Ari Atoll (Alifu Alifu), Maldives

Our Korean Air flight from Sri Lanka took 1¼ hours, was comfortable and had loads of leg room which is somewhat surprising given the average height of a Korean! We arrived on time at 7am in Malé the capital of the Maldives, although the airport is on a separate island to the city itself.

atolls_mapsIt somehow hadn’t really dawned on us how ‘big’ the Maldives actually is. We knew that the country is made up of a number of islands, but the real statistics are surprising. The Maldives is a long, narrow country measuring 823 kilometres (510 miles) from north to south and 133 kilometres (82 miles) from east to west. It is formed of 26 ring shaped natural atolls and there are reputed to be some 1,190 islands in these atolls in total although some have disappeared and others are uninhabited, interestingly (for us maybe more than you) included in the ‘uninhabited’ list are those that are just tourist resorts where there is no local civic office. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres (4’ 11”) above sea level it is the world’s lowest country, with even its highest natural point being the lowest in the world, at 2.4 metres
Prior to leaving the UK we had researched our trip in minute detail and booked our islands around the Government Ferry Schedule. So we took the airport Ferry to the main Male Island expecting it to drop us at the Government Ferry Terminal to catch our 9am (5½ hour) onward connection to Bodufolhudhoo Island but oh no nothing is that simple. The government ferry terminal happens to be on the other side of Male Island so a 15 minute taxi ride took us there. We were duly sold our tickets after some serious communication difficulties, but when we questioned why the departure time on ticket stated 10am the ticket lady was dismissive and sent us away and as a large rather restless queue was forming behind us we moved on. However we weren’t convinced and kept asking ‘official’ looking people most of whom weren’t prepared to help us until one man told us that the ferry wasn’t running that day and managed to get us our $7 back for the wrongly sold tickets. We are still bemused why we were even sold a ticket.

We had a plan B in case of delays and not making the 9am ferry and that was a scheduled speedboat going to our Island at 10.30am, the problem was that no one could tell us where the terminal was for these boats. We asked several taxi drivers who claimed they didn’t know until finally one kind taxi driver offered to take us to an area where he thought they may depart from. Guess what, a short walk from where we had got off the earlier airport ferry there were 20-30 large speedboats moored, we just needed to find the companies Nevi or Coral that operated our route.

Whilst wandering around looking bemused we met a ‘fixer’ man who just happened to work for Nevi and he booked us on the 10.30 and promptly took $100 off us for the privilege of going with them! Somewhat relieved and with a significant dent in the travel budget we duly waited for the ferry which whisked us across the ocean stopping at several islands on the way arriving at our island 82kms away a couple of hours later.

We then spent 3 happy days and nights on Bodufolhudhoo, a tiny island inhabited by Maldivian people, all very strict Muslims and only a handful of guesthouses as the island only opened up for tourism about three years ago. Our guesthouse was set around a courtyard garden, had 4 rooms with only 2 being used.

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The Island took us 10 minutes to walk around, we found 2 shops, 1 souvenir shop (?) and 2 mosques for a population of about 300. There were no cars but we counted over 10 motorbikes and wondered why anyone needed one on such a small island.

R Bodufolhudhoo (4)Surprisingly we found the local people to be quite unfriendly unless they actually worked in some part of the tourist industry. Common to all the inhabited Maldivian islands there are special designated beaches for tourists called the ‘bikini beach’ where you are allowed ‘less modest clothing’ and here we shared the beautiful white sand with the handful of other tourists staying (no more than 16). The colours of the sea are beautiful and whilst the coral is pretty dead we enjoyed snorkelling, swimming, reading our books watching the sea plane landing and taking off at the next rather smart Resort Island.
Annie has been delighted to find no dogs on the Islands at all which has made her runs much more enjoyable after running the gauntlet from the numerous ‘mangy’ dogs in Sri Lanka. Richard is less pleased that due to local Islamic laws no alcohol is allowed anywhere in the country except on the resort islands and they want at least $35 just to land on their island as a guest or visitor! As a result we’re both ‘enjoying’ an enforced detox but water does tend to get a bit boring.

