A Travellerspoint blog

Fantastic Firenze (Florence)

Firenze and 33700 steps in a day…. Oops… sorry dad!

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After travelling through 5 countries, Phil and I had done some pretty big step counts in a day… but none as big as walking with my dad around Florence… we went everywhere in a day… The Duomo and cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio, Bardini Gardens, Scottish gardens, Piazza della Signoria outside Uffizzi Gallery, Mercato centrale and many more. The highlight though was seeing my dad who had come all the way from England to meet us.

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Posted by PhilFhi travels 10:12 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

The Italian Job - our car journey begins

The drive begins...A jaunt through Tuscany

Montefiasconi - Lazio

Montefiascone and surrounding villages

Montefiascone was an ancient little hilltop town that felt like we had the whole place to ourselves with no other tourists. The views over the Bolsena Lake were beautiful from the top of the town. We did lots of running, eating(of course), piano playing(there was one in our airbnb) and exploring here. From here we visited Civita di Bagnoregio. The old town looks like it’s perched on top of a pinnacle when in fact earthquakes and erosion have made everything around it drop away…. Hence it’s Italian name “La città che muore” - the dying village. Old cobbled streets and tiny alleyways get you really visualizing the people of the past.
From Montefiascone we explored the towns on the lake… Bolsena, Capodimonte. More tiny alleys and cobbled walkways, castles and of course churches. Free limoncello shots after lunch was a highlight! Before the HAIL STORM…. TO BEAT ALL HAILSTORMS! The sky went pitch black, the clouds gathered and the hail rained down…… the cars on the road grew to a standstill as 15cm hail lay in less than 10 minutes! Visions of newspaper horror stories flooded our minds but thankfully we survived to tell the tale.

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Camucia and Cortona area

Wow! A old stone Tuscan farmhouse dating from 700AD greeted us along with Cristina, Giovanni (another one!) and Matteo… and what a greeting they gave us… such a caring welcome and stay that I cried when we left! The ancient Cortona hilltop village is a must if you visit the area. More cobbled streets and churches and a fort at the top. Amazing views. Lovely people and such delicious food. Wine tasting with my dad was a blast… although we did drink most of the bottles we bought in one night - which wasn’t the plan (sorry family… we drank all the presents!)
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Walking in the Tuscan Countryside
This was what I’d come to Italy to do.. And it lived up to my expectations. Green fields, old farmhouses, vineyard slopes and even a dog to keep us company on the way.
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Posted by PhilFhi travels 10:12 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Italy - A lifelong dream - Roma

The home of romance… wine...beautiful landscapes and walks.

Roma

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Ostia de lido

Arriving outside our front door to 15 armed police was not on the list! Our first stop - Ostia de lido… View from the deck - AMAZING…..
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Walk to the shops not quite so glamorous through endless council tenement blocks….. The australian papers described the place as below...
Inside the town known as ‘Mafia by the sea’, where silence is safe
THIS town might be a magnet for tourists but also for mafia activity — the kind of place where you see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.
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Eat local!
So we headed to a tiny trattoria in the middle of the estates where we had one of the best meals we had in all of our time in Italy. Bruscetta followed by homemade mushroom ravioli which was packed with flavour.
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Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica is a large archaeological site, close to the modern town of Ostia- some call it mini Pompeii
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Central Rome

Backpacks on (which I could only just about carry to the bus stop!) …. we headed off to take the local bus and 3 trains to get to our next stop - “beautiful loft apartment” in Rome. After numerous texts from the owner saying to not arrive yet as they were “dealing with a bathroom issue” we arrived…. to a “basement studio flat” owned by Giovanni.

