single nick in the carpenter’s handiwork around the new apartment. I’m also more sensitive to colours and I can’t for the life of me decide between light brown bowls for our new stash or black ones. Decision making argument with partner: “Black plates match everything we have but…..how much do you want to see the food you’re eating?” It gets crazy.

So, Nice. Hmm. Well, like Monaco, we didn’t find it too impressive in the winter months, where it was cold as hell and quiet. We snuck in on a super early morning train where it was extra nippy and I was extra grumpy carrying my 55L backpack weighed down with all the winter clothes (ahem and shopping). But seeing Nice then, it was pretty cool. Call it strange but isn’t it somewhat beautiful, that wee hour of the morning just before dawn breaks and the world wakes up? I loved seeing that bit of Nice. The train tracks run straight between the shops in the city centre, and we loved our croque-monsieur and coffee in cafés where we could see it pass by.

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Monaco

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I’m a yacht and a few millions short of being able to fully enjoy Monaco to its fullest. It’s also winter and the city, like Nice, is quiet. Not the good kind – a holiday town always feels deserted and melancholic when it is not summer or spring. The city is made of sun, sea and fake plaster that mimics the grandeur of Paris’ history in its intricate building architecture. It’s not a place I found too inspiring unfortunately (not being a fan of F1 either), and was pretty glad to pass through. Interestingly Monaco has the world’s highest life expectancy at 90 years, which perhaps says quite a bit about its environment.

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Istanbul, Turkey

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To be honest I didn’t like Istanbul all that much when we first arrived at the Sultanahmet, where we stayed, the old city of Istanbul. Here the houses stood closely packed, interiors were tiny, and where the streets were paved with cobblestone. There were no malls, nothing that harked back to the feeling of a city and this, I loved. There were, however, throngs of tourists and their natural prey – hawkers, vendors, touts, guides, every trade you could think of that relied on tourists filled Sultanahmet to the brim, alongside monuments, mosques, historical sites, and locals who still occupied what looked like time had left untouched.

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Istanbul is literally a city of two faces. The modern day Istanbul stands across the river, a fifteen minute ferry ride away. Here, it was chocked full with malls, Starbucks, H&Ms, and hip cafés with overpriced salads. Here, a majority of the Turkish lived, people who almost dressed and looked differently from those we had met in Sultanahmet. It was as if a different life was lived, in a different time.

But no matter which side of the city you are in, there are a few things that don’t change – the food (oh, the sweets! the meats!), the pride of being Turkish, and the warm smiles and gregarious friendliness of just about everybody you meet…. 

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Rock and ruins, Lebanon

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Whenever I’m standing in front of such monuments of history I always wish I could experience it through a digital reenactment, a sensorial envelop of sounds and smells to fill the gaps where time has rubbed off certain parts. Perhaps that’s a lazy sort of curiosity.

This is Lebanon’s grandeur: a sprawling, majestic ruin in which the Romans named Heliopolis during their rule, which meant City of the Sun. This large sanctuary of the old empire contained the temples of Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus and today its magnificently preserved form is known as Baalbeck. Another ruin that’s worth a look is the Umayyad ruins of Anjar in the Bekaa Valley. In Arabic, Anjar means unresolved or running river – why? I can’t seem to find out why the city was named as such.