Day Trip to Colmar
After seeing postcard perfect Alsace towns on the internet, we knew we had to visit them. We had 2 days to spend in the Alsace region and there were a number of towns. So, we picked the two most popular ones - Strasbourg and Colmar. We stayed in Strasbourg at the Holiday Inn Express Strasbourg Centre, which was a 15-minute walk away from the centre.
Strasbourg is called "Capitale de Noel" or "Christmas Capital" for a reason. When you walk around centre, you'll almost every building decorated. Some of them in bows, some in presents, etc. The cutest ones were the ones with hanging teddy bears! We've been to a number of places in Europe during Christmas and had never seen anything like it.
Strasbourg is also home to the Strasbourg Cathedral - a large 16th century Gothic cathedral with an impressive façade. We had to wait in line to get into this one. However, it was worth. it.
Make sure you walk along the canal so you can admire all the colours and architecture. Sadly, we didn't see the sun in Strasbourg. However, the cute decor all over the place made up for it.
Strasbourg also has one of the best Christmas markets I've seen so far! This market also happens be the oldest market in France dating back to the 16th century.
Day Trip to Colmar
Colmar is merely half an hour away from Strasbourg (by train). Once we reach the train station, we had to walk for about 10 minutes to reach the city centre. This wasn't a boring walk. On the way, we saw Christmas décor and little Christmas markets.
To be honest, we didn't notice much of a difference between Strasbourg and Colmar. Just like Strasbourg, Colmar is super crowded and equally pretty with the same style of buildings and cute decorations everywhere.
We visited St. Martin's Church - a beautiful Gothic and the main church in Colmar.
Of course, we nibbled our way through the Christmas markets and indulged in a lot of festive food.
You can plan your visit to the Alsace region depending on the towns you want to visit. We felt that one day was good enough to see two major places.
Okay guys, I hope you're ready for this rather long post! I promise, its gonna be a good one. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from The Travel Hub (an online platform where travel lovers share their travel experiences) asking me whether I would be interested in joining them for a trip to Sri Lanka. Obviously, I said yes! We would be flying FLY DUBAI's business class and exploring the cities of Colombo, Kandy and Galle for 4 whole days. Like ... how could I refuse?!
Flying with FLY DUBAI
Fast forward, a month later, I was in Dubai in front of the Fly Dubai business class counter getting my bags checked in for Sri Lanka. To be honest, I hadn't flown Fly Dubai for quite sometime. The last time I used them was in 2010 (Economy Class), so I barely remembered a thing. I was definitely looking forward to this.
Since I had to reach Dubai that day (I live in Abu Dhabi), I skipped lunch and was literally dying of hunger! ... although I pretended like I wasn't. When I reached the lounge, I dived straight into the food while the others had coffee! Fly Dubai's business class lounge comprises of 2 floors. The upper floor has a bar and is more of a lounge, while the lower has all the food! You can guess where I was most of the time. What I particularly liked about their business class facility was the snacks kept at the departure gates. I've travelled business class a few times, however, I had never seen anything like this. The foodie inside me couldn't help but grab a choco chip muffin!
The seats on Fly Dubai were rather spacious. The leg rests do not go up entirely, however, they are still quite comfy. We were offered blankets by the cabin crew immediately after we were seated. They actually took very good care of us. For a short haul flight, they definitely had quite a good selection of snacks. There were packeted olives, chocolates, pringles and more. And I absolutely loved the dinner menu. This was probably the first time I had shrimps on a plane! After that late lunch at the lounge, muffin at the departure gate, I just had to have another meal. This was all within a span of 3 hours! Fly Dubai has also wi-fi onboard. Sadly, it was charged.
Four something hours later, we were in Colombo. We got our bags earlier than everyone else (business class perks) and were soon on our way to our hotel with Hasan. Hasan was basically our driver throughout the trip. Except for a fact that he lost his way a couple of times, he was a humble and genuine man and was there whenever we needed him.
We checked into FairView Hotel and went straight to bed.
We spent most of our first day in Sri Lanka exploring Colombo with a tour company called "Pepper Tours". Pepper Tours organize various kinds of tours within Sri Lanka depending on your time and budget. We did the Colombo's Culture Tour with them. Colombo in so many ways reminded me of my hometown Mangalore in India. The chaos, the palm trees, the weather ... all of it. So it kinda felt like home.
We started off with a visit to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, where our hosts Arshad and Dula from Pepper Tours waited to welcome us. I absolutely loved the little buddhas all over the temple.
This was followed by a tuk-tuk ride on Colombo's busy street ....
to the Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil - a granite temple with intricate sculptures and carvings. I was surprised when I saw the outside of the temple, but nothing prepared me for what was inside. If you have to choose just one place to visit in Colombo, choose this!
We then walked along the streets of Colombo looking at the vendors, street food, etc until we reached St. Anthony’s Shrine. There was a service going on so we couldn't click any pictures. And it was jam packed!
Before heading to the next attraction, we stopped at a little restaurant for a quick bite. I had a delicious paneer masala dosa and lassi! By then, the heat had really gotten to me!
Later, we stopped by a Town Hall and Dutch bell tower before ending our walking tour at Jami Ul-Afar Mosque or the Red Mosque. I've seen mosques before, but nothing like this! It looked like a structure from the Aladdin movie! In red and white, this was probably one of the prettiest mosques Id seen till date.
I was particularly impressed with our 2 hosts from Pepper Tours. They were friendly, knowledgeable and excellent photographers. They even got water and shawls for the ladies in our group, just incase we needed to cover up to visit something.
