Valparaiso

I woke up late that morning and eventually dragged myself out of the hostel. Even though I was exhausted, I was really thrilled about the day ahead, I was heading to Valparaiso! I had been wanting to visit the city for such a long time, that I couldn’t believe this was finally happening.

I heard so much about the city and its history, that there was no way I would miss it during my trip in Chile. Apparently, it used to be an underground artists’ playground during the Pinochet era. The graffiti was the way to express artists’ beliefs and give people hope during those repressing times. The artists risked their lives while creating the murals, as the dictatorship banned all forms of political art and the sentence, if caught, was often death. Now, the street art there is legal, since the government decided to celebrate the freedom of expression and loads of famous artists leave their mark in this stunning city.

When I got out of the bus in Valpo, I was excited – everything from colours, smells, buildings to people were much more like what I imagined South America to be. It was hot, everyone seemed to be out and about, buying things from a variety of vendors on the streets and of course, walking around eating ice cream.

I wasn’t entirely sure where I was heading, but soon I started noticing more and more colours around me. I heard so much about Valpo’s amazing graffiti and atmosphere that I was thrilled to finally be there.

Not going to lie, going up a few of the city’s hills on a hot day sapped my energy pretty quickly. I also realised it was way past the lunchtime, so I decided to get some fuel in me first and continue my explorations afterwards.

I stopped at one of the first places I found, La Columbina, which was a great choice, since the tuna steak and risotto I had were so good I would go back to Chile just for that….

With my belly full of tasty food and one cheeky pisco sour, I continued my wander round the city. It was amazing, there was art everywhere! I nearly stepped on one of many dogs that were lying around, just because I could not get my eye off the buildings. I will share a bunch of photos with you so you can try to feel the atmosphere of this stunning place.

I was meant to meet my friend Julio in the afternoon, who was somewhere nearby on the beach, but I couldn’t get the wifi to work anywhere… It was extremely hot (at least in my memory), so after loads of wandering around the town I decided to head back to Santiago.

I headed to the bus station at around 6 and it turned out that I couldn’t get the bus back till 10pm (I had an open return). It was a mistake not to book a return bus on a Saturday – everyone was travelling. I asked around at other bus company kiosks and found a bus an hour or so later. Success!

I had no energy to continue wandering around in the heat, so I sat down on the floor in the station (like loads of other folk) and started reading a book. As I mentioned earlier, there were loads of stray dogs running around. One of them came close and sat next to me. I don’t usually pet any random dogs (I was bitten by one in the past), but this one started getting closer and closer and ended up sleeping with its head on my leg. What a cute dog!

We were the best pals for the entire time I was waiting for my bus and I was really sad to leave this cool dog in Valpo when my bus arrived. I really can’t wait for a day when I’ll be mature enough to commit to having a dog…. In the meantime, I’ll continue petting any dog that comes to me looking for love 🙂

Santiago de Chile

January 2020 – I am sitting on the plane after a sleepless night, listening to Billie Eilish’s Everything I Wanted and wondering what the next three weeks are going to be like. It’s still dark, I’m tired and very nervous. How can I not be nervous – I have never been to South America before and everyone have been telling me that it’s not safe there, especially for solo female travelers. What was I even thinking when I started planning this trip? Why can’t I just settle for a simple beach holiday somewhere in Spain without having to scare myself to bits?..

It’s amazing when you tell yourself that something needs to happen and if you persist, the dreams turn into reality. It was January 2019 when I decided I would have to drag myself to Patagonia for the next big holiday and after some planning it all fell into places.

My first stop was Santiago. Before landing I got my first glimpse of the Andes and I could feel the excitement boiling inside me, with no way to express it (who wants to be that crazy person on the plane haha).

I got my hostel to arrange a pick up and a very friendly driver Patricio was waiting for me at the airport with a big smile on his face. He chatted to me in Spanish the entire time we were in the car and I surprised myself that even after over 20 hours of traveling with barely any sleep I could understand most of what he was saying (different story with me having to respond…. ).

The next day I woke up and decided it was time to go for a wander and explore the city. I was still nervous since someone told me that protests were not finished yet and the city was not entirely safe. I was super cautious at first until I realised there was nothing to be afraid of. Everything felt so European and I seemed to blend in so well that nobody even noticed me. Apart from that one person who came to ask me for directions!

