The “Monthly” Bucket- August/September 2017

Uhh…what happened? I landed back in the US, got hit with some killer jet lag, blinked, and then suddenly it was the end of September. Oops. Sorry about that. I’ve gotten up to some really neat stuff, though!

www.myadventurebucket.com August September

Where in the world am I? Settling into my new home in North Carolina after being a nomad for almost 6 months. From two weeks in India to three months in Sri Lanka to six weeks of road-tripping the US with my faithful adventure dog, it feels really good to sit still for a few minutes.  

Items checked off the bucket list this month:

#367- Pizza at Lombardi’s in NYC

#169- Drive the entire length of Interstate 80 from New York’s George Washington Bridge to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco

#382- Attend the Iowa State Fair

#221- Browse through Moe’s Bookstore in Berkeley, California (the 100th thing I’ve checked off my list!)

#337- Visit Half Moon Bay on the California Coast

#588- Visit Sedona, Arizona

See? I told you I’ve been busy!

Highlight of the month: Picking up my best girl from summer camp! If you’re a dog person, you’ll understand- being separated from your best friend for four months is the absolute worst! She had a great time at summer camp, though, and I know she was well taken care of while I was off poking around ancient temples in Sri Lanka. I sure do sleep a lot better with her sprawled out across most of the bed, though. We immediately made up for lost time by setting off on a 6 week road trip around the US!

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Touring the desert in Sedona, Arizona by Hummer

 

Lowlight of the month: Having to cancel my month-long trip to Brazil due to Hurricane Irma. I should have been celebrating my birthday on September 24th by heading to the airport in Fort Lauderdale, but apparently Mother Nature had other plans. 

Best meal: Duck fat cheese fries at Village Whiskey in Philadelphia.

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That’s my friend Matt getting the perfect instagram shot of his duck fat cheese fries. Say hi, Matt!

Super close second: Carne Asada Waffle Fries at Loco Patron in Scottsdale, Arizona- one of my favorite cities on the whole entire planet.

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I know you just licked your screen.

 

New blog posts published:

July Monthly Bucket

I look like a great big slacker, don’t I? Oops. Sorry about that! In my defense, I’ve been working on some other projects, too. Like this article for the Gay & Lesbian Review:  Pride in Sri Lanka: Still an Act of Rebellion

What I learned:

  • Always get the travel insurance! I would be out a huge chunk of money from my canceled Brazil plans if it wasn’t for my World Nomads travel insurance policy. I used to travel without insurance all the time, and I’m really lucky that something like this never happened to me before. World Nomads policies are really inexpensive, and you need to have one when you travel, period. (If you use my affiliate link to sign up for your policy, it won’t cost you anything, but I’ll receive a small commission to help with the running of this site and my weekly pedicure habit.)
  • It is pretty much impossible to lick the butter cow at the Iowa State Fair because they keep it behind glass.
  • The Residence Inn by Marriott Austin South takes a Polaroid of every dog who stays there. How cute is this??

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  • Restaurants all over Scottsdale have started offering doggie menus. Murphy Ann really likes Dog Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast.
  • The Grand Canyon is a really nice hole in the ground, but it gets unbelievably hot during the summer. (And September is still summer in Arizona!) Bring tons of water, especially if you’re visiting with a four-legged friend.

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  • Prickly pear margaritas are amazing.
  • When in Sedona, get up before sunrise at least once and do a hike through the desert while watching hot air balloons glide overhead.

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  • Everything you’ve ever heard about California traffic is true, and then some.
  • Watermelon beer is amazing (I’m looking at you, 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon)
  • Utah is gorgeous.
www.myadventurebucket.com
Like, seriously gorgeous.
  • Lincoln, Nebraska is super dog friendly and adorable. Who knew?
  • The Iowa State Fair sells hot beef sundaes and they’re exactly as amazing as you’re imagining.

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  • Cleveland is also super dog friendly and adorable. Who knew??

 

What I read:

What’s next? I had to rewrite this section because I was supposed to be on a plane to Rio de Janeiro on September 25th for a month of picking coffee beans, lounging on gorgeous South American beaches, and trying to look cool in Brazilian cocktail bars. Then Hurricane Irma happened, the Brazilian consulate in Miami had to close unexpectedly, and I wasn’t able to get my visa in time. I’m really, really bummed, but I also know how lucky I am that this devastating storm only caused me a relatively minor travel interruption. Considering how many people lost their lives and homes and businesses, I’m only going to thank my lucky stars that some travel issues were my only problem. Instead of Brazil, I’ll be writing about my new home in North Carolina and throwing myself into the planning of my next big bucket list adventure, driving Australia’s Great Ocean Road.

Did you get up to any cool adventures in August and September? Got any good travel tips for Australia? Leave a comment and let me know!

The Monthly Bucket- July 2017

Hey adventurers! I hope everyone had a fantastic July. Mine was certainly eventful- here’s what I got up to this month.

Where in the world am I? I just landed back in the USA at the end of July after nearly four months in India and Sri Lanka. I am currently gorging myself on all the American fast food I’ve missed (I love you, Steak N Shake) and gearing up for two months of road tripping around the country.  

