Category Archives: Destinations

Brilliant Budapest

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I know very little about eastern Europe. The only thing I could tell you off the top of my head about Hungary is goulash and dumplings, and I’m honestly not a huge fan!

I visited Budapest for the first time in April of this year. The weather was, for the most part, beautiful, but we got rained out later in our tour of the city so I don’t have too many photos to share. But I’m definitely hoping to visit again when the weather is pleasant.

Our very knowledgeable tour guide was able to educate us on a lot of the history of Budapest, which was originally two different cities that merged into one – you guessed it – Buda and Pest.

Our first visit was to Heroes’ Square, where we were lucky to happen upon the city’s Budapest sign, which had just been erected that morning, and was only up for a few days the week prior.

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Heroes’ Square is in the Pest side of the city, and  features the Seven Cheiftans of the Magyars, and other important national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.IMG_6769IMG_6774IMG_6772IMG_6773IMG_6775

Afterwards, we stopped by the check out what’s called a “ruin bar”, an abandoned apartment building that was turned into a bar. It seems to be a thing in Budapest – the owners bring in wacky and thrifty finds or get local artists to decorate and create installations. It apparently has some great nightlife but due to our schedule, we didn’t spend much time here.

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This is Szimpla Kert, the original ruin bar that started the trend in 2001. It’s one of the biggest and still one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest.

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A sign in the toilet

A sign in the toilet

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And just a few steps away was a trendy little spot made up of faux food carts where we grabbed a bite to eat.

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We then crossed the Danube River to the Buda side to visit Castle Hill, and Buda Castle. At this point it began to sprinkle and I brilliantly didn’t dress warm enough, so our time here was fairly short.

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Great view of the city

Great view of the city

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With the weather being uncooperative, we ended our tour at this point and headed back to the hotel. Once the rain stopped, I stepped out to explore the area near the hotel, and was lucky enough to experience the Budapest Food Festival!

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The square was filled with food booths, local artists’ stalls and live music. I was ecstatic to be able to purchase some beautiful locally made jewelry for my friends and family. Any opportunity I get, I love supporting the local economy and especially talented artists.

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And the food?

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YUM!!! Fall off the bone pork, fresh vegetables and potatoes! The last thing I picked up on my way back to the hotel was a traditional Hungarian doll. As an avid doll collector, I search and pick up dolls unique to a country or culture. I think this calls for a doll post soon…

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Budapest was a beautiful sight, and I will definitely being looking forward to my return trip there some day soon!

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Hello, Harry Potter!

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As I mentioned previously in my English/Paris summer vacation, I paid a visit to the incredible Harry Potter Studio Tour near London, and I took a ridiculous amount of photos so I made it into its own post! I am avid Harry Potter fan, but I will admit, I haven’t read the books. (I’m not a huge fan of books! Sorry!) I think I will tackle them one day, but I do love every single movie in the saga. Alan, on the other hand, actually had never seen the movies or read the books (Brit fail!) so I tried to get in as many of the movies as we could in our free time in the UK before we went. While we didn’t get to finish it, Alan found the tour to be quite impressive even for the non-fan.

The tour has only been open for about 2 years, but it is so insanely popular that bookings must be done online only through their website and bookings fill up incredibly fast. As I was trying to get days off to extend my holiday, I kept having to change plans because every time I went to book, the days I had available were already full!

Upon entrance, you are greeted by three amazing Wizard’s Chess pieces!

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The introduction starts with a seat in a small theater, and a short video with Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint addressing fans and then the screen lifts to the entrance of Hogwarts. Every inch of the tour was just as magical as it seemed to be on the screen!

The ceiling is absent because it changes and so is designed with computer graphics.

The ceiling is absent because it changes and so is designed with computer graphics.

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Once you left the dining hall, you were free to roam through the tour yourself. It roughly takes about 3 hours!

Some of my most favorite bits were the costumes!

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It was amazing to see how the sets looked quite small in comparison to on the big screen.

Boy's dormitory in Griffindor

Boy’s dormitory in Griffindor

Griffindor common room

Griffindor common room

There was also an array of random props and artifacts gathered around.