Coming from winter in Scotland to summer in Chile was a big shock. I was so hot that I didn’t know what to do with myself. However, I quickly learned that Chileans loved ice cream, which is my favourite food on the planet, and they were amazing at making it. I could treat myself far too often with an excuse that it was boiling hot outside. My favourite place in Santiago was Auguri Milano, with the tastiest ice cream (in my opinion) and the nicest owner.

I spent my first day just wandering and exploring. I am not religious, but I love the atmosphere in the churches and the silence there, so I stopped at the cathedral to appreciate its beauty.

I met a really nice Canadian professor Luc in my hostel, who recommended visiting Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. For someone who loves art it was an absolute treat. I spent hours there looking at beautiful pieces or art, reading about different cultures and history. It was all so new to me and I could not believe that the Chinchorro mummies (Chinchorro people lived in Northern Chile in ~ 5000 BCE) were the oldest examples of artificially mummified human remains, approx. two thousand years older than Egyptian mummies!

I also stupidly decided to go up Santa Lucia Hill that afternoon. It was really hot, so I didn’t stay there long (and it was a bit depressing to see so much smog from up there). I imagine it would be a really cool spot to hang out on a bit cooler day though.

I then decided to head back to my hostel. It was quite a walk but I felt like walking rather than taking the metro. Well remember I mentioned that the protests (google it if you have no idea what protests I’m talking about) weren’t over yet? I accidentally got to experience it all. I got close to Centre Gabriela Mistral, where I saw people exhibiting weapons that were used during the protests and some of the photos. I thought – wow how interesting and it’s great that people are not giving up even if these are just peaceful exhibitions. I continued walking down the road and realised there was a crowd throwing rocks at the police vehicles. The police in return were spraying water at the protesters. Someone told me it was time to run. So I did. However, I was curious and stupid and because I needed to head past the place the protests were taking place, I walkout round a block and still got to see a glimpse of the fight taking place. It was their fight and I had no intention in getting involved, but I felt extremely impressed of how people refused to take everything that politicians were throwing at them and demanded what they deserved.

I got back to my hostel safe. Someone told me that in the area I was staying the protests weren’t happening, but couple of days later the protesters showed up there too (although they were a much more peaceful crowd). Still, seeing the armed police vehicles caused a sense of unease.

The next day I headed to Valparaiso and I’ll write about it in my next post. My last day in Santiago before heading to Patagonia was extremely relaxed (I refused to deal with the heat) and I spent a day just relaxing and eating amazing food (you know, I had to save my energy for the hike I was about to do). Santiago de Chile turned out to be an amazing city, quite an opposite of what I expected before getting there. Never listen to people who try to scare you, especially the ones who never visited those places themselves.

Billie Eilish’s Everything I Wanted became a part of my journey too. I listened to the song during various moments of my trip, remembering how scared I was while sitting on the plane and comparing it to the beautiful sense of adventure and happiness I was feeling during the trip. I still listen to the song from time to time, which really helps me to remember the tastes, physical sensations, different environments and my moods at various moments in the last few months. It helps me during this Covid-19 crisis by reminding that this moment is just like that dark plane and soon I’ll be enjoying life the way it should be enjoyed.

Time to Breathe. Portugal.

Last year I developed a really bad anxiety. It was hard to leave my house, go to work, sit in an office, see people… I thought every single time I would leave home I would die on my way to work. I could not focus on my work in the office, since I was already worried that because I didn’t die while getting there, it would happen on my way back. I was getting panic attacks just from thinking about having to speak to someone I didn’t know or even changing plans last minute. I can add so many different things to this list, but you already have an idea of what was going on. I felt completely paralised.

I was trying all the different things to help myself – meditation, CBT, counselling, yoga, gratitude journals etc. Nothing really made a difference. In late November, I was told to take some time off work, start the meds and chill. One of my colleagues advised me to get some winter sun somewhere outside the UK. My initial response was: I can’t treat this as a holiday! However, that night I got smashed (alcohol solves everything, right?..) and booked a very last minute flight to Portugal. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it since I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon. Well as you can guess, I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t make it.

I got to the airport just in time, booked some sort of accommodation for my first night in Faro while queuing to board the plane and I was off. I was freaking out – what on earth was I doing? What if I die in Portugal? What if I get panic attacks every time I go outside and I’ll have to sit inside my room all the time?