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka. This was a three month project! Check out some of the amazing temples I’ve been exploring:

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Kandy Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy
Dambulla Cave Temples Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Dambulla Cave Temples
Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple Jaffna Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, Jaffna

#365- Deep fried hot dogs at Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey

Deep fried hot dogs Rutts Hut Clifton New Jersey MyAdventureBucket.com
Yes, deep fried hot dogs. Dog bless America.

 

Highlight of the month: Climbing the ancient rock monastery of Sigiriya! I was really nervous about this, guys. I’m not in the best shape and my health has been kind of sketchy on this trip as you know. But I made it to the top! And not without considerable effort. Apart from the sheer physical exhaustion, I was also contending with potential swarms of wasps and huge wind gusts that could easily blow a person (or at least their camera) off the rock. At one point I was down on my hands and knees crawling up some steps because the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t stand up. But the important thing is, I made it! Even if coming down did take twice as long because my knees were absolute Jell-O.

Sigiriya Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

Did you accomplish something awesome in July? Comment below and let me know so I can celebrate with you!

Lowlight of the month: Getting stuck with the absolute worst driver on the planet while moving from Kandy to Habarana, Sri Lanka. Proof that, even when you do your research and use a reputable tour company, you can still be stuck with a complete nincompoop. Read all about it here.

Best meal: Pan fried dumplings at Momo’s by Ruvi in Colombo. These things were amazing. If you’ve never had a momo, you should go get some immediately. Actually just get on a plane and come to Sri Lanka because I have to assume these are the best on the planet.

Momos by Ruvi MyAdventureBucket.com

New blog posts published:

Hotel Review: Bar Reef Resort

Hotel Review: Dolphin Beach Resort

June Monthly Bucket

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Cali

Dambulla Cave Temples & the Worst Driver EVER

Hotel Review: Ceylon Tea Bungalows

Hotel Review: Villa Rosa, Kandy

Highlights of Kandy, Sri Lanka

Hotel Review: The Other Corner

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Charlotte

Spa Review: Amber Spa, Colombo Courtyard

So Long, Sri Lanka! What’s Next?

What I learned:

  • Fish pedicures: actually the best thing ever.
  • Sri Lankan road construction crews have no problem whatsoever using a jackhammer at 3 a.m. Never travel without earplugs.
  • The train is never on time. Like, ever.
  • Jaffna, Sri Lanka is home to some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen…and they’re rapidly crumbling into ruin. Can someone please do something about this?
  • Arrack (the local coconut flower liquor) and ginger beer is amazing.
  • Sri Lankan desserts are so sweet they’ll make your teeth hurt. Proceed with caution.
  • There are spas in Europe where you soak in a tub full of beer. This right here is why Europe is always going to lead the rest of the world into the future.
  • There’s a donut shop in Los Angeles selling donuts filled with ice cream. Maybe Europe has a little competition.
  • Upgrading to Emirates business class is worth every penny.
  • The sprayer hose next to all of the toilets here makes for a handy weapon if you encounter a large insect while getting into the shower. Welcome to the tropics.

 

What I read:

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrick Backman- this book tore my heart out, flattened it, folded it into an origami swan, and then set it on fire. But it also made me laugh, hard. I only read it because someone recommended it to me, and I’m so glad they did. Put this one way, way at the top of your reading list.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai- yes, I’m way behind in reading this book, but I’m so glad I finally did. I love to surround myself with positive people and inspirational stories (because who needs more negative crap, seriously?) and this book gave me wings.

What’s next? I’m spending the month of August driving the entire length of I-80 from New York City to San Francisco, and seeing lots of cool stuff along the way. Including a giant butter cow at the Iowa State Fair. Tune in next month to find out if I was able to get close enough to lick it.

Posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the upkeep of this site and my daily cheeseburger habit. 

Hotel Review: Villa Rosa, Kandy

The first thing that hits me when I check into Villa Rosa and start exploring is that this is the perfect location for a romantic retreat.

Between the candlelit dinners, the breathtaking mountain views, and the secluded hilltop setting, I’m really wishing I hadn’t come to Villa Rosa solo. This ridiculously photogenic villa just screams romantic rendezvous. The canoodling couple having dinner two tables away from me would likely agree; they’re currently holding hands and staring out at the river. I can’t say that I blame them- this view belongs on a postcard, or maybe your desktop wallpaper.

This is no business traveler’s hotel- the information binder in my room informs me that the Wi-Fi will be turned off at 10pm and when it’s on it can’t handle streaming a video conference. You might not notice- the cozy second floor library will pull your attention away from work with its large collection of reading material and panoramic views of the river and the mountains.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

Back to dinner, though. Villa Rosa is a foodie’s paradise, and they win my award for the absolute best rice and curry I’ve had during my three months in Sri Lanka. That’s a pretty big deal- *everyone* makes rice and curry here, and it’s almost always fantastic. Villa Rosa goes the extra mile, though. The chef visits the local market every morning, and guests are welcome to tag along and see how he chooses the freshest spices and produce. If you’re really keen, you can join him and his team in the kitchen to prepare your own meal while having a lesson in authentic Sri Lankan cooking.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

On the off chance that you want to do more than smooch your travel partner all day, Villa Rosa is perfectly positioned for exploring Kandy and the surrounding area. The extremely accommodating staff will happily drop you off in town at no charge, or arrange transportation for more far-flung adventures. While I was here, I explored the impressive botanical gardens, the city of Kandy, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (don’t miss this! Easily the most beautiful Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen rather a lot) and the Kandy Garrison Cemetery.

