About Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.


Latest Posts by Sherry Ott

A Whole Lotta Solitude in Irish Waters

January 22, 2015 by  

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The sun is down, the starts are up – it’s time to get in the kayak!The waves were lapping up against the shoreline in that comforting rhythmic fashion that coastal living brings. The sun had already dipped below the horizon and had left a perfectly clear night sky glowing in pinkish orange and midnight blue. “It’s going to be a great night for star gazing, “ Jim said as he pulled the kayak off of the van. I hadn’t even considered the stars until now as I originally signed up for this unusual night kayak trip to see the bioluminescence in the water. I love kayaking, but kayaking at night in the chilly Atlantic waters had me a little trepidatious.

Ireland sea kayaking views

It had been a long day of driving so there was a part of me that would have rather just sat in my room at the Inchydoney Spa & Hotel and relaxed. But the adventurous part of me was excited to go out at night on the waters which I had been flirting with all day driving along the Wild Atlantic Way . And then there was Jim Kennedy, who met me in the little village near our put-in point and immediately wowed me with his laid back attitude. But don’t confuse laid back with quiet – Jim was a talker and we immediately hit it off. A world champion kayaker who competed, and now trains guides and runs a tourism business – Jim had fascinating stories to tell.

Outfitted in all the proper gear for a chilly night of kayaking Ireland, we slipped into the water and immediately the calm washed over me. There’s something about gliding so close to the water that is poetic to me. Jim showed me how to paddle in a simple motion – I felt like I barely did a thing, but we were moving along at a nice pace. His whole goal was to keep me dry, so he showed me how to take relaxed strokes and not bring the paddle up high and have water dripping down on me making me cold.

Being in the dark seemed to trigger all of my other senses. Jim led us through little narrow cliffs and keyholes as the sky turned darker and darker and my eyes adjusted to the night.

That’s when I first started to see the sparkling – not of bioluminescence, but of the stars in a perfectly clear Irish night sky. Jim seemed to switch into zen mode as we talked about life, romance, and happiness. He pointed out the international space station in the sky moving along at a steady clip. This was a first for me and for some reason was incredibly moving. I couldn’t help but think about those lucky astronauts orbiting up there looking down on us and our little red kayak on this big blue marble. I stared at it afraid to blink as it moved across the sky. I found myself daydreaming about their lives in orbit. “I want to go to space,” I said to Jim.

The Milky Way slowly showed up, a seal swam by, and little by little the bioluminescence started to appear. It was so subtle that I thought it was my brain playing light tricks on me. Long forgotten memories of ecstasy filled nights at dance clubs floated through my brain like the seal that glided through the water.

“Stop paddling and close your eyes, “Jim directed. I was intrigued and followed his instructions. “Now, just listen. Really listen. See if you can hear beyond the waves, “ he continued. With my eyes tightly closed I just bobbed along in the kayak – listening; something I seldom take the time to do. Then he told me to imagine the busiest part of New York City, what it looked like and sounded like. I was transported to Times Square with all of the light pollution and people bustling around dodging each other, pushy vendors, and traffic. I thought of the deafening 72nd Street subway with the stagnant air in August.

Then he asked me to open my eyes. I slowly flickered them open as my brain engaged with the present moment again and all I could see was darkness and stillness. I could see a vague black outline of an island. It was then I realized what I was actually looking at was quiet. I SAW quiet. Thank you Jim. Thank you, thank you.

As we started to paddle back towards the shore, the stars above and the twinkling bioluminescence below entranced me. I felt dizzy letting my imagination run wild thinking about how the sparks in the water were like twinkling stars up above. I fantasized that someone had turned our landscape upside down for a bit. My mind wandered into places that it hadn’t visited for a while. Childhood memories, feelings, thoughts, heartache, and love all seemed to be represented out there on the Atlantic under the stars.

As the waves washed up on shore the bioluminescent sparks lingered on the pebbles and rocks. You don’t get many magical nights like this I thought. And unlike the disappearing glow of the bioluminescence on the shore, this experience wouldn’t soon fade away.

An old tower

Ireland kayaking views

kayaking West Cork

ireland abandoned boat

Shipwreck

ireland kayking bird watching

Bird Watching

 

The Nuances of the Every So Beautiful Irish Landscapes

January 20, 2015 by  

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The Irish landscape is made up of magical green rolling hills, rocky cliffs, burnt orange bog land, and grayish limestone – and it’s begging to be photographed . But with great beauty comes…well…a lot of people taking photos of it.

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

And with that, the gauntlet has been thrown down.  One of my eternal personal challenges is being plagued by always wanting to do something different and not fall into step with everyone else.  In fact, I rebel against what everyone else is doing typically – this is just one of the silly reasons why I’m not a fan of Oprah and why I’ve probably made a lot of poor business blogging decisions that have held me back.  I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing, I want to blaze my own path plain and simple.

