Travel Romances

Travel romances / love on the road for the solo female traveller over 40… are they possible and sustainable?

 

love on the road

 

 

Travel romance – Yay or nay??

Me: Uhhh….. NO!!

Finding and loving yourself  is more important than searching for love outside – IMHO.

 

We’ve all been there, right?

That summer romance at the camping ground your parents took you to every year, the vacation with your friends overseas, that person visiting your country briefly…

It happens, and it’s usually an intense roller coaster – both parties making the most of the short time together and giving in that deeply you wonder how this happened at such a rapid pace and so intimately. Is this crazy love exchange due to having travelled solo for a while that you’re officially open for business without your knowing? 

No, my lovely, you’re just bored! Get off your butt and do something exciting and new to counteract.

Me thinks it’s due to life not getting in the way of your default happy self.

 

 

 

over 40 solo travel

 

 

 

Q&A 

… on why you fall into the travel romance trap;

How does this happen time and time again when we know the consequences of this brief liaison?? 

Do we find it easier to be open to travel romance because its only a short interlude?

Is it a real love?

Is this love on the road infatuation due to knowing your travel will continue with or without this person?

Answers

…because we’re ambitious.. probably… no… yes. 

Confusing, right?! C’monnnn, you know the underlying truth. You’re physically older and wise enough to know better… you’re travelling solo, so you’re not a complete numpty.

Finding and loving yourself is more important, yet, you may have actually found you and all of a sudden you’re attracting the right humans.

 

 

travel romance

THE YOUNG

Teehee… yes, love on the road happens with these youngin’s. It’s all fun and games until someone falls in love and the other flies away.

They don’t even care that you haven’t waxed and have Vagina Bin Laden between your thighs – they’re happy about just getting laid. 

You may think you made a connection with them, but deep down you know that the cultures are different and the ages could be an issue – ah how sweet those reminders when you make a witty reference to something from a time pre-their-conception that they have no clue about.

 

 

love on the road

 

THE OLD

The physically and mentally old is what I’m talking about. Who, in their right mind, wants to look at a wrinkly bottom and discuss medication?

Unless you’re ready to settle for sex in lieu of the potential of an inheritance, steer clear my friend.

 

 

 

 

 

THE REBOUND

Yes, admit it. Maybe the main reason you’re travelling is to wash that man out of your hair. It’s bound to happen. Enjoy it, but don’t get attached… that shit doesn’t work for either party.

 

 

over 40 solo travel

THE MUTUAL 

VERY rarely there’s a real one that you’d do anything to be with, even stall your travel plans for..

The unspoken understanding – All knowing, mind blowing connection.

All boxes ticked… what do you do now?

“Your country, or mine, Luv?”

This is going to take a lot of communication, understanding and agreement. Hopefully you can agree on a destination that you both love that’s not home to either party.

 

GOODBYES

love on the road

“Of course we’ll stay in contact.” You KNOW that’s a lie. You might even try for a month or two. But, nuh-uhh, you’re smarter than that, my girl.

Personally, I find it darn easy to say ‘bye-bye’ when there’s the promise of new lands and experiences, really.

There are those times when you’re completely engrossed in your locale that you fall in love with the idea of someone or destination pearls (i.e. food) – this love idea may be all in your head. Take a deeper look and ask yourself the hard questions before deciding on committing your heart to a travel romance.

You get where I’m coming from…

I think women fall in love with the idea of love on the road that is all inspiring and everlasting. We’re such hopeful beings.

 

 

 

love on the road

 

REALITY CHECKS

  • Sometimes you know its a fling, maybe that has something to do with the fact that you’re 20 years older than them.. yes, old enough to be their mother. But its fun at the time, right? Do you really want to go through that training process of “This is how it’s done” again? You’ve moved past that shenanigans, so it’s a good idea to jump on that next flight out to save some face.
  • How many times have you heard me ask the question: Why do we think we belong to one person, for eternity? Its such a crazy notion to me. We, as evolutionary beings, constantly change and reinvent ourselves then expect our life partner to follow suit but in exactly the same direction. All for what? So we’re not alone? Pfffft! 
  • Have you ever truly enjoyed your own company? Give it a whirl, I think you’ll fall in love with singledom and more importantly, yourself. I know I have often – and to add up my single time vs involved time would be a close contest. It’s going to take something more than an extraordinary love on the road to get me out of this infatuation for solo-ism.
  • I’m not really one for chasing a person (does that make me lazy, or expectant?). I’m never a jealous being, nor am I generally fussed about romances.. but don’t let me dissuade you –  there may be that one travel romance exception which messes with everything I’ve just talked about.

 

Its easy enough to fall in love on your travels, however, is the longevity of this relationship realistic?

Know what’s reality, trust your gut instinct and continue to travel. You’ll thank yourself later.

 

 

Travel romance

 

WHERE TO FIND ‘LOVE’

 

Thailand

  • Assuming you’re ok with being invisible compared to stunning, 15yo looking Thai women and lady-boys… orrr, you can easily find that older gentleman to discuss colostomy bags with. (i.e. get that life insurance policy transferred into your name)

India

  • They’re so spiritually minded, connected from an early age, contemplative, giving, kind to their mums and love western women.

 

Philippines

  • Everybody is HOT! They’re kind, sweet, great singers and mini basketballers.

 

Spain

  • Mostly height challenged. I’m heightest after dating an angry short man. However, they’re very family oriented (assuming you’re ok with starting a family in your 40’s).

 

South America

  • Oh hell yes! Exclude the ex-circus-ugliest-human Chileans though. Sexy AF, can dance, well dressed, mostly fit, offering exquisite vino & food.. is there anything else a gal needs?

 

Africa

  • Athletic, tall, dark and handsome. 

 

Do I need to mention the cashew-esque Asian rumours? Who said size doesn’t matter? Oh right, that’s not love.. but a gal has needs.. so may I suggest doing a sneaky hand-cup-check pre-intimacy just in case?

 

 

 

WHAT TO TELL POTENTIAL SUITORS

During my travels I made it my self-duty to write a disclaimer where I suggested any and every man, that wanted to start up a conversation with me, sign before continuing to offer his ‘services’. You can find that non-serious disclaimer in here.

 

I do confess to putting up a barrier during my travels… maybe this blog will help you understand why.

 

 

Love on the road

 

HAVE YOU MET SOMEONE ON YOUR TRAVELS?

I know there are people that have met the love of their lives whilst travelling, so I’m really interested in your stories on how you made it work. Which country did you choose to live in? How did you get past cultural differences?

 

 

It’s all about education of the mind body and soul… and breaking hearts.

 

 

PS… none of the photos in this blog are mine. It was a sad state of affairs romantically, so I used canva.com for my image search.

How solo travel = self healing

Solo travel personal discoveries – How solo travel = self healing.

 

Why this blog?

A recent message, from a splendid travelling friend, stated that I am a “philosophical walkabout”… Another close friend, whom I met at the Vipassana retreat, has started calling me a Dervish. Meaning; a wanderer that has chosen poverty over possessions in the search of ‘faith’ – or something (in my case).

Both of which has prompted me to write the story of how I reached this point.

Plus everything web based tells me I need to show that I’m human in the eyes of internet land if I’m to make a difference in this world. This, possibly over-sharing, quite personal story about “How solo travel = self healing” scares the bejeezuz out of me because I am generally a very private person..

So, here it is.. honest, raw, vulnerable me.

 

fibromyalgia + travel

self healing

Yoga Instructor, yeaaahhh!!

 

What’s with all this travel / soul / self searching?

The beginning…

Let’s roll back about 10 years ago. I met a man. It was the single most stressful 5 year start to any relationship I have dealt with.

Without going into too much detail, just imagine the most horribly angry and manipulative ex-wife (even 13 years post-divorce), a very troublesome teenager that broke in to and stole everything from our house (amongst other things), and fighting to keep a relationship alive – single handedly.

Add to this mix somehow gaining glandular fever, along with working in a high stress job at the time.

I have been through plenty of shit before and classify myself as pretty good at going with the flow, truly knowing that everything will turn out ok.. however, all the above broke me. (Now I couldn’t be more grateful).

My physical and mental state completely crashed.

 

 

 

 

What is Fibromyalgia?

My mental state turned into a physical illness – Fibromyalgia.

For those that don’t know about fibromyalgia yet, here’s a brief and basic run down.

The best description I’ve ever read is this;

Imagine body aching flu symptoms x 100; add some fire ants to all your joints plus biting your already sensitive skin / nerve endings; the inability to retain anything in the brain longer than a nano-second; and the mental anguish of a very bad PMS sufferer.

For about 4 years my physical state was so bad that I couldn’t even walk to the letterbox without causing excruciating pain and needing to sleep for many hours afterwards. I also lost friends because I couldn’t commit to anything due to body and mental flare ups… and most likely forgetting that I was invited to events.

I’d always been proud of my memory, so I really struggled with the memory loss. I was constantly beating myself up about it.

Having to give up full time work because I became an angry, forgetful boss and when I returned home of an evening all I could do was crash on the couch in pain which wasn’t easy for someone that is super motivated in work and play.

Anger was my go to emotion (which is completely out of character for me usually). To the point that just about everyone in my path was called a c-bomb. I was fuming at cars cutting me off, people making little mistakes at work, strangers even looking at me, and my friends for not being there for me.

That’s not living, let me tell you.

Let’s not forget that I have epilepsy and debilitating migraines on top of this.

 

 

How and what made me change?

I have a step-mother who has suffered with life-halting issues (including fibromyalgia) pretty much since she joined our family about 30+ years ago. (Coincidence?)

Due to her being confined to her house most days, she was my motivation for not settling for a life of living house, lounge or bedroom bound. Her vitality dissolved, sadly. NO FREAKING WAY WAS I GOING TO CONTINUE LIKE THAT! I truly mean no disrespect towards this poor, pained lady, I purely found her situation motivational.

Plus, I assume I inherited the superpower of inner strength from my Ma.

 

My expectation of people understanding the pain I went through mentally and physically doesn’t matter, but I’m sure everyone that knew me before, during and after can see that my inner light is shining brighter every day now. Which I attribute to all the work other naturalists have consummated (including my inner work).

 

 

 

solo travel = self healing

Dr Himali & your new Ayurvedic Therapist

 

Natural Therapy healing

Psychological appointments, General Practitioner appointments at least twice weekly, many blood tests and Rheumatologist appointments – all in the name of finding out what was wrong with me.

