Friday, September 12, 2014

Marble Beach Trincomalee Sri Lanka

Marble Beach is in the Koddiyar Bay in Trincomalee. We passed the famous China Bay before reaching Marble Beach. This has a wonderfully wide clean beach with thick vegetation surrounding it. The ocean is shallow and ideal for relaxing in water, swimming, and play. For the most part of the day you can have the beach all to yourself. There are at least two lifeguards on duty all the time. Only a part of this beach is accessible to the public. The large part of the beach is a private beach operated by the Sri Lanka Air Force with it's wonderful bungalows, dinning areas and chalets.
Towards the public access beach

Bungalows that belongs to Marble Beach Resort operated by Sri Lanka Navy

The food we had there was one of the neatest and most well prepared Sri Lankan style meals we had in Sri Lanka. The service provided by the staff was highest quality(Felt like they were under the command of someone all the time :)) Upon inquiry we were told all these guys have gone through at least the basic military training. 

The fence separating the Public access area and Navy operated area

Public beach around mid-day
Navy personnel keep it pretty neat

We were here in June 2013.The two rooms we occupied were basic, yet spacious clean and comfortable, had air conditioning, and bath rooms were extremely clean. Linen and pillows were fresh. Next time we go to Sri Lanka we will plan on staying here longer and will definitely stay at one of the over the water bungalows. 

Another bungalow

with the back-drop of a think jungle

The ships pass by quite close and they sometime anchor close to the shoreline. I'm not sure of the cleanliness of the waters due to this reason. The waters are at it's best early morning and late afternoon. Since there isn't any shade and coarse sand gets heated up, it becomes not to enjoyable during the day when the sun is up.
Also there is a wonderful wooded hiking trail that takes you to another little cove ideal for swimming and pictures.
Lighthouse on a little island

View from the hiking trail. Notice the dragon flies

How relaxing...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Polhena Beach Matara Sri Lanka: My favorite

Ten Reasons why Polhena is my favorite beach in Sri Lanka

1. This is the beach we went to growing up almost every Sunday morning with our dogs in tow. I have seen this beach with no beach and I have seen this beach as wide as it is today, alternating as the nature chooses to.

2. This is the beach known for an awesomely fun and relaxing sea dipping and swimming. One of the best for shallow water sea bathing.

3. This is the beach all travelers stop at before heading down to Kataragama and back making it a great place to watch people from around the country.

4. The shallow ocean feels like a pool. There is a reef at a good distance from the beach that keeps waves from coming in hard and strong creating the effect of a humongous swim pool.
5. The presence of life guards makes you feel safe and availability of showers are one of a kind in Sri Lanka. Don't forget to tip the helpers at the showers with a smile and a kind a word. They will even bring water all the way to your vehicle so you can wash your feet to get the sand out before you get in.

6. In other parts of the world this could be categorized as a 'secluded beach' since you have to take a detour from the main highway to reach here.
7. One of the oldest hotels in Matara, Polhena Reef Garden Hotel, is right there to feed the hungry.
8. Word of caution, Stay away from where locals are NOT swimming because there are abandoned coconut husk pits that are quite deep in the shallow waters towards the north end of the beach.

9. Some of the best vade (fried lentil dumplings) and kadala (chick peas) vendors walk the beach. Buy, enjoy and support the local economy.

10. Nostalgia. 'nuff said!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Galle World Heritage Site Sri Lanka

This is one of the most scenic drives in Sri Lanka. Matara to Galle takes only 45 minutes. I have made this trip many a times in my life and I still look forward to it every-time I visit home. The city of Galle has undergone major developmental changes since 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated coastal areas of Sri Lanka. Stilt fishing is a sight not to be missed as you pass Ahangama, Kathaluwa areas heading towards Galle. They catch small fish that get caught in the waves heading to the beach. This is not a very lucrative fishing business. Their catch is mostly used to feed their own families.