Since we arrived in the Maldives we have realised that the government ferry schedule is completely different to the one we had been working from so we were chuffed to be able to catch one for our short 45 minute transfer to Ukulhas our second island.

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For anyone trying to find our islands on the map both Ukulhas and Bodufolhudhoo are part of Northern Ari Atoll and together with Southern Ari Atoll it consists of an amazing 105 islands.
At Ukulhas we discovered that the guesthouse had “double booked” our room – for this read ‘ours was a only a 3 night stay and the other booking was for 2 weeks’ so of course they won the room and we got bounced.

Needless to say we were less than chuffed! We were moved to the guesthouse next door and the main disappointment was the lack of a balcony as we love an outside space to sit in the shade and for the practical reason to dry our wet towels and swimwear.

Ukulhas is twice the size of Bodufolhudhoo with double the population, more shops (5) and restaurants (7), lots of motorbikes whizzing around the sandy streets and even two electric cars as well as several more guesthouses (about 20, with more being built) and tourists but we didn’t hear another English person the whole three days we were there.

Although the bikini beach area was narrow, it was much bigger than our last island and there was some great swimming and snorkelling here too.

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Whilst here we even watched a football match; it was the semi-final of Youth Competition where our guesthouse manager was competing. It’s a 6 a side competition but ‘youth’ seems to be loosely applied!

Despite sticking to the inhabited islands, which is fascinating we have been surprised at both how bland the food is and how expensive everything is e.g. a lime & soda, whilst freshly made averages $5 and a portion of vegetable fried rice $8 meaning that each evening we are spending over $35 for dinner as everything has 6% minimum tax added as well as a 10% service charge on the base price. Guesthouse rooms also are around £50 per night and that’s for low quality and tiny shower rooms.

It’s still huge fun mind you and way cheaper than the crazy prices asked by the beautiful resort islands!

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Colombo and the West Coast

A very old rickety train that felt like a real ‘workout’ with all the shaking and bouncing took us the 4½ hour journey south from Anuradhapura to Colombo.

We had spent a lot of time researching a guesthouse in the city that was walking distance from the Cricket Ground and not far from the main sights in the city. Weirdly and quite by chance the one we picked happened to be in the same road as the guesthouse we stayed in on our first night in Sri Lanka. This time we had a huge lovely clean room above an authentic Italian Restaurant and Deli. After 3 weeks of local food which consists of mainly rice and different vegetable curries we couldn’t resist indulging our taste buds. So for the four nights we were in the city we ate pasta, pizza, soups and salads cooked by an Italian chef and also enjoyed delicious Italian coffee and pastries.

Our first two days in Colombo were spent walking to and fro to the Cricket Ground for the final days of the third test England v Sri Lanka. Here we joined other England fans and at last some Sri Lankan fans to watch a pretty exciting game in the scorching sunshine. The Barmy Army were even quieter here and the Sri Lanka team put up a surprising fight to the finish.

The third and final day in Colombo saw us catch a bus from our district up to the heart of the city – the Fort and Pettah areas (5p each for a 20 minute bus ride). We walked though bustling markets and busy commercial streets in Pettah and then crossed over to the historic Fort area (no fort remains) to see the old colonial buildings some of which have been tastefully restored and others left to decay.

Colombo is experiencing a building boom and everywhere you look there are high rise apartment blocks and hotels going up all mixed in with narrow streets and alleyways which look unchanged for generations. We finished our day having a beer and a snack at a Chillax a bar we had heard about from some of the England supporters.

We found ourselves with three ‘spare days’ before our flight from Sri Lanka so, after lots of deliberation and researching the guidebook we decided to spend these in Hikkaduwa, a surf resort on the south west coast. Another crazy bus driver sped us manically down the A2 for the 3 hour journey from Colombo with Indian music playing at full blast whilst weird Guinness world record videos were played on the bus TV screen. Happily this was our last trip on a bus and even more happily we found our immaculate guesthouse in a great location close to the beach and joy of joys with a gorgeous pool.

There was very little exertion here where the most we did was walk on the beautifully clean very long beach, watch the surfers ride the waves (it was a little too rough for swimming) and read our books, although Annie did managed a 5k walk to a small Tsunami memorial and museum one day. We hadn’t realised how devastated this part of the world also was from the terrible events in 2004.