There was a lot of trial and error with Doctors and Naturopaths for me over 3-4 years.

Until I met Kylie Stabler – an Aussie Chinese Medicine specialist from Natural Therapeutics in Brunswick. Coming off pharmaceutical anti-depressants, ceasing pshychological therapy and opting for healthy eating, acupuncture and natural herbs (the winner being in the form of Metagenics NeuroCalm) changed my life. 

As did the unwavering support from Kylie – she gave me her personal phone number in case I just needed to talk. Which I did.

Admittedly it would take me 2 days to recover from each acupuncture session, but when I did recover – I was gaining in strength and mental clarity, very slowly.

(Kylie also helped one of my besties get pregnant later in life)

My gratitude also extends to Sudi De Winter from Inner North Osteopathy for his continued support for my pained back and neck.

I didn’t drink alcohol for about 2-3 years either. I was refusing to let this Fibromyalgia beat me.

As you can see, I gave “conventional” medicine a fair go, but what actually helped was Natural Therapies.

Hopefully that explains my search for alternative therapy education so that I can offer benefits to other psychological and physical sufferers.

 

 

self healing

Torres del Paine Towers trek – My Everest with Fibromyalgia

fibromyalgia + travel

Total of 26 gruelling kilometres to reach 875m

 

Coming out of the Fibromyalgia haze

So, fast forward a few years of all the natural therapies plus delicately finding the balance between forcing myself to exercise and resting my body to help decrease the symptoms of Fibromyalgia… 

…and I’m set to do the Torres Del Paine hike in Chile. Sadly my Achilles gave way and I wasn’t able to even start the hike let alone finish it.

This hike, to me, was my personal Everest after the hell my body and mind had been through. I was incredibly upset. In fact, I cried all the way back to the camp on my own. 

The opportunity came up to go back and attempt this the following year. I just had to do it.

And I did.

Ever since then I have been increasingly proud of my mental strength and physical ability. Above all else, I have been listening to my body and gut instinct more.

 

solo travel = self healing

 

 

Fibromyalgia

Even with Fibromyalgia I became the fittest, calmest and happiest I have ever been – through Yoga

Travelling & Studying

  • I’ve learned what a Yogic life is about whilst studying in Rishikesh, India – It’s not just about posting pretzel-like yoga poses on Social Media.

 

  • Ayurvedic therapies with a Doctor 1:1 in Sri Lanka. Enabling me to help people with physical and mental ailments. When practicing on the Doc herself, she said “You were a healer in a past life.” And.. “You are in my top 3 students out of thousands.” The Doc proceeded to show me her book of previous students to cement this generous compliment.

 

  • Reiki – I was attuned a few years ago, but I’m enhancing that on a daily basis. Giving distant Reiki to friends and family has been healing for all involved.

 

 

What I have learned about myself

  • I am resilient AF!
  • My Fibromyalgia is almost non-existent now.
  • My spirituality has grown tenfold and I trust my instinct more than ever – with success.
  • The road of fewest obstructions is directing me to share my knowledge on how dealing with my past got me to where I am now. 
  • My main intent is to do things that make myself (primarily) and others happy. 
  • I am kind to myself both physically and emotionally when I need it most.
  • Aiming to be kind to those that try showing they don’t need kindness. (Ok, there are occasions when I slip, but my heart is in the right place most of the time)
  • No longer attempting perfection reduces stress and pressure.
  • Trying to rid oneself of ego is hard, but imperative for self healing.
  • You can love those close to you, but from a distance, in order to heal.
  • Personal boundaries are my best friend.
  • Being in nature, especially water, restores energy and aids in self healing.

 

We are all one – no exceptions.

 

 

 

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Why did I embark on this philosophical walkabout for the last 1.5-2 years?

 

I can literally feel the emotional pain the whole planet is in.

People don’t need to suffer as much as they currently are.

I want to emanate the change that I want to see in this world. You can too by taking steps in the right direction.

My past shows that I have always tried to help all living beings – maybe not ants and mosquitos so much – but now I am on a serious mission to heal the world. And not in my usual style of “One person at a time.”

solo travel = self healing

Our world is in trouble and I don’t just mean in a climate way. People. People need more help than ever – and FAST.

Everyone is greedier, angrier, sadder, sicker, easily stressed. It’s up to us to change all of this.

We can’t go blaming anyone else for our choices.

An increasing number of male suicides / people taking their own lives is beyond comprehension and those people left behind feel helpless. My plan is to help change this.

I truly want to help others with chronic pain, mental angst and relationships with self & others…  including us scary menopausal women.

I’m not saying that everything in the world is bad, on the contrary actually. I want people to see all the good there is out there. I guess my travel show off images and little tales of fun are my way of showing that life is awesome and not to always believe what you see on the news.

 

fibromyalgia + travel

 

How about you?!

Surely you don’t believe that working a meaningless or stressful job just so you can afford material things is all that life is supposed to be? I know we need funds to be able to live (also part of the reason I’m writing this is to get more exposure for my website). But is what you’re doing to earn money feeding your soul and making you happy?

What kindness do you give yourself on a regular basis to help you deal with everything life throws at you?

How often do you mentally abuse yourself for making minor and major mistakes?

Are you kind to everyone? Even those that aren’t kind to you?

How often do you smile or laugh?

Do you use substances to help you deal with your daily life?

 

 

 

 

How I can help you

I plan to create a space with more blogs about following our true life path so we can all lead a permanently happy life.

In nearly 2 years of solo travel = self healing I have chosen to learn things that will benefit not only myself, but many others. The learning wasn’t purely a schoolroom environment by the way; I also mean listening to and talking with so many humans that are either enlightened, on their way or struggling with life.

Prior to my travel I was attuned to level 2 reiki and plan on enhancing that even further. There are other studies coming that you will all benefit from. So stay tuned my friends, we are going to make life easier, happier and healthier in no time… as long as we do this together.

Also dealing with personal deep issues has been the best thing I have done for myself (and others) – emotionally and physically. Thanks to the very knowledgeable, wise and kind, holistic guide and friend – Dr Nikki Staley from Staley Health.

When (or IF) I grow up, I want to be just like Nikki. She’s an enlightened inspiration.

 

How solo travel = self healing

 

I’m going to create a cult where we all live harmoniously and have little people running around naked. 😉

 

I’m not after a pity party here by the way, I purely want to share my story as to why I have chosen this new fruitful life. I’ve always been different to most and tried too hard to fit in. Now it all makes sense. I just wasnt built for a ‘normal’ societally acceptable life.

 

fibromyalgia + travel

It’s all about education of the mind, body and soul…. and being ok with vulnerability.

 

I’d love to hear from others that are dealing with pain, anxiety, depression etc.. I am here for you. xx

Diary from a Vispassana retreat reject

What is a Vipassana retreat?

For those that haven’t heard what a Vipassana retreat / silent retreat / noble silence is all about, I’ll give you a brief explanation:

Vipassana = to see things as they really are.

 To self transform.

Firstly, please note that not all Vipassana retreats are created equal, nor is everyone’s Vipassana experience identical.

vipassana

Brahma Vihara Arama entrance

 

Rules of Vipassana retreat / Silent retreat / Noble silence

The plan is; to be silent, reflective and completely present and mindful for 10 days straight. Without distraction.

A few days before this silent retreat started we were all sent a very extensive list of conditions to abide by.

 

NO…

Communication what-so-ever.

Phone

Music… No Music?… NO MUSIIIC!?

Reading

Writing (oops)

Talking (to self or others)

Eye contact (again, with others or self – insert cross-eyed emoji here)

Alcohol

Yoga or any exercise

Smoking (Incl. internal combustion?)

Murdering of any living being

Food after 12pm

Shorts, singlets (or anything that allows heat to be released from our bodies, basically)

 

There are more rules, but I’m sure you get the idea. There is to be nothingness.

Sounds like a walk in the park, right?! I believe this to be the most extreme version of Vipassana retreat / Noble Silence / Silent retreat.

 

 

silent retreat

Buddha & Bodhi tree

 

 

 

 

Silent retreat diary entries verbatim

This Vipassana retreat was from 16th -25th November 2019.

You know me, always rebellious from the start….These are my (retyped) hand written notes below.

 

Day 1: 16th Nov 2019

Arrived for the silent retreat registration at Brahma Vihara Arama in Lovina, Bali at 4pm. Scootered there by my very kind friend, Surya. I really want to call him Namaskar. (Yoga joke) I left my arrival as late as possible because I was actually nervous and questioning “Why The Fk?” someone would willingly do this Noble silence / Silent retreat / Vipassana retreat.

Why was I so nervous about coming here?

Is my concern about not coming out of this Vipassana retreat the same person I went in as? If that’s all it is, then why did you come here Dufus?!

Vipassana retreats should be about an inner, mindful journey – that I believe I have already been embarking on for a few years now.

The weather is, surprisingly, pretty darn hot up here in the hills. Maybe only a touch cooler – possibly because it’s nearing dusk and there’s a breeze. (Clearly gave me a false sense of security)

Katja and I are roommates and we have made the most of the time we have left to use our voices. We covered all the important details – literally talking at each other – where we are from, do we snore/fart, why the hell we are doing this.. etc. How grateful I am having met this wonderfully mindful German lady – who also is a solo female traveller.

We are offered some food at registration – as we all reluctantly hand over any communication devices to the temple staff. Then we are treated to an opening ceremony with the Burmese Buddhist Monk – Pembling Sayadaw U Oshada – we shall call him U-O from now on. At this stage we are given more rules and how to’s. 

Then….. Silence.

Will Katja and I not talk at all?

Include no airconditioning or fan in our tiny box room with 2 single beds and it’s better than a gym steam room.

It feels odd knowing that I’ll not be talking to any friends and family back home or abroad.

 

 

Noble silence

Brahma Vihara Arama gates overlooking Lovina – Also where I was told not to sit during walking meditation

 

 

Day 2: 17th November 2019

Morning:

It’s 3:50am – we are up, Katja and I, but we haven’t heard the wake up bell yet. Maybe, when we were told that a bell will sound 5 times at 3:45am to wake us ready for first meditation, was all a big in-joke made by the buddhist monks.

Fingers crossed that these weary legs will get used to sitting for so long each day.

Last night was a severe case of Monkey Brain (termed by U-O as erratic thoughts) as I attempted to drift off to sleep – unaided by reading, music or meditation sounds. Got there eventually.