The river that you’ll find yourself continually staring out over is the Mahaweli, the longest river in Sri Lanka. Every time I settled down to read or write or work on my laptop, I only lasted a few minutes before I found myself picking up my camera and wandering over to the edge of the property to snap just a few more photos. Sri Lanka is outrageously beautiful in general, but the view here is absolutely mesmerizing. Try to get back from your day of adventuring in Kandy before sunset if you can. There is no better way to start your evening than with a cold beer on the open air balcony while watching the sky go all pink and purple and orange while the flying foxes venture out to their nightly hunt and the chanting of the monks from the city temples down below drifts up on the breeze.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com
The view from my dinner table. Are you kidding me??

Art lover alert: The owners of Villa Rosa are connoisseurs of fine art, and have decorated the villa in impeccable style. Make sure you take a wander around the entire property to have a look at some of the fabulous pieces in their collection.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

Villa Rosa is located at 71/18, Dodanwela Passage, Asgiriya, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Visit Villa Rosa here for more information or to book your own romantic rendezvous.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com
Wouldn’t you like to wake up to this breakfast table view?

This has been a sponsored conversation with Villa Rosa. I had the pleasure of being hosted at their beautiful property for the purposes of this review, and as always, all words, photos, and opinions are my own.

Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image to your favorite travel board!

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

Like this? Check out more of my amazing hotel partners here.

Hotel Review: Ceylon Tea Bungalows

Imagine you’ve gone to pay a visit to your dear British granny…who happens to live in a gorgeous, modern house on a tea estate in in the middle of Sri Lanka, that is. That should give you an idea of what it’s like to visit Ceylon Tea Bungalows.

My first thought when I enter the Windermere Suite is that I’m in an English country house. Blue floral paper on the walls, a large wooden canopy bed, delicate grey silk window treatments. The vases of fresh tropical flowers give away the location, though. Nothing like these wild blooms grow in English cottage gardens.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

I’ve arrived late, after dark, and am met by the lovely staff, who immediately inquire about my journey, ask me if I’m hungry, and bring me a cup of tea. Just like visiting Grandma’s house, actually. To enhance the feeling, there is no menu. “Whatever you want” is the mantra. Kumar, the manager, starts listing possibilities from traditional rice and curry to roast chicken. I tell him to surprise me, and this turns out to be an excellent idea.

Thirty minutes later I’m settled at a table under the covered porch, protected from the pouring rain. I have a glass of wine, and all is once again right with the world. Dinner is a delicious cream of vegetable soup and an entree of roasted chicken in a unique sweet and mildly spicy sauce, with mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. Comfort food through and through, just like Grandma makes. And of course there’s always ice cream for dessert.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

I don’t see Ceylon Tea Bungalows in the daylight until I wake up the next morning. Opening the drapes covering the French doors leading onto my private patio, I’m shocked at the absolute riot of flowers outside. The front lawn looks out over green hills as far as the eye can see, and rainbow hued blooms spill out over pots and planters and garden beds everywhere I look. Lounge chairs and intimate seating areas are arranged around the lawn. A classic Morris Eight sits at the end of the walkway, completing the English country house feeling perfectly.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Over breakfast (fried eggs, thick cut bacon, sausages, toast and jam, endless pots of tea… they will try to feed you just as much as your grandmother always did), Kumar suggests I take a tuk tuk to the nearby town of Ella. Having heard that Ella is everyone’s favorite hill country town, I readily agree.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Honestly, Ella is pretty underwhelming. The mountain views are lovely, but mostly blotted out by the endless stream of guesthouses and juice shops that plague most Sri Lankan tourist meccas. Take away the views, and this could be Hikkaduwa, only with more tourists walking around in swimwear, which is bizarre because there aren’t any beaches here. (Also, please don’t do this. It’s really offensive to the locals.) I see more European backpackers than I do locals, and if it weren’t for the occasional Sinhala street sign, I could be in Austria. The views really are magnificent, though. 

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Next time I’ll arrange to go on a nice day hike instead of hanging with the backpacker crowd. The mountain views are spectacular, and it’s so nice to be out in weather that isn’t miserably hot and sweaty all the time.

Things I loved about Ceylon Tea Bungalows:

  • Being treated like family. There’s no set menu or mealtimes, and the staff has a genuine desire to please. It doesn’t feel like a hotel at all, but like you’re visiting family.
  • Big fluffy white robes (not a common amenity in Sri Lanka!)
  • Spacious rooms and common areas for lounging.
  • The location, away from tourist hordes, literally in the middle of a tea plantation. You can even go out and help the plantation employees pick tea and see where your favorite afternoon beverage comes from. If you do, you’ll have a new appreciation every time you brew a cup- these ladies work hard.
  • The most comfortable bed of my entire 3-month trip.
  • The gorgeous flower gardens.
  • Attention to detail: all of the art, fresh cut flowers, coffee table books, and bath amenities have been chosen with tremendous care.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows is located at Hilpankandura Estate, Mirahawatte, Bandarawela, Sri Lanka.  You can visit their website here for more information or to book your own visit.