In the late afternoon, we were on our way to Geragama Tea Plantation in Kandy. The tea plantation was almost closed when we reached, and yet they were kind enough to accommodate us. We learnt about the tea process - how it was grown, plucked and processed. I managed to hear a bit about the process but was more concerned about that cup of tea I would receive after the tour!. They have a nice tea shop where you can purchase various kinds of their home grown tea.
We spent our night at Cinnamon Citadel Kandy. They have an absolutely gorgeous pool btw which we sadly didn't have much time to use. If you're in one of those pool facing room, you'll have a lovely foggy view of the river and forest.
After a scrumptious breakfast (I really needed it that day) and admiring the views from my room, we set out to see what they call the "Eighth Wonder of the World". Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress and one of Sri Lanka most important monuments. We did not opt for a guided tour and decided to explore it ourselves. After walking through ancient ruins and weird shaped rocks, we were on our way to the real thing!
Okay guys, I have to be honest here. Climbing this rock is not for the faint hearted. My legs kept quivering everytime I stopped to take a break, and I really wanted to give up halfway. If it wasn't for my encouraging travel mates, I probably would have! I stopped at various points for a break and to sink in some views, and finally managed to reach the top after an hour or so. The view from the top were amazing and it felt like the most rewarding hike ever! We were surrounded by mountains and lush greenery.
After this tour, we stopped at a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant (Chuti Restaurant) for lunch. Do not be deceived by the looks of this place. I had an absolutely delicious meat macaroni while the others tried out dishes like Kothu Roti and fried rice.
Getting around in Sri Lanka takes quite sometimes as places are located very far away from each other. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at some picturesque spots for views and decided to have dinner at a restaurant called Theva. They had a lovely terrace where we could admire the sunset, however, we got lost and reached a bit late. We still enjoyed some lovely views and a fab dinner. Let me remind us, the food at Theva is not cheap as compared to other restaurants. Their presentation is on point! And the taste and ambiance too!
After dinner, we were back at Cinnamon Citadel Kandy and by then it was raining cats and dogs ... when my ceiling suddenly decided to leak! Although I was quite upset at this point, coz some of my clothes were already went, the hotel took quick action and I was transferred to a different room.
We started this day with a visit to the Millennium Elephant Foundation. This foundation basically rescues captive elephants and gives them a new life. They have a emergency unit that goes anywhere around the country to treat sick elephants. Our tour started off with a introduction about the foundation and the life of an elephant.
We then did a jungle walk with our elephant Raja, where he basically led the way and we followed. Of course, he had quite a few lunch breaks in between. At one point, he even managed to eat a whole banana tree.
At this foundation, you have an option to bathe the elephants too. Our tour ended with a simple lunch at the foundation.
Later that day, we headed to Galle. Galle in located in the South of Sri Lanka and is more of a beach city. Here, we met Pepper Tours team yet again for a walking tour of Galle. This time our hosts were Dilip, Alice and the lovely Dula.
In 2001, Galle was was totally destroyed by the tsunami. You'll be surprised at how they've rebuilt it. Galle is full of colonial buildings, old walls and beautiful sunsets. It was so different from Colombo!
The highlight of this tour was the incredible sunset and seeing a crazy jumper jump from a rock! We ended this tour with a view of the lighthouse.
Before heading for dinner that evening, we checked into our amazing room at the Jetwing Lighthouse. Their bathroom was basically like a ginormous walk in closest! My room overlooked the pool as well as the sea.
We headed into the city that evening to have a nice seafood meal, while it rained like mad outside.
Our last day in Sri Lanka was a rather long one. We woke up at 4.30am ... yup you heard me! .... to catch Sri Lanka's popular stilt fishermen in action. We basically drove along an entire line of beaches until we reached Ahangama beach. To our luck, we spotted one fisherman here. These fishmen, btw, and not the actual stilt fishermen. The stilt fishing industry faded away during the 2001 tsunami. However, these guys do it to earn some some money. So even if its not the real thing, you would be supporting them and getting some good pictures too.
Did I tell you how beautiful the beaches of Galle are? We stopped at this "Instagram popular" beach to take pictures of this coconut tree! It was like a postcard.
After a quick shower and brekkie at Jetwing Hotel, we were on our way to another hotel. This time it was for a market tour and cooking class with Chef Anthony Dcosta. Chef Anthony is a chef of "The Runcible Spoon" at Owl and The Pussycat Hotel. This was probably the highlight of our whole trip. I believe that there's no better way to experience a country than by its food.
Chef Anthony took us to some of his favourite fish, veggie, fruit and spice markets in the city and explained about the key ingredients of Sri Lankan food. I particularly enjoyed the fish market tour. We picked up all the necessary ingredients for our cooking class. We then proceeded to the hotel for his cooking class.
At his kitchen, we learnt to make dishes like seared tuna, prawn curry, banana blossom and more. After his lesson, I vowed to take a cooking class in every country that I visit henceforth! Chef Anthony was also kind enough to share some of his recipes with us.
Of course, he cooked more than just those dishes while we roamed about admiring this beautiful beachside property. The meal we had that afternoon was one of the best meals we had in Sri Lanka! I'd highly recommend doing this market tour + cooking class in Galle or atleast trying out "The Runcible Spoon". Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed.
After lunch, we headed back to Jetwing Lighthouse were I relaxed until our flight back home the evening.
Flying back to Dubai with Fly Dubai was equally amazing, although I have no recollection of what happened as I slept through the entire flight!
If you haven't visited Sri Lanka yet, I highly recommend that you do. Its a little gem waiting to be discovered and a mere 4 hour journey from UAE. I cannot thank The Travel Hub and Fly Dubai enough for taking me there.
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