Sri Lanka

Polaroid of the week: Riding the rails in Sri Lanka

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polaroid of the week sri lanka train ride tea countryAfter a week of beach bumming around the south coast of Sri Lanka, it was time to make my way back north into the hillier regions of the country, the tea region to be precise. Sri Lanka’s tea country is known to be one of the prettiest regions of the country, and the best way to see it is to take the train. It was interesting to see how the scenery slowly changed from the palm-fringed coastline to the rice paddy-covered flat lands which finally turned into a hillier region.

The trains here in Sri Lanka usually have the doors open during the ride, which makes it easy to get good shots of the scenery. I love sitting in the open door, legs swinging outside of the train, looking out into the countryside we’re passing (and taking hundreds of photos!) The train ride from Kandy to the tiny village of Ella, where me and my travel buddies for the week, Becki and Travis, would get off for our first taste of the country, took nearly 7 hours, but with the stunning vistas and changing landscapes I never got bored. Coming from Germany, where high speed trains would allow me to traverse the entire country from north to south (and probably even beyond that), the pace of the trains here in Sri Lanka is quite different: you might think you’d cover a huge distance in 7 hours, but Kandy is actually only 100 miles (162 kilometers) from Ella. As the train line literally winds around hills and mountains, the trains don’t go faster than 15 to 20 miles per hour here.

While the start of our journey in the morning was sunny, the rains started moving in when we reached the mountains in the afternoon, making for a mystical atmosphere with low-hanging clouds and misty forests, which were finally replaced by tea covered hills towards the end of the trip. The best part of the train ride is yet to come though, the part between Ella and Badulla, where the train tracks ends. You can expect lots of photos of all my train rides in Sri Lanka soon!


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Life Lately And Upcoming Travels: November 2014 Edition

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Life lately…

Exactly three weeks ago I boarded a plane to Sri Lanka, and it seems like I’ve been back in Asia’s sticky and hot humidity forever! I started the month in New York and caught up on London life over a few pints in the city I used to call home before I escaped the chilly fall weather to attend a travel bloggers conference in Colombo, followed by a few weeks of independent travel through Sri Lanka.

november 2014
London, New York, Sri Lanka

It’s been a crazy month, to say the least. While I enjoyed my last few days in New York, taking in all the good things fall brings with it before the dreary November fog and rain (and now even snow!) sets in, I was anxious about my quick trip to London. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about returning to the place where I lived until I left my corporate job in 2010 to travel the world. How would I feel about returning to the city I loved so much but also loathed in the last few months I spent there? The city where I found my first ever grown-up job after graduating, the city where I built up my life together with the girl I thought I would marry one day.London November 2014The strain of memories of good, bad and ugly times we had in London during our three years there started flooding back as soon as I exited the train from Gatwick Airport at Victoria Station. Bittersweet memories came back everywhere I went, but I also rediscovered my love for this beautiful city. During all those years of travel, I had simply forgotten about all the things that had always drawn me to London, even long before I finally moved there in 2007. While I was there, I wished I had more time to rekindle my love affair with London, but if there’s one thing I know, it is that November is not the best time to fall in love with London again, and so I’ll patiently wait until the right time comes.

Knowing that I can return whenever I want (no visa restrictions or bureaucratic hurdles here!) made it easy for me to leave, and I even indulged in fantasies of what it would be like to set up a base in London again, now that my life is so different from what it was during my corporate years.London EnglandMy last day in town was sunny and perfect for long walks around my favorite neighborhoods and I found myself walking around with a big smile on my face most of the time, but by the time I boarded my plane it was raining like crazy, and so I left with mixed feelings, half of me longing for more, the other half happy to leave.

It’s funny how you can forget so many things you adore and appreciate for years, from pubs and shops to certain restaurant chains and independent eateries you used to go to all the time. Markets, neighborhoods, magazines, certain items that I always used to buy in the supermarkets, little things that used to make me happy. All pushed to the back of my brain because of all the other experiences, places, foods and people I’ve met along the way over the past nearly five years. And then there is New York of course, which always makes it easy for me to forget about every other place in the world. However, I was happy to discover that New York is not the only city I’ve got a huge crush on.

Fall in New York
New York made sure though to remind me why I love the city so much. My fall there was picture-perfect!

I loved having my daily routine in New York over the three weeks I spent there, much needed after my hectic schedule in Israel and Germany afterwards, and before traveling through Sri Lanka.