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N Hikkaduwa (58)We have loved Sri Lanka, the people are so friendly and we were frequently stopped for them to have a chat with us about all kinds of things but when they discover we are English then of course the cricket! It is interesting as despite being so close geographically and with similar landscape to Southern India it feels much more like the other Asian countries we have visited (like Myanmar and Thailand). Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that Buddhism is the main religion in Sri Lanka. It has been incredibly hot and humid and late afternoon there was often a thunderstorm and heavy rain for an hour or two, hence it is very lush and green.

On P1080079our last day in Sri Lanka we took the coastal train up to Colombo where it was standing room only for 2 hours and then a 1½ hour ‘commuter train’ (read bench seats, open doors with people hanging out) to Negombo an upmarket coastal resort close to the International Airport. The only noteworthy point here other than the amazing sunset was that once we got onto the beach we couldn’t find a way off it for over a kilometre without having to go through a 4 or 5 star resort that dominated the beachside, so unlike the rest of the country!

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Up at 3.30am for a 6am flight on Korean Air, our kindly homestay host drove us to the airport for the 1¼ hour flight to the Maldives.

The Cultural Triangle or The Ancient Cities

J Dambulla (97)Leaving Kandy by bus on Monday 17th November we headed north to Dambulla a town in the central plains area (in the middle of Sri Lanka) known as The Cultural Triangle. It was in this area that centuries ago the Sinhalese kings set up their cities and dynasties and many of these sites have UNESCO World Heritage status and as previously mentioned carry a high entrance fee for foreigners. We were spoilt for choice when deciding which ones to visit but eventually settled on The Dambulla Cave Temples and the Ancient City of Anuradhapura both of which are very different and seemed to give the best value for money experience. We therefore decided to forego such famous sites as Sigiriya Rock, Mihintale and Polonnaruwa.

Our guesthouse in Dambulla was run by a very enterprising local guy Chandana who started a few years ago with two rooms but now has what he calls a holiday resort comprising 7 rooms all based around a new swimming pool. We stayed here two nights for the princely sum of £20 a night and each night enjoyed the delicious home cooked Sri Lankan buffet they offer along with the other guests.

The only reason to stay in Dambulla is to visit the Royal Rock Cave Temples which sit high above the surrounding countryside and comprise five separate cave temples created over 2000 years ago containing hundreds of Buddha statues, with impressive cave paintings and murals. A sweaty 15 minute climb up the rock side steps brings you to the caves themselves situated on a plateau with stunning views of the surrounding countryside including a view of the famous Sigiriya Rock 17 kms away (at the time we thought this was as close as we would get to it).

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From the sublime to the distinctly gaudy the exit path from the cave area leads you down to Dambulla’s Golden Temple. This cartoonish modern Temple is in such stark contrast to the ancient beauty of the caves above.

The only other thing of note in Dambulla is that it is the venue for one of Sri Lanka’s largest wholesale produce markets. This operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week and is a hive of manic activity. Annie paid a visit here and was fascinated to see the vast range of fruit and vegetables being delivered by small holding farmers and subsequently sold to wholesalers and private buyers before being loaded into very large Lorries for distribution across the country.

When we told our guesthouse host Chandana that the $30 per person (for foreigners) entry fee to Sigiriya Rock was too much he suggested we take a (his) TukTuk to Pidurangula Rock which is another huge rocky outcrop very near Sigiriya where for £4 each we climbed and in parts scrambled to the top via a path consisting of many rocky ‘steps’ and had the most stunning view back to Sigiriya itself and the surrounding countryside.

We were so grateful to have this opportunity and decided that our experience was just as good as actually visiting Sigiriya itself – or possibly better as you can’t see the rock if you are actually on it!

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Leaving Dambulla we jumped on another bus this time loudly showing an Indian Bollywood style film and headed for a 3 night stay in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, we have such trouble pronouncing this place name much to the amusement of the locals who keep asking us to say it again and then chuckle to hear our struggle with the pronunciation!

We had a spacious room with big balcony overlooking the paddy fields in our gorgeous guesthouse on the outskirts of the town.