It turned out that leaving my usual environment was the best thing I could had done for myself. Finally, I had no responsibilities, other than to keep myself fed and enjoy the surroundings. I didn’t have to sit in my room feeling completely useless with no way out. I was still worried, but my mind was focused on different things and eventually I started feeling alive.

I spent my first night in Faro and caught the train to Lagos the next day. It was so quiet there! There weren’t any crowds and some beaches were completely empty. I walked a lot, I sat on the beach, read my book and breathed. I felt how more and more energy was coming back to me and I found myself finally smiling.

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I’ll share some photos, although perhaps don’t look at them if you feel sad about not being able to travel due to covid-19.

I met some girls on the beach who were also living in the UK and took a short break to get some sun. I could not believe it, I was talking to strangers and enjoying it! We spent couple of evenings together sharing the dinners and chatting. I was anxious and happy at the same time.

Four days passed quickly and I went back to the UK. Things weren’t back to normal, but the trip helped me to take a break from constant worrying and I felt slightly calmer when I returned. I think travelling helps to put things into perspective and reminds you that there is much more out there than just what’s going on in your head. And when you awake your senses (say with the cold ocean water) it doesn’t leave you any time to think, only time to feel.

Santorini

I had no expectations for Santorini. I thought I saw too much of it on instagram and I imagined it to be too touristy for my liking. However, I thought I’d probably never get a chance to go there with the family again, so we added this island to our itinerary.

I have to admit I was very wrong about Santorini. Yes, it was touristy, but October was a perfect time to visit. The temperatures were high during the day, evenings not yet cold and tourist numbers manageable. A lot of them would go back to their cruise ships in the evenings, so the island didn’t feel crowded at all.

I honestly didn’t expect to be so positively surprised by the beauty of Santorini. I didn’t expect such impressive panoramic views and those iconic white houses I saw on instagram to be located on extremely steep cliffs, looking like icing on the cake. The day we arrived, it was already quite late, but we made it just in time to watch the sunset. We wandered up through Fira’s tiny winding streets not realising that there was a breathtaking view waiting for us just around the corner. The colours of the sky, little islands nearby and water were changing quickly; there were clouds hanging above parts of Santorini, making some of the tiny white houses disappear. You could feel that sleepy evening silence creeping in and everything sinking into the darkness. Sharing that moment with my family was a beautiful bonding experience.

The next morning we spent swimming and enjoying on one of the black sand beaches. After lunch, we decided to do a little hike from Fira to Oia. That was my absolute favourite thing to do in the island and probably a highlight of the whole holiday. The walk was only about 10km one way, well marked and a pretty easy (as long as you don’t do it in midday heat). I’ll share some photos, however I have to warn you that they don’t give you that sense of freedom and happiness I was feeling while walking on this rugged island.

The views were breathtaking all along the way and I almost had to force myself not to take photos every second step. We stopped a lot just to appreciate the view, so the walk took much longer than expected. I have absolutely no regrets, there is no point in doing this walk if you don’t have enough time to appreciate the surroundings. We made it to Oia just in time for another incredible sunset.

This little town felt much more “spacious” than Fira. I have no idea how to explain it, but it had a sleepier atmosphere, the streets felt a bit wider and the views didn’t seem to disappear in narrow streets.

Even though the walk we did was very popular, it is something I will never forget. Doing it with my family and sharing the excitement, the feeling of freedom, the surprising vistas along the way and seeing their smiley faces it’s what life is all about.

I think you can see as many photos of Santorini as you like, but until you are standing on the cliff there, appreciating the surrounding view, feeling wind and sun in your face and being nearly blinded by the whiteness of the houses, you don’t realise what the island is all about. Perhaps it would had been a very different experience if we visited during the peak season, but I believe that the magic of the place can’t really be hidden even under the crowds of tourists.

My holiday in Greece was over. The joy of it is still alive today.

Paros

Deciding which islands to visit in Greece is probably one of the hardest things when planning your holiday there. There are roughly 6000 islands, with over 200 being inhabited. Even if you were on a reaaaaally long holiday, it would still take hell lot of time to see them all. Obviously, some of them are much more famous with tourists than others, so I was trying to find just the right balance between touristy and unique when planning my family holiday.