Collection of wands

Collection of wands

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Dumbledore’s office:

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Throughout the tour, there were various supplementary video screens full of information and cool secrets. For example, the various moving portraits found throughout the school include some of the crew and staff!

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And prop crews found it entertaining alone just trying to fill the mysterious jars and vessels you see in Snape’s potion making classroom.

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Chamber of Secrets!

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The Weasley home

The Weasley home

Deatheater costumes!

Death Eater costumes!

Various prints and candy boxes – a graphic designer’s dream:

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Dolores Umbridge's very pink and very kittied office

Dolores Umbridge’s very pink and very kittied office

 

 

Tasting butterbeer and hanging out outside Harry's house!

Tasting butterbeer and hanging out outside Harry’s house!

On display were an amazing array of the various prosthetics and other makeup/masks…

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And of course, Diagon Alley itself!

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This smaller scale model of Hogwarts is used when filming the building from a distance!

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And of course, can’t leave until we find a wand…

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Maybe this one?!

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Lastly, I was a sucker and hopped on a broom, and YES, I bought the photos… there was a video, but I opted for just the photos. 🙂

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Summer 2014 Part 1: England

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Wow, I am REALLY REALLY behind… I have just been super busy with my upgrade (I’m still in my probationary period), having been on leave a few times and planning a wedding with 8 months to go!

So I’ll break it down quickly what happened over the summer. Alan quit his job at the gym that hired him to move to Dubai, and with a partner, has started his own mobile fitness company, Universal Fitness. (Would be great if you could like them on Facebook! 🙂 So during Ramadan, he spent a month back home in the UK. I went there and back, I had two weddings to attend (one of my friend’s and one of his cousins’) but had to work in between. We also spent a few days in Paris! I took loads of pics, so I’ll try and post only my favorites, but that will be difficult..

If you’re interested, you can see what I did while on my Layovers In London.

Before we start, I was surprised to find this gem in Alan’s hometown, Guildford:

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Our first objective was the drive to Bath to attend the wedding of my friend Raksha, who was my batchmate. We joined our airline on the same day and became fast friends. She resigned about a year later, and we kept in touch. She is Indian-British and her now-husband is just British… so it was a fun mix to see. 🙂 I got a sari from a friend who no longer needed it, and I crafted the sari top myself. I basically bought a white cotton crop top, dyed it, and then hand beaded it.

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The ceremony was a traditional Hindu ceremony, about 2 hours long. Raksha looked like a Bollywood star!

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During the cocktail hour, Alan and I ventured into the Fashion Museum. The wedding was being held in the beautiful Assembly Rooms, and we had planned on visiting the Fashion Museum the next day, but it was so convenient to pay a visit while the couple were taking photos.

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I had to put my arms through the front and tie it over my sari!

The reception was in a lovely assembly hall with ancient Roman detailing. It was an amazing mix of Indian and British culture.

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The next day, Alan and I spent an unusually sunny British day exploring the adorable little town that is Bath.

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Roman Baths

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Threw a UAE dirham coin into the bath! Wonder how many different currencies are in there..

Threw a UAE dirham coin into the bath! Wonder how many different currencies are in there..

We ventured around the city and stumbled upon a beautiful little park.

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We then went completely British and paid a visit to the very busy and very famous Sally Lund’s tea house for afternoon tea, appropriately, in the Jane Austen room:

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We started with their famous “bunn” with smoked salmon, and finished with amazingly delicious clotted cream, jam and scones!

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On the drive over, we had accidentally come across STONEHENGE! It’s so busy these days that we have to book in advance, so we booked once we got into Bath for the next day. So we stopped by to check out one of the Seven Wonders of the (World) Medeival Mind, Stonehenge.

Our #stelfie... yes, our Stonehenge Selfie

Our #stelfie… yes, our Stonehenge Selfie

The Stonehenge Exhibition and shuttle service was built in December of 2013 to help preserve the monument, as well as offer additional information. Up until then, you used to be able to drive right up to it. I think this way makes it a bit more of a meaningful visit.

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We drove up to London for the afternoon to check out the Natural History Museum:

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Our #trelfie!! Yes, can you see a trend here?

