Galle is famous for its ancient historical Fort, sunny beaches, blue-green sea and kitsch temples. But I discovered another fascinating place to visit, the Handunugoda Tea Estate, home of the rare and real virgin white teas.
Located less than 30 minutes from the Galle Fort, the road to the estate is winding and circuitous, and if not for trusted Google Maps I would very well have got lost!
But I make it in time to meet with an old friend and owner of this estate, the inimitable Herman Gunaratne, fondly referred to as the Prince of Ruhunu.
After a chat over a perfectly brewed cup of Oolong tea, I follow Herman on a tour of the tea plantation that gained worldwide attention with the launch of the Virgin White Tea factory. As we walk across the tea fields, Herman starts by narrating the history behind the virgin white teas.
Colombo is like a throbbing pulse. Busy, bustling, and bursting at its seams. Nevertheless, this capital city is full of surprises; breathtaking, mysterious and fascinating.
Colombo is also home to four of the oldest and intriguing places of worship belonging to the four main religions in Sri Lanka, and I am on a journey with Arshad, my most learned guide, to discover the history and evolution that make these places so revered.
I start at Seema Malaka, the floating Buddhist monastery on one of Colombo’s oldest waterways, the Beira Lake. It is a sublime and serene surrounding where Buddhists come to meditate, offer flowers and light incense sticks.
Vastly ignored and hardly appreciated, the Nalanda Gedige, once the most central point in ancient Ceylon is a remarkable archaeological site with an interesting story, some fascinating carvings and historical significance.
According to former Commissioner of Archaeology, Prof. Senerath Paranavitana, there is inscriptional evidence that this was built during the 8th and 9th centuries as an ancient Hindu temple. The Dravidian-style (Pallava) architecture is dedicated to a Mahayana cult with Tantric learning. Subsequently, it is believed to have been used by Buddhist monks.
“Epic”. “Stunning”. “Awesome”. “Scenic”. “Asia’s Best”
These are just some of the adjectives used to describe the train ride from Colombo to Ella and a reason to find out for myself.
It is 5.55 a.m on this Friday morning when 35 like-minded friends and adventurers meet (and greet) at Colombo’s Fort Railway Station to catch the “Podimenike” train heading towards Badulla. The railway station is abuzz with activity as travelers’ scramble to get on board this ten-carriage train.
Three hours later we reach Kandy, and hereon, for the next six hours, is where the scenery changes into some of the most stunning sights one can experience on a train ride. At Rambukkana, the train begins its steep climb into the hills.
Visiting New York is exciting. At any time of the year. I’m in this city for a conference. Acer is launching its newest range of tech devices and I’ve flown all the way out here to be a part of this exciting event, happening at the Alice Tully Hall at Carnegie Hall.
Post event, I’m on my own to explore this city that never sleeps. It’s been a hectic week but here are some of my favourite memories from New York.
Last, but not least, I’m now in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. And as expected, it’s all about colourful homes, waterside cafes, boats and canals, and of course the inimitable mermaid. It is, I’m soon to find out, also one of the more expensive destinations I have been to.
But first, I have to check in to the Generator Hostel. I have to admit that this is the first time that I am staying at an actual hostel. Located smack bang in the center of the city on Kongens Nytorv, the Generator is buzzing…the vibe, the visitors and the visceral indulgences…all get a 10/10 from me.
Kongens Nytorv is a central old square and home to prominent institutions such as the Royal Theatre, the D’Angleterre Hotel and the Charlottenborg Academy. The square was constructed in 1908, is encircled by buildings on five sides, was paved with cobblestones in 1670, and the equestrian statue of Christian V on horseback was raised in 1688. It is the oldest equestrian statue and royal sculpture in Copenhagen.
OMG! This cruise ship is awesome. Silja Symphony really knows how to spoil a passenger. The cabins are small but so comfortable, the food is great, the entertainment is fabulous and the views are stunning. The ship has 13 decks (I was on deck 11), 986 passenger cabins and over 2500 passengers.
After an overnight trip (almost 20 hours in total), and some stunning early morning views of the sunset along with the Swedish archipelago comprising wooded islands, rocky cliffs, small cottages and piers and plenty of birds, I arrive at Stockholm Sweden.
I’m booked at the Castle House Inn. Located in the Old Town area that dates back to the Middle Ages, the hotel itself was once one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm. There is free all-day breakfast at the reception, lots of information on what to see and do, and the friendliest hosts I’ve met.
Having left the Finlyandsky Railway Station (Finlandia Station) in St. Petersburg at 6:40 a.m., I arrive in Helsinki Finland by 10:07.
At times, reaching a top speed of 220-kms per hour, this 300-km ride took me 3.5 hours on the Allegro.
What’s interesting about the Finlyandsky Railway Station is that it was famously known for the arrival of Vladimir Lenin by train from Germany on 3 April 1917 to start the October Revolution. The event was commemorated by the statue of Lenin placed in the square in front of the station.
Lenin is shown on the top of armored car. He arrived on the steam locomotive #293, which is now on display as a permanent exhibit at one of the platforms in the station.
It’s another beautiful, clear blue-sky day in Helsinki. I check into the Helsinki Senate Hotel which is so close to the main square. I am told that I have access to free use of the sauna and laundry rooms. This is great! I can really do with some indulgence. And, I am given an upgrade on the room as well!
Finally, I’ve made it to Russia…a longtime item on my Bucket List and I’m super stoked to be in St. Petersburg!
My first stop is to check in to the Melange Hotel, a not-so-easy-to-spot accommodation, but nonetheless, very comfortable, inexpensive and ideally located on St. Petersburg’s main street, Nevsky Prospekt.
The City of the Tsars, the Venice of the North, the Artistic Powerhouse, are just some of the names used to describe St. Petersburg. Founded by Peter the Great, who used the creative and artistic skills of European architects, this Romanov stronghold became Russia’s first great modern city. And I can see why!
I am now in the Old Town of Tallinn Estonia. It is beautiful fairytale city because of its well preserved medieval buildings and colourful, gabled façades. The cobblestoned streets add to the ambiance of this city that is enclosed by a great old wall. This wall was protection against greater powers like the Danish, Swedish, Polish, Germans and Soviets. After centuries of invasions and destruction, Tallinn, today, exudes a certain charm and beauty, that somehow makes this the most special of the three Baltics.
My hotel, the Rixwell Old Town, is the only hotel in Tallinn that is built into the original medieval city wall. My room, although small, is very comfortable and has the most amazing view of the steeple of the St. Olaf’s Church, which is almost at our doorstep.
Besides, it makes me feel like I’m living in the dark ages.