Japan – Kyoto and Kinosaki-onsen (part 2)

With our toddler well accustomed to the train travel, on our 7th day in Japan, we headed to Kyoto. From Takayama we first had to go back to Nagoya for 2h30 min on the Hida express train. We then changed in a hurry (consider that the Shinkansen is usually in another part of the train station compared to the local (slower) trains) and took the Shinkansen for about one hour to Kyoto. We timed the departure at lunch break so that the LO would sleep on the train. This time it worked.

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Hello, Hello Kitty! – 18 days in Japan with a toddler

Japan was long on my list but somehow we never got the chance till this May to jump on a flight to Tokyo. As we traveled with our 18-month year old baby, this trip required a bit more preparation in terms of advance booking of accommodation and itinerary setting. I do plenty of research before almost every trip (to make sure I do get my pick of the nice hotels at affordable prices and book ahead any sights to avoid long queues) but for the trips with the baby, it moves to the next level – control freak level that is!

This trip will be split into at least two different posts as the information is very fresh in my mind and I will probably dwell on the details more than usual. Also, if you plan to take this trip with a toddler (like us), I guess the more info the better. Please note however, we did not choose the itinerary or accommodation to suit the baby but rather tried to ease the baby into our travel pace. Therefore, no all inclusive, baby clubs or  private transfer for us.

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Let’s go on a trip, ladies ! – Bangkok and Khao Lak

Thailand is by now a well-established destination for winter sun seekers. Not close enough for a short break but rather well connected to Europe in terms of flights so you do not need to take several connections and loose time in airports,  which maximises your time on the ground.

I was not particularly attracted to the idea of Thailand. To me, it conjures images of tourist hoards and temples queues. I could not imagine that there are still places where you could fell some connection to the country, its natural beauty and traditions and get to know the people. But then the opportunity of a reasonably priced direct flight from Paris CDG presented itself. My partner (Mr. CTT) had limited vacation days left as we were in end Oct – November 2016, close to year end. So I decided to ask some friends to join me and do a first post-pregnancy holiday sans-family. After this trip, I decided to do one ladies every year! Surely, Mr. CTT benefits of the same prerogative (except for taking ladies along…:).

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The Bump, the Temples and the Beach – our babymoon in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

In the beginning of 2015 we found out that our family was getting bigger. We were very happy that we will soon get to introduce him to the world and show him all the amazing places out there. But before that, we were ready to enjoy a few more trips together. During my pregnancy we went to a few places in Europe and I also took a girls trip to Israel and the Czech Republic but we wanted something a bit more ‘special’. I was very curious about Sri Lanka after my trip to India in 2014 but my husband was there already so we added Maldives to the mix.

Given my ‘situation’, this trip was planned a bit more in detail throughout. After buying the plane tickets (Brussels -Doha – Colombo, Colombo-Mahe and Mahe-Doha-Brussels) with Qatar Airlines, I looked for a driver/guide to accompany us in out tour. I already had a good idea of what we wanted to visit but still needed somebody with local experience to make sure the trip was doable in terms of distance and road conditions as well as weather. There are plenty of local travel companies on Trip advisor. I wrote to a few and asked a quote for the tour I had in mind. We went with Sri Lanka Personal Drivers and were very happy.

We had 8 days in Sri Lanka and 6 in the Maldives. As we had planned some beach time at the end of the trip, we focused our time in Sri Lanka on visiting temples and the natural scenery in the country.

If you are considering Sri Lanka as a destination, have a look at our itinerary packed with great sightseeing opportunities:

Day 1: arrived in Sri Lanka and arranged with our accommodation for a transfer from the airport. We decided to stay outside Colombo as we wanted to have the opportunity to relax as we arrived. We were based in Kotugoda, about 20 min from the airport. We stayed at the Wallawwa, a small hotel set in a restored colonial manor with a beautiful 3 acres garden that provided much needed respite after our travel. Highly recommended for couples and if you are looking for a secluded retreat.

Day 2, we started early and our driver was waiting for us at the reception. We went for a quick trip through Colombo and continued on to Kandy, in the Hill Country, our base for the next 3 days. We also stopped at the Millenium Elephant Foundation to see rescued elephants. They were offering rides but we didn’ t enjoy seeing the elephants ferrying visitors around and did not take the ride.