Like this? Find more hotel reviews I’ve done here.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

This is a sponsored conversation with Ceylon Tea Bungalows. I had the pleasure of being their guest for the purpose of this review, and as always, all photos, words, and opinions are my own.

The Monthly Bucket- June 2017

Happy June, adventurers! OK, I know it’s July 3rd and I’m late again, but I’ve been stuck in some pretty remote places this month. Don’t feel sorry for me; they were all amazing!

Where in the world am I? Two thirds of the way through my great Sri Lankan expedition! This month I’ve visited Galle, Udawalawe, Colombo, Kalpitiya, Kandy, Ella, and Bandarawela.

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Hiking around the hill country town of Ella. Quite a change of scenery from the coast!

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka. This is a three month project! Check out some of the amazing temples I’ve been exploring:

www.myadventurebucket.com
Shri Sudharmalaya, Galle
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The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy

Highlight of the month: Hanging out with elephants (and elephant babies!) at Udawalawe National Park. I went early (and I do mean EARLY!) in the morning and had the whole place to myself. Not another tourist in sight, and the weather was perfect. June is supposed to be the start of monsoon season in this part of the island, but I had a cool, breezy, sunny day.

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Lowlight of the month: Arriving in the secluded paradise of Kalpitiya Peninsula only to be struck down by a random virus as soon as I got to my hotel. Fever, chills, nausea, extreme joint pain; I would have called my travel insurance company for a medical evacuation if I’d had the strength to make the call. Thankfully I made a full recovery without medical intervention, but I later read in the local paper that doctors were perplexed by a mysterious Dengue Fever-like virus exploding in the Kalpitiya peninsula throughout the month of June. Um, yikes?

Best meal: It’s a tie! I really can’t choose between these two:

1. A simple Greek salad and freshly made hummus with grilled flatbread at Chambers inside Galle Fort. I will never, ever go back to eating store-bought hummus again. Chambers, you have ruined me.

June best meal
I may or may not be planning a 10 hour train journey across the country just to have this one more time before I leave.

2. The spaghetti carbonara at Dolphin Beach Resort in Kalpitiya. I know you’d traditionally think of something seafood-based at a Sri Lankan beach resort, but trust me when I say this was the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life.

www.myadventurebucket.com June
It’s OK if you just licked your screen. I did, too.

New blog posts published:
May Monthly Bucket
Become a More Patient Human: Travel in India
Solo Female Traveler Interview: Sky Fisher
Hotel Review: Kalahe House
Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died
Extending Your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa
Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam
Solo Female Traveler Interview: Carrie Mann
No Bus to Kalpitiya: Public Transport in Sri Lanka

What I learned:

  • I’m going to Australia! I fired up my random bucket list picker and let it choose another adventure, so I’ll be heading to the Land Down Under soon to drive the Great Ocean Road. But first, I’m going home to the US for a two month road trip, and then popping down to Brazil to pick some coffee beans. I hope you’ll be following along on all of my adventures.
  • Galle is the most magnificent little city in Sri Lanka and I should definitely live here. It’s so darling, the garbage trucks play classical music so you know when to bring out your trash.
  • You know a man really loves you when he finds a way to have a random cake delivered to you even though he’s 10,000 miles away.
  • Transportation around the island is always more complicated than the Internet suggests.
  • Every time I sit down, a stray animal appears. I have embraced this as my spiritual gift.
  • Sri Lanka’s hill country has the most magnificent climate, and you should definitely visit. While June on the southern coast is miserably hot and sticky, the hills are crisp and cool and perfect. 
  • Getting your roots touched up in a Sri Lankan hair salon is a nerve wracking experience. I almost said “hair raising experience” but even I would have hated me for that.
  • Kalpitiya is full of chipmunks who will sneak into your cabana and abscond with all of your tea, sugar, and creamer. I choose to believe that they are having little chipmunk tea parties somewhere in the woods.
  • You can make an outdoor shower out of a sperm whale skull.
  • Sri Lankan gay rights activists are some of the bravest, kindest, most inspirational people I’ve ever met. June is Pride Month all over the world, but it’s extra special in a country where homosexuality is illegal and people are fighting for their basic human rights. 

What I read:
Stephen King’s On Writing for the billionth time
Jon Vrom’s The Front Row Factor. I loved this book about transforming your life into a series of “front row” moments.
Eleventy billion brain-numbing articles on the technical aspects of blogging that would make your eyes glaze over if I even started to list them all.

What’s next? One more month of exploring ancient temples and exotic beaches before I head back to the US for a while. I can’t wait to see my dog after four months apart!

Don’t forget to follow My Adventure Bucket on Facebook if you haven’t already! Have a fantastic July (and for my American readers, please be careful with your fireworks! Happy Independence Day!)

This post may contain affiliate links. These links cost you nothing but help to support the upkeep of the blog, and my room service habit. 

Hotel Review: Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya

I had the immense pleasure of being hosted by the Dolphin Beach Resort for the purposes of this review, but as always, all words and opinions are my own. Furthermore, I’ve been in Sri Lanka for two months at the time of this visit and Dolphin Beach is, hands down, the most incredible accommodation I’ve had on my entire trip. I would, without question, go back on my own dime and stay in their gorgeous tents and eat their amazing food for a ridiculously long time. 