The guesthouse provided delicious home cooked Sri Lankan food every evening and also rented out bicycles, so we had two very sweaty days exploring the ancient city area which consisted of massive ‘water tanks’ (actually 4th century BC man-made lakes but also somewhere quiet for Annie to run (yes, even in this heat and humidity!)), ruins, temples and tumble down palaces. However just as interesting to us was everyday life going on around these crumbling ancient monuments.

Our first day coincided with the monthly Buddhist full moon festival of ‘Poya’ where people visit important religious sites with offerings and spend time in prayer and chanting. We experienced this at its height at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi which is said to be the southern branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was planted in 288 BC and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. Today it is one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and respected by Buddhists all over the world. Poya is also a day when no alcohol is sold or served anywhere in the country.

From our room we have enjoyed watching people working in the rice fields, as we cycle seeing the myriad of small stall holders selling anything you could want from ramshackle stalls and even stumbled across a laundry business on the side of a very muddy river.

Having visited the sites we could find with no entry fee (although a view of Buddha’s footprint in some rock did cost us 85p each) on the first day and after doing some ‘google’ research we decided not to shell out the $25 per person entry fee for the ‘main events’ as we felt they wouldn’t match up to some of the other ancient cities we have visited in Asia. So instead we cycled around taking photos from a distance and over walls!

At one point we were stopped by the police checkpoint and asked us for our ticket, we said we hadn’t got one and he offered to let us through for a cash ‘backhander’ of only $5.00 and which point Annie said ‘Oh no’ and cycled back the way we had come before Richard had the chance to negotiate further!

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Tomorrow it’s a 5½ hour ride on the 6.15 am train to Colombo (190km for about £2.20 each, 2nd class) where we hope to be able to explore the city and catch another couple of days test cricket.

Moving North through the Mountains & Tea Plantations

Leaving Galle we spent 8 hours travelling on 3 different buses (some brightly decorated with weird cartoon characters and playing loud music) all for under £5, first moving east along the south coast to Hambantota and then northwards, finally arriving at a lovely small hill town called Ella.

Surrounded by high peaks and lush tea plantations the town itself is a bustling hub for locals and tourists alike with many local restaurants and bars mingling with fruit stalls and dukas (Swahili for local shop) ringing to the throng of the horns from buses and TukTuks and occasional chants from the nearby temples.

We spent four happy nights here at the aptly named Richard’s Homestay with only 3 rooms that was only a year old and had amazing views over a nearby valley. Its location was only 5 minutes’ walk down a very steep hill into the town. Our host, Richard could not have been more helpful, on our first full day Annie climbed the 3,500ft high Ella Rock and Richard (host not husband!) accompanied her on the 3 hour hike.

The following day Annie, accompanied by husband Richard walked along the railway to the famous Nine Arches Bridge and then scaled ‘Little Adams Peak’ for wonderful views over the countryside on a 4 hour walk.

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Then to complete the stay all three of us (Annie plus two Richard’s) did a 16km walk to Mahameunawa, a new Buddhist temple that was being dedicated during the week of our stay. This was 3½k each way to the bottom of the hill and further 4½k each way up and down again.

What made this hike so much more enjoyable was because it was such a special week for the Buddhist faithful and we shared our walk as the only foreign tourists with several hundred ‘pilgrims’ all dressed in white. Some took buses to the top and many walked, often taking treacherously steep “short-cuts” through woods and tea plantations where in some cases the elderly were being physically pushed up the hills.

At the top there were huge queues waiting to see some relic of Buddha that was entombed there and to receive a free meal being handed out by the monks. It was wonderful to experience first-hand such an event and to be so warmly welcomed by the many pilgrims.

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Each evening we wandered into town and sampled local foods at delightful small restaurants often bumping into our guesthouse Richard in some local bar and so vicariously we became quite well known in the town in a very short time partly by not frequenting the obvious touristy places.

Moving on from Ella we bought tickets for the train to Kandy, stopping for 2 nights along the way. This stretch of railway line is reputed to be amongst the top train journeys of the world and travels through spectacular scenery.

