After our cultural exploration in Kandy, mountain hiking and waterfall swimming in Ella, and safari experience near Udawalawe, we were ready for the second phase of our Sri Lanka trip - a week-long exploration of the beaches of Sri Lanka's southern coast. Throughout the week, we explored both famous and hidden spots, snorkeled, scuba-dove, practiced yoga, ate roti, sushi and vegan food, and explored palm tree groves and walked along the top of an oceanside colonial fortress.
After a magical few days exploring the waterfalls, tea plantations and monkey life in Ella, we ventured south, out of the hills and into the flat savannas of the lower inland of Sri Lanka. For this portion of the trip, between the mountains and beaches, we decided to spend our time at two distinctive eco-lodges, immersing ourselves in wildlife with our first legit safari.
If you Google Image search "Sri Lanka", many of the first results will be pictures of a candy-blue train weaving through mountainous terrain, every inch covered in neon green tea plants. The train from Kandy to Ella is known as "the most beautiful train ride in the world" and, despite being a famous Instagram spot, it is truly a good way to experience the changing landscape from central Kandy up into the mountains to the cloud forests, tea plantations, waterfalls and jungles surrounding Ella.
We jetted out of Frankfurt on a Friday evening, and, after a quick layover in the brand new, shiny, luxurious airport in Muscat, Oman, we arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka early Saturday morning. Since we purchased our visas online ahead of time, we breezed through customs and hopped in an Uber to drive to Kandy. After a quick hiccup, in which our first Uber driver decided his car couldn't make the trip up the mountainous roads, we were off to start our Sri Lankan adventure.
The first time we visited Seviile, Spain a decade ago, we timed our visit with Semana Santa, a pre-Easter holy festival, which features the procession of pasos, floats made of lifelike wooden sculptures, sorrowful images and the grieving Virgin Mary. The floats, carried by worshipers draped in white cloaks and pointy hoods, sway gently as they're carried through the streets, giving off a creepy but magical aura. This time, we visited just before Christmas, when each city street was lit up with holiday lights.
On our first visit to Dusseldorf ten years ago, we felt like it was a city we could see ourselves living in. When we returned home from the US, we looked into study and work abroad programs, to see if it would be possible to move permanently to Europe. It took us a while to finally get there, b three years after our move to Luxembourg, we returned to Dusseldorf for a long weekend to celebrate Erin's birthday just as the Christmas markets and holiday festivities began. Dusseldorf is very walkable, with a pleasant blend of natural parks and lakes within the city, but it also has a gritty element to it similar to Brussels.
We booked a long weekend in Paris with Erin's bro and his friend, Pete, neither of whom had visited Paris before. With limited time and keeping a college budget in mind, we put together an itinerary that would provide a good introduction to the "la Ville Lumière".
Between the hustle of Cairo and history in Luxor, we were lucky spend 5 nights sailing down the Nile, where we felt totally disconnected from the stresses of our lives back home. We chose the Nour El Nil Assouan, an authentic dahabiya riverboat. Each day aboard the Assouan, we would enjoy a breakfast of crepes, eggs, fruit, local goat cheese and homemade jams on the top deck as we sailed down the river to a new destination. We'd explore temples and small towns along the banks of the Nile in the peak of the day, return to the boat greeted with cold drinks and a local lunch, and swim in the river and lounge in the afternoon en route to our next destination. Each night, we returned to the top deck for sunsets and local wine, followed by dinners with our 12 or so fellow shipmates who, by the end of the trip, felt like family.
After two action-packed days in Cairo, we took the first flight of the morning to Luxor to explore the city sprawled across the east and west banks of the Nile River. Luxor, known as Thebes in ancient times, is also reachable by train, but the hour-long flight is a time-saver. Unlike Cairo, Luxor felt airy, open and, along the Nile, almost tropical, fading out to vast deserts.
We started our 11-day Egyptian adventure with two whirlwind days in Cairo - the first we spent exploring the city of Cairo, and the second we immersed ourselves in ancient Egypt, on the outskirts of Giza and inside the Great Pyramid itself. We hired a private guide both days to understand the important historical contexts and also to maximize our short time amongst the mind-boggling sites and locations.
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