Tag Archives: travel

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Lanka is famous for surfing but if you want to find beaches safe for swimming, it gets trickier. When you read guide books that are full of warnings about dangerous currents, you start to wonder if swimming is safe anywhere -especially for small children. We did a considerable amount of research prior to our trip and I have to say that information I found was not very helpful. What people call “safe” seems to be very vague to…

After four nights -just enough time to recover not only from jetlag but also from Paris fatigue- we left Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food. Time to start exploring! We hired a car with a driver (more about this in another post) for the rest of our trip and decided to head towards Unawatuna, one of the most famous southern coast beach destinations. We decided to stay away from hustle and bustle and chose Dalawella beach because it was close to Unawatuna in case we suddenly felt like visiting the action center.

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We visited Unawatuna one afternoon and walked for an hour on the beach. That was sufficient for us. It was far too busy for us, not as clean as Dalawella, waves were strong and tourism in general very developed (sign boards were also in Russian!). If you want something quiet, stay at Dalawella like we did, or Thalpe.

We had been in contact with Wijaya Beach hotel, located on Dalawella beach, by email and telephone and were pretty sure we would choose to stay there (we usually like to see the place before making the final decision). Despite Wijaya Beach hotel probably being the most cool place to hang out in Dalawella, we decided not to say there. Instead we chose a more low-key, not as fancy but equally perfectly located Sri Gemunu Beach Resort.

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Wonderful Dalawella Beach, our favorite beach in Sri Lanka. Peaceful, very clean and oh-so-pretty. The beach is small as you can see, and there are many hotels along it. Sri Gemunu Beach Resort is located in the northern end of the beach (right where the big rock is). Right next to it is Rathna Guesthouse (the hut on the beach). The building on the right end of the photo with sun beds is Wijaya Beach. 

Every morning we extended our stay at Sri Gemunu Beach Resort. We developed a very good routine: breakfast, beach time, lunch & nap, visiting & beach, dinner. The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was clean, staff very friendly and we felt comfortable. Buffet food was good at most of the time. The hotel overlooks the beach and we had to walk about thirty steps from our room to reach the beach.

If you are thinking of staying at any of the hotels located on Dalawella beach, and if you want to be able to swim then continue reading (nobody on Internet tells you this!) : there is a coral reef in from of Dalawella Beach and during the low tide the reef appears, creating a sort of a natural lagoon. During our stay (January 2017) the swimming was best in late afternoons. Some people also snorkeled in the lagoon but you can see small fish even without the gear.

PS I read somewhere that it is common to see turtles on Dalawella Beach.  Maybe we just didn’t get lucky, maybe January was not an ideal month, maybe the moon should have been in a different position.. who knows! If you visit or have visited this beach and have seen turtles, let me know please 🙂

Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Due to some last minute cancellations, we had no taxi reserved upon landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport at 4 a.m. We prepared ourselves for some serious negotiating but that was not necessary: as soon as we walked into the arrival hall, there were several companies offering taxi services with prices written on sign boards. We used the Bandaranaike International Airport Taxi Service (when you arrive, the first company on your right) and the fixed price to Dodanduwa was 8740 Sri Lankan rupees (about 55€/58USD) for an AC van. In addition we paid 300 and 400 rupees for the use of two highways: Colombo-Katunayake Expressway and Southern Expressway. Plus some tip.

My husband and our daughter fell asleep very soon while I watched the night turn into morning. Black became pink, moist air created fog and I could see silhouettes of birds against a rising sun. It was all very pretty and I wondered if this is what the depiction of Garden of Eden looks like.

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Depiction of Garden of Eden? No, just a typical image taken on the Southern Expressway on the way to Dodanduwa.

Sea Shine Guesthouse, where we arrived three hours later, turned out to be exactly or even better than we had imagined. Our room was very clean, came with a mosquito net and direct sea view. Like often in Sri Lanka (based on what we saw during our 15-day trip), the bathroom was the weakest part of the room, but it was clean and that was the main thing. We had reserved a non-AC room and as the house was built according to traditional Sri Lankan style, there was natural ventilation (but very few mosquitoes!) making it very nice to fall asleep while listening to the ocean.

Breakfast options were either Western or Sri Lankan and we opted for the latter (but it had to be ordered the night before). Delicious! We moved very little from our hotel, just wanted to relax, so we had lunch and dinner every day at the hotel. Mr. Sunil’s (the owner of the guesthouse) son Roshan took care of the cooking together with his mother, and everything was fresh, tasty and copious. We ate everything and never had any problem… Our daughter became a big fan of pappadums and expanded her palate to devilled chicken, fried noodles, grilled lobster, octopus, stringhoppers, dal, pumpkin curry and sambar.