Paros attracted me with its beautiful beaches, stunning little towns and good public transport options for getting round the island. It turned out that the beginning of October was just the perfect time to go, as the days were still hot, but manageable and there were few tourists around. Also, after I booked my trip, I learned that one of my now best friends is from there, so she sent me some stunning photos from her holiday in the island. I could not wait to go!

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If I remember correctly, it took us roughly 4 hours to get from Piraeus Port to Paros by slow ferry. The journey itself was really relaxing and we even managed to spot some dolphins.

As soon as we got out of the boat in Parikia (Paros port town), we found a brilliant little spot for lunch, called Hellas Taverna. I have to say their Gyros (kebab style dish) was one of the best ones I tasted in Greece.

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We had a short walk around Parikia and were astonished by its beauty. There were little streets, with white houses and beautiful blossoms everywhere. Wandering in these beautiful little and almost empty streets felt like a dream…

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We then caught a bus to Naousa, where we stayed for the next couple of days. Our accommodation had a beautiful balcony with the view to the town and a bit of Aegean sea. It was also really close to Piperi beach, which was convenient for the family with different interests in beach life (I absolutely hate lying on the beach for hours).

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Naousa felt much smaller than Parikia, but it was cosy and had some interesting streets to explore as well.

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The next day we decided to walk to Kolimpithres beach, which was just over 3km (or 2 miles) away. When we got there, the beach turned out to be really different from any I’ve seen before. There were beautiful rock formations everywhere and several sandy parts of the beach were separated from each other by these rocks. Finally, I didn’t mind spending a day on the beach since I could do some rock climbing too!

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I have to say, I imagine that during the season this beach gets packed and I don’t think I would want to be there with the crowds. Otherwise, highly recommended!

We also found a perfect place near the beach for lunch, with loads of happy cats and the biggest baklava slices!

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The walk back to Naousa was fabulous. It was just before the sunset, so warm evening colours were making the landscape even prettier.

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…we also spotted a very creative cat. Clearly proud of its work 🙂

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Getting out of Paros wasn’t as straightforward as we thought it would be. Why? Well the transport workers decided to go on strike exactly the day we had to leave. We weren’t informed about it, so we’re waiting at the port for a while and only when the ferry was “late” we checked to see what was happening. We managed to get tickets for the fast ferry later on that day, which were much more expensive. I have to say that the journeys on slow ferries were much more enjoyable, with more space to relax outside, so I would never pay for the fast ferry again (unless I had no choice).

Two and a half days were definitely not enough for this stunning island and I would like to go back there for at least a week. Strangely, I have a feeling I’ll definitely find myself wandering around the streets of Parikia again one day….

 

 

Athens

Both of my parents had their 60th birthdays last year, so we thought the best way to celebrate was to have a family holiday somewhere warm. It’s incredible how difficult it can be to plan a holiday when you choose to travel from two different countries.  There was no point for me flying to Lithuania from Scotland first, just so I can take the same flight as the rest of my family. Finally, after checking hundreds of flights & dates, I found a perfect destination – Greece.

Greece has been on my list for quite a while and I was happy I would get to see it with my family. I arrived to Athens late on Saturday and headed to the hostel I booked for the night. My parents and brother were arriving on Sunday afternoon, so I had a bit of time to explore the city by myself.

As soon as I got out of the metro, I realised the neighbourhood  was a real party district. Success! Loads of people were out and about, the bars were buzzing and I loved the vibe of the place. It was nearly midnight when I got to the hostel, so there weren’t many people chillin in the common area. Well, I was a bit disappointed, I fancied going out for a drink with some new random friends, but that didn’t seem like a possibility. I got some food and a beer and chilled on the rooftop terrace instead.

The next day I decided to go for a wander while waiting for the family to arrive. I remembered the entrance to Acropolis was free that day, so I joined the crowds and explored this very iconic place. It was hot, crowded, so I had a quick walk around and headed out hoping I would come back here with my parents. I’m glad the visit was free, as I’m not sure that 20 euro entrance fee is worth paying for… It’s just my opinion though. Unfortunately, by the time my parents arrived, the Acropolis was closed, so they didn’t get to see the inside, but we stayed on the Areopagus Hill to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful experience.