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It sounds ridiculous but it is amazing that Rome is just so OLD! Ancient stuff EVERYWHERE. Ruins on every street corner telling a different story and conjuring up visions of the Roman times gone by.
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Our friends, Andy and Caroline, came out to meet us in Rome which was just amazing and we had such a fantastic time.
We headed to our tour of the Colosseum to be conducted entirely in Italian! But as there were only 2 out of 20 people who spoke Italian our guide threw a strop and refused to speak to anyone! LOL. But thankfully we can all read so we just self guided ourselves around. 10000 animals killed a day! 50 000 people came to watch! Important people had their names on their seats.
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Mainly it was slaves and prisoners who had to go and fight the animals or each other. The blood was collected and taken home to drink! Just a few of the facts… YUCK
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Cooking lesson- who knows I might actually get to like cooking after this...
Emmanuel was our teacher having run his pastificio (pasta shop) for many years his passion now was in teaching.. ..and writing cookery books… and making money! He was a fabulous teacher and we had lots of fun making ravioli by HAND! HAND ROLLED with a rolling pin.. Great skill to learn.
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The Pantheon

looked like yet another ruin from the outside but was GOBSMACKINGLY beautiful on the inside. The roof blows you away. Another example of the ingenuity of Roman engineers. How does this dome roof stay up? - it is still the largest unsupported dome in the world. A whole in the centre (the occulus) lets in light (and rain ) while lightening the load of the dome. Although it was originally built as a temple in 117AD to worship the Roman Gods, (as with most buildings in Rome), the catholic church took it over and turned it into a church. large_20190410_170656.jpg

Castel di St Angelo

Loved this place… even though it reinforces cynicism of the catholic church. Basically it used to be a castle but one of the popes turned it into a place to collect and show off “the Arts”. Worth millions - but awesome to see the arts being valued as being important and valuable. Quite inspiring from a teachers perspective - architecture, science, the arts.... these things stand the test of time.

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Roscioli

Thanks Anna and Dave for shouting us a meal at this amazing restaurant. Yum - anchovies on tiny biscuits with truffle dressing to start… followed by carbonara for Phil and the most divine salmon for me :)
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Aperitivos - what a great discovery
Aperol spritz with mini pizzas, peanuts and crisps was a great discovery! Drinking at 4pm in the afternoon with snacks ...my idea of heaven:)
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The Spanish Steps

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Borghese Gallery

I get bored in about 5 minutes in an Art Gallery or museum! Not a great starting place for a world tour! But the Borghese Gallery was phenomenal. The art on the ceilings - how is that possible! The sculptures… how does anyone make stone look like skin being pressed.. So lifelike you believe it’s real and expressions on faces that convey such emotions (and slightly freak you out)
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The Vatican

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I never realized it’s basically a massive art gallery(54 galleries to be exact) which the popes over the years have commissioned to collect all the best artwork (lucky them). So glad we had a guide or we would have been lost (and there for 4 days). Learnt all about Raphael and Michelangelo. The Sistine chapel was unexpected but amazing. St Paul's Basilica was actually the most impressive - its so big! And a choir was singing which was the highlight for me. Sounded amazing.
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Palentine Hill

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Posted by PhilFhi travels 10:09 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

The day we fell in love with a baby elephant

Nature Junkies- get your fix

sunny 35 °C
View Tuscany Roadie on PhilFhi travels's travel map.

If you are a wild life buff, love the beach and, or surfing or snorkelling/ diving, love freshly cooked seafood, chilling out or even partying then the southern coast of Sri Lanka is the place! Not one day went by without seeing something amazing. The people are more relaxed than further north, living life at a slower pace.

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We arrived at Tissamaharama, “My Village hotel” to a three hour power cut.
Until the monsoon arrives at this time of year and replenishes the lakes, there is not enough water to generate electricity…so each day a three hour cut followed by another one hour in the evening occurs. Life just adapts. The pace slows.
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Tissa is the gateway to Yala National Park, famed for The Leopard but also many other walks of life; elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, deer, and the black bear, to name but a few. We left at 4.45am and travelled with a nutter driver for the 30 minute “race” to get tickets. He was obviously not happy with the left hand side of the road, taking each blind bend on the right whilst texting. Conveniently he was in a closed cabin from us and we could not tell him - until later.
A thunder and lightening storm gave us a show on our arrival to the reserve. Unbeknown to us, this also prompted many animals to go home, deeper into the reserve.
Our second safari, the next day proved much more successful. We saw everything - elephants, leopards, a black bear crocs and so much more!
The elusive leopard

The elusive leopard


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One of the most memorable moments was going for a walk near the hotel, only for a 1.5 metre silver snake to wriggle furiously to the side of our feet. After absolutely “cacking" myself and screaming to Fhi, who just stood calmly, I turned to see it coiled with the top half vertical and hissing straight at us. Sorry to say, much to Fhi’s frustration, I did not get a photo of this. It was “the one that got away.” You’ll have to believe me.