First up we walk around in silence, the slower the better. Already I’m giggling internally at how we all look like a bunch of brown (sarong) and white (shirt) zombies – quietly, aimlessly, meandering the temple.

Yes, it’s a 4am start. At least the Balinese roosters that never sleep are making us feel as though we should actually be awake at this hour – without alcohol and party music.

 

 

Afternoon:

It’s the first full day of our Vipassana retreat and I couldn’t complete it. I hobbled away at 7:30pm.

Why?

Ok, here’s how our days are supposed to go;

Wake at 3:45am

Walking meditation at 4am for 1 hour (walking really REALLY slow – focussing on our foot movements only)

Sitting meditation in the stupa for one hour (no movements unless absolutely necessary)

Breakfast from 6-7am

Walking meditation

Sitting meditation

Blah blah blah

Lunch at 11am – 12pm… No eating AT ALL from midday until the following day’s breakfast.

Walking

Sitting etc etc

4pm Dhamma talks (or listening rather) with U-O – plus more rules to abide by

Walking

Sitting

Finish at 9:30pm

In other words, we are awake 19 out of 24 hours each day. 2 of those hours taken up with food.. the rest is sitting and walking in silence. Do you want me to do the math for you?

8 hours sitting cross legged – because anything aside from that is considered impolite.

8 hours walking like a bunch of Thunderbirds.

That other hour is for laundry, bathing, teeth brushing, bug extraction and trying to still the mind without any help and getting to sleep ASAP.

EVERY. DAY.

We are allotted time to talk to the monk to discuss our progress every second day. Can you imagine all the verbal diarrhoea that we’ve all pent up in our silence?

Not feeling the love from my achilles and knee right now.

Nicotine patches start on the shoulder, seem to be locating them in my underwear around midday due to excessive heat (mainly) and menopausal sweat.

There’s a Justin Bieber look alike as one of the fellow zombies here. Hey Biebs! 

 

 

Noble Silence

Wise words

 

 

Day 3: 18th November 2019

Morning:

Is today classified as the evil “day 2” blues day I’ve read about in other blogs about silent retreats / noble silences? Or was that yesterday?

My mindset is really happy and positive, but my friggen knee and achilles have something else in mind.

I can feel my heart rate has gone crazy high. Actually hit my target 2000 calories burnt before 7am according to my Fitbit Versa. (upon further research, it appears that my Fitbit conniption caused my heart increase, so don’t panic Ma.)

Couldn’t eat breakfast this morning, lacking appetite – even though my belly was rumbling like a mini earth tremor.

Mutant cockroach extracted by broom from bathroom. Poor Katja looked horrified or terrified – too hard to tell without words.

 

What am I doing here?

I’m still not getting the whole “Focus on the pain” – “Pain will lead us to Nibbana” (which I assume means Nirvana)

WTAF?! I don’t understand.

Oh! I was mildly lectured for two things yesterday… 

  1. Resting during walking meditation. Nun: “this is walking meditation, not sitting.” Ali to self: it’s at least 40 degrees plus I’m fully clothed, hot-flashing, without a beach and piña colada in sight, luv.”
  2. Walking outside the (unmarked) female only territory. 

C’monnnn! I’m just trying to escape…. V e r y   S  L  O  W  L  Y.  

Walking meditation

I’ve decided that walking meditation during noble silence now looks like a bunch of Cadbury’s Top Deck (chocolate) brides that are rehearsing walking dramatically slow down the aisle towards her future husband… while someone messes with the slow motion function on the TV remote.

Focus on the foot, not the hilarity of chocolate brides, Al.

Why is it we have to do so many hours of mindfulness?

Is this as simple as just being in the NOW? If so, I think I’m ok on that one, thanks – well, most of the time.

First interview with U-O today. I just know he’s going to tell me to focus on the pain without moving. FUCK THAT!! I was in tears last night because I’m not allowed to move this knee. (I’m laughing as I type this btw, so don’t feel sorry for me)

Today I’m walking like an 80 year old.

Did I mention the heat yesterday? Add to this some impromptu menopausal hot flushes at inconvenient sitting meditation times. Lost about 5kgs in sweat alone today. Geez I’d hate to be underwear for a middle aged woman.

OK! OK!

5 Things I’m grateful for:

Learning meditation from a buddhist monk from Myanmar

My rebellious nature creating funnies

Filtered water

Katja

Getting through this 10 days

 

silent retreat

Brahma Vihara Arama shrine

Afternoon:

Vipassana interview with Guru was at 9am. I wanted to unleash verbal chaos, but found I had little to say or ask. 

I have to focus on the pain. (Laugh and insert eye roll here)

Now, I know he’s said that numerous times already, however, I really tried it – it actually seems to work. My concentration… hey butterfly. Hey frog. Shhhhh. Did Beibs just look over here?…. Maybe needs some more work.

During one of the sitting meditations I had full comedic movies and funny cartoons playing in my mind. How did I not laugh out loud? Must go back to primary focus – observing the belly rise and fall with the breath… or the pain.

Fitbit having another conniption – complete loss of time knowledge and whether my heart is still beating.

 

 

 

 

Silent retreat

Oh! You’re quiet now, aren’t you! 😉

Day something… 19th November 2019

 

Morning:

I have no concept of time right now…

“And on the third day” they brought in the dogs and flies at breakfast to test our slow, mindful eating practices for our Vipassana retreat. Add the whining, needy cats and I think that gives you a clear understanding about how we’re feeling this morning.

I’m still internally chuckling at the slow walks, especially with the post-apocalyptic sunrises whilst watching the poo-brown-sarongs and white shirted zombies silently searching for brains. Perhaps it’s our own brain we are in search of? Have we lost them already? Here’s hoping.

So far this Vipassana isn’t at all what I anticipated. I know, I know – no expectation, Dufus.

Even though I am mildly amused and understand the required practice of being in the moment – I’m feeling that this Noble silence may be a tad primitive and very strict.

All previous thoughts I had about becoming a Buddhist Nun – GONE!

I can’t be fucked being mindful today. (Bahahahahaha)

Do I opt for a post breakfast nap – or save that for the heat of the day… or ditch the farken hot daylight completely today?

Currently sitting outside our room, mindfully snacking on my contraband sunflower seeds and cashews whilst breaking the rules of writing.

Ok, so maybe the mind is clearer? I feel like bursting with laughter at nothing. Maybe this is deliriousness or is it hysteria? Wasn’t the remedy for hysteria a vibrator centuries ago? You’re right, monkey brain hasn’t quite left me… yet.

Seriously, the slightest thing could trigger an outburst of uncontrollable laughter right now.

Tried to feed a grasshopper my breakfast prawn cracker. He’s not a fan either.

Mutant, tropical (human hand-sized) spidey in the bathroom is, so far, the only creepy that we haven’t extracted from our room. I think I’ll name him Wazza.

It’s so hard getting the flies to mindfully fuck off. Must. Not. Murder. Beasties.

I think my elbow bites have subsided a bit today. Unfortunately no escape via hospital visit today.

I wish I didn’t have hair.

 

Vipassana retreat

The detail at these temples ❤

5 Things I’m grateful for:

I’m still alive

Having rebellious whisper chats with Katja (I think our meeting was the reason we are both here – of which I couldn’t be more grateful) – we even got those “must-be-quiet-uncontrollable-giggles.”

Contraband snacks

Exceptional sunrises at the temple (that I shouldn’t be watching because I’m supposed to be indoors pretending I’m a pretzel, meditating)

3 or 4 days done already

FRESH MANGOES!

Afternoon:

I humbly apologise to anyone I may have spiritually distracted during noble silence meditation today. Seems the creative juices are flowing and I don’t want to stem that flow.

 

 

Vipassana retreat

Buddha & Pineapple

 

 

Questions about Silent retreats:

So what is the point of all this mindfulness?

Is it to open up our intuitive receptors?

Am I a silent pineapple?

Is it to have that control over everything in our sub & conscious minds?

To slow down everything?

To become completely present?

Observation and not reacting to our feelings? 

Learning loving kindness?

Is that silent guy really Justin Bieber?

Am I prettier when I don’t talk?

 

YES.

 

Diary Cont..

Katja and I are obviously trail blazers because I caught a few others not going to class and opting for sneaky whisper chats across beds.

As for this fasting bizzo to enhance our mindful eating… pffft! Don’t they realise they’re trying to stop a cow from what it does naturally?

Food definitely tastes better. Or is it that I appreciate it more due to lack of availability?

OH! Last night I dreamt I was a fighter pilot!!!! Not just your average flying dream. You may call me Maverick.

Before the retreat we also received a list of items that were recommended to be brought to the silent retreat.. One of the critically notable items to mention is toilet paper. This poses the question:

How much toilet paper does one person need over 10 days? Answer will be confirmed at the end of 10 days.

Can people hear me munching on my choc chip cookies right now?

Is the Nun going to send another of her creepy crawly army into our room to punish me? (as I sit here editing whilst indulging after midday, there’s just one fly testing my mindful eating – nearly 2 weeks later)

What do Monks and Nuns wear under their robes? Personally, I hope they are like the Scots with their kilts. And is this how all the bowing started – trying to get a sneak peak of what’s underneath?

“Initiate. Peel. Lift. Forward. Drop” (this is the mental mantra for each step as we gaze mindlessly 6ft in front of us) Every. Single. Step. Eight+. Hours. Per. Day.

Groundhog Day/hour/minute/second

 

Noble Silence

Brahma Vihara Arama

Another day begins… 20th November 2019

Morning:

My earworms upon waking are back. “I wanna walk with you on a cloudy day. In fields where the yellow grass grows knee high” Nora Jones. (Hello my Grangamite – that is my beloved Grandmother’s song)

Dream: In a resort/car fix place. I jumped into the tiny pool and was blamed by a very cranky female owner that I emptied the pool of too much water from my bomb. She used a folded towel to show me how much the water level had dropped. 

I’m guessing this has something to do with being in a delirious dehydration. 

New earworm: “Would I try a little tobacco, would I keep on hiking up my skirt?” “EVERYTHING’S FIIIINE!” – Tracey Bonham

I’m completely convinced that I’m done here. Perhaps I’ll talk to U-O to find out the full purpose of this Vipassana retreat / silent retreat.

Last night the large red ants crawling all over my bed was the last straw. I actually feel great mentally – physically not so much, but I’m ok with that.

I’ve realised a few things:

Hinduism is officially my favourite now.

There’s no chance I’ll be a buddhist nun.

I enjoy not talking/no phone/fasting.