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The next day we left super early to get a ferry to one of the islands, but I’ll talk about our island experiences in the next couple of posts. We returned to Athens on the last day before catching the flights back and had another day to explore this beautiful city.

We found this amazing place called the Brunch Factory. The make brilliant food with incredible portion sizes (almost impossible to finish) and the atmosphere there is lovely. I’m still dreaming about their pancakes….

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What I also liked about the city was that it kept surprising us. You’d walk around and almost out of nowhere some beautiful ruins would pop up, or you’d find yourself in a beautiful little streets where residents find ways how to introduce as much greenery as possible.

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We also decided to go up Mount Lycabettus, since we kept seeing it from the distance and wondered what was up there. As soon as we started going up the hill we spotted a massive wild tortoise just roaming around. I’ve not seen a tortoise this size before, so I was super excited. The tortoise could not care less and strolled past me with no interest whatsoever. No offense taken.

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It was hot, so going up was a bit of a mission, but the views of the city were fantastic.

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I loved this beautiful city and would recommend it to anyone. Now I can’t wait to start writing about my Greek island adventures! 🙂

 

 

 

Summer Holidays 2019

I am sitting in my room, which is now slowly turning into a jungle with all the new plants I recently bought (let’s call it lockdown fever) and I am feeling extremely home sick. I am slowly losing hope that I will be able to see my family anytime soon and it makes me sad. I thought writing might help, but…I realised that the next trip which happened after I returned from Sri Lanka & Dubai was my trip home to Lithuania and then to Berlin to see my best friend Rasa. I was meant to see my family and Rasa a month ago too, but this didn’t happen due to Covid-19, so I was determined to skip writing about my last summer’s trip and just jump straight to my holiday in Greece. Then I thought that running away from my feelings would only make me feel worse, so here I am, looking at the photos and trying to write something that makes sense (at least to me).

It was my dad’s 60th birthday last July. I missed a lot of different birthdays, funerals, various other celebrations since I moved to Scotland, but there was no way I was missing my dad’s birthday this time. The time at home turned out to be the most relaxing and I loved every minute of it. The weather was beautiful, so I was swimming in the lake twice a day, eating all the berries I could find (there were loads!), foraging for mushrooms and spending time with family.

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I really hope I will get to go back this summer too. Even if I don’t do that much when I’m at home, it’s so good to relax a bit and to spend loads of time in nature.

My dad’s birthday is three days before mine and even if I don’t particularly like celebrating my birthdays, I love making those days a bit more special. Spending some time with my best Rasa in Berlin was one of the best ways to do it.

Rasa got me some cake for breakfast, then we went to get new piercings (I finally got my conch pierced) and we had a long wander in the botanic garden. Some good food, drinks and jazz afterwards with a slightly drunk walk home, what else do you need?

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Oh and I have a tradition to go to C/O Berlin every time I’m in the city. Their photography exhibitions always inspire me and encourage me to look at things from a new angle (at least for the next few days). Last July they had a fascinating exhibition related to food, here are some amazing works to finish this post.

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I’ll write something more exciting and happier next time 🙂

Back to Dubai

I never thought I’d be going back to Dubai so soon after my first visit, but here I was, six months later, I was trying to spot Burj Khalifa from the plane window again.

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Last time I visited it was September 2018 and all I can remember was how poorly I could handle the heat. This time it was a different story and I could finally wander around during the day and enjoy sitting outside at night.

Even though I did not crave the heat, one of the first things I did after arrival was….well you won’t believe this –  I agreed to try a hot yoga class there (40 degrees Celcius!!!). I nearly died during the class, but it sparked my love for hot yoga. Now, a year later, I can’t wait until the lockdown is finished and I can go back to my beloved hot yoga studio here in Edinburgh. Believe me, once you try it, it’s hard to go back to a regular yoga…

Anyway, I will stop talking about my love for yoga and write a bit about what I did in Dubai. I was actually quite excited to see more of the city since during my first visit I was all over UAE and didn’t really visit much of Dubai. Well, I can’t really say that I visited that much this time, because I ended up hanging out a lot with Craig’s friends all over the city.