Ananthaya Beach

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Set on a cliff top, our next (Ananthaya Beach) hotel was fantastic. How the other half live! We had a couple of easy walks and even helped the local fishermen pull in the nets, but this was to be a place of relaxation. Swimming was a little bit too dangerous here in the sea so we had to settle for the infinity pool! Life is tough!
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At around 9.00pm we went to a local turtle conservation centre to witness a turtle lay her eggs and because we were in luck, also to see hatchlings race to the sea. I admire the work they carry out at this centre, but felt they should have capped the limits on people there. Even though it was gobsmacking to see mum lay her eggs and the hatchlings, maybe too many people were present. Still watching a massive turtle dig a whole, lay eggs and then spend an hour flapping her fins to fill the whole back in was a once in a lifetime experience.

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Tangalle (Golden Pearl) beach was where we went for a swim in the sea and to watch the larger fishing boats dock in the harbour and unload their bounty for the market. The fishermen spend 12 days at sea on their wooden boats before returning to the markets to sell their catch.

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Mirissa (The Pineapple Retreat) provided us with the sea’s equivalent of the safari parks.
Straight off the beach at Turtle Bay we could swim with turtles. Inquisitively they swam around us, or shot off if they were getting fed up. The bay itself was beautiful; small with shelter, unlike Mirissa Beach itself which was more like a baby Benidorm of the future. This was our favourite haunt for the three days- tired of chilling- we would just go for a swim with the turtles at a paradise beach. Amazing.
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We travelled out with Raja and The Whales Boat tour from Mirissa. Wow! A company that kept to it’s promise of not harassing the whales, but also kept away from any other tourist boat too. We saw thousands of spinner dolphins, a Bryde’s whale and about five Blue whales- even more from a distance.

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Plenty more power cuts here too!

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And in our hostel accomodation we happily chatted to so many people with stories to tell of their own adventures around Sri Lanka. One crazy kiwi, who’s mate had just come off a motorbike and was being prepared to be flown home- stories of “tips” for officials to get them off! One couple who went for a scooter ride, only to have their bike taken and held for ransom- they tried escaping! One Welsh couple who had the tour company experience of nightmares, including many blood sucking leeches (the real life creatures). They literally witnessed them jumping onto them to suck their blood! Mirissa was the place to hear the stories.

Mirissa was also home to a couple of great eating places too. We chose one fish straight off the ice board outside in what was one of the nicest fish dishes I’ve ever eaten.
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Udawalawa National Park proved to be our “winner” though. Slightly north again, we stayed at Mansala Safari House, a family with a couple of young children. We were so blessed to stay with this family. A lovely house set in the jungle and the most phenomenal food for us to eat. Enoki was an amazing cook making us hoppers, poori, pancakes, cakes, so many curries, vadai and so much more.. all from scratch. A treat of talented proportions.
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To top it off, they had their own safari jeep and the host came with us, and his 3 year old to Udawalawa park.
Our favourite park and favourite experience was here. Elephants, even babies a few weeks old surprised us around the many twists and turns of the reserve. So graceful.
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As we drove around one bend, we were greeted by a huge adult male casually walking toward us. We stopped. Silent. He just kept walking in slow motion within touching distance. Wow again. Eagles, bee catchers, and a cracking sunset completed the experience.
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Posted by PhilFhi travels 23:26 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged elephants leopard Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Colombo to Ella

Tea for Two

sunny 33 °C

Waking up on our first morning in Sri Lanka to a child practicing, “You are my sunshine,” on a pipe flute before school, must signal another glorious day.
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We arrived the day before, after several entrepreneurial attempts by ‘official’ baggage staff to get tips for merely finding our carousel; pulling up at Crystal Ville.
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Heck- it’s a gobsmacking place. The gates slid open to reveal a manicured lawn and pillars everywhere. Rooms the size of football pitches and a pool made of dreams.
But the highest accolade goes to the chef. They had laid knives and forks on several tables for us to choose from- dining room, kitchen, balcony. We had a personal chef which cost the princely sum of $5 NZ. HIs food was amazing. Unadulterated pleasure of which we would need the use of the pool to remove our newly acquired surplus. But wow his food had us melting with satisfaction. Definitely staying here another night.