So this is what it’s like to go “glamping” in paradise. Glamping, or glamorous camping, is a trend that has grown like crazy over the last few years, with more and more secluded destinations getting in on the act. Instead of pitching a tent and rolling out your sleeping bag on the ground, these resorts set up permanent tents on real foundations with real furniture and indoor plumbing.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya

My first thought upon entering my tent was that I’ve been transported to Harry Potter’s Quidditch World Cup tent; it looks like a normal tent from the outside, but on the inside it’s magically enlarged and furnished with all the comforts of home. Every time I enter the tent during my stay I imagine I can hear the flute music from the tent scene just before the Death Eaters pop in and ruin everybody’s fun. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you know what I’m talking about! And just like the movie, I find myself gazing around the tent in fascination, saying, “I love magic!”

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Look. This is inside a tent! Tell me this isn’t magic.

Sadly there’s no quidditch being played on broomsticks outside the tent, but if you do need to get your sporting fix, there’s incredible kite surfing that you can watch from the beach or the pool. Kalpitiya is, after all, currently the hottest kite surfing destination in Asia, and Dolphin Beach runs a kite surfing school in which you can enroll if you’d like to experience the thrill for yourself. I’m more of a “spectator with a nice fruity cocktail” type myself, but to each her own.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
There are more gorgeous, private lounging spots than there are rooms, so you can always find a nice secluded place for your sunset cocktail.

As with most resorts in Sri Lanka, Dolphin Beach employs an army of ridiculously polite and helpful young men to take care of everything from carrying your luggage to arranging your meals. They are uniformly kind and solicitous and eager to please. And frankly, adorable.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
It would be creepy to post pictures of the staff, so here’s a beautiful flower bowl outside my tent that they create every morning.

Several times a day, the serving boys bring me a menu and I get to
order all the food and adult beverages I want while floating in the
pool next to the ocean. I don’t even remember dying, but apparently
Heaven is a lot easier to get into than you think.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
You can literally be lying here by the ocean while people bring you cocktails.

Speaking of menus… I was told by the Dolphin Beach manager when I arrived that Maduka would be taking excellent care of me and would recommend the best dishes on the menu for every meal. I eagerly awaited his arrival at my magical tent the first afternoon to put his culinary knowledge to the test. He arrived at 5:00 sharp, as promised, and presented me with the evening’s dinner menu. Before I even had a chance to look at it, Maduka said, “You have to have the pasta.” OK, I’m already skeptical. “Pasta” and “Asia” aren’t usually two things that go together. I’ve had several pasta dishes on this trip so far, and they have been uniformly disappointing. Maduka insists. “We have amazing chef. Please, try the pasta.” OK, fine. I order the spaghetti carbonara and prepare myself for a lackluster dinner.

Dude. You guys. THE PASTA. This, right here, is hands down the best meal I’ve had in Sri Lanka. This chef could be making pasta in Italy and be a star. Thick, creamy, al dente, freshly made pasta, in the most amazing Parmesan sauce with great big hunks of bacon. This is the best pasta I’ve ever had in my entire life, and somehow I’m having it in a grass roof dining hut on the beach in a random town in Sri Lanka.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Just…just look at how beautiful this is.
Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
I love how sustainable this resort is while still being luxurious. They grow their own produce and it’s delicious.

After two days of frolicking in paradise (and stuffing myself silly with that amazing pasta) I’m really, really bummed to have to leave. Of course, they don’t make leaving easy; upon hearing that I have a long drive ahead of me, the manager insists upon packing me a lunch and sending me off with enough food and bottled water to feed an army. As I drive away, I’m already thinking about how I can rearrange my schedule to come back…

If this sounds like your kind of vacation, you can find more information or book your stay here. Please order the spaghetti carbonara and send me pictures.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
The resort really comes alive at night, with these glowing lotus flowers and illuminated orbs all over the property.

I also had the pleasure of staying at Dolphin Beach’s sister resort, Bar Reef Resort, and you can read about that stay here.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Did I mention that the sunsets are absolutely spectacular?

Hotel Review: Kalahe House

I had the pleasure of being hosted at Kalahe House for the purpose of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

 

In Stephen King’s landmark work of nonfiction, On Writing, he describes his idea of the perfect writer’s retreat. Secluded cabins set in the woods with an unobtrusive staff who prepare your meals and never disturb your afternoon nap. Could someone let him know I’ve found it?

My first glimpse of Kalahe House; I'm already charmed.
My first glimpse of Kalahe House. I’m already charmed.

If you’re looking for seclusion, Kalahe House has it in spades. As I write this at the dining room table, night has fallen and the grand wooden doors that line three walls of the room are open to the woods and rice paddy that surround the property on all sides. I can’t see a single artificial light but the ones in sconces around the room, and the only sounds are those of monkeys, frogs, and insects performing their nightly concert. It’s hard to believe this sanctuary is only a fifteen minute tuktuk ride from Galle’s busy (but extremely charming) Dutch fort.

The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees at Kalahe House
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees

When I arrived at Kalahe House early this afternoon, I was met by the extremely efficient Prasanga, who takes care of everything from meals to massages (yes, they provide spa treatments as well. What better way to keep your creative juices flowing than a deep tissue massage under the flowering trees in the garden?)