Super rapt I met Katja – she’s hilarious, quietly – of course.

Nobody looks or “feels” happy here.

I’m better equipped to deal with pain now. Maybe this was my lesson.

Will they allow me to quietly escape?

I’m a non-conformist. I’ll continue my path of research to come to my own conclusions about living mindfully (and spiritually & mentally happy) instead of following a particular crowd.

I spoke with U-O and impressed him with my limited Burmese lingo. He tried to convince me to focus on the heat… DUDE! That’s all I am doing. Not helpful in this instance. Just ask my saturated clothing.

Just realised why there’s underwire in bras… fluid collection during crazy inner and external heat.

 

Afternoon:

I escaped…. SLOWLY.

I didn’t get the answer to the most important query – being how much toilet paper does one human need over 10 days of noble silence… but after 4 days I was well on my way to finishing the first roll.

Maybe Katja can provide the answer? I left her what was remaining of my poo tickets..

Answer: A vague recollection, a few weeks post-retreat has us thinking that 3 rolls of toilet paper between two of us over 10 days was just about right.. possibly only because I left early though. 

 

 

In addition, I wasn’t the only one that attempted or succeeded in escaping.

 

 

silent retreat

Looking out from the sitting temple.. just longing for aircon

 

 

How a Vipassana retreat should work

Do I need to mention that I meditate 2-3 hours every day? It’s not like this quietness and solitude is new to me.

If it takes 21 days to make or break a habit… so, why is it 10 days of noble silence?

According to Dhamma.org; “the prescribed code of discipline is to learn the basics of meditation and to practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results.”

To learn abstination from:

  • killing
  • Stealing
  • Sexual activity
  • Speaking falsely
  • Intoxicants

 

The cost of Noble Silence / Vipassana retreat

We weren’t charged to do this silent retreat / Vipassana retreat, however we were encouraged to leave a donation.

  1. For the temple for accom & food
  2. For U-O and his mean nun

 

What now?

Above all else, (and post further research), it seems as though I feel most of the above practices are my every day life. I know I could do more, but I’m actually happy where I’m currently at – for now.

I will do another silent retreat, just maybe not as strict or hot or full of creepies.

Perhaps a visit back to Incredible India is on the cards.

 

It’s all about being zen as fuck, living in the present and being skinny… or something like that. 

 

Please talk with me about your experiences with Vipassana

Are there any other mid-life women out there that have tried this version of Vipassana retreat? Please tell me your thoughts.

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6 reasons to travel light

Guest blog about how to travel light – by the inspirational, over 40 solo female traveller and 5kg travelling light-packer herself – Katherine

the 5kg traveller

An ideas woman 😉

 

 

Why packing light is so brilliant for solo travel

 

In 2017 I departed on my first (for many, many years) solo female travel adventure. I was super-excited to be spending four weeks exploring Croatia and Italy. I left behind my husband and two teenagers in New Zealand and launched myself into an amazing journey. However, I was nervous as hell at the start. Considering you are a follower of Ali at Blinked Travel, you’ll already have read how liberating and joyful solo travel really is. For me it was a life reboot!

 

However, because I was doing this solo female travel concept, I wanted to be self-contained. I didn’t have anyone who could carry my bag if I got tired, and I needed to be independent. How to pack light seemed to be the solution I needed. 

 

How I chose my 5kg travel backpack

The decision was sort-of by chance that I ended up with just over 5 kilos in my bag. I went to a sports shop and looked at the bags. I picked one that looked a nice, easy size to carry.

At this point I had not researched how much a 24L bag could carry but it looked the right size. Clearly there was no science to this part of my decision making.

In other words, quite possibly the need to travel light was not just about safety, but also that I didn’t want to buy another bag and things would just have to fit. With that rocky start I became a light travel convert and am now on a quest to save people’s backs and to teach people how to travel with less.

 

6 reasons why you should travel light  

For instance; how a day bag works for solo travellers

 

 

the 5kg traveller

Path of the Gods

 

1. One bag = security plus!

 

So, since I was doing the whole solo travel bit, security was my key motivator for packing light. I didn’t have my husband with me, or a friend with that extra set of eyes. It was just me, solo, completely responsible for my property and personal safety.

There was literally no one watching my back.

Learning how to pack light became a wee bit of an obsession with me. Indeed, I took this to quite the extreme, with only carrying 5.5 kilos (around 11 pounds). This is termed ultralight packing, but you would be surprised how easy it is to do.

With my bag securely strapped to my back, and my valuables in my over-shoulder bag I was as compact as possible.

 

5kg traveller

Lokrum Island – Dubrovnik

 

 

2. It’s easy on your back and knees 

 

I’m not so sure about you, but speaking only for myself, after 30 years of nursing, labour and childbirth, lounging on my couch on social media and watching telly, and just good old wear and tear… my back is not as strong as it once was.

The thought of lugging around a 20 kilo backpack makes me shrink in my boots. And when you’re 5 foot 1 (and a quarter!) this is not something I wish for.

 

In addition, carrying heavy weights is hard on your body, especially when you’re an over 40 solo female traveller.

In Italy and Croatia I had no idea of the steps I would be hiking up and down to my accommodation. With a well-fitted, ergonomically designed day bag, your gear is balanced comfortably on your back. You are balanced. 

 

Which brings me to my third reason… 

 

 

3. Hands-free travelling 

 

With a light pack on your back you can focus on what’s in front of you. You can be mindful of what’s happening around you. And your hands are free to reach out, pull up, hold on, wave… 

 

And there’s no twisting to pull a suitcase behind you. 

 

 

the 5kg traveller

Rarely do I miss any transport due to packing light

 

4. Transfers on trains, boats, buses and flights are a breeze 

 

Zipping between terminals, avoiding luggage carousels, jumping in a taxi or on a bus, getting on a ferry, trying to catch that train.. these are all made incredibly easy when you solo travel and have a ‘pack light’ bag on your back. 

With little time between connections I had to race down some concourses to meet my next train. Travelling light makes this possible.

 

Probably my favourite “wohoo” moment is when I am off a plane, through customs, and on a train heading to my destination; all whilst others are probably still waiting for their luggage to be off-loaded. Quite possibly I have a smug look on my face too!

 

 

5. It really makes you plan a multi-purpose, minimal, mix & match wardrobe 

 

A capsule travel wardrobe is a must for light travel. It does away with the “I don’t know what to wear” issue. Therefore, your wardrobe will be so well planned and organised that everything works well together. Tops, bottoms and shoes that all go stylishly together, really make it easy. 

 

 

6 reasons to travel light

The BIG hike with all possessions attached

 

6. You’ve always got everything you need with you

 

  • It’s not necessary to think about what I will need on the flight because my bag is with me. 

 

  • I don’t need to put my bags in the boot of a taxi, or in an overhead locker. 

 

  • No need to leave someone guarding it when I go to the toilet. Although I do laugh when I see people trying to squeeze their suitcase into a toilet cubicle… forgetting that the door still needs to close.

 

 

 

In conclusion

So, there you have it, my 6 reasons to pack light when travelling solo. 

Once you’ve tried travelling lighter you’ll just want to keep improving on it. Clearly I can’t rave enough about it! Since my first trip I’ve now travelled with my 5 kilo bag into the North Western Australia outback (including Sydney, Darwin and Perth).

I travelled solo to South East China for two weeks, a romantic holiday in Fiji, a family week in Queenstown NZ over winter, and many local trips in New Zealand. It really is fun, and I just love the freedom it gives me.

You’ll find more of my travel and pack light strategies here.

 

Being able to travel light is different for everyone. For some solo travel females it may be 15 kilos or 10 kilos. Whatever weight you decide to carry there are some really easy tricks on how to reduce the weight in your pack. 

 

If you want to read more on how to pack light;

Follow Katherine’s Facebook page The 5 kilo traveller or on Instagram @the5kilotraveller and her website. Above all, you will quickly learn how easy and important light travel packing is once you read through her socials and website.

 

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7 days in Lisbon, Portugal

Loaded Lisboa

Free and cheap things to do in Lisbon.

Is this still classified as solo female travel if I’m visiting friends whilst I spend a week in Lisbon?

I’ve left my usual tropically warm Asiatic confines to hit winter in Europe. This trip to Mallorca via Lisbon is my first ever European city and what a spectacular start.  

For this solo female traveller, a 14 hour – sleep deprived – British Airways flight from Kuala Lumpur via Heathrow, lands me early in the AM. Therefore has me trying to locate my brain.  However, my thoughtful friend, Simone, takes me out exploring Lisbon city, eating nearly all day, in an attempt to get me onto local time ASAP. 46 hours awake and I’m seeing unicorns with butterfly wings before me.

I swore I’d never own a puffy jacket, but knowing I was going to Europe in winter purchasing this clothing item on the way to Melbourne airport was a necessity. My Kathmandu aqua (of course!), wearable, super lightweight ‘duvet’, that packs into it’s own tiny sleeve, is one of the best purchases for my time meandering this hilly, coastal capitol. 

There is a plethora of free things to do in Lisbon travel, so I’ve listed a few below.

 

What & where to eat/drink ..

During your 7 days in Lisbon

1. An absolute MUST when you travel Lisbon:  Pasteis at Pasteis de Belem (Portuguese egg tarts) – with their crispy and incredibly flakey pastry encasing the tastiest, creamy and light egg custard you could ever imagine. Literally melts in the mouth. People line up for hours waiting for a seat in the most popular eateries. It was a tad early to try these incredible tarts with Port (another Portuguese staple), which is the norm for visitors. 

 

Pasteis Belem

Pasteis Belem – a MUST in Lisbon

2. Sardines in any form – Portugal specialise in these stinky little fish. As you know, I’m not a seafood feaster, so I skipped that.

3. Cherry liquor – comes with intoxicated cherries and served in a scrumptious dark chocolate shot cup.  Uurrgggllll 🤤

 

cheap things to do in Lisbon

Intoxicating cherry liquor served in dark choc cups

 

4. Vino verde – a local specialty, very light and crispy white wine. Snacks of crunchy fava beans a splendid accompaniment.

 

Lisbon Travel

Viño Verdè

5. Lx Factory – an excellent place to hide from the rain downpour. Wander, shop, eat and drink your way around this artistically vibrant area. 

6. Port – from Porto is the preferred choice (other than coffee) to have with Pasteis.

7. Clube de Fado – I felt like we ate everything on the menu here. Excellent local vino buzz followed by Fado singing lulling us into a food coma. Check my video link here.