Train ride to Kandy

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We managed to get hold of two 2nd class tickets. Gold dust apparently. Due to my OCD, we arrived way to early (under the recommendation of staff at our house) and had to wait at the station for an hour. It was hot. Very hot and my bladder was constantly filling up. The toilets in Colombo Fort Station are not for the faint hearted. I had to breath out of my mouth it was so bad. As there was a strike, the trains were also running uncharacteristically late. With help from a lovely local, we clambered aboard and found our two seats- comfortable and with a window that slid upwards to allow air flow.
The ride was clackity and it was really interesting seeing how the housing and land use changed as we travelled. Houses, literally ran-shackled sheds, lined the track until out of the city limits where fields emerged. Towns came and went, but tuk-tuks were always present.
The train started to climb toward Kandy, in and around mountain sides and tunnels. We admired the views as we peered from cliff edges and between trees. Doors were left open and you could stand and watch the view- holding on to the door handle was crucial as the train lurched and spat.

Kandy

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Arrival was equally frantic as Colombo- being harassed for a tuk tuk, and if you said no, continually questioned about what you would do the next day and what price you had paid to get here? And then our tuk tuk driver, not for the first time, got lost on his way to our accomodation.... bottle of whiskey perched in his drink bottle compartment.... hopefully filled with water!

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Vicky took us for a tuk tuk tour of the surroundings the next day. We chugged to the highest point to see Kandy and the lake, a very large Buddha that generated a huge amount of local pride, stopped for fruit at his older friend’s fruit stall and strolled the botanical gardens before lunch. The botanical garden was excellent; a wonderful orchid house and monkeys and fruit bats. What more do you need?
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In the afternoon we visited the spice gardens, who’s resident “Dr” was really interesting. So cool to see all your favourite spices growing and also seeing what else they are used for- medicinally.
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A quick pop into a smaller tea factory took us back to waaaaaay before we were even born with original machinery clanking and cranking- for real! It was like stepping back into the industrial revolution.
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Sigiriya

Sigiriya Rock Fortress was our next day. After 3 hours in an AC car the heat exploded when we got out to collect tickets. It was reassuring that there was an armed guard there. A cheeky monkey ran toward a youngish couple carrying a plastic bag and just grabbed it off them. Always check the surrounding trees before showing your food.
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A UNESCO site, half way like Rome and Machu Picchu looked really amazing from the start. Foundations of archaeological digs either side of a grand arrival driveway way led to the rock.
Climbing it was quite an adrenaline fuelled experience. Spiral stair cases literally clung on to the edge of the cliff face, walk ways veined around the ledge followed by more stairs. “Lion’s” feet introduced us to the final set of stairs to the top. What views and so many questions to ask. How did they get all the bricks to the top? Amazing ancient buildings and even bathing pools perched high as the wind poked the sky. Views of lakes and forest and mountains. Simply stunning. I just hoped they didn’t forget the milk once they got to the top! This was well worth the shaking, trembling vertigo.

We did not get train tickets to Nurawa Eliya so hired the same driver. A beautiful journey, especially once away from the city and into the countryside. Valleys formed, roads started to wind, then bend and corkscrew until the mountain we had just climbed then became the floor of another valley for us to travel along. Lush sides of tea leaves and plantations were growing everywhere.

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Pickers with the bright blue back buckets filtered through the rows to takes the best tips. More tea factories emerged, modern in comparison to yesterday’s cousins, had new machinery and viewing platforms to teach you how tea is manufactured.