Over 4 hours of the journey was constantly amongst and through mile after mile of immaculately manicured tea plantations and occasionally we were able to see the pickers hard at work. No wonder Ceylon Tea is so common, there’s so much of it being grown! A significant difference here from our trip earlier in the year, to one of the tea areas of southern India, is that the tea is picked by hand and not with box cutters.

We are told this means the younger fresher, more flavoursome tea leaves can be plucked, although the number of people willing to do this backbreaking work is diminishing at such a rate it is giving the industry serious cause for concern.

P1070369Our stop on the way was at a station called Hatton where we then travelled for an hour to Adams Peak (the big one, not Little Adams Peak above). This big daddy is a 2,243 m (7,359 ft.) tall conical mountain and is well known for the Sri Pada, i.e., “sacred footprint”, a 1.8 m rock formation near the summit, which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Shiva and in Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam, or that of St. Thomas. Needless to say this was another “hill” Annie wanted to climb, not only this but people start the hike at 2.30 am so they can reach the summit in time to see the sunrise as the ascent is over 5k in total. Sadly most of the place was shut as the season hasn’t started yet and this included the temple at the top housing the footprint (internet picture used here). G Adams Peak (48)What made it harder was that both of us contracted some kind of tummy bug so Annie was not at her best when tackling the 5,500 step climb. The reward though was an hour sat at the summit from 5am to 6am watching the most spectacular and moving sunrise with a perfectly clear sky. Despite it being one of the hardest she has ever done success was never in doubt and she was back at the bottom soon after 8am for a day of rest, recuperation and trying to get well.

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Richard did not attempt the challenge for anyone wondering, although that won’t be many!

From Adams Peak we returned to Hatton railway station and completed our journey northwards to Kandy, a bustling town in the middle of Sri Lanka catching up once again with the England cricket fans as the second test match draws to its conclusion. Once again we are surprised at how ‘non barmy’ the infamous Barmy Army really are, there are plenty of them but they don’t make much noise!

Finding a nice modern guesthouse, close to the Kandy Lake which dominates the middle of the city, for not much money (£15 per night with en-suite) we set about exploring the city and surrounding areas. Surprisingly for us this included once again on our travels a Second World War cemetery beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Whilst here we explored the area around the lake and the remains of the ancient Royal City, we walked to the local market and through the ‘old’ part of the town and had a drink in the Royal Bar & Hotel a lovingly restored colonial building with central courtyard and upper balcony terrace.

The main event in Kandy is the golden roofed Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic (one of Buddha’s teeth sealed in a golden casket apparently) which is another important site for pilgrims. We didn’t pay the foreigner entry fee and instead walked around the beautifully kept grounds and buildings surrounding the Temple.

Our last full day coincided with the fifth day climax of the second Test Match between England and Sri Lanka with Sri Lanka needing 75 runs and England 3 wickets, so it really could have gone either way. So bright and early we travelled the 9 miles from the city to the test ground at Pallekelle and with free final day entry saw the 35 minutes play that it took England to seal the win and wrap up a rare overseas 2-0 series win.

We also chatted to a few old faces from the Galle test match and Annie finally worked out what being bowled in cricket actually meant.

P1070464Rather sadly and we have to say unexpectedly we are having to amend our planned itinerary due to the exorbitantly high entry fees being charged to tourists to visit any of the significant sites in the country even if they are completely natural. For example we omitted Worlds End (a 2000m high plateau) and Horton Plains on our way to Hatton as we would have been charged over $25 each effectively for a walk in the park and a look off a cliff! Similarly as we plan our route further north to the Ancient Cities we are having to prioritise those we want to see regardless of cost and those we don’t consider worth the punitive costs that are generally between $15 and $30 each. By the way, most tourists are expressing similar concerns, we’re not just being tight fisted.