8. Time out Market – sounds like the corner where naughty people go.. but it’s a large tin shed where you can eat your weight in every cuisine possible.

 

 

free things to do in Lisbon

Lisbon city’s vibrant laneways

What to see..

During your week in Lisbon

This city has it all..

1. Ancient buildings – most are older than white-man settlement in my home country, Australia.

2. When you travel Lisbon it’s hard to miss the UNESCO listed, 16th century, “Cultural Heritage of Humanity” – Torre del Belem. She sits beside the Tagus Estuary as part of Portugal’s historical defence system. More information here.

 

Lisbon travel

Torre del Belem

 

3. Colourful, individually hand painted, tiled facades that are centuries old and still appear new. If you haven’t had enough of viewing the blue hand painted azulejos, you can visit the National Tile Museum.

 

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4. Cobble stoned streets lined with ancient 2-4 storey houses showcasing laundry from the washing-lines outside their multi-coloured façades. Include a plethora of climbing plants and you have the most ludicrously picturesque backdrop.

 

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..And most of these are free things to do in Lisbon!

5. Of course, you can’t miss the Arco da Rua Augusta (stone arch) located pride of place in Praca do Comercio (Waterfront Square) looking out at the estuary. This Arch and her surrounding building were created to commemorate the Great Earthquake of 1755. (I’ll not complain about my age or earthquakes again.)

 

Solo travel Lisbon

Arco du Rua and Praco do Comercio

 

6. The beach! Obviously my puffy jacket and I weren’t going to swim here, but the beaches sure are purdy.

7. In true form of visiting countries that have famous, man-made landmarks, I avoided Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George Castle). Apparently it’s a good place to visit especially when you have a full week in Lisbon. But I’m sticking to my guns. No Royal Palace in my 20+ visits to Bangkok, no Taj Mahal in India – you get the idea. I guess I’m not the best solo female traveller if I’m dodging the crowds, right?

8. The city shrouded in Christmas decorations. There’s no hiding from tinsel, colourful lights and nativity scenes around this time of year.

 

off the beaten path

Simone & Roberto under Chrissy decos

 

What to do..

During your 7 days in Lisbon travel

No man-flu is going to stop me from exploring this city – at the time of my 7 days in Lisbon – in my usual fashion. That is; attempting to get really lost just so I gain a better understanding of the locale and humans.

1. Street art everywhere, which is reminiscent of Melbourne’s creatively vibrant laneways.

 

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2. Lively neighbourhoods with local traditional food, fado singing and music. One night out with my wonderful hosts, Simone & Roberto, I was taken to Clube de Fado for exceptional vittles and where a woman’s passionate Fado singing nearly brought me to tears. Check that video out here.

3. Sit in one of the many rooftop bars overlooking the terracotta tiled roofs and taste test the local cuisine then wash it down with a cold beer or vino verde. A cocktail while watching our warming sky-ball dip below the horizon at the high Portas do Sol is a must.

And for those not as driven by food and wine, yet still free things to do in Lisbon..

4. Easily explore the city either on foot, by tram or by train. The Central Train Station (Estacio de Rossio) is beautifully lit at night.

 

Explore Lisbon

Estacio de Rossio

 

5. Wander aimlessly and get caught up in the lanes’ little, traditional food and wine, family run, eateries. The best people watching and solving life’s mysteries happens outside these restaurants on frail and ancient looking wrought iron chairs and tables.

6. Gawk in awe at the World Heritage listed Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery). This 16th century mammoth monastery built in honour of Vasco de Gamo because he (and his crew) stayed in Lisbon before they set off to become the first Europeans to reach India. (or something like that).

7. Watch the sunset from up high at one of the many Praca’s (Portuguese squares) that overlook the city and all those terracotta tiles plus those infamous hand painted tiled buildings.

 

Lisbon solo travel

Surrounded by terracotta and hand painted tiles ❤

 

8. Just walk everywhere. There are incredibly lanes to explore. Even more important when one eats as much as I did during my 7 days in Lisbon.

 

I’m just going to bombard you with photos instead of talking about this perfect city..

 

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Lisbon travel / solo female travel

My local friends tell me how much Lisbon has changed since they arrived 7 years prior. It appears that the Portuguese Government are setting up incentives for non-nationals to live there. I’m super keen because there’s nothing Lisbon can’t do.

 

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit (as I solo travel)…. and making myself snottier by inhaling too many Pasteis.

 

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14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka (Part 3)

Softly spoken Sri Lanka travel blog followed on from Part 2 here.

13. Yala National Park

We spend a good part of the rest of the day making our way back into the flatlands and toward the east coast to Yala National Park.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Buduruwagala Buddhas

Along the way, we stop at Buduruwagala where we make our way through an alley of mature gnarled trees to a field in front of a magnificent trifecta of Buddhas carved into the side of a small cliff. This place has a real feeling of place, sacred place, and we learn from Nisha that the buddhas represented here include one that will return in or around the year 7500 wearing a lotus blossom on each shoulder. YES.

Shortly after and almost to Yala we stop at a roadside Sri Lankan curry place for their lunch buffet. This is officially the buffet that puts us both over the edge and I don’t think we went to one thererafter – too much food, meagerly heated, westernised, always the same.

At Yala we get a peek at of our safari-style hotel before being whisked off in another 4-wheel off-road machine. This one with a roof, into the vast oceanside nature reserve there, where again we’re on the lookout for sun bears, elephants and leopards.

 

A couple of hours revving past other tours, spying many peacocks, a gaggle of water buffalo, a couple of alligators, and after not quite making it in time to see a leopard that’s been spotted by other groups, we finally do glimpse one lazing in a tree. Ali and I surmise that it was probably just some dude in a leopard suit.

I cant remember the details of the dinner menu, but it was an extensive, fixed, 5-course type of deal and after being regaled by our very friendly nurse matré-de.

Plus some more dog and cat shenanigans including sending one with a mad case of fleas back into his pack stinking of peppermint oil (much to the howling consternation of his fellows) – we take a swim in the pool under the stars, after hours, all the while smiling into the cctv camera and expecting the hotel overnight guy or local militia to show up in force at any minute.

 

 

14. Mirissa/Weligama

Down at the broad, rounded base of the Sri Lankan bunsen burner flame is the surf coast. It’s also where you’ll still see fishing boats fitted with tree-branch-supported pontoon outriggers and guys standing on wooden poles in the sea by the shore, fishing.  According to Nisha, this is now done only as a photo op for tourists and the fishermen are after Instagrammer tips rather than a bait nibble.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Weligama accommodation view

Our place at Weligama is a casual beachfront hotel with palm trees growing up through the middle of the balconies that frame perfect views of the sunset from the mosquito-netted canopy bed outfitted in white, turquoise and navy.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Aqua and navy ❤

The balcony is huge and comfy chaises are just the thing for after-dinner lounging. And what a dinner. The darty (day-party) starts early at lunch with grilled crabs, Lion beer and plenty of French fries with mayo. The darty continues at the pool with a game of sink the beachball and on the beach with pineapple cocktails, pesky bugs, body-surfing and a pretty spectacular sunset.

The darty becomes a narty and involves another visit to the neighboring crab place, though this time for club sandwiches and fries and mayo and a discussion of folk/rock/blues/country taxonomy and a near brawl over same and finally a howl at the moon over the surf.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Weligama Beach

 

Our last full day of Sri Lanka travel (or mine anyway) consists of barely making it out of bed for a whale watch, barely making it onto the whale watch boat, barely seeing humungous blue whales and almost not making it to the pod of minute, frolicking speeding spinner dolphins that bring us nearly to tears with their spastic ‘look at me’ spin dives with belly flop landings. They’re smaller, darker and goofier than I expected.

We spend the afternoon in Galle with a meander around the Dutch fort there, but for me, all I’m seeing is the fast-approaching end of this incredible journey.  The end-of-trip sadness is real and achy.

Nisha knows the trick and hosts a seafood feast for us at the same crab place next door where it turns out he is buddies with the owner. We hear about his experience falling out of his family’s graces for marrying a Christian girl and compare notes on the vagaries of careers and travels in AU, US and Sri Lanka.

Final words on Sri Lanka

There was nothing loud or abrupt or forced or splashy about Sri Lanka as far as I could see.

From the virtually deserted miles-long stretch of sunset beach at Negombo (an easy 20-minute ride from Colombo airport) to the solemnly majestic and massive charcoal-colored stupas at Polonnaruwa. The calm and quiet are tempered by heat, breezes, monkey chatter and lots of coconuts — King coconuts machetéd open to drink through a straw from a road-side vendor.

Fluffy finely-grated coconut called sambol which is infused with ground chilies, lime, and onion and must translate to the perfect accompaniment to everything Sri Lankan served at breakfast lunch and dinner.

Deep-fried sugar-dusted coconut fritters, and most importantly, the base ingredient along with the 100+ others in the oil that’s drizzled rhythmically on your forehead and applied body-wide as a basting before you’re set to steam-cook in an Ayurvedic coffin/dumpling basket designed specifically for serving thoroughly relaxed humans.

To say Sri Lanka is low-key and humble is like saying mid-town Manhattan can get busy around the holidays. But it’s not deadly quiet. And it’s far from boring.

The unmarked, unofficial middle lane traffic, ruled by careening, phantasmagorically-painted busses tooting their ring-tone truck horns and the fire-walking, balletic-spinning acrobatic dancers provide the staccato accompaniment.

 

Goodnight, Sri Lanka – I love you and your gentle, soft-spoken warmth.

 

Nisha(organised the WHOLE trip for us):

WhatsApp; +94 77 626 4733

 

Tharanga(did most of the driving & educating):

WhatsApp; +94 70 363 6046

 

For discounts on accomodation through Booking.com, click HERE.

 

Have you been to Sri Lanka since the recent turmoil? I’m interested in your thoughts on this stunning, warm and loving country, so please leave your comments or queries below.

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14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka (Part 2)

 

Softly spoken Sri Lanka travel blog Continued from Part 1.

More information on travel in Sri Lanka below.. 

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

View from our room

9. Ramboda Falls 

During Sri Lanka travel we head south and east, takes us deep into the deepest blue of the Bunsen burner flame of the Sri Lanka map. Luckily for us, and tip of the hat to uncle Nigel (thanks, Nige!) we have an old-school fold-out paper map to trace our route, circle stops and appreciate this graphic flame often and at our leisure.