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Actually, I know that I do a damn good job of blazing my own path in my personal life, but when it comes to business or photography I always find it a challenge.  As I looked out across the beautiful and well photographed Irish landscapes, my mind races on how I could take a different look at them and make them ‘mine’ from a photographic perspective.

Like most creative things I had to simply open my eyes and really LOOK at what was around me and see the patterns or oddities.  After a couple of days of driving along the Wild Atlantic Way, there was one constant that I found in every county and in every landscape  – fences and gates.

Gates didn’t simply mark off driveways; they were perched on cliffs, next to roadways, and were dividing vast valleys and bogs. I find a lot of excitement in the everyday things we overlook, I like to shine an even brighter light on them.  So fences and gates became my obsession during my solo road trip.

They were made of wood, metal, and sometimes boulders – all in various states of disrepair.  Fences were ultimately there to designate property lines and ownership. Everywhere I looked reminded me of  just how important land ownership was to Ireland’s history and culture.  In fact I talked to one local woman about the importance of owning property and she told me that she’s more worried about her kids not owning property than not getting married.

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Sometimes I thought it was sad and distracting that this vast colorful landscape was fenced off as it took away from the beauty of it. However, as I photographed more and more, I started to find the fencing and gates to be less of a distraction and more of a beautiful frame for Ireland’s topography.   The fencing was my creative way to showcase a country’s landscape that is well covered in the photographic world.

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic WayIreland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

 

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

 

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland Gate Wild Atlantic Way

Irish Landscape photos

 

 

 

 

The Sheep Roads in Ireland and Beyond…

January 18, 2015 by  

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You hear all kinds of stories about driving in Ireland.  Yes, the roads are narrow, winding, and often filled with sheep but don’t let that stop you from renting a car and going out on your own.  If I can do it – anyone can! I traveled through Ireland on my own for 3 weeks with a rental car and I also did coach tours – and by far I’ll take my own car any day over a coach tour.

ireland road trip

 

You get to see so much more (coach buses aren’t allowed on many of the best little coastal roads!), stop where you want to stop, get lost, take lots of photos, and most importantly – you will get much closer to the local Irish culture.  Taking local transportation is a great way to get that true local experience everyone is after.  You’ll definitely walk away with a great understanding of the Irish culture, great photos, new friends, and some new driving skills!

tunnel ireland

What is the Wild Atlantic Way

What better place to take a road trip than Ireland? You can finish every day’s drive with a Guinness! And luckily Ireland had just finished launching their tourism Pièce de résistance –one of the longest coastal driving routes in the world termed the Wild Atlantic Way. It is 1,550 miles of coastal driving through the back roads, fields, and villages of rural Ireland.

I love wide open spaces, adore small towns, and am elated when I get to photograph beautiful landscapes – I couldn’t imagine a better setting and way to see a country. I knew I wouldn’t have time to do every inch of the WAW, however my plan was to stay on it as much as possible and then use the bigger highways to get from place to place quicker when I was running behind or needed to make up mileage.  Here are a few things to consider when driving the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

Roads

One of the descriptions for the WAW is “where land and sea collide” – yes – that point where the rocky westerly European continent collides with the Atlantic Ocean is where your road is. And I have to hand it to the tourism department – because any destination that decides to take it’s smallest, winding, untraveled, narrow roads and market the hell out of it for tourists to come and drive on them has balls. Big fucking balls.

The US would never do this. We live in a land of shoulders, passing zones, and wide spacious lanes. And we certainly wouldn’t want to run the liability of promoting our hard-to-drive roads as a tourism activity. And that’s why America is no fun to drive in.

I found there was a hierarchy of roads that made up the Wild Atlantic Way. There were the ‘highways’ these actually sometimes had shoulders where cars and trucks zipped along them as if they were a 4 lane Audubon; yet they were simply a 2-way road. There were the back roads jutting off the main roads that varied in size from double lane (which honestly would be single lane in US standards) to single lane.

There were sheep roads – very rural single lane winding roads where you would often have to back up if you met another car, and be sure to stay alert to dodge sheep on the road. No coach buses were allowed on these thank God. And then there were the roads where grass grew in the middle – I called these the ‘oh shit’ roads. All of these made up the heavily marketed Wild Atlantic Way.

Wild Atlantic Way road trip

Example of main highway  – look – it even has lines!

ireland road trip

Example of a 2 way road – hardly 2 roads!  This is the most common on the WAW.

ireland road trip

Example of a grass lined road- still part of the WAW – oh shit…what if I meet another car…

Navigation

People told me I would see the blue WAW signs and all I had to do was follow them. I was skeptical. Mainly because I knew that my mind would be on driving-in-a-new-country synapse overload and my ability to see a sign, comprehend it, and act upon it by myself would be challenging. However I didn’t really have any alternative as I couldn’t simply tell my Google Navigation to ‘follow the Wild Atlantic Way North’ and have it miraculously understand (now THAT would have been nice).