Our #trelfie!! Yes, can you see a trend here?

To be continued in Part 2 coming soon!

Feelin’ Frisky in San Francisco

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I’m no stranger to San Francisco. Having lived all my life in Arizona, I spent a lot of time in neighboring California visiting family, friends and even going for work…

Working for GirlGamer at the Game Developer’s Conference..

And maybe a pageant or two…

Onstage at Miss Asian America at the Palace Theater, sponsored by Miss Asia Arizona

Onstage at Miss Asian America 2007 at the Palace Theater, sponsored by Miss Asia Arizona

So after moving to Dubai, a layover in San Francisco didn’t always spark the tourist in me, I usually went to meet up with friends a do a bit of shopping. But on occasion, when the crew was super friendly and keen to go out, I opted to join them and be a tourist myself. The first time I went out on a tour with the crew was in April 2011, we checked out good ol’ Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and took a boat tour.

Trolley fun!

Trolley fun!

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Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

Boudin Sourdough Factory

Boudin Sourdough Factory

And of course had to stop for a beer!

And of course had to stop for a beer at The Wavehouse!

The weather was surprisingly (ok, maybe just to us) windy and chilly and pretty much all of us were not prepared, so a few were forced to buy their very own San Francisco souvenir sweatshirts to survive the boat ride… It was easy to find a tour boat. Many of them are privately owned and docked all along the wharf, with signs posting tours. Ours was just $15 for a nice tour of the bay.

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The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

We circled the infamous abandoned high security prison, Alcatraz. I have yet to do a tour on the island itself, but I will someday!

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And here’s a funky piece of art from the airport…

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My next stint as a tourist in San Fran was about a year later, when one of the crew was excited to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not exactly athletic unless I’m put up to it, but it did sound like a fun and interesting challenge. We picked up our bikes from Blazing Saddles on Pier 41 and started our journey.

They say riding a bike always comes back to you.. unfortunately that wasn't true for my friend, who had a bit of trouble on it!

They say riding a bike always comes back to you.. unfortunately that wasn’t true for my friend, who had a bit of trouble on it!

While we did stop many times on the way and slowed our pace, the bike ride en route to the Golden Gate Bridge was actually quite beautiful and serene. Little pockets of peacefulness hid along the pathway that most tourists don’t see if they are driving and or using public transport to get to the bridge.

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Doggie on the beach!

Doggie on the beach!

After many stops and much hardship (of my friend, not me!) we finally made it to the bridge!

After many stops and much hardship (of my friend, not me!) we finally made it to the bridge!

You can check out this video I took while biking on the bridge itself… just don’t mind the foul language! My friends said I shouldn’t have been filming while I was riding, but if you pay attention, I was in the bicycle lane (not marked but signs posted bikes to the left) and the potential accident was blindly walking into my lane…

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Once we crossed the bridge, we continued onto a small town on the other side called Sausalito. There, I was meeting up with a friend who would join us for lunch, and then we’d take a ferry back to the wharf.

Pretty talented on the bike if I do say so msyelf!

Pretty talented on the bike if I do say so myself!

Entering Sausalito

Entering Sausalito

Then we found my friend Raychul and looked for a yummy spot for lunch. If any of you readers are hardcore gaming fans, you may know Raychul and her famous gaming videos on Youtube.

My dear friend Raychul

My dear friend Raychul

We decided on a charming spot for some fresh seafood!

Yummmm....

Yummmm….

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Exhausted and with full bellies, we made it back to the ferry dock to go back to the wharf. While we waited, we encountered some of Sausalito’s finest locals…

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Zipping Through Zurich

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I really didn’t know much about Switzerland expect that it can get cold and something about Swiss banks and cheese. And chocolate.

Anyhow, Zurich introduced itself as a beautiful city with both old European charm and modern flair. I paid a visit during the summer, so that whole cold thing wasn’t a bother.

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The weather was so accommodating, so when we landed we immediately set out into the city via the train.

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This quaint little city is made up of alleyways filled with boutiques, cafes and other interesting sights to see.

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We decided one of the best ways to experience the city in a short amount of time was a ferry ride on the Limmat River, which runs right through Zurich.