Then you approach the world famous Unawatuna Beach. When I had not traveled to the beaches in other parts of the world this was awesome. As children we had spent quite a bit of time here. Waters are calm in the morning and late afternoon for a good swim, fun and frolic in the ocean. However, since I have beaches to compare with now, this ranks very low on my list for the following reasons. It's not clean the first and foremost. People litter without any respect for the environment. There are buildings way too close to the shoreline limiting the extent and the access of the public beach. The sand is rough to the feel. The beach is narrow from time to time. Sand gets extremely hot by mid-day and is very difficult to walk on. Can get over-crowded at times. The waters are not clear and azul blue -that's common in Sri Lanka though due to many rivers flowing to the ocean. However, the scenery is quite good and relaxing if you are in the right place maybe away from all the tourist madness.

Here's Matara Road heading to Unawatuna. On the right is backwaters of Unawatuna. Significant breeding grounds for mosquitoes like any other tropical destination. If you use mosquito repellent, wear clothes covering yourself and burn local herbs in the evening, you will be just fine.

From the North end of the Unawatuna Beach towards South

 At the end of the hotel stretch towards Colombo
As you approach Galle town you get the feel of a hustle and bustle of a small city and the grand view of the colonial clock tower presiding over the town.

The clock tower

Galle Lighthouse

 To the north of the Galle Lighthouse

Galle Portuguese Dutch Fort and the Clock Tower

City of Galle, Clockwise, Clock, Prison, Bus Depot, Railway Station
Our favorite place to eat in this area is the Lighthouse by Jetwing. This is one of the best hotels in Sri Lanka with excellent food. Views of the Indian Ocean and the coastline is absolutely breathtaking. Very likely you will be able to witness a Sri Lankan wedding party here as well.
Beautifully sculptured spiral stairs

This is no regular Sri Lankan food. This is Sri Lankan food done right!
Galle is where my father's maternal ancestors lived. My paternal great grandmother attended Bona Vista College on the hills of Bona Vista, or Buona Vista, Galle. Nearby waters are known for Coral Reef of Bonavista. Adjoining Rummassala jungle is a preserved piece of land you can drive through to a certain extend and the views are awesome. It's mentioned in Ramayana, Hanuman dropped a chunk of Himalayan here there by explaining the abundance of medicinal plants.

On our way back to Matara we would always stop at this particular place where we kids would be treated to a set of clay pots. It's Kumbalgama in Weligama. It's a village of potters and a good collection of Sri Lankan southern pottery in one place.

Kumbalgama Pottery
Can you think of a kid who wouldn't like to play with these?
Good times!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Santa Barbara California Summer 2014

Heading south to Santa Barbara California for few days of rejuvenation is always exciting and refreshing. Same landscape, new eyes! 

Heading south on 101 is always fun and exciting! 
We in general don't like staying in hotels. It's just that we feel they stick you between two walls. And another reason it better be nicer, cleaner, and tidier than your home. Unless it's all inclusive, pampered vacation we like rentals for our road trips. Also, when you have a house to yourself it's an opportunity to shop local grocery stores and farmers' markets for produce and specialty foods.   

Our temporary home on Carrillo Hills  Santa Barbara for the next few days.

Santa Barbara is a city we all love. The beaches, historical sites, art galleries, fantastic bars and restaurants, all in few minutes reach. We usually make it a point to research where the locals hangout and that's where we chose to have our meals, or go for hikes. Here's few fun things we did while hanging out with locals.

1. Thousand Steps Beach
This is a nice detour to take if you are heading south on Shoreline Drive. These steps lead to a sleepy, hidden beach. We had the beach all to our selves the time we were there. Steps are slippery. There aren't thousand steps, only about 165. There are nice large rocks to sit on and meditate. If you turn right and walk all the way you can grab a nice meal at the Boat House on Hendry's Beach.