Needless to say, I became really, really good at turning around. I missed signs, I was confused by the North/South sign indications as I drove West and East (even though you spend a lot of time going West and East, the WAW signs only run North/South). But eventually after about 3 days of ‘crazy person’ driving my brain started to hone in on those blue signs and understand them before I went blowing by a turn off. Reminding me that once again – you will adapt.

However I also did rely heavily on my Google Navigation. I’d choose a point on the WAW near where I wanted to go and just have it lead me there and then choose another point, etc. Else – if I had left my Google Nav to it’s own devices, it never would have sent me along the WAW and would have chose the bigger highways most of the time as my route between point A & B. The other really key piece of advice I can give you about navigation (especially if you are driving solo) – get a phone holder to put up on your window – it saved my fucking life many, many times. Nuff said.

Driving

I asked Jim, a local friend, what it meant when another car blinks their lights at me on a single lane impasse. “It means you can go first “ he says confidently, but then pauses a second and continues, “or it means for you to stop.”

Never underestimate how challenging it can be to drive in other countries. That doesn’t mean that it’s not fun, it just means that it can be challenging. For the first 3 days my grip on the steering wheel was powerful – white knuckled driving at it’s best. And I have no idea why a simple thing like sitting in opposite seat in the car and driving completely threw off my entire 28 years of driving knowledge and perspective.

It was as if I had regressed to 16 again as I tried to figure out the dimensions of my car and consequently making my right turns super wide. Plus, As I entered parking lots or turned onto road with no other traffic my brain would immediately go into panic mode – “whooaaa, where am I supposed to be here? What side of the road should I be on” conversation swirled through my brain as I tried to sort out the confusion swiftly before causing an accident.

Deciphering Signs

road signs ireland

One of my most entertaining things about driving in a foreign country is trying to decipher the road signs. It was like solving a 1,500 mile long puzzle. After I had passed the same confusing sign multiple times over the week I’d normally have an ‘a-ha’ moment where it would suddenly make sense.

Yet I must admit, I never really did understand the Traffic Calming signs in Ireland. All of a sudden you’d see a big sign that read “Traffic Calming Ahead”. I didn’t really know what it meant, but I envisioned everyone slowing down and drinking green tea, and maybe getting a little shoulder massage in these traffic calming areas. It did always bring a smile to my face instead my normal stressed out look – so maybe the sign was indeed doing its job.

I gave up trying to understand the parking signs and pretty quickly started following the leads of locals. The local way? Park anywhere. It didn’t matter which side of a street or if you were double parked, you simply parked wherever you felt like it. I liked this Irish system and decided we should do more of this in the US…oh – and we should also all drink more Guinness in the US.

I was positive Ireland only manufactured one speed limit sign – every one of them read 100 km/hr (62 mph) – EVERY one. They had them everywhere on these tiny little single lane roads. In fact they’d even have the 100 kph signs 30 feet in front of a 90 degree curve!

It may feel like you are learning to drive all over again when you drive in Ireland, but that’s part of the fun.  The biggest thing to remember is that you WILL adapt to the conditions and the changes in a couple of days and everything will feel pretty normal in no time.  And for goodness sakes, skip those coach buses!  Instead of feeling like you are just getting from point A to point B, when you drive yourself  driving becomes part of the adventure.

Disclosure: Part of my Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip was sponsored by Failte Ireland. However, all of the opinions here are my own.

Top photo: threading a needle along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Driving the Wild Atlantic Way

January 12, 2015 by  

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road trip ireland

I was anxious and nervous as I waited for the guy from Hertz to give me my keys to my rental car. After all, I was taking off on my own driving around a foreign country for 3 weeks exploring the infamous winding, narrow back roads of Ireland. All of this was going to happen on the other side of the road than what my brain was used to. On top of that, the rental agency was out of automatics, so I would be driving a manual transmission. “Give me the smallest car you have,” I requested to the guy behind the counter. This wasn’t a budget request, this was a sanity request.

A Note on Being Brave

I know you all think I’m this brave, independent woman; however, I’m going to reveal that you are half right. I’m definitely independent – but brave is not a word I would use to describe myself (however feel free to keep calling me brave all you want). I grew up a nervous, fearful kid that flowed into the way I see the world as an adult.

I have to actually force myself to be brave most of the time; and this solo road trip in Ireland was no exception. I literally had to convince myself to get in that car and drive. I knew it would be confusing, stressful, and I would have to do everything myself, but at the same time I knew I would end up loving it. It’s sort of like getting waxed – you know you will love it in a few hours, but you have to go through the hair being ripped out of your flesh first to get there. Ouch.

Driving Solo in Foreign Countries

A few months prior to deciding to do this solo road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland I asked my Facebook followers if they would take a solo road trip and I was surprised by all of the answers I received that were gushingly positive. It sort of made me feel like a wimp. Most people said they had and would do solo road trips in the US…and therein was the issue.

For my fellow Americans, newsflash – the US is easy. You understand the driving rules, signs, and culture, but once you take that solo road trip onto foreign soil