Before I even managed to extricate myself from the taxi, Prasanga had seen my bags to my room and made afternoon tea appear on the living room table. Did I say efficient? I meant magical. Within minutes he had determined what I wanted for dinner and set off to the local market for fresh ingredients, leaving me to explore the beautiful house and grounds.

Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?

There’s no TV to distract you from what you came here to do: write. (Don’t worry, there is WiFi, so you’ll be able to fact check that article on the go…or post pictures of your beautiful home away from home to make all of your friends and family jealous. Whichever.)

My room has a cozy alcove with a beautiful wooden desk, a comfortable chair, and plenty of natural light. It’s an extremely inviting spot to sit down with my notebook and get to work…just as soon as I take one more stroll around the gardens for inspiration.

Writing and meandering have always gone hand in hand, so when I need a longer walk to clear my head, I wander down the drive and start exploring the surrounding countryside. There is absolutely no hint of the nearby expressway or the city of Galle itself. A local man in a traditional sarong and a plaid shirt waves as he passes buy on an ancient Royal Enfield motorcycle, but I see no other people.

I’m visiting Kalahe House at the start of the annual southwest monsoon season, which means I’m treated to a lovely rain shower every afternoon to help lull me into that aforementioned afternoon nap. Don’t judge; it’s hard work churning out these masterful works of literature in paradise.  Especially when there is a very inviting bed sprinkled with orchids only steps from your writing desk.

Back to the dining room: the soft rattle of china on a wooden tray announces Prasanga’s arrival with dinner. He has prepared an amazing spread of traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry with rice and accompaniments, followed by more tea and a fresh fruit platter. Just as I decide I’m far too stuffed to take another bite and head back to my room, the local monkey population decides to put on an impromptu acrobatic show in the trees outside. Prasanga warns me that they may decide to frolic on the roof in the morning, and hopes they won’t wake me. His tone is apologetic, but I can’t think of anything more charming.

As it turns out, the monkeys like to sleep later than I do, and nothing disturbs my sleep. As Prasanga prepares what turns out to be the best breakfast of my trip so far, I ponder the most pressing issue I’ll have all day. Shall I venture into the gorgeous old fort and wander around the ancient streets in search of artistic inspiration, or settle down in my sunny writing nook for another day of unhurried creative effort?

The answer, of course, is both.

No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House
No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House

I’m happy to report that I finished four articles while sequestered at lovely Kalahe House, and emerged feeling even more inspired than I did when I arrived. In need of a creative retreat of your own? Kalahe House is located on the outskirts of Galle, my favorite city in Sri Lanka.  Find more information or book your stay at www.kalahehouse.com.

The Monthly Bucket- May 2017

 

 

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My Adventure Bucket Monthly Collage May 2017

Where in the world am I? Ayubowan from gorgeous Sri Lanka! It’s monsoon season here on the west coast but I’m still having a blast. I’m a little late with the monthly recap- sorry about that! Internet access has been a little bit spotty lately. There are a lot of great things about life in the tropics, but reliable WiFi is unfortunately not one of them.

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka- this will be ongoing for the next two months. There are so many gorgeous temples to see! Photos and blog posts coming soon.

Highlight of the month: Not a typical monthly highlight, but visiting the Tsunami Photo Museum in Hikkaduwa. Although it’s very basic and not at all professionally put together, this is one of the most poignant and gut-wrenching museums I’ve ever seen. It’s on par with the World Trade Center in NYC in terms of sheer emotional savagery. I had a hard time maintaining my composure when the owner of the museum showed me the tent in which her family lived for six months, surrounded by tens of thousands of bodies waiting in the tropical heat to be identified and buried. No photos were allowed in the museum, but imagine two small, damp shacks filled with grainy photos and handwritten accounts of the day, all variations on a theme of “a huge wave came and ripped my children out of my arms, took my family and my house and I never saw them again.”

Although the tsunami struck 13 years ago, there are still many homes and businesses that were never rebuilt.
Although the tsunami struck 13 years ago, there are still many homes and businesses that were never rebuilt.

Lowlight of the month: Having to move out of a guesthouse two weeks early because the owners thought I was a witch and refused to come near my room to clean it. My life is odd.

Best meal: Vegetable Kotthu at a street stand in Colombo. Think Stovetop Stuffing on spicy south Asian steroids. Watching the chef throw it together on a hot griddle with a giant cleaver was almost as great as eating it.

Honorable mention to the last dinner I had at the Max Wadiya in Ambalangoda, during which I swear a tiny crab overheard me discussing with the waiter that I don’t eat shellfish, apparently appointed himself my tiny crustacean guardian, and spent the whole meal circling my table and watching me. I swear I’m not drunk, this really happened.

New blog posts published:

Good Morning, India!

Hotel Review: Max Wadiya, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka.

Barefoot Dentistry: Not as Horrifying as it Sounds.