Heading down to the beach

View to the North from the Steps
2. Santa Barbara Harbor and Crab Cake Burgers at On The Alley
As you drive south on Shoreline Drive, you encounter a massive public beach. So much life, fun and energy. You can walk all the way to the end of the Sand-spit, a beautiful geological formation at the tip of the Santa water front. 
There are few very good eateries at the harbor. We wanted to try the Crab Cake burger and baked clams at On The Alley. Great ambiance of an alley eating with many locals with their pooches.Wonderful service, great food.

3. San Marcos Pass to Lake Chachuma 
If you didn't come down the San Marcos Pass (Hwy 154) to Santa Barbara, exploring this area is worth while. The drought hit California still hasn't lost the natural beauty.

On the left is the Lake Chachuma. On the right is the city of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean as you come down San Marcos Pass.
4. Mission Santa Barbara
This was one of our sons's 4th grade mission project. Ever since then, we pay a visit when ever we pass through or in the area. There's so much history in a well maintained space. This is the 10th of 21 missions founded by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries. You will leave here understanding the influence it had on native Indians and the way it set the path to later events in history of California.
Mission Santa Barbara
5. Breakfast at Boathouse on Hendry's Beach, a trip to University of California Santa Barbara and Coffee at the Handlebar
It doesn't get any better. Great location, beautiful views, great food, friendly service, and that's the Boathouse. After breakfast we spent some time on the beach watching so many dogies and missing our pooch left at home with the dog-sitter. There is a creek, Arroyo Burro flowing in to the ocean right next to the Boathouse property and there is a small park adjacent to it. This area is absolutely beautiful.
 Hendry's Beach
The Boathouse on Hendry's Beach
Arroyo Burro
Then we head to UCSB to just explore the campus. UCSB is in Goleta in Santa Barbara. Many new facilities and residential units. It has the feel of an institution of higher education. So glad we have so many of these in California.

The center of University of California Santa Barbara on the left and on the right the the lagoon at one end of the campus
Then we head back to the downtown area where we had heard about one of a kind coffee grinders. Yes, it is Handlebar Coffee Roasters perched right in front of Presidio State Historic Park. I can say without any reservations, tit was the BEST latte I have ever had in my life.

The most interesting thing we noticed was the bare dirt ground in front of the Presidio. Before people put in the grass lawns and planted hedges and hedges of foreign trees in California (which now is in drought), this is how it must have been...And that coffee from Handlebar...Just heavenly.

6. Arroyo Burro Beach County Park
Our favorite place to hike in the mornings when we were in Santa Barbara. This is a favorite of locals and left in it's natural state. View are awesome!
View of the Pacific Ocean from the trail

Sole Serpina player 
7. Old Town Santa Barbara, lunch at Los Agaves and taste of Mexicana from Chapala Market
We totally believe only if you walk the streets of an area, visit the places where locals shop, you get the feel of a culture. There are beautiful Spanish flavor left in it's original form in the Old Town area of Santa Barbara.

No portion is small at Los Agaves. Great restaurant for Cali-Mex food. 


Right next to Los Agaves is La Super-Rica Taqueria. Looking at the lie there I bet the food is great there as well. Opposite Los Agaves is the Chapala Market. A small authentic Mexican market. The boys who have been reminiscing about Mexican candy since their last trip to Mexico got to get their grab of some of the favorites here.
Mexican Candy
 8. Out and about on State Street

 View from Brat Haus and divine Meringues from Andersen's Danish Bakery.

Another great place for dessert or a European style meal is Renaud's Patisserie and Bakery.

We haven't seen many menus that serve Yak. Here's one. Himalayan Kitchen. This is their Yak and house made pasta, paotato dish, a Napalese authentic dish one of our boys tried.

 Our last dinner in Santa Barbara, Vietnamese cuisine at Saigon. All of us were missing our usual level of spiciness and chili in our food the past few days. We knew when ever we walk in to a Vietnamese restaurant we could talk them into adjusting the level to our liking. There you go, so soul filing finally.

 9. Trip back home and wow! Elephant Seals in San Simeon

Male Elephant Seals lounging