Day 3: Kandy. We kicked off the day with a visit to the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden. They are renowned for their collection of orchids and a great collection of indigenous plants. The afternoon we spent visiting the city. Our driver/guide took up up the hill above the city where we had the best panorama of this green city and the lake in the middle. In the evening, we saw a traditional dancing show at the atmospheric Red Cross building. After the show we visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic. It houses the country’s most important religious relic, the tooth of Buddha. We were in time for the evening ceremony or Puja which involved a lot of drumming and excitement. At the end of the ceremony, the relic is open to the public. It was a great experience!

Day 4: We explored more of the city, we walked the shopping streets leading to the lake, visited the old railway station and central market. Our hotel, the Kandy House was a great treat. Breakfast was brought to the patio in front of our room and they did a great cake for my husband’s birthday. Their dinners we superb as well. I never knew there were so many types of curry. Absolutely delicious!

Day 5: We left Kandy for Sigiriya. We stopped at the Dambulla Cave Complex on the way, about 3h away from Kandy. The caves are located on top of a hill and are more than 2000 year old. The are crammed with statues and murals of Buddha. On a clear day, you can see Sigiriya rock from the hill top. Our accommodation in the Cultural triangle was at the Wild Grass Nature Resort. This place is set amidst the forests of Sigiriya. We had a spacious villas with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a great way to enjoy the sunset.

Day 6: Visiting the Sigiriya rock and museum. Maybe the most impressive site of Sri Lanka, this is going to take the best part of a day and involve some serious climbing for about 1h. I took it easy, as I soon became out of breath and there are many things to see in the extensive gardens. Do not miss the museum explaining the history of the place and the original settlements. The rock is better climbed in the cool of the morning.

Day 7: We went for a safari in the Minneriya Natural Park part of the ‘elephant corridor’. We did not see that many elephants but it a nice experience reminding us of our African safari. In the afternoon, we went for an Ayurveda treatment in a village nearby : -Thrimal Ayurvedic Treatment Centre. The massage was great. However, you should count on smelled like curry spices for a few days.

Day 8: we started early to catch our plane from Colombo to Mahe. Once we arrived in Mahe, a resort representative was waiting for us at the airport and we boarded a small boat that would take us to our island.

The place we stayed at was called Baros Resort and it was probably the priciest hotel in all our travels around the world. It was also the most amazing, secluded escape with morning yoga and a house reef that you could access from the beach. Everything was top notch from service to the pregancy massage I got at the spa. I could not dive on that occasion but my husband went and he was quite impressed. I went on a couple of snorkelling trips and a night snorkelling trip. Do give night snorkelling a try! They have special lights that reflect on the colours of the marine life. It was surreal to swim in the black water, with a sky full of stars above and plenty of little fishes swimming on the bottom. I do hope we will go back one day.

If you consider the Maldives, do not be put off by the Summer in the islands. The climate in July and August are very similar in the Maldives. Humidity and rain do increase over these months, but as the islands are so low-lying, rain clouds blow over very quickly so rain will only be short lived. There are also usually less travellers during these months so that is a plus. We still had plenty of sunshine.

Happy Travels!

India – a place that will stir up all your senses

When planning my last year’s trip to India, I was a bit nervous.

For one, I was traveling with two other girls. Any travel advisory out there, from Lonley Panet to the UK Governement Travel advice will imply that might not be such a bright ideea. Couple or group might be better. Even so, in my view, as three is definitely better then one alone, I had good chances of survival.

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Komodo Dragons – Island of Flores, Indonesia

There are three things you will find about Indonesia on all travel blogs: 1) relax and visit temples in Bali; 2) dive and go to the beach in the Gillis and 3) visit the Komodo Dragon. You probably wonder why all the fuss about a lizard. Subject of countless documentaries and TV nature programs, the main thing about this lizard is that, like many other rare animals, it is only to be found on two little islands in the vast archipelago that is Indonesia: Komodo and Rinca. This usually involves either a long boat trip from Bali or a flight with a local carrier. These lizards are fierce creatures, the size of a large crocodile but more agile and ready to attack pretty much anything on two or four feet. Komodo National Park is a UNESCO site and is the only place to see the world’s largest lizard in the wild.

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Outside Bali – Gili Islands

Few visitors venture outside Bali or even southern Bali for that matter. Accommodation is definitely high standard and you can get pretty much all the amenities you are used to in Europe/US. Also in Bali, there a still a few places that managed to keep their pristine beauty but they are getting less and less as big hotel chains advance toward the center of the island. East of Bali is Lombok. Somewhat less traveled than Bali but still firmly established on the tourist map. The north of Lombok holds a few treasures in the form of the Gili Islands. We have travelled to Gili Ayer and spent a few days in the sun. The atmosphere is very laid back. You can go about your business around the island without any shoes.

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