Turns out that deepest blue in the bunsen burner means altitude! We spend the morning gaining some of it pretty quickly. It’s about 2.5 hours of up into the mountains before we have to ditch the car at a turn off and are shuttled down an immensely steep switchback drive to the lobby of the most spectacular Ramboda Falls hotel.

The casual hostel scruffiness here gives way quickly and magnificently to the surroundings – a south facing overlook on a wooded ravine. Flanked by a powerful nearby double waterfall on the left, a taller, slender, silent one straight ahead in the distance and a crinkle of mountain range spanning out to the right.

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It’s hard to describe the excitement when the guy helping with our packs and showing us our way to the room leaves the main dormitory style building and leads us out to the furthest-most cottage perched right at the steepest and most nicely shaded spot where the view is nothing but Sri Lanka travel’s finest.

An afternoon of waterfall and sun bathing, dog-befriending and balcony music happy hour sunset give way to an evening of buffet, wine, table-side Sri Lankan happy-birthday guitar and tambourine quartet (not even close to my birthday, but very nicely played, Ali!), a few hours of 8-ball billiards in the hotel bar with self-soundsystem and finally, a flat-on-our-backs-in-the-grass star-gazing cosmos ponder.

 

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10. Nuwara Eliya

(Travel Sri Lanka) Next day, awakened by a small platoon of caffeinated monkeys on the tin roof of the cottage, it’s off through the tea plantations, into a tea plantation factory (where our guide reinforces my hunch that most commercially available black tea bags are filled with the dust swept off the factory floor) to the nearby town of Nuwara Eliya.  This place is too cute. Much cooler temperature-wise given its altitude than anywhere else we’ve been, NE is full of storybook brick and stone Tudor architecture inspired by the English countryside.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya colonial Post Office

Apparently, the British colonialists found this to be one of the best spots to set up a home away from home complete with a golf-course, plush resort hotel and downtown with banks and a post-office.

Taking a walk a few blocks north of downtown though and the bus terminal, fruit markets, roti cafes and shops selling SIM cards, milo, hardware, bridal hairstyling, stiff-billed Stussy caps and elephant pants – say, “nah, this isn’t the Cotswolds, you’re travelling Sri Lanka still’. It’s just a little less hot.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Tharanga in the Nuwara Eliya market

 

But then a walk by the adjacent recreational lake feels again like somewhere else altogether – maybe Sweden? Who knows. It’s nice though, and our guide there, a smiley yellow dog that trots up and puts his paws in Ali’s seated lap, stands tall to signal his approval of her, makes sure we leave town with a profound appreciation for its welcoming and carefree spirit.

Another light-agenda day is just right, and after a breezy windows-down drive back through the tea plantation road switch-backs, we spend the rest of the day near the hotel luxuriating by a natural pool in glittering dappled sunlight, bouldering and building Zen rock piles.

The evening is about a village walk, another riverside waterfall scamper to get the bpm’s up. Then a fantastic night of watching Makila, a local dude with big plans, and his buddies laugh uproariously and tweak each other gently about not *quite* getting the cue ball up table, around a coin and back to home in three shots, no cushion or coin to be touched – a game that Ali knew would be all it takes to start a fun, bonding party like this.

 

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya train station

11. THE Train Ride

I believe this to be one of the main reasons to travel Sri Lanka:

This morning we’re met by our second driver/guide, Nisha.  He’s a lithe, handsome guy who looks quite a bit younger than a 43-year old dad of two teenagers. Nisha’s got an easy smile, gentle demeanor and the same confident flow behind the wheel as Tharanga.

I’ve learned from Ali that Nisha is the engineer and artist behind our itinerary and he’s got the presence you might expect from a mastermind.

We make a stop back in Nuwara Eliya for a little breakfast and coffee before heading over to the train station to catch the 12:15 to Ella.

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

The best train ride I’ve been on

The train is only half an hour behind schedule and when it does pull in it’s interesting to note that it takes about five minute of Nisha and his colleagues trailing other guides and their disembarked clients before they return hurriedly holding tickets for us to board. (Sri Lanka Travel made exceptional via train)

First impression, after lots of hype is “Oh. OK. Cramped commuter train through the countryside with other underwhelmed, snacking Eurameristralians.” Ali even picked up a dark vibe in her foursome across the aisle from me – which, thankfully, made us move to a better location in the carriage.

But then. End of Car. Open doors. Full-face lean-outs over seated leg hangers.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Leg-hanging out the door whilst cruising

 

“Tika-taka, tika-taka, tika-taka. Ta-tak; ta-tak; ta-tak.”

This was the dialog between the steel wheels, the carriage, the tracks, the sleepers and the earth as we coasted past a grove of silvery gum trees bathed in dappled sunshine that punctuated a view of green mountains through them and blue ones beyond. It was only another bend before the train was enveloped in a passing cloud, bringing a cool misty ghostliness to the emerald grasses and fiery flowered bushes that brushed our outstretched toes.

Here and there a face would drift by, one with a whistle, softly but firmly blown to signal something like “I’m here”. Another squinting through a sunbeam to gather a glimpse of the far paler faces aboard looking back through open windows and sunglasses.

There was nothing loud or abrupt or forced or splashy about this afternoon train ride, billed as the most beautiful in Sri Lanka, between the quaint Britishy-feeling tea and scones resort town of Nuwara Eliya.

Surrounded by some of the country’s most prolific tea-producing plantations and the not-so-nearby ayurvedic backpackers/ beer/tea/shisha/massage basecamp called Ella nestled in the crook of Adams Peak and the 9-arches bridge.

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About an hour in, after a station stop in a sunny-side opening for a side-by-side seated leg-hang of our own, albeit on the less scenic, less sunny side.

But then, almost instantly, a big right-hand bend and the valley of the gods opens up to us through ghostly gum trees and we’re there, floating, clicking, clacking, grinning and breathing involuntarily deep breaths.

Next through a cloud, then whipped at the toes by sun-warmed grasses, past small farms and houses bathed in late afternoon golden glow.

Please don’t let it stop. And it doesn’t.

Seeming hours (and it was) of fragrant sun-dappled woods, 200-km views to distant mountains, wooshing tunnels and smiling faces at stations and between.

THIS is the Sri Lanka I brought with me when I left. Mountains, colors, tea, train, mellow sunny fragranced fields, patient tuk-tuk travelers stopped at crossings and gentle breezes.

 

12. Ella

At our destination, Ella, high in the central province mountains, all pile out and it’s apparent that more than half of the passengers are 20-30-something crunchy back-packers, tatted, dreadlocked, tanned, ankleted, pony-tailed and equipped for trekking.

The town itself is small and caters to this contingent – hostels, bars, shisha joints and lots of little mom-and-pop ayurvedic massage emporiums. After a pot of street-front, people-watching tea, we book into a massage place. Relatively early to bed at another deserted hotel after some amazing hotel-grown-and-made pumpkin soup.

 

14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

Mini Adam’s Peak

 

The following morning we make quick work of Mini Adams Peak – a brisk vertical endeavour that rewards with an incredible panoramic view of surrounding mountains. Now cast in stark atmospheric relief by the brilliance of the mid-morning sun and offers a nice glimpse in the direction of the next chapter of our tour, south toward the ocean.

A family of mountain dogs and their pups show us around the summit after they were treated to Coconut Haiwaiin cookies care of Nisha, much to the delight of a pair of Aussie ladies whom Ali pegs as being from Queensland.

 

Part 3 continued here.

 

If you’re considering a trip to Sri Lanka, PLEASE make sure you get in touch with the below wonderful humans to help make your trip a comfortable and educational breeze:

 

Nisha (organised the WHOLE trip for us):

WhatsApp; +94 77 626 4733

 

Tharanga (majority of driving & educating):

WhatsApp; +94 70 363 6046

 

For discounts on accomodation through Booking.com, click HERE.

 

 

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14 reasons to travel Sri Lanka (Part 1)

Travel Sri Lanka – “Softly spoken Sri Lanka” (Part 1)

Sri Lanka travel blog written by my very talented guest writer and friend, Nigel.

Nige

Mini Adam’s Peak

 

Sri Lanka travel – I’m re-posting this blog as a 3 part series mainly due to format and SEO settings – and this is before my Euro/Middle East blogography because our wonderful guides have had nearly all of their tourism bookings cancelled due to the recent turmoil in their wonderful country.

You’ll find their contact details at the bottom of this blog. I cannot recommend these beautifully kind gentlemen and Sri Lanka enough. Don’t let the media dictate that it’s not safe, do your own research and go book with these sensational humans that will give you the best and inexpensive travel experience you could have ever hoped for.

And yes, you will need a guide if you want a stress-free version of Sri Lanka travel. Their transport system is pretty average, although, not impossible. I just imagine that most of us over 40’s travel disciples prefer a little more comfort than non-airconditioned, overcrowded buses. (The train ride between Ella and Nuwara Eliya, in part 2 of this series, is absolutely sublime though.)

 

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1. Negombo

Accomodation: The very acceptable Paradise Beach Hotel with balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Turns out the Colombo airport is really in Negombo – or so it seemed in hindsight. After a few turns out of the bouganvillia-lined airport access road, the environment is a strikingly low-rise, well-kempt residential one dotted with markets, temples, and churches and cut through with surface railroad tracks.

This tidy, pleasant everyday neighborhood gives way quickly to sandy sidewalks, hotels, espresso bars and views through alleys to the sparkling Indian ocean. Less than $100/night is plenty for Paradise Beach Hotel’s beach-front 3.5-star with generous sea-view balcony, nicely-maintained pool with manicured lawn and coconut palms and complete with a Pirate Bar, serving the “standard” plus-size Lion beers with their golden hues and mellow vibes.

If you want to have smoke with your beer when you travel Sri Lanka, be prepared to buck the system or have to go to great lengths to purchase a pack. None are allowed to be brought through customs. None. But rumor has it that a few packs strategically stowed away in luggage are extremely likely to get through undisturbed.

Sri Lanka travel wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the seventh-floor rooftop bar at Jetwing. This building dwarfs its surroundings and beckons with opening-night-style searchlights. The music is as conservatively house-pop as can be but gets some head bobs from the well-heeled local crowd as they surmise the lavish dessert bar.

On to Rodeo bar where there might be a band. It’s Friday night. No dancing here. No metal. No live music. No ping pong show. Just Soft-spoken local highschoolers drinking beer and munching on club sandwiches while watching the cricket. Better to stake out a balcony chaise and watch the moon play on the surf.