Look! The Alps!

Look! The Alps!

As we waited to board our ferry, we occupied ourselves by watching the collection of foul at the docks, as well as the surrounding artwork.

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While on the ferry, we decided it was probably best to enjoy the tour with a taste of the local brew…

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And the Lindt chocolate factory!

And the Lindt chocolate factory!

Circus in town

Circus in town

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Locals enjoying the extremely lovely weather along the Limmat River

Locals enjoying the extremely lovely weather along the Limmat River

After disembarking, we stopped off at a cafe for a meal and drinks while exploring what bit of the city we saw on our way back to the station.

A singing choir passed and serenaded while we dined

A singing choir passed and serenaded while we dined

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Local arts

Local arts

The next morning, myself and a few others got up early, borrowed bicycles from the hotel and went for a fresh air bike ride in the small woods and farms just behind the hotel.

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At the end of our bike ride, it was about time to fly back to Dubai. Zurich was a lovely little breath of fresh air from our usual daily Dubai lives.

Sensational Sri Lanka

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Sorry for the absence, folks! Been a little bit obsessed about an old video game (well, not old, but from 2009) that I got hooked on.. anyone ever play Dragon Age? 🙂 I need to catch up to the newest one!

photo 1 (1)Anyway, here’s the long-awaited post on our recent vacation to Sri Lanka! Colombo is a layover destination for my airline, but I’d never actually done it. Alan and I wanted to do an affordable beachy holiday, so we decided that Sri Lanka would be the best option. After a few recommendations from friends and colleagues, as well as searching up and down TripAdvisor for the perfect spot to stay, we settled on anphoto 2 (1) area on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka 4 hours from Colombo called Hikkaduwa. We stayed at a very popular place called Hotel Drifters. I was a bit overwhelmed with the choice of guesthouses and hotels, that I ended up choosing this one based on its popularity. It was a little pricier than many of the others, but it was still cheap in comparison to hotels anywhere else in the world. The hotel itself was a bit drab (but I think this is standard for this area) and at one point we had a mini bug infestation (thanks to Alan’s carelessness pouring us drinks one night) but the staff were very helpful and quite efficient. The manager is knowledgeable and booked a tour for us, and helped us out with any questions we needed. The biggest plus? We got a seaview room with a balcony that we made good use of every morning, afternoon and evening.

sl01Our first full day we decided to knock out a day tour and get to seeing Hikkaduwa. We hired a driver for the day and set out in the morning. Our first stop was the blue lagoon just off the Indian Ocean which thrives with life. We took a boat into the lagoon and made a few stops along the way.sl48I would recommend the hotel even though it might have lacked in many things it should have at its price, the location, convenience, helpful staff and manager all add to its stay-worthiness. We only booked 4 nights in the hotel, so it was quite a short trip. We had wanted to do a safari but it would have taken literally a whole day and we couldn’t fit it in our schedules. We did spend our first night exploring the beach a bit, and had dinner at one of sl02the best restaurants on the beach, Mambo’s, where we discovered our new favorite food, sambol – a concoction of coconut, chilies, fish, onions, etc. that goes amazing with everything. In fact, I think I had it at every single meal, even breakfast… I think I need to figure out how to make this!

The drive starting our journey is like a mini-tour of the remains of the tsunami that devastated most of southern Asia in 2004. Many buildings still stand in ruins; only a very small number of them have been reclaimed and repaired. Our guide tells us he was  inland on a tour when the tsunami hit, but we don’t ask any details beyond that.

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These fences are used to farm shrimp

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The first island we stopped off at was inhabited by a single family who farmed cinnamon. Here, they would give live demonstrations on how they harvest cinnamon as well as make useful items from coconut (rope from the shell) and its leaves (wall and ceilings).

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Our next stop was to Temple Island, where all that is on the island are Buddhist temples and monks. I was surprised to find that the main religion of Sri Lanka was actually Buddhism, since it seems more commonly associated with India, which is mostly Hindu.

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This is Sri Lanka's national animal, the Grand Squirrel. It's about 3 times bigger than a normal squirrel.

This is Sri Lanka’s national animal, the Grand Squirrel. It’s about 3 times bigger than a normal squirrel.