What I learned:

  • A universal remote app on your phone is crucial when traveling in countries where they are liable to hold the A/C remote hostage in hopes of getting more money out of you. (But be aware that this might cause the owners of the guesthouse to think you’re a witch and refuse to come near your room to clean it. FYI. Yes, I’m still a little bitter.)
  • When a hotel review mentions karaoke that lasts into the wee hours of the night, PAY ATTENTION. For the love of dog, do not disregard this information and book a two week (nonrefundable) stay at this place which will make you think about flinging yourself off the balcony while drunk German tourists belt out “Eye of the Tiger” for the third night in a row. Or something. However, if you do find yourself in this situation, an email to the hotel’s parent company mentioning that you were hoping to review them for your 50,000+ social media followers will instantly get you an upgrade to a top floor suite. Or so I’ve heard. Wink wink. 
  • Sri Lanka has a marvelous invention known as a pastry truck, which is like an American ice cream truck but it drives around selling fresh bread and baked goods out of the back. It even plays music like an ice cream truck. Why does this not exist everywhere??
  • Coconut rotti with pineapple jelly is incredible.
  • There’s no such thing as NyQuil or other common western cough medicine here. It’s worth the luggage space to bring some with you.

What I read:

Prosperity for Writers by Honoree Corder. I love books about intention and positive thinking, and this was a great quick read. If you’re a writer or other creative type, check it out!

Rickety Buses Bumpy Roads: Travels in India Nepal Peru Bolivia by Michelle J. Coote. I love reading about other solo women adventurers, so I had high hopes for this travelogue. The author definitely had some interesting adventures, but there were unacceptable typos and parts of the book were clunky and in desperate need of a good editor. I’m not knocking self publishing, but if you’re the only person who looks at your book before it’s for sale, it’s going to be obvious.

What’s next? More Sri Lankan goodness! I’m here through the end of July and during the month of June I’ll be working my way up through the center of the island to the hill country and the Ancient Cities. This means more gorgeous old temples to explore! First, though, I’m spending another ten days in my new favorite city of Galle on the southwest coast. I passed through this gorgeous old Dutch fort town after leaving Hikkaduwa and thought I’d be able to see everything in two days before moving on. Technically you can; it’s a pretty small city and very compact, but I fell in love and hated to leave. As soon as I reached Tangalle I knew it was a mistake and came right back the next day. This means I cut several things from my planned itinerary and I might never reach Arugam Bay, but as I sit here on my balcony, watching the ocean over the fort ramparts and listening to the call to prayer from the mosque up the street, I don’t mind one bit. Some places just automatically feel like home, you know?

Galle, you are gorgeous and I love you.
Galle, you are gorgeous and I love you.

 

PS- are you following My Adventure Bucket on Facebook? I publish lots of new content there that never makes it to the blog, so check it out!

Hotel Review: Max Wadiya

I had the pleasure of being hosted by the phenomenal Max Wadiya hotel for this stay, but, as always, all opinions are my own.

Sitting by the ocean, drinking a king coconut, has proved to be the best medicine I’ve tried so far. I’ve been sick for a week before arriving in Ambalangoda, but I start to feel better almost immediately. There is no such thing as stress at Max Wadiya, and somehow my body knows it. I can feel the tension melting out of my body as I sit on the wide tiled porch of this coconut jungle by the sea.

You feel more relaxed already, don't you?
You feel more relaxed already, don’t you?

I’m pretty sure I have this island paradise all to myself as I have seen no one else since my arrival, except Ranjan the manager and the team of barefoot staff boys who scurry around, mopping and delivering refreshing drinks like a silent team of gentleman ninjas.

The in-house chef is currently preparing my lunch, which will be served in a terracotta roofed gazebo near the edge of the sand and I’m worried I might be too distracted by the view of the enormous waves to eat. One of the barefoot boys has spent the last ten minutes carefully arranging tableware and polishing glasses because everything at Max Wadiya must always be perfect.

I can’t quite decide what I should do after lunch: walk along the beach or lounge by the pool? This will prove to be the most difficult decision I have to make at Max Wadiya, whose motto is “No Watch, No Wallet, No Shoes, No Menus.” No watch, because there are no set times for anything. Want to sleep late? You’re not going to miss breakfast. Prefer to get up with the sun and walk on the beach before breakfast? They’ll be ready when you are. No wallet, because your stay is all-inclusive. No shoes, because who wears shoes in an island paradise? I kicked off my flip flops when I arrived and didn’t put them back on until I left (and even that was somewhat grudgingly!) No menus because you don’t order; the chef will surprise and delight you with a creative presentation of whatever is fresh from the market and the sea that day. Everything is catered to your taste and ensuring you have an absolutely flawless experience.

Last night’s lack of sleep is catching up with me fast. I have a feeling tonight will bring the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite a while. There is nothing like drifting off to the sound of the ocean right outside your door. (Spoiler alert: I was right; I slept like absolute royalty in the Tangerine Suite’s heavenly four-poster bed, with its crisp, high end linens. There was definitely no pea under the luxurious mattress.)

Max Wadiya is the kind of place where you use words like “laze” and “puttering.” I find myself putting down my notebook every so often just to get up and stretch a bit, stare out at the ocean, listen to the fountain in the koi pond in the courtyard, notice the breeze and the tropical greenery as far as the eye can see. You get the feeling nothing has ever been done in a rush here. The hotel grounds nudge right up against the water’s edge, so the air is always hazy with ocean mist, giving the whole place a soft, dream-like quality.

If Walt Disney were to open a Sri Lankan resort, I think it would look a lot like Max Wadiya, with its pineapple parrot garnishes and frangipani blossoms drifting gently into the saltwater pool.