 

 

sri lanka travel

The 100mt tall Athugala Buddha Statue

2. The road to Dambulla

Rolling out of Negombo, the sandy beach-town grid gives way to shady 2-lane (oh, sorry, 3-lane for those vehicles game enough to create their own path) roads that carve through agricultural land spread out in front of the inviting hills of the North Western Province.

The first big town during Sri Lanka travel, Kurunegala, that sits squarely at the intersection of flat and hilly and is home to our super guide, Tharanga.

Here a snack of roadside rambutan (tastes similar to lychee) fuels a scorching midday stagger around Athugala Statue – a blindingly white 100mt-tall buddha that sits high above the town looking placidly out over it and whose sarong and repair scaffolding provide shade for a family of feisty macaques (evil monkeys) and a few lazy young lovers taking in the view.

The local small scenic lake and surrounding park are another welcome oasis from the punishing sun and here more white-school-uni-clad teenagers jostle gently around holding ice cream pins flashing brilliant toothy grins at each other and giving the occasional love punch to keep it casual.

 

 

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3. Dambulla Cave Temple

Sri Lanka travel’s cultural, religious stop of the day is the Dambulla Cave Temple. A white-washed vaguely Western arcaded façade a few hundred meters walk up from the car-park covers the seam between cliffs above and a human-enhanced, terraced plateau. Step through the arcade and into the dimly-lit cave rooms beyond and you’re met with a massive, full-reclined Buddha lit ethereally by beams of daylight sifting through the doorway.

Flanking the reclining Buddha are a host of smaller seated ones, some serene, some seemingly perturbed. They get along though, and the white, orange and purple flowers left for them seem an essential relief from the otherwise eternal and somber scene. There are other rooms, some larger, some smaller, all hosting buddhas and all with intricately painted natural stone (cliff underbelly) ceilings. It’s as if the ceilings have been hung with taut, beautiful woven fabrics.

 

 

 

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4. Ritigala Nature Reserve

A couple more hours’ drive up into the North Central Province, arriving as the shadows lengthen, is the vendor’s grass-roofed roadside hut to sign-up for our first travel Sri Lankan Safari at Ritigala Nature Reserve. With a beefy, black, 8-seater, plush-seated, roofless, roll-barred off-roader to ourselves with windscreen down, we tear off at high speed in pursuit of sun bears, leopards and ellies.

Once in the park, the red-dirt roads are well rutted and the African-safari-style massage starts. Our guide/driver knows what he’s up to and with efficient precision in stopping for and pointing out some colorful fowl (peacock).

He subtly passes leading Jeeps and gets us beautifully teed up at a stream where a family of magnificent elephants is sauntering out of the shady woods, scraping their tough hides on the tree trunks and prancing slow-motion into the golden late-afternoon sunlight. They take turns munching the tender grasses and cooling their toes in the water. And then a couple of the elephants, a Mom and daughter I’m guessing, think it’d be cool to come check us out up close. Breath-held, camera noises turned off, we can hear their teeth grinding on grass, see their spotted lips and irises, and smell their sun-warmed skin.

For me, a safari newbie, this is magic and pure bliss. Looks like my safari-vet buddy is a bit impressed too. After more than half an hour of this beautiful encounter it’s time to back up and move out. A quick stop at another Lion Rock (do all nature preserves have one?) where it’s easy to picture Simba and the gang lounging about.

It’s a tear back to the hut and a hour-plus drive in darkness to Thilanka Resort in Dambulla , a gorgeous, low-key, soft spoken eco-lodge resort with a fantastic campus of breezy, well-planned new buildings that nod to the vernacular, all set in a mango grove with a pool that stretches out into the rice paddies in the direction of the sunset.

 

12 reasons to travel Sri Lanka

The infamous Sigiriya (Lion) Rock

5. Sigiriya Rock (Lion Rock)

The following morning, we’re up and out on the early side to beat the heat and crowds to climb Sigiriya rock to the Lion Fortress upon it. This is a big tourist draw for locals and foreigners alike. If you’ve not seen a helicopter shot of this one, imagine a rock shaped like an upside-down iron the size of 6 cruise ships (2-wide, 3-high) sticking prominently out of a dense jungle and supporting a sun-deck of fortress ruins. It even seems to have a bow and a stern and the iconic shots are from just off the bow.

We didn’t make the trek up to the top of Sigirya Rock.

The density of the sweaty, curry-tooting, out-of-shape, hopelessly over-ambitious climbers and the patter of geriatric medical conversations, paired with the narrow steepness of the stairs and resulting tortoise-on-morphine pace of the climb was enough for us.

After about 40 minutes and a quarter of the ascent, for us to look at each other, shrug, smile and reverse course, weaving our way, very gingerly but persistently back down through the crowd to smiles and comments of “had enough, eh?” A fainted woman being tended to with ticket-stub fans and label-less water bottles (check your single-use labels at the gate, please), was a pretty good convincer that we had chosen wisely. Base camp is beautiful, a shady compound of vendor huts surrounding a makeshift, tree-filled tourist-village green. We hung out here, admiring a resident tree sloth and chatting on a bench until pink moist huffers emerged from the exit trail and our trusty, very soft-spoken guide, Tharanga, greeted us with his heart-warming genuine hospitality smile. Perfect morning in my book. “Uhhhh.. no” is a complete sentence apparently.

And an even more perfect balance of the day.

 

6. Village tour

A quick pretty drive back toward Dambulla is a small village where we were treated to a cursory village tour by ox-drawn cart and then a leisurely private shaded, pontoon-boat ride across a small lake. The waters of which were teeming with fish and dragonflies as well as lotus flowers – that were pulled up and fashioned into necklaces for us to wear and a bouquet for us to hold while posing serious-faced like 19th-century newlyweds.

The ultimate destination for this little side-journey, which featured a tramp through what seemed like a family-sized subsistence farm and past a micro fish market, was a traditional open-air, thatch-roofed Sri Lankan farmhouse for lunch. We watched and took part in the grating of coconut and pounding then grinding of millet (?) for flour.

Some non-participatory grinding of herbs and super-heating of coconut oil and furious wood-fired stove-top stirring, our lunch was served in clay pots and tasted phenomenal.

It wasn’t all go-go-go during this Sri Lanka travel – We spent the rest of the afternoon poolside at Thilanka Resort, befriending a puppy and her Mom, sipping the house-special mojito-esque cocktail and Lion beers and soaking up the fading rays of sun while sharing stories of past glories and defeats. A predictable buffet dinner was made lighter and more fun with a visit to the pasta bar and a bottle of South African red. A cricket watching lesson, invisible tennis class, Bruce Willis dive roll practice and balcony climbing rounded off the evening.

 

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7. Polonnaruwa Ancient City

When you travel Sri Lanka I highly recommend visiting Polonnaruwa. This, our final Dambulla-based day is spent exploring the ancient, UNESCO Heritage listed, Hindu city of Polonnaruwa. This vast complex, warmed up nicely before we hauled our beleaguered butts out of the Honda Fit, is characterized by nested layered compounds of ruined temples and stupas.

Due to the short time we had here we chose to stick with Tharanga and his car chauffeuring us around this expansive site. There are cycling options instead of car for those willing to brave the relentless heat and spend a few days locally to enable seeing as much as possible.

 

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Main requirement is that we de-shoe before entering the sanctum of each of these sites, at spots commonly demarcated by three steps up from a round elephant and lotus-flower medallion pavers leave tender soles scrambling for the scant shady spots to avoid 2nd degree burns and the need for immediate back-seat amateur skin grafts.

The sites are in turn majestic, sublime, humble, ruined, nicely restored, crowded and deserted. Skip the lotus pond. It’s a smallish ancient tiered hot tub shaped like a lotus and sunk in the ground. Maybe more impressive if not led up to with a 3 km drive down a dusty track into an otherwise vacant wooded area.

sri lanka travel

Polonnawaruwa Ancent City

The common denominator at Polonnaruwa is hot and sun-scorched. If you could catch this place really early or late in the day, or on one that offers a preponderance of cloud-cover, then by all means, do it. Duran Duran filmed the video to their 1982 single Save a Prayer amongst the ruins here. Woo hoo!

No Sri Lanka travel would be complete without a famous Avurvedic Massage – oiled, seasoned, basted and steamed…. reeelaaaxed.

 

 

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8. Kandy

Morning – it’s time to say bye for now to our stylish Dambulla eco-lodge.  Now it’s off to Kandy, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka nestled in its geographic center of gravity.

On the way we stop at a spice garden, tour the grounds, learn some interesting facts about the ayurvedic medicinal characteristics of plants I thought just tasted nice and are treated to an express version of the same massage noted above – minus the steaming.

First impression of Kandy is traffic jam. It takes us over an hour, once we make the city line, to creep to the other end of town (walkable in 30 mins) to a 4thfloor tourist buffet lunch and another hour to return the same distance and park in a downtown shopping mall parking garage to visit the famous Buddha Tooth relic museum and adjacent Museum of World Buddhism.

These sites suffered a terrorist bombing in the early 2000’s as part of the civil war and unfortunately that tragedy has left a low-energy pall over the otherwise quite stately and beautiful grounds adjacent to Fake Lake. To complete the buzz-kill we’re scolded for PDA by an olive-suited police officer who judges our casual hug to be on the far side of the tact/taste line in Kandy.

 

This blog will be continued in another 2 blogs. Part 2 HERE.

 

If you’re considering some Sri Lanka travel, PLEASE make sure you get in touch with the below wonderful humans to help make your trip a comfortable and educational breeze:

 

Nisha (organised the WHOLE trip for us):

WhatsApp; +94 77 626 4733

 

Tharanga (majority of driving & educating):

WhatsApp; +94 70 363 6046

 

For discounts on accomodation through Booking.com, click HERE.

 

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7 days in Resplendent Russia

Travel Russia – Guest travel blog by my dear ‘Fraunty’, Dr S.

Dr S – Guest blogger

Hi readers. Dr S here.. I’m writing a guest travel blog about spending 7 days in Russia in September last year – better late than never – to contribute to my friend’s over 40’s travel blog. Apologies in advance but my musings usually contain a lot of pictures of buildings, sorry, but it’s my thing. 

7 days in Russia
Building artwork

Russian food?

I’m not a gourmet foodie, so I’m not qualified to report on that. As long as I can get something to eat, I’m happy.

Guess what?! You can get beer in McDonalds!