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Missing this breakfast! Chef Roshan’s dal was particularly delicious!  

In overall, we had a relaxing and lovely stay at Sea Shine Guesthouse. Of course it is a homestay, do not expect 5-star service, but we felt that the family went out of their way to make our stay comfortable. They played with our daughter, they taught her how to feed aquarium fish and always made sure she had what she needs for meals. There is no high chair but we had ours.  In terms of sightseeing, there are a turtle hatchery nearby in Kosgoda (we didn’t visit),  Galle (we visited from our next destination) and Hikkaduwa (we took a tuk tuk and returned by the beach). We appreciated the fact that there are some activities and towns nearby, but that the location of our guesthouse was very quiet (Hikkaduwa beach is very busy!). The beach was super clean, there were no beach boys and at night we only heard waves. Perfect! My husband went for a swim but I didn’t dare. I don’t estimate that the beach is safe for children to swim in, but most of the beaches in Sri Lanka aren’t. One should always ask locals what the sea condition is that specific day (sadly, a tourist drowned during our stay in Dodanduwa).

Should you be interested in Sea Shine Guesthouse, I recommend you to contact them directly. I didn’t get response to my email, so the best is to contact them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sea-shine-Hikka-1548810175394587/ (type “Sea shine Hikka” on Facebook if the link doesn’t work)  or by WhatsApp / cellular phone +94-71-9725703. Facebook and WhatsApp messages are responded by Mr. Sunil’s friendly daughter Dily (say hello from me 🙂 ). We (2 adults and a toddler) paid 5500 Sri Lankan rupees per night for a nice non-AC room (number 2), including breakfast, and in the end we were given the room for 5000 rupees. Websites like Booking.com etc have higher prices, so contact the guesthouse directly!

Sea Shine Guesthouse: http://www.seashinehikkaduwa.com

To read the first post about our Sri Lanka trip, see Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

 

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

When Emirates sent out its winter offers last November, we didn’t think for a very long time before reserving the tickets: 1200€ for two adults and one child (less than two years), not bad! Hadn’t we chosen a Dubai stop-over, additional ticket flexibility and 30kg of baggage allowance per person (instead of 20kg) we could have gotten our Paris-Colombo return tickets for as low as 1000€. Flying an airline based in an oil-rich country has its advantages…

Sri Lanka had been on our travel list for a long time, and it felt like a safe yet fun option with a toddler. This was going to be our first long-distance trip with our daughter so naturally we had questions and hesitations in mind, but everyone we talked to was very reassuring. Comments like “It is not exactly Singapore, but Sri Lanka is VERY developed, clean and safe” and “Your daughter will love it; they love children over there” sealed our decision.

Loyal to our habit, there we were, planned another self-organized trip, still resisting to book an all-inclusive holiday that comes with toddler activities and clubs…

We were going to have 15 full days in the Emerald Ile of Asia. The initial plan was to do like most tourists do: get one or two nights of rest either in Negombo (where the airport is located) or in Colombo (located south from Negombo) before continuing to explore the rest of the island. I soon abandoned this idea, for the following reasons.

  1. Negombo didn’t feel like a place we would like stay: the sea is too dirty and dangerous to swim in and hotels seemed expensive for the quality one gets.
  2. Colombo, on the hand, seemed interesting, but we were just too tired to do city sightseeing, especially in the beginning of our trip. Big cities can be really tiresome with small children and our Palermo experience (http://wp.me/p35gzD-IA) was fresh in mind.
  3. Since Colombo was at least one hour away from the airport, I started to wonder “if we are going to sit in the car anyway, why not to drive a bit further to a really lovely beach destination?” Our flight was to land early in the morning, so we could also benefit from quiet roads. I was pretty sure our daughter would sleep in the car, so two hours in a car instead of one hour would make no difference.
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The Negombo beach isn’t really as pretty as this photo lets you think… The beach is quite dirty, the sea is rather dangerous, beach boys follow you around and you can smell sewage. We did eventually spend 1.5 nights there in the end of our holidays but hope we will never have to return.

So, the plan B was born: I started looking into beach destinations that were not too far from the airport. The Kalpitiya Peninsula caught my eye and it was only 2 – 2.5 hours away from the airport. The idea was to rest here for few nights and recover from the jetlag prior to intensive visiting in the Cultural Triangle where the ancient Buddhist sites are. The Kalpitiya region has only recently opened up to tourism  and is famous for kitesurfing, dolphin and whale watching, as well as for some of Sri Lanka’s best eco lodges. Unfortunately, many of the nicer hotels were not in our budget. We started to worry a bit; nobody had told us you need to spend more than 200USD/night  in order to get something comfortable in Sri Lanka!