Buddha, grand squirrel, and a very old tree.

Buddha, grand squirrel, and a very old tree.

An ancient book on Buddhism.

An ancient book on Buddhism.

After Alan and I explored the monks’ home (they were cooking when we visited and saw how they used minimal supplies and ingredients for their meals) we were blessed by one of the Buddhist monks and went on our way.

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The lagoon itself is home to many creatures, especially crocodiles, which makes the lagoon largely unswimmable. We saw various other animals such as birds, land and water monitors, and bats.

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... And me! With a handmade (temporary) necklace from one of our guides!

… And me! With a handmade (temporary) necklace from one of our guides!

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sl19Once back on dry land, we hopped back into our vehicle and headed over the one of the many turtle hatcheries in the area. For those of you who don’t know anything about turtles, they come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand, and then leave them to hatch on their own. If you saw some of the deadly looking creatures I posted earlier (I’m looking at YOU, water monitor!) then you can imagine that only a tiny percentage of those eggs actually hatched before they are preyed upon, and even less of those hatchlings actually make it back into the water for safety. Fisherman find these egg nests and bring them to the hatchery, where they are cared and looked after, and when old enough, send the males back into the water, and females are kept for more breeding.

I don't know why I look so happy to be holding dead turtle eggs..

I don’t know why I look so happy to be holding dead turtle eggs..

Several nests waiting to hatch

Several nests waiting to hatch

Once hatched, they are all placed together in feeding ponds…

Oh em gee how cuuuuute!

Oh em gee how cuuuuute!

Many of the turtles that stay at the hatchery (other than the females they keep) are those that suffered injury, illness (to be recovered and sent back into the ocean) or abnormalities.

Nope, this one's normal.

Nope, this one’s normal.

These poor green turtles were caught in a net and lost a few limbs. Their permanent home is now the hatchery.

These poor green turtles were caught in a net and lost a few limbs. Their permanent home is now the hatchery.

The most amazing inhabitant at the hatchery is an extremely rare albino green turtle, appropriately named.. Michael Jackson.

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He was apparently in the spotlight recently when a wealthy man from Mauritius came trying to purchase him for any price, at which the hatchery adamantly refused. But at another hatchery, it caused a scandal when their albino turtle “disappeared”. It was later returned and the people responsible were charged. The Mauritian man has yet to own an albino turtle.

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Our next stop was to one of the local moonstone mines. Moonstones are semi-precious gems that are mostly mined in Sri Lanka and exported worldwide for jewelry making.

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sl29sl30A rare variety of the moonstone is what they call a “blue moonstone”, as you can see a bit in the photo above. Instead of the normal milky glow a moonstone has, these blue moonstones has a blue sheen to them that can be seen when tilted at the right angle under the light. Just a short walk from the mine is the jewelry factory, where the moonstones are cut and polished, and jewelry is hand-crafted in various metals.

Halfway to beautiful jewelry.

Halfway to beautiful jewelry.

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I did my share of helping the local economy and made Alan buy me a nice moonstone ring. 🙂

We headed out to our last stop on the day tour, which was the spice garden. I actually don’t have many photos of it..

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We learned about all the local spices and herbs grown in Sri Lanka, and discovered that the cancer rate in Sri Lanka was very low due to their use of a certain curry leaf in their foods. I bought some natural products (hair remover and coconut oil are just to name a few!) and we set out back to the hotel for the day.

On the way back, we made a stop at one of the largest (maybe the largest?) statue of Buddha that stood just off the coast.

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That evening, we decided to get a taste of Hikkaduwa’s nightlife. Apparently one hotel/guesthouse along the beach is responsible for holding a party on a different night of the week, and our favorite new spot Mambo’s was it for the night! We met a British couple staying in our hotel (our driver had mistaken us for them, a British white guy with an Asian wife! Ha!) and shared a few drinks..

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We might have also ended up in the ocean at one point and something happened to one of Alan’s flip flops…

I might have carried them so he wouldn't "lose" them... oops.

I might have carried them so he wouldn’t “lose” them… oops.