I had heard that the food at Max Wadiya was magnificent, and I expected it to be good, but I had no idea I was in for such a feast. I had warned Ranjan when I arrived that I generally have the appetite of a small child and I was recovering from an illness so there was no need to go overboard at mealtimes. He paid absolutely no heed and utterly spoiled me with the freshest, most incredible meals I’ve had since arriving in Sri Lanka.

Lunch on the first day was all I needed to regain my lost appetite from being sick: a chopped salad of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion in a weightless vinaigrette, new potatoes and haricots verts roasted in fragrant garlic, and lightly glazed fish, grilled to flaky perfection.

 

Everything is as perfect, graceful, and gracious as if Martha Stewart has taken up residence on a South Asian island. Every meal that follows is equally splendid, carefully arranged and garnished and presented; served al fresco next to the sand, where the booming waves drown out all of the noise from the nearby road and make you feel completely alone in a tropical paradise.

My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.
My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.

After lunch, Ranjan gives me a tour of the property, which consists of the original villa, full of antiques and incredible sunset views out over the ocean; and a separate wing with two spacious and gorgeously decorated suites. There’s a saltwater pool tucked into a secluded coconut grove, and a pavilion where yoga, massage, and Ayurveda treatments can be arranged, if you’re so inclined (and you probably will be, if you can pry yourself out of the bathwater-warm pool).

Our last stop is Ranjan’s pride and joy: the cement tank from which he has released over 7000 baby sea turtles from eggs that he has hatched. He beams as he explains that locals from all over Ambalangoda bring him turtle eggs from endangered nests, and he personally tends to the eggs and releases the newly hatched turtles into the sea in the predawn darkness. The opulent luxury of Max Wadiya would be reason enough to visit, but knowing that your vacation dollars are going to support the endangered turtle population of this beautiful island is a wonderful feeling.

Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!
Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!

Do you have “Imagine I’m royalty living in a tropical paradise and being waited on hand and foot by the most gracious and accommodating staff imaginable” on your bucket list? (Hint: if you don’t, you should really add it!) Max Wadiya is the perfect place to check it off. If you decide to pay this magical oasis a visit, tell them Leslie sent you, and be sure to send me a picture!

Max Wadiya is located at 147 Galle Road (Parrot Junction) Urawatte, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka. Find more information or book your stay at www.maxwadiya.com.

Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.
Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.

The Monthly Bucket- April 2017

Hey Adventurers! Is it just me or has April absolutely flown by?

Where in the world am I? Hello from Bangalore (Bengaluru), India! I’ve been here for two weeks and I absolutely love this glorious, chaotic mess of a city. This morning I walked straight into a cow on my way to Starbucks and that pretty much sums up Bangalore.

Items checked off the bucket list this month: Can you believe…none?? Apparently it’s really time consuming to uproot your life, get rid of all of your stuff, and traipse to the other side of the world. But don’t fret- I’m on my way to Sri Lanka in a few days to explore some gorgeous old temples (bucket list item #542!)

Highlight of the month: Hopping off a rickshaw in the middle of a traffic jam on a Sunday afternoon in Bangalore only to find myself in the middle of a giant Hindu flower festival.

Hindu parents hold their children up to the sacred statues inside the flower chariots for a blessing.
Hindu parents hold their children up to the sacred statues inside the flower chariots for a blessing.

Lowlight of the month: Crying in the parking lot of the doggie summer camp where I left Murphy Ann until I get back to the US at the end of July.

Best meal: Chicken Tacos at Tequila’s Town, Savannah, Georgia.  Honorable Mentions: The Squawking Goat chicken biscuit at Maple Street Biscuit Company, St. Augustine, Florida; the Cuban sandwich at El Ambia in Melbourne, Florida;

Seriously, these tacos. I can't even tell you. Just get in the car and head for Savannah. It doesn't matter where you are.
Seriously, these tacos. I can’t even tell you. Just get in the car and head for Savannah. It doesn’t matter where you are.
I'd probably eat a soggy piece of cardboard if you put goat cheese on it, but trust me- this is better.
I’d probably eat a soggy piece of cardboard if you put goat cheese on it, but trust me- this is better.

New blog posts published:  Have Dog Will Travel in which Murphy Ann the adventure dog takes over the blog while we adventure around the Southeast US. 

What I learned:

  • You never need as much stuff as you think you do.
  • If you can survive Bangalore traffic in an auto rickshaw, you can survive anything.
  • There aren’t any walk signals telling you when to go, so you just have to watch for an opening, take a deep breath, make peace with your creator, and plunge (ooh, life metaphor alert!).  
  • If you see a big crowd of people outside a sketchy looking food stand, go there. Bonus points if there’s no menu. Use hand gestures and look hungry. 
  • You never realize how much you take air conditioning and unlimited ice for granted until you don’t have them anymore.

 

What I read: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I loved this because Cheryl is quite possibly the only adventurer to have more travel catastrophes than I do.
What’s next? Heading to Sri Lanka on May 2nd for three months of temples, beaches, elephants, leopards, and adventure.

Well, I’m heading back out to explore more of this beautiful city before it’s time to leave. You should head to the comments and tell me where in the world you’re adventuring this month!