Since my Sri Lankan Airlines flight touched down in Colombo, I haven’t stopped moving: every two nights I pack up my bag and move on to the next place, and it is starting to get to me. I am glad that I have another three weeks here to slow down a bit, but after a quick look at the Lonely Planet yesterday, I feel like there might not even be time for my highly anticipated side trip to the Maldives… but we’ll see.Sri LankaAs I mentioned in my last Life Lately post, I came to Sri Lanka primarily for the TBCasia conference and not in a million years would I have thought that I’d be having such an amazing time. The first few days before the actual conference were spent on a pre-conference whirlwind trip around some of Sri Lanka’s major sights. The main sponsor of the conference, Cinnamon Hotels, put together an ambitious but remarkable itinerary including UNESCO world heritage sites (Kandy, Sirigiya, the Dambulla Cave Temple, Polonnaruwa, the fortified city of Galle), beaches and wild elephants, a bar crawl through Colombo and one of the country’s most scenic train rides.Sri Lanka 2014I can’t even begin to describe what this conference has done for me, not only providing a ton of invaluable knowledge for my business, but also the people I’ve met, new friendships that formed, business opportunities that came up, the networking and learning from each other – I am so grateful that I got to be part of the PTBA’s first conference and am already looking forward to the next one.

For now, I’ll have to just find the time to incorporate all the things I’ve learned at the conference and I am also excited about starting to share my love for Sri Lanka with you here on the site.TBC Asia group

What went well

Traveling with over 40 people! I know, this sounds a bit off putting, right? I’ve never traveled with that many people before and wasn’t sure what to expect. My worries were unfounded though- the five days pre-conference trip was wonderful, and I enjoyed the conversations we had, the tips we shared, and hanging out with so many fellow travel addicts talking about the things we love to do: travel and blogging, but also discuss the challenges of freelancing and running an online business. I don’t get the chance to do that very often. It was also nice to find out that I am not the only person in the world that can’t walk by a cat without petting it, that there are other people who loathe AC as much as I do and that there are others who are obsessed with New York just as much as I am.

Dani birthday
And I turned 34 this month! I spent my birthday in the great company of Becki of and Jessica & Hai of in Yala, where we went out on two safaris in Yala National Park and saw leopards, elephants, crocodiles and loads of other wildlife!

I have to give props to everyone involved in organizing this conference and handling the needs of 40+ people. As much as I loved traveling with the group, I was also happy about a couple of days of solitude afterwards and then continuing on with a small group of fellow bloggers.

What went wrong

Let’s just say that moving around every second day is not the best precondition to get a lot of work done. I feel like this is a recurring theme in these updates but I struggled once again with my work travel balance. Add to this a more than unsatisfactory WiFi situation and you can imagine that I was close to a nervous breakdown several times this month. While there is WiFi in most places, it has often been very slow, cutting in and out or just not connecting to my laptop – I often felt reminded of the frustrating WiFi situation in India a couple of years ago.

beach nomad office
One of my digital nomad offices in Sri Lanka

Technology-wise: no major camera or lens incidents so far, but I managed to nearly kill my iPod Touch… yes, again. All I want to say about it is that there was a lot of water involved (AGAIN!!)

I knew it was going to be hard to keep up my running and workout routine here, as I remembered that during my last time in Asia, I struggled to do anything in the heat and humidity. Combined with the tight travel schedule I’ve had, I haven’t been able to work out as much as I wanted to. I have to say though that the added weight and space taken up by my workout clothes and shoes make a good incentive to actually use them!

Upcoming travels

I have another three weeks in Sri Lanka ahead of me and then I’ll head to Germany for a family Christmas for the first time in seven years! I’ll arrive just in time to visit a Christmas Market before they’re closing and will turn my sister’s kitchen into a Christmas bakery (she has no idea what’s about to happen in her house). After that, there might be a week of snow fun somewhere in the mountains but I am not sure if that’s really going to happen, because I might run out of time. I will only be home for a very short time before I head to three new countries in January! I will tell you all about my travel plans for 2015 in next month’s update, and reveal where the four flights I booked for January will bring me to!More Sri Lanka

It’s that time of year again…

… when many people donate money for a good cause. If you are thinking about donating to a charity this Christmas, I’d like you to consider the following: a couple of months ago, I talked about the South Sudan food crisis, for which I personally donated. The situation in Sudan is still daunting and every dollar helps.