First, we all went for a Friday brunch, which seems to be quite a big thing in Dubai. I had a hard time trying to find a place on google now (that’s what happens when you let people plan things for you), but I’m pretty sure it was at Meydan Hotel. The food was awesome, I could try so many different cuisines and there was plenty to drink. The time passed really quickly and soon I found myself in the taxi heading to one of the sailing clubs for more drinks. I wasn’t sure if I could handle more booze though, so ended up just enjoying being outside.

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The next day I was told there was more eating/drinking involved, which I wasn’t sure I could handle again, so I negotiated a quick visit to the old Dubai. It was nice to see the old buildings, with the wind towers (old natural air conditioning systems),  the Souk and to cross the Dubai creek in a traditional abra (boat). It was good to be a tourist for a bit and see some of the Dubai that wasn’t purely skyscrapers, even the very pushy sellers didn’t bother me too much at that point.

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the wind tower

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However, it was time to go back to the skyscraper land and see a few more of Craig’s friends. The next stop was Dubai Marina. I did quite like it if I’m honest, especially the walk at night after we again stuffed our bellies with tonnes of food. The views from the restaurant where we ate were pretty cool too.

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It turned out to be a very sociable trip and we spent more time relaxing with people rather than doing much in Dubai, but I still think the big picture of this place is kind of coming together. Just one thing to note for myself, if I ever go back to Dubai, I’m never doing it after staying in a super cheap place like Sri Lanka, it’s just a bit too much of a shock to the bank accounts… 🙂

 

 

Weligama & Hikkaduwa

After Craig and I left Ella, we had no real plan other than going surfing. We decided to head to Weligama where Craig stayed with a local family during his previous trips. It was a brilliant idea, since the family was extremely welcoming and they treated us to some amazing local food.

The atmosphere in Weligama was extremely relaxing and there was plenty of space on the beach for anyone who fancied doing some surfing. I loved the fact that people didn’t hassle me at all, unlike in Bali, where it was really hard to get rid of some local men. I really enjoyed my days there and I spent a lot of time playing in the water (that’s how my level of surfing can be described). I wonder if I’m ever going to be good at surfing, but it doesn’t matter if not, it’s just such a fun way to spend the time. Even the local cows agreed with me and jealously eyed all the surfers in the water.

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One of the evenings, when I was already finished for the day, I was chilling on the beach and waiting for Craig to get out. Suddenly a storm cloud came in out of nowhere and dumped an incredible amount of water on everyone. There was no time to run and hide somewhere. I was trying to hide in one of the beach shelters, but it could not handle the amount of rainfall. It felt like it lasted forever and even if I didn’t mind getting soaked, I had a few things with me that I didn’t want to be ruined. Then suddenly it all stopped, the sky cleared and life was beautiful again.

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After several days in Weligama, we decided to head to Hikkaduwa. I was hoping to do more surfing there, but the place wasn’t great for beginners, especially compared to Weligama.

I ended up spending a lot of time relaxing, watching more advanced surfers, dogs, sunsets and drinking beer. After nearly two weeks constant moving around it was nice just to chill.

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My kind of afternoon tea.

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After those very relaxing days we headed back to Colombo for the night and left Sri Lanka the next morning. I am already making plans to go back, there is so much left to enjoy in this beautiful country.

Ella

For me, Ella is one of those happy places that when you discover them you know you were meant to arrive there sooner or later. Perhaps the previous sentence sounds a bit vague, but I just felt so at peace and happy there that it’s hard to even describe the feeling.

I didn’t have too much time in Ella, but I really enjoyed all the hiking I did there and the town’s atmosphere. I think it will be the best if I show you a bunch of photos rather than try to put everything into words. Here are some from the hike up to Little Adam’s Peak.

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I was lucky to find a very peaceful accommodation just outside Ella. I loved chilling there in the evenings and watching fireflies at night.

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Another hike I did was up to Ella Rock. We set out early in the morning and had to walk along the train tracks for the first hour or so. I have to admit, there were couple of sections where I really didn’t want to meet the train, since it would had passed me a few centimeters away. Someone told me I would be able to hear the train coming from far away, but I have to say, it wasn’t he case.

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I loved the fact that there were so many friendly dogs everywhere, even on top of Ella Rock!

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As I said, I didn’t have a lot of time in Ella, but it was enough to fall in love with the place!

It was time to leave the mountain people, tea plantations and happy dogs and head to the coast. More about it next time 🙂

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