But good thing there was a shop selling some right next to Starbeans Cafe!

sl37While still nursing our beach hangovers, we spent this gloomy day exploring the little town of Hikkaduwa, and looked for a place to get a massage.

sl41We passed this little homemade outdoor art gallery, where I picked up a cute piece of a pink elephant painted by this awesome man, who was hard at work at making another masterpiece. We then ventured out to a beach nearby, where we saw a couple in the water giggling at a moving rock. Well, actually, it wasn’t a moving rock, it was a giant sea turtle!

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These sea turtles frequent the area apparently looking for seaweed and lo and behold, I must have spotted about 4 of them hovering along the shoreline looking for snacks. We actually went back the next day with snorkel gear and swam around them, feeding them seaweed. Such an amazing sight! Sadly, I don’t have an underwater camera so no pictures came from snorkeling day (although this much change!).

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Not quite sun-ray catching day...

Not quite sun-ray catching day…

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The next morning I awoke to find some locals on the beach doing some very interesting things…

This man set up shop to sell beautiful silk blankets, however I left Sri Lanka without one!

This man set up shop to sell beautiful silk blankets, however I left Sri Lanka without one!

Looks like these guys caught dinner!

Looks like these guys caught dinner!

And then beach day ensued…

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Followed by drinks on the balcony at sunset!

Followed by drinks on the balcony at sunset!

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For our last day in Sri Lanka, we opted to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage on our way to the airport. Elephants are one of my favorite animals, and this wasn’t the first time I’d get to interact with one, as I rode one in Thailand and visited an orphanage in Kenya, but it was a first for Alan. I was honestly a bit disappointed in the facility as it seemed to showcase the orphans more for entertainment than for education, like the on in Kenya did, but it was nice to share a first experience like this one for Alan.

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Baby waiting for its meal.

Baby waiting for its meal.

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This one liked Alan.

This one liked Alan.

We headed down to the river, where the elephants receive their baths.

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And we went down and gave them a scrub ourselves!

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I think if I can handle bathing an elephant, a human baby shouldn’t be so bad, right? Alan? Too soon? Okay…

On our way to Colombo, we stopped off at a tea factory to discover how tea is made.

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And that's Alan with a monstrosity of a lemon. Lemonhead!

And that’s Alan with a monstrosity of a lemon. Lemonhead!

Before the airport, we grabbed a bite ( I LOVE LOVE LOE Sri Lankan curry! But sadly they had no sambol!) and boarded our flight home.  The people of Sri Lanka must be some of my favorite; they are kind, happy, easy-going and very welcoming. Our stay was made even more memorable by those locals we met and who shared their knowledge and friendship. Although it was a short stay, we had an unforgettable time and hope to make it back to Sri Lanka’s beautiful southern coast and explore even more of its gorgeous beaches!

Sunny Singapore

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Singapore is a great Asian country – clean, cultural, and great people. I would say that the only downside to Singapore is that it is very, very expensive, and I seem to forget that every time I visit because I always venture out to go shopping only to be reminded that everything is overpriced.

Nonetheless, there is loads to do in Singapore – on my first visit, which was a multi-sector trip to Singapore, then Melbourne, and back, I was fairly new, so I went out with a few of the crew to check out some local architecture and then Sentosa Island, an island just off the main city filled with tons of activities, beaches, and even a Universal Studios theme park. We thought about going to Universal, but decided to check out what other things Sentosa Island had to offer.

Views from the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel:

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Infinity pool

Infinity pool

We first hit the small beach for a stroll when we entered Sentosa.

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Peek a boo!

Peek a boo!

 

The island itself was filled with cute oddities and decorations.

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The famous Singapore Merlion

The famous Singapore Merlion

Inside the Merlion.. raaawwrr..

Inside the Merlion.. raaawwrr..

View of the park from the Merlion

View of the park from the Merlion

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And of course, every Asian tourist spot isn’t complete without a snake:

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We paid a visit to the butterfly house..

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And some other animals as well..

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There were gardens around the island, filled with beautiful, vibrant flowers and vegetation.

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When we were finally exhausted on our day long excursion, we took a short train ride back to the hotel.

Trendy train station

Trendy train station