This is when the plan C kicked in. All along my husband had kept reminding me “do not make us do too much driving, the goal of this trip is to rest”. I took a closer look at the most common circuit, which usually heads first to the Cultural Triangle and tea plantations, followed by beach time  (or the same circuit but in a reverse order). Distances seemed important… Had it been just two of us, no problem, but having a toddler sit in a car for a half day or more, several times during a 15-day holiday, started to look like a bad idea. So, sadly , we decided to entirely skip the Cultural Triangle and said to ourselves that we will just have to return to Sri Lanka another time. We decided to spend most of our holiday by the sea on the southern coast and try to include a visit to Yala National Park and some (rare!) religious sites of the south.

I started looking for a hotel around Hikkaduwa, the world-famous surf town. I purchased a print version of the Rough Guide and finally started to get a feel for Sri Lanka (I hadn’t appreciated the French Routard guide book). Beaches looked more attractive while prices started to seem more reasonable too. This is when I stumbled across a small town called Dodanduwa, just few kilometers south of Hikkaduwa, and we ended up spending first few days of our trip in a lovely small beachfront guesthouse, but more about that in the next post!

PS Sri Lanka is such a hot tourism destination at the moment so I bet many of you readers have visited this wonderful island. Do you have a perfect itinerary to suggest? Were you traveling with or without children? If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka at this very moment, congratulations on your great choice and I hope my post helps you to plan. Meanwhile, the Rough Guide has very good maps including different itineraries, see https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/sri-lanka/itineraries/

 

 

Comeback attempt

Time flies when you are having fun, but also when you have a baby… And not that much really changes when the baby becomes a toddler!

Nineteen months have gone by since the birth of our daughter and not a week has gone by without a thought “tomorrow I will write a new post”. But by the time tomorrow arrives, something has already happened; my mind has already traveled miles away from blogging, priorities have directed me into doing something else, or extreme fatigue has decided to pay a not-so-rare visit.

Having a child at 40+ is not a piece of cake. Lack of support network adds its own challenges. Time has never felt so precious and “did you sleep well?” has become a question associated with irony. I know there are things I could do differently in order to increase the amount of free time and to decrease the level of fatigue, but the reality is I want to make decisions that I am comfortable with, that I believe are the best in the long run. Have I made decisions that are thought to be typically French -no. Have I done things in the Finnish way -not really either.

Despite all this lack of this and that, life has been treating us well during these special months. Choupette (a nickname given to our daughter by a doctor –also known to be Karl Lagerfeld’s cat’s name lol) has embraced the world with open eyes and we have tried to shower her with love, wisdom, kindness, humility and patience. At the daycare where she goes part-time four times a week she eats four-course meals. Based on my latest calculations, she has already tasted nearly 20 types of French cheese. She has been to more restaurants than I did during the first ten years of my life. Choupette has already accumulated quite a bit of travel experience, too. Five trips to Finland, Sicily (https://pearlspotting.com/2015/09/16/palermo-with-a-baby/), island hopping in Greece, Liguria and Côte d’Azur (trips I would like to write about on day…), and this week she will discover Venice. In January she will travel to her first exotic destination: Sri Lanka. Elephants, Buddhist sites, beach and culinary discoveries are to be expected. Luckily she has been expanding her palate at Saravanaa Bhavan (https://pearlspotting.com/2013/10/31/my-love-affair-with-saravanaa-bhavan/) here in Paris!

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Just the tip of the iceberg, more to follow inch’allah! Meanwhile, please drop me a note to tell me how your life has been. Inside tips about Venice and Sri Lanka will be highly appreciated too.

Palermo with a baby?

Prior to booking tickets to Sicily we were hesitating between the western and the eastern part of the island. We would not be able to do everything Sicily has to offer, so better stick with just one side of the island we thought. After a brief (read: shallow) consideration, we bought tickets to Palermo. Delicious, distinctive street food and a bit of history, here we come! So we thought.

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Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a Palermitano institution, is a wonderful place to taste local delicacies.

In total, our trip in Sicily was going to last 12 days. We reserved two first nights at Grand Hotel et Des Palmes (a local institution, right in the center of Palermo), assuming that we will definitely want to stay longer. The plan was to eventually continue by a rental car from Palermo to one or two other destinations, preferably by the sea. After we had seen “everything” in Palermo…..