Another cause worth donating for is a project initiated by three young German ladies who are looking to provide girls in Nepal with menstrual cups. Because of the unsanitary menstrual options in the country, the issue of not having access to sanitary cloths or simply clean wash cloths can cause health issues and restrict young girls’ lives during their period – for example, they prefer staying at home during that time instead of going to school. Reusable menstrual cups can help with this issue. Have a look at their Indiegogo campaign for more details and to help the girls in Nepal (they have reached their campaign goal already, but the more money they can raise, the more girls can get a menstrual cup).

Globetrottergirls Instagram November 2014
Click on the image to follow me on Instagram for real-time updates and photos of my current whereabouts!

I am wishing all of you a Happy Holiday Season and I would like to thank you for your support throughout the year, which hasn’t been an easy one for me.

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Polaroid of the week: Beach bumming around Sri Lanka

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polaroid of the week sri lanka talpe beach unawatunaAfter the TBCasia conference, our rushed tour of some of Sri Lanka’s main sights and meeting some of their most wonderful inhabitants, it was time to slow down and find a place to catch up on work. No better place to do that than a beach, where there is not much distraction, except for after-work sunbathing, and there are just no better digital nomad offices than beach cafes with the sound of the gentle waves in the background and picture perfect views. Luckily, with over 830 miles (1,300km) coastline, Sri Lanka has more than enough of those to offer, and so I made my way south from Colombo, enjoying the fresh breeze of the ocean through the open door of the train during the entire 2.5 hour ride.

Along the south coast you find many of the country’s most popular beach towns, like Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa or Mirissa, and some smaller beaches in between. I found the one pictured above, Talpe Beach, during my stay at the idyllic Villa Templeberg, a former coconut plantation, when the owner invited me to join her and some friends for a musical event at Talpe Beach, and I fell in love with this pristine beach right away.

I was lucky enough to return there a few days later and stay in a dreamy boutique hotel right at the beach (I will tell you all about Era Beach in a detailed post). An empty, tropical, coconut fringed beach turned out to be the absolute perfect place to unwind from the conference, type up notes and edit photos, and reflect on the past four weeks – you can read my full November round-up and my upcoming travel here.

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Polaroid of the week: Elephants in Sri Lanka

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polaroid of the week sri lanka wild elephantsApologies for the lack of posts this past week! A hectic schedule pre- and during the TBC Asia conference combined with sub-par WiFi connections made it hard to publish the articles I meant to share with you, but I hope I’ll be back to a normal posting schedule next week. You might remember that I came to Sri Lanka for the TBC Asia Travel Bloggers Conference (I talked about it a little bit here), and my first week here was packed with a pre-conference tour of some of the main sights of the country (Cinnamon Hotels, the hosts of the conference, put together a great video of that which you can watch here) plus the conference itself, which was excellent. I will talk about it in more detail in my monthly round-up next week.

To be honest, I had the hardest time to pick a highlight of the week, because one highlight chased the next! As for Sri Lanka in general, I have to admit that I didn’t think I’d love the country so much. It reminds me a lot of Southern India, which I really liked, but with even nicer beaches, some Buddhist culture thrown in, a tad less craziness on the trains, and more wildlife – including these beautiful elephants, which I got to see on a safari in Kaudulla National Park in Central Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s elephant population was cut in half over the last three generations, leaving only about 6,000 of them. Elephants in Sri Lanka have been hunted and killed for many centuries, starting with the British rulers who killed them mainly to get trophies (one British army major alone is said to have killed more than 1,500 elephants!) up to the civil war in the late 20th/ early 21st century, during which hundreds of elephants were killed by landmines or simply shot. Up until 2006, when Sri Lankan elephants were listed as an endangered species, there were still about 100 of them killed every year. Since then, the Sri Lankan government has finally started to pay attention to preserving this majestic animal.

This was my first time ever seeing elephants in the wild (the only other time I came close to elephants was in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand), and because I am a huge fan of elephants, I was in awe from the moment the first elephant came into sight in the National Park.

I was lucky enough to see not only a few, but several dozens of them during the big elephant migration that takes place in Sri Lanka every fall. Over a couple of months, elephant herds, including many babies, make their way to a big reservoir which fills up with rain water during the monsoon season. The sight of the herds marching across the wide open green space towards the water is breathtaking. Our safari jeeps stopped in several places so that we could watch different families interact, babies play with each other and some of the bulls putting up little fights. I could have spent the entire day at the National Park. I hope I will get to see elephants in the wild again – and my chances are pretty good, since I will be visiting Yala National Park next week, where there are also leopards! Fingers crossed for many more wildlife sightings 🙂

You want more elephants? I posted some on my Facebook Page here! You want more of Sri Lanka? I am posting photos every day on Instagram!

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