Just like a chocolate milkshake…

And even coffee guys look interesting when you’re in another country.

7 days in Russia
Coffee with Vodka, please

I should also qualify my Russia guest travel blog with the disclaimer that I only spent a week in Russia and what can you really know about a country if you’re only there for a week? Just what you see in that time frame is all.

Massive Moscow

Anyhow, we flew from Lyon in France, to Moscow, with Aeroflot. The usual advice is “don’t fly Aeroflot”, but that’s just a hangover from a past bad reputation. These days Aeroflot has a whole bunch of new planes and is as reliable as any other.

We spent our 7 days in Russia about five months after Moscow hosted the World Cup of football, and so the locals were fairly used to tourists by that time.

Mainly Aussies and Poms (Brits) and mostly really drunk tourists as far as I can tell, fortunately they didn’t hold that against us.

How to describe Moscow?

If you asked me for one word to describe Moscow, that word would be BIG.

Everything is enormous, not just the tourist hotspots like the Kremlin, but even including footpaths that are so wide that about 50 people could stand side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder. This is a typical Moscow building in the old section of town, with a person in the shot to give an idea of scale.

7 dyas in Russia
BIG building

Moscow Architecture

The main road that runs through Moscow has 14 lanes, 7 on one side and 7 on the other. If you’ve ever tried to cross 14 lanes of traffic, don’t. Thankfully they have underpasses everywhere as that’s the only way to get across such huge roads. The Kremlin (below) is ginormous. 

7 days in Russia
Kremlin (big-walled) with one of the 7 “Empire State” buildings in the background

All BIG things have to be cleaned sometime, and so Moscow also has the World’s Largest Street-Cleaning Fleet to clean their huge streets – see following picture.

7 days in Russia
BIG street cleaning fleet

Red Square is humungous. Moscow has seven similar buildings that look suspiciously American, in the style of the Empire State, spread all over the city and known as the 7 Sisters – and they too are monumentally huge. Seven is of course so much more impressive than just one. Naturally, huge buildings need huge entry canopies.

7 days in Russia
BIG Canopy

The university is huge, and guarded by the statue of some angry dude …. 

7 days in Russia
BIG Uni at night


Subway (no, not food)

… and the subway is both incredibly ornate and you guessed it – huge.

There’s lots of heart-warming propaganda in the underground train stations – lots of statues, mosaics and paintings of happy peasant folk with lots of wheat, showing how well fed and happy everyone was back in the days when the central Government was in charge of everything. Bit like the way we’re heading now in Australia (end of political commentary).

7 days in Russia
BIG yellow subway

The subways are fortified so they can double as bomb shelters, and the university has underground bunkers as well – turns out they thought the Americans would drop a bomb on them, while we Westerners were raised to think it would go the other way. Who knew?! 

Even the portable toilets look like they’d withstand nuclear fallout. 

7 days in Russia
Bomb shelter/proverbial shitter

Anyway, you get the idea. We spent 7 days in Russia to discover that Moscow is really big.

I think all travellers would agree that it’s the little oddball, spontaneous things that you remember and hold dear. Like, of course I remember the Eiffel Tower, but … once we got lost in the back streets of Paris, and we accidentally ended up being the only two members of an audience when we stopped in a dead-end street to listen to a young girl playing her violin in her own home, with the shutters open due to a heat wave. We stood there and listened to the magic, until she noticed us listening and stopped. Tower schmower – it’s those joyous little surprises that you never forget. 

Moscow – Military Tattoo

During our week in Russia, Moscow gave us a lovely surprise, albeit a big one because they only do big there. We trooped out to see the onion dome church thing at night, St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, and to my inner photographer’s dismay, it was dark and unlit. Disappointed, we trudged home.

Found out the next day that the Cathedral was in darkness because there was an event being held on the other (Kremlin) side, and it was – omfg – a Military Tattoo in the land of the military!! We hunted high and low for tickets, at 2pm the booth said they were sold out, then a kind local explained that any spare tickets would be re-allocated to all the booths at around 5pm, and so we returned and were lucky enough to get 2 tickets just in time to get there.

I can’t fully express what a total BUZZ it was to see a Military Tattoo in Red Square in Moscow, a place that’s fairly keen on all things military. They had invited entrants from all over the world, so not only did we see all the incredibly proud local army & navy types, but we also saw army bands from all kinds of obscure places – Mexico, Ireland, Sri Lanka – all of which were amazing. 

Tattoo Excitement

The roar that went up when any of the Russian military came out to play was deafening, and chock-full of national pride. Some of the Russian musos were hilarious, earnest young Russian military boys gettin’ down and funky for the crowd and generally not taking themselves too seriously. (Taking the piss as we say in ‘Oz – so they do have a sense of yuma!).

There were bands from Mexico, Sri Lanka, Ireland, and so on, you name it they were there. 

The ones that took the cake as far as we were concerned were the Dutch – they not only played their musical instruments while at the same time riding their specially modified bicycles (the Dutch do love a good bicycle), but they rode said bikes on the extremely rough cobblestoned Red Square surface – and, aiming for a degree of difficulty of 11.5, they did all this in national dress including wooden clogs.

Ever tried to ride a bike in wooden clogs? Unfreakinbelievable. After the concert, they hung out in the carpark, playing more music and signing autographs like rock stars. Full marks to the Dutch crew.

Conclusion on Moscow

7 days in this Russian location was mind-blowing. The Military Tattoo was held in Red Square with St Basil’s onion-dome Cathedral and the Kremlin’s Spassky Tower in the background, both lit with an ever-changing array of colours, and of course fireworks at the end, while the moon popped up as well (it was, of course, big). 

7 days in Russia
St Basil’s with moon

One of those shake-your-head-am-I-really-here moments that absolutely thrilled us during our week in Russia. What a SHOW! It was a night I’ll never forget and totally unplanned, we were just dead lucky. Which makes it doubly grouse.

7 days in Russia
St Basil’s with fireworks – SERIOUSLY?!?!

St Petersburg

We didn’t have time to get out into the countryside which is where I believe you get to see the darker side of Russia – i.e. poverty, and zero amenities, poor food, no medical assistance, etc. We instead caught the train to St Petersburg, a pleasant 4 hour train ride. Along the way, you catch glimpses of how people outside of Moscow live, with apartment blocks cuddling right up to power stations. 

7 days in Russia
Power station vs housing

And we saw some ripper vehicles during our 7 days in Russia.

St Petersburg – Don’t believe the hype

You know how when every one you know tells you to go see a movie because it’s great, fantastic, amazing, life-changing and all that? St Petersburg suffered just like that, from too many superlatives. It is a place consisting of 30 or so islands, a whole lot of rivers and canals in between, and as a result, their biggest claim to fame (Hermitage Museum aside) are the bridges that rise up at around 1am to let ships and barges in and out. 

7 days in Russia
Bridge up

Don’t get me wrong, they are worth seeing, because up go the bridges, along with the light poles, tram lines, electricity wires and the lot, so it’s all fairly clever, but otherwise St Petersburg didn’t really do it for me. People call it ‘The Venice of the North’ because it’s allegedly so beautiful, but being so close to sea level, it’s a very flat landscape, which is very boring for photography enthusiasts.

St Petersburg Architecture

There’s some nice architecture and for that reason people have been known to compare it to Paris; there’s lots of gold leaf everywhere, plus Peterhof is St Petersburg’s (naturally bigger) answer to the palace at Versailles, but I just didn’t find it special.

It does have the other onion dome thing – the very seriously-named Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood – which has something like 35,000 square metres of tiling, again with the huge theme. Sort of like penis envy really. “My palace is bigger than yours.” “My church has more tiles than yours.”

Australians can be equally proud of what we have that’s big, with the Big Prawn, the Big Pineapple, and of course, all our Greats – the Barrier Reef, the Australian Bight, Great Ocean Road, the Sandy Desert and so on. But I digress.

7 days in Russia
‘Understated’ palace

With Moscow so HUGE and St Petersburg so flat with a handful of big things, you have to give serious thought to what camera lenses will work for that week in Russia. (Ed: should have sought advice from photo guru; Ali)

Accommodation – St Petersburg

Not sure if I’m allowed to give plugs, but a big shout-out to the people at the Hotel Rossi, all of whom were absolutely sensational. All the concierges got involved with our taxi hassles and any other requests for assistance.

The door guy was awesome in giving us suggestions for each day out (and how to get back), the rooms are lovely, it is well located near the main drag, and they have an in-house spa for massaging sore travel-ravaged bodies. Also, their lift, pictured below, tells you what day it is, which is bloody helpful when you’re on holiday.

7 days in Russia
Oh, it’s Toosdee.

Taxi Turmoil

Yes, I mentioned taxi hassles.

When you spend 7 days in Russia, you can’t help but learn the hard way about getting around via taxi.

The taxi industry in Russia is a huge racket allegedly run by the Mafia. They tout at the airports for your business.

You will see guys wearing a Taxi sign around their neck; they offer a quote for your trip, if you accept or even hesitate, they take your bags and start walking so you have no option but to follow, and then they put you in an unmarked domestic car with a driver from another country who already has your bags locked securely in the boot by the time you catch up. At that point, anybody could be taking you anywhere and charging anything, and it’s pretty scary.

Taxis cost how much?

The charges range wildly – we paid 250 roubles for a cab to the Hermitage from our hotel, because the hotel booked it, and were charged 1500 roubles for the same trip back (not booked by the hotel). Even if you ask them to quote you a price before getting in the cab, they can and will often increase the price at random as you go along, so you just can’t win, and it actually became a bit of a downer the longer we stayed.

It’s a real headfxxx, the only consolation being that when you convert it back to AUD in your head, it’s not a lot of money in real terms.

Conclusion

Shout-out also to all the various tour guides we had to show us around during our quick 7 days in Russia – they are very open and will tell you all about themselves, what they earn, how they live, what their politics are, what the history is, and so on – a fantastic source of real-life information, and just something we prefer compared to looking at dusty old things in museums (but to each his own).

In the end, we’d have been happier to have used the 3 days (out of the week in Russia) we spent in St Petersburg to have stayed longer in Moscow. But hey, they’re the things you learn only when you get out there.

Me, I used to be so scared of flying I would only go where I could get to by bus or train (i.e. inside Australia), so I’m just plain ecstatic to be anywhere else.

What experiences have you had in Russia that you can share with us? Is this a good Solo female traveller destination? Please comment below..

Want to learn more about solo female travel for over 40’s? Try here.