And then Nurawa Eliya. First glimpses of colonial arrivals; Scots who named their plantation Inverness, or English who founded Sussex College- aptly nick-named Little England for many of the buildings and quaint parks, but probably more for the crap weather compared to everywhere else. Strangely, we found the latter to be an attractive quality.

Tea pickers all competed for attention and asked if we wanted to take their photos…..at a price of course. Some we did and some we didn’t. Still, lovely to see the birth of my constantly bottomless cup of tea.
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Nurawa Eliya

We stayed at Perera HomeStay which was next to the Pedro Tea Factory. Constance was our host, a lovely man who really wanted to please. We walked to Lover’s Leap Waterfall through the plantations. This was a truly beautiful walk with lush tea bushes and women, closely supervised by a male and a couple of dogs. I was curious as to whether he was guarding the women and providing safety or if it was the tea he was more interested in- the latter I am sure. The sunset was rather stunning and in entering the shadows of the twilight forest, on the edge of the cliff we noticed a group of men loitering. After reading the signs about avoiding such things, we swiftly turned around and walked back. It was not so much Lover’s Leap.
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The next morning we walked to Single Tree Hill. Again, through the tea plantations we stomped upwards. Tea pickers were having their break in the shadows of the plants. Chewing on “Beetle” a legal leaf chewed to produce a hallucinogenic high, over awareness and, if unlucky mouth cancer- but the most attractive is the blood red stain inside the whole mouth of the chewer- a bit like they’ve been caught eating chunks of raw meat.
We declined.
They offered us tea.
We declined.
They offered us photos. We declined, for later.
On the way back down, after bumping into this random guy right at the top, where there had been absolutely no one around - very mysterious, we noticed the tea pickers had dispersed back into the plantation so when the first lady asked if I wanted a photo, I said yes. Suddenly two more appeared and insisted on being in the photo. I handed over two notes, the only two small enough, to the three women- not impressed. What a commotion.
The whole valley resonated with screeches and wails that dominoed with every picker on the way down. Who knows what they said, but it was bit awkward!
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Ella

As we arrived down a vey steep driveway to Royal Vantage, we noticed the top of a half completed building. Fingers of reinforced concrete pillars reached up to nowhere. This was our home for the next few days. In fact, we loved it here. Our balcony over looked the railway, the valley and Ella Rock.
We walked up Little Adam’s Peak that afternoon. Meandering through the town, we asked a policeman for a map- he pointed to one. We tried to ask where we were in relation to the map. He did not understand. Fhi went into the bus shelter, come police station, to show the officer, only to find a policeman under the counter trying to sleep. Who had the greatest shock?
Little Adam’s Peak was breathtaking. A must for anyone visiting Ella. It’s not a rock climb but it is a bit of a work out- the views you're rewarded with after is well worth it.
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The next day we intended to walked to a local waterfall. We set off in between trains, along the track and then found the walk way after about 30 minutes. Being at the end of the dry season, means there is not a lot of water; the rock looked a bit lost without it’s partner. A bit despondent, we continued walking to the next station and could here the train’s whistle from afar. Spur of the moment, we jumped on the train to see the views we'd missed out on the day before when we couldn't get tickets. Not may people get the the train to Haputare so it was lovely to experience the mountain top town with hardly any tourists. It was a hustling town that appeared to be a mix of Tamil, Muslim and Hindi. Refreshing as we did not get harassd for tuk-tuks or anything. And the journey there was picture postcard.

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We braved the local 998 bus to Rewana waterfall on the following day. Never have I been on a bus ride where the driver plays chicken with a truck driver whilst hanging on the edge of a cliff- nor have I been on a bus, where passengers opposite me were praying all the way down. A little disconcerting to say the least.

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Rewana falls were staggering. A three tiered water fall cascaded from the clouds to the droves of tourists taking selfies. We had a refreshing dip here- not ice cold as I thought, but refreshing. We both sat behind the fall, in what many locals say is Sita’s cave.
After we walked to 9 arch bridge , unbeknown to us, a train slid across for the iconic picture- and then hosed it with rain. Nothing like a cuppa in this situation.

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Posted by PhilFhi travels 23:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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