Palermo is a city full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

One week later (am writing this from San Vito Lo Capo) I am sorry to acknowledge that our two-night stay in Palermo was more than enough. We are very happy that we hadn’t reserved more nights. In fact we could not wait to leave Palermo behind us. Why? Do not get me wrong, Palermo surely offers a zillion things to do and see, but it was not the right choice for us traveling with a five month old baby. Below is a list of my/our impressions!

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

  1. Palermo is much bigger (and chaotic) than I expected. The greater Palermo has over one million inhabitants, making it the fifth most populated city (with its surroundings) in Italy. My fault, didn’t do my research well enough. I expected more small streets leading to cute piazzas, but streets we saw were big, noisy and very polluted. The potential of the seaside in Palermo is not used as it could be argues the urban architect in me.
Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant...

Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant…

2. In order to really understand and enjoy Palermo one needs to visit museums, churches, historical monuments etc., but how many museums do parents with a (crying) small baby usually visit…? Trying to get a feel of this fascinatingly multicultural city just by looking at the walls didn’t make us much more knowledgeable about Palermo’s rich past.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

3. Our hotel choice was a big mistake. More about that later, but we should have searched outside the city, for example in Mondello, a nearby beach town, and just do day trips to Palermo.

This said, our stay in Palermo was not a great success. I am still beating myself up while asking “what did you think of bringing a small baby (with precious lungs) into a big city like Palermo?”. One week later I am still wondering how much of this feeling comes from the fact that we are very tired (accumulation of months’ fatigue…) and how much of it really is because of Palermo. Would I have liked Palermo more should I have gone there before the baby? Who knows. I think someone once called Palermo a rough diamond and I could not agree more. Just that when traveling with a baby one normally looks for smooth and not rough places (lol).

Miami, here we come!

In less than five days I will be swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and I cannot tell you how great it already feels! Even if this fall has not been that rainy in Paris, I love the idea of soaking up the sun and playing with the waves. The importance of annual winter sun therapy cannot be exaggerated!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

When we decided to go away in late November, we hesitated between different destinations. It was not easy. If you want to be able to swim in warm water, and do not want to travel all the way to Asia or Africa, the options are quite limited for us living in Europe. We contemplated between Dubai combined with Oman, and Miami, and finally decided on the latter. Tickets cost more to Miami than Dubai (and I won’t be able to fly my favorite aircraft A380…) but seaside hotels are cheaper. In addition, there are great shopping opportunities in the US. Of course one finds almost everything  in Dubai, too, but who does not love American outlets? Especially when we are about to hit the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales!

I have been to Miami and Florida before, but for some reason I am particularly excited about it this time around. I am getting into my bling bling mode and searching my wardrobe for dresses with matching shoes and bags to wear. What I know about Miami is that no dress is too extravagant! After all, I will be competing with southern American beauties so I have to look my best (lol).

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Ok, now that I have disappointed you with my superficial side, I am going to tell you that I won’t be walking around in high heels all day long. Our current plan is to stay maybe one week in Miami and then head somewhere else for the second week. If we run into Donald Trump and he is about to sail to the Bahamas (does he sail?), we wouldn’t say no to an invitation. We may also check out the Mexican Gulf (the islands near Fort Myers etc.), something we haven’t done before. We will probably return to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The last time we snorkeled there some people in our group spotted hammerheads! However, unfortunately and according to my knowledge, snorkeling is not possible at the moment in Biscayne National Park…

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world's most famous art deco district.

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world’s most famous art deco district.

So, I am a fan of Miami and Florida, yes. When I first visited Miami just over two years ago, I was prepared to stay just one full day in Miami and then head to the Keys for the rest of the week. I admit that I thought Miami would be too artificial, too flashy, and I would have never thought that someone as intellectual as I consider myself to be (second lol) could fall in love in Miami. But I did. I loved the beach life, loved southern American fusion food (Bolivar: South American Fusion Food in Miami Beach), loved the art and architecture, and the people. I have worked a lot with Americans in the past and I just love that simplicity, straight to the point attitude, and their marketing and communications skills. So, during our last trip we spent 5 wonderful days at the Park Central Hotel in Miami South Beach and 3 nights in the Keys. Such a wonderful trip  it was. That time it was for my husband’s birthday, now it will be mine. I am very confident that Miami won’t disappoint me this time either –how could it?!

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

What do you think of Miami and Florida? What would you do if the only thing you had booked was a Paris-Miami return ticket and two weeks of time?  Any tips on great restaurants, things to do, hotels (all categories), snorkeling, etc.? Share your pearls with me please and I kindly than you in return.