I would like to consider myself to be a somewhat-of-a-daredevil. I am up for a challenge and will try anything provided it will not disfigure, maim, or hurt me. At my age, I will also tend to be a bit more careful in what I do.
Back in 2016, I was on another one of my April escapades, and one of the countries on my itinerary was Slovenia. Here, I had a chauffeur cum guide named Drajan, who was showing me the sights and significance of this stunningly picturesque country.
One day, he drives me to Bovec, a mountain town in northwestern Slovenia, surrounded by the peaks of the Julian Alps. After a while he pulls up at a hangar and before I know it, I’m being introduced to the tandem operations manager, Andrej Kostanjevec at Xtreme Skydiving. Drajan thought that my visit to Slovenia would be incomplete if I didn’t see it from above. Together with Andrej , they try valiantly to coax me into a tandem jump.
It’s a sultry Sunday morning, and even at this early hour of the morning, the heat is rising from the parched earth. I have navigated myself from Mahiyanganaya (where I spent the night) to the Pollebadde Galaasha Road in Maha Oya, as per instructions given to me by Nayaka Aththo (Chieftain). He flags me down outside his home. As I get down from the vehicle, he hurries up to me, clasped my hands together and greets me. I reciprocate by giving him a sheaf of betel leaves.
Nayaka Aththo is going to be my guide and guardian for the next two days as he leads the way to the summit of the formidable Nuwaragala. He is one of the few remaining Veddhas from the Pollebedde indigenous clan, descendants of Danigala Mahabandarala – a different ancestry to that of the renowned Damabana clan in Mahiyanganaya. After the death of his father three months ago, he has taken on the role as head of the clan.
Ready with my backpack, topped up water bottles and sleeping bag, and he with his sack containing a few worn out pots and pans, pouch of betel firmly secured around his waist, and an axe over his shoulder, we set off on the 9km trek. It is 8 in the morning.
Steeped in history and home to one of Sri Lanka’s 16 sacred places (solosmasthana), Mahiyanagana, once a sleepy town, is now a bustling city. I am passing through Mahiyangana en route to Nuwaragala in Maha Oya.
One of the focal points of this city is the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Temple, which plays a significant role in the history of Buddhism in this country. On a Duruthu Full Moon Poya day in January, and nine months after attaining enlightenment, Buddha visited Mahiyanagana (1 BE. or 528 BC), his first visit to this island nation.
Inconspicuously hidden in a tangle of trees and marked pathways is The Backwaters Lodge. A short drive from the main Wilpattu National Park Hotel Road at Eluwankulama, google maps is spot on!
On arrival, friend and host, Tarique Omar is at hand, with his charming smile and inimitable manner to ensure cold towels and a fresh juice is served, check-in is smooth, breakfast is laid out, and all the visitors are well taken care of.
I feel privileged to be amongst a special gathering of friends who have come to The Backwaters to celebrate the second anniversary of this amazing place!
Santorini is the glowing pendant of Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea it seems. So, last but not least, I am off on the Paros Jet to check out what this island is all about.
Five hours 45 minutes later, I am on this crescent-shaped island, being driven to the Anemomylos Suites.
This comfortable, family-run traditional apartment is just a few meters from the central square of Fira, the capital of the island.
During the 16th century, this island was devastated by a volcanic eruption and hence, the rugged, breathtaking landscape. And like the other islands, this one too, is designed with whitewashed cubi-form houses with its trademark blue trimmings, that cling to cliffs above the underwater caldera (crater). And unlike the other islands, this one is far more crowded, noisier and more expensive.
I’m island hopping again and back at the harbor waiting to board the Naxos Jet (a ferry) to Paros.
I have opted for Paros for two reasons; to give one travel companion a chance to bathe in the sea and to experience a less visited island. Approximately three hours later, we disembark in this tiny island and are immediately caught up in the island’s vibe.
Greece is mostly inspired by mythology and I love it! It romanticizes history and adds a sense of wonderment to a traveler like me.
We get to the Delos harbour on this beautiful morning and settle down for a quick breakfast before departure.
Just about 20 minutes (by ferry) from Mykonos is a small island called Delos. We are dropped off and left to explore this 5km UNESCO Heritage Site.
It’s brown and barren. But look closely and it’s an open museum to the revival of the glory of Greek civilization.
It’s 6 a.m. in Athens and the Piraeus Harbor is buzzing with tourists. Some bewildered, dragging luggage, searching for jetties and boats with romantic sounding names, but there is sense of adventure and excitement.
Our “ferry” (mid-sized cruise ship), Nissos Mykonos arrives at 7:10 am, and a huge gangplank is slowly dropped down from the aft of the ferry. There is a scramble to board and I soon realize why. These ferries only dock for less than 7-10 minutes!
Two hours and ten minutes later, I am in Mykonos, one of the more popular Cyclades islands. And in the midst of the teeming crowds I see the affable Anna waving her arms to attract our attention.
Anna is the proprietary owner of the Diogenis Hotel, a cute studio apartment complex that reminds me so much of the vibe in the movie Mama Mia!
My train gets into Bari, the port city of Italy’s southern region of Puglia located on the Adriatic Sea. It’s late evening and I’m glad to be picked up by friends who then drive me to their rented apartment in Monopoli.
Monopoli is a charming, quiet town about 40 kms southeast of Bari and is best known for its Baroque Monopoli Cathedral also known as the Basilica of the Madonna della Madia or Santa Maria della Madia. This imposing cathedral was erected near the site of a Roman temple and burial site and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
God distributed soil through a sieve and used the remaining stones to build Greece states a Greek legend. So when ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (643-548 BC) said “the world is wonderful because it is a creation of God” he probably was referring to his own country.
My flight from Bari, Italy touches down in Athens at 12:25 p.m., and 50 minutes later, I check in to the Elegant A1 Apartment in the heart of Plaka.
Plaka is the oldest historical neighborhood in Athens and was originally developed mostly around the ruins of the ancient Agora. It is known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” and lies beneath the northeastern slope of the Acropolis and stretches almost all the way to Syntagma Square.