Regardless of this Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with such warm friendly and welcoming people and where so many speak excellent English, we will still recommend it to anyone considering a holiday here. Even more so now Sri Lanka has been ranked the top country for travel in 2019 by Lonely Planet.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/video/top-10-countries-to-visit-in-2019/v/vid/977?tag=bit2019

A new trip and an England Test Match

This first post from our latest adventure comes from Sri Lanka. We have a month here before moving on to do some island hopping in the Maldives for 12 days, returning to the UK in December.
Esther & TobySince getting back from Ireland in August we have had some fun and very memorable times, starting with the wedding of Richard’s niece Esther and her husband Toby which was another very joyful family occasion this summer. Then at the beginning of September Annie spent a week volunteering with a charity in Calais who, since the closure of the Calais ‘Jungle’ Camp have been providing much needed humanitarian aid to the many refugees sleeping rough in Northern France. Care4Calais (http://care4calais.org) provides food, fresh clothing, hygiene packs, tents, sleeping bags and other vital services to the refugees many of whom are victims of war and conflict or have escaped harsh and violent regimes.

At the end of her incredibly rewarding week volunteering Richard drove over to France and we had a few happy days exploring the area around Montreuil-sur-Mer.

October saw us celebrating Annie’s 60th Birthday with a trip to New York where we walked our feet off seeing all the sights and were chuffed to master the initially somewhat confusing subway system. The highlight of the 4 days in the city was a trip to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum which have both been developed beautifully and sensitively, it was a very moving experience.

P1060881 (1)We finished our week away by spending a very relaxing three days and nights staying with our friends Mark and Mary who live in Connecticut. We were bowled over by their generous hospitality and it was great to catch up having not spent proper time with them for nearly 30 years. Mark and Richard were at school together.

Back to the present and our flight to Colombo in Sri Lanka entailed a change at Zurich and as we entered the departure lounge we discovered that we were on the inaugural Swiss Air flight between Zurich and Colombo. This would have meant nothing to us but it was clearly a big deal to both Swiss Air and the Sri Lankans because in Zurich they had laid on a party at the departure gate, with drinks and canapes, dressing up for photos together with the cutting of a red tape by some executive and a cake ceremony.

Then on landing in Colombo on Sunday 4th November we were greeted by a pair of fire engines on the runway spraying a welcome shower of water over us as we taxied up to the terminal. Not only did we have the water cannon welcome but Swiss Air also treated us to Sri Lankan dancers at both Zurich and Colombo airports and each passenger was given a welcome bag of Sri Lankan tea (not that we have room in our backpacks). The irony here is that despite all this free hospitality, Swiss (under the brand Edelweiss) Air are the only airline we have experienced where there is a charge for alcoholic drinks on a long haul flight!
IMG_2313From the airport we took the bus into the city to spend one night there so we could meet Anton Hemantha, a local businessman and very dear friend of Richard’s father Michael. They go back many years having worked together in ICCC (International Christian Chamber of Commerce) and we had a lovely evening with Anton reminiscing on his relationship with Michael and telling us stories of their travels and experiences together.
The following day saw us catching the bus to Galle in the south (£2 each for a 1½ hour journey) and an onward Tuk Tuk to our guesthouse in the seaside resort town of Unawatuna just 5 kilometres outside Galle. We planned our five days here to coincide with the First Test of England v Sri Lanka as Richard has always wanted to see an England test match on foreign soil. Our guesthouse is clean and basic, however Annie in particular is delighted that we have a mosquito net over the bed as the humid, wet weather we had initially is certainly bringing them out to play.


The atmosphere is incredible as everywhere we go is full of English cricket supporters (which means boom time for all the Tuk Tuk drivers, hotels, bars and restaurants) and arriving at the stadium we found Days 1, 2 and 3 completely sold out despite being assured there were always tickets available! The “Barmy Army” is clearly here in force. Nevertheless, we joined the queue of people picking up their on line ticket orders in an attempt to get tickets for Day 4. We were hoping that by being in the queue we might get approached by a tout. Not a chance as over 90% of the tickets have clearly been sold to the England supporters. However, lucky for us Richard managed to get a ticket from a man next to us in the queue as he discovered he had over ordered and had a spare ticket for each of the first four days. We were also able to purchase an additional ticket for the 4th day for Annie in the hope that the test match lasted that long as England’s record over here is so poor. Although basic ground entry standing tickets, they only cost an amazing £1.35 per day – for an international sporting event!

For her part, Annie spent a little time watching some of the cricket with others who hadn’t managed to get into the ground from the Galle Fort rampart wall which overlooks the ground. There were a lot of other people, English and Sri Lankans who hadn’t managed to get in so there was a good atmosphere here too. In retrospect the ticket situation suited Annie who wasn’t bothered about watching four full days of cricket in the blazing sunshine.
The sunshine by the way was a complete surprise as we had been avidly watching the BBC weather app for Galle which pessimistically predicted thunder storms and lots of rain every day. As it transpired, not a drop fell during play on any day instead it was a case of gasping at some of the horrendous sunburn numerous people had suffered. We laughed at a comment on the BBC website from a supporter who was attending the test match and said he was deleting the weather app forthwith!

Whilst in the area we caught the local bus to and from Galle and the cricket for the princely sum of 11p each and found time to explore the beautiful walled city of Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Annie also enjoyed pottering around Unawatuna and walking and swimming on the local beaches.
For the record, England won the match by 211 runs in four days. It ended a streak of 13 matches since their last away win and in Sri Lanka itself they had only won one test since 2001. We were thrilled to be there to see the final run out that won the game. We can also report that the ‘Barmy Army’ really aren’t that barmy at all and were very subdued much to our disappointment even though it is estimated that there are over 25,000 England fans out here.
The Galle cricket ground itself is fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean and backs onto Galle Fort and is considered to be one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world. The Fort was first built in 1588 and further fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century and is exceptionally well cared for by the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka.

Dublin and south

We felt the decision to book our ferry home a few days earlier than planned was vindicated when we had several wet and overcast days in succession preventing us from fully enjoying some of the amazing outdoor sites in Ireland.

Before checking into our Dublin campsite we enjoyed a delicious lunch and a lively couple of hours catching up with Pauline Boylan, the mother of a close friend of Annie’s. We then had two nights on a large campsite outside Dublin. This was only one we could find close enough to the city to have a bus route into the centre which still took nearly an hour each way.

Our first evening was spent having a walk around the city and visiting a couple of famous and very old pubs, The Long Hall (1766) and O’Donoghue’s (1789). This is a city we know quite well as Richard worked with a company headquartered here for three years so we had no need to revisit the most popular tourist attractions.

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The second evening we had a real treat eating probably the best steak we have ever tasted at Shanahan’s on the Green, adjacent to St Stephen’s Green. Richard had been here on business and wanted to share the experience with Annie and it turned out to be every bit as good as he remembered.

Leaving Dublin on a wet misty day we headed south to the Wicklow Mountains (where the top of the Sugar Loaf was invisible, shrouded in cloud) and arrived at Glendalough the site of another ancient monastic centre just as the weather dried.

Glendalough, established in the 6th century by St Kevin has a magnificent setting in a wooded valley between two lakes.

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Once a centre of learning it was noted for manuscript writing, copying and illustration or ‘illumination’. The ruins, partially caused by continuous sacking by the Vikings and finally attacks by the English, continue to be a site of pilgrimage for many but are also a huge tourist attraction with people also coming to walk on the various marked out hiking trails in The Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Our final night on a campsite was spent at Roundwood, the highest village in Ireland, where in an effort to get our last treat of live Irish music we stumbled upon the most out of tune, dreary and downbeat trio we have ever seen! They were performing in a pub claiming to be the highest in Ireland but as with so many boasts we have discovered on this trip, there are others that also lay claim to this title with arguably better justification.

The following day dawned bright and sunny and we continued south enjoying a stroll around Wexford before arriving at Rosslare where we parked up on a headland with lovely views out to sea and overlooking the long sandy beach with the ferry harbour in the distance. After Annie had enjoyed a walk on the beach in the sunshine we decided it was the perfect spot for us to spend the night rather than looking for another grotty car park somewhere.

Being close to the port it was only a 15 minute drive the next morning for our 8am ferry back to Fishguard. So on Tuesday 14th August we relaxed on a calm 3½ hour crossing on a rather grubby Stena Line ferry before a 4 hour drive home.

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We have a couple of one week breaks planned including a week in New York to celebrate Annie’s 60th, but our next ‘blogging trip’ is scheduled to be to Sri Lanka in October/November where coincidentally England have a three match test series.

28 Roundwood, Wexford, Rosslare (32)

Galway, Connemara and travelling East

On Monday 6th August we headed to Galway arriving in the rain to a busy bank holiday Monday. We decided not to stay overnight and instead opted for a quick walk around seeing the main sights which included Dillon’s, the first maker of the famous Irish Claddagh Rings.

The rest of the day was spent crossing the rugged Connemara landscape to the west coast at Clifden. 21 Clifden & Sky Road (48)This area is the old university stomping ground of our great friend John Hanson who has given a list of ‘must see’ sights. Parking up in the very exotic Clifden town coach park behind the public toilet (!) we got out the bikes and had a late afternoon cycle ride around the beautiful 17km Sky Road. In between rain showers and some sunshine we were rewarded with far reaching views and on returning to the town decided to spend the night in the lovely bus park.

21 Clifden & Sky Road (57)

The evening found us in one of the many pubs in town listening to some Irish music and spontaneous audience participation where others danced and sang.

The following day we called into The Connemara National Park and Annie climbed Diamond Hill on one the marked hiking trails in the Park close to the mountain range known as The Twelve Bens (or The Twelve Pins in some tourist information). We then followed a route John had suggested which included a brief stop at Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful lakeside castle in spectacular setting which was originally a family home, and since WW1 an abbey.

We continued on and through Leenane, a very small village at the head of ‘Kilary Harbour’ where The Field (with Richard Harris & John Hurt) was filmed before driving down a really tiny road along the north side of Lough Nafooey to a remote pub that John used to both work in part time and drink at. Quite where he was living to get to somewhere so remote was a mystery to us (we’ll ask when we get home)!

The day ended on a campsite at the town of Westport, still on the west coast and here we experienced a night of torrential rain and yet more leaks at the back of the motorhome that had to be mopped up in the middle of the night. The next day dawned bright and although neither of us felt especially bright there was Ireland’s Holy Mountain to conquer. Croagh Patrick is named after St Patrick who apparently spent 40 days and nights fasting and praying at the peak and is has become a place of pilgrimage for many who climb to the summit in his honour. Annie joined the masses clambering up the scree clad path and between rain showers enjoyed spectacular views across Clew Bay and the mountains behind.

23 Westport & Croagh Patrick (41)

Whilst Annie was hiking up Croagh Patrick Richard spent the time visiting the National Famine Memorial. It is worth noting our surprise (mainly through our own ignorance) that the ‘Great Famine’ of 1845-48 is still referred to by many people that we have met and in numerous memorials from the replica famine ship at New Ross in our first blog to this memorial and even publicans saying that a bar has been in the same family since ‘before the famine’. We’re ashamed to say that hadn’t realised how truly significant and how much it dominates the history of Ireland until this visit. It was caused by the total failure of the potato crop and blight for 3 consecutive years where over 1 million people died from hunger or disease and more than 2½ million people being forced to emigrate, the majority to America where a high proportion died on the ships during the voyage due to the horrendous conditions, disease and severe overcrowding. By 1900 the pre-famine population of 8 million had fallen by half.

23 Westport & Croagh Patrick (25)

24 Athlone & Clonmacnoise (12)The afternoon entailed a long drive east to a campsite on Lough Ree near Athlone. We were taking this route because we wanted to see the ancient but very different sights of both Clonmacnoise and Newgrange on our route to Dublin.

Clonmacnoise is the remains of St Ciarán’s monastery founded in 545 AD set on the banks of the river Shannon and although now a remote location was in medieval times perfectly located at the crossroads linking all areas of Ireland. It thrived from the 7th to 12th century where many kings were buried and as a result plundered by the Vikings and Anglo-Normans until its demise under the English in 1552.

Newgrange is even older at around 3200 BC and is the site of an ancient burial ground and passage grave with its unique feature being that at dawn on the winter equinox the sun penetrates through the roof lighting up the inside of the burial chamber. Both sites were fascinating and we were pleased we made the effort to visit them.

The day ended with us spending the night in a Pub car park before heading to Dublin for the weekend. We have a map of Ireland with all the pubs who welcome motorhomes to stay overnight in their carparks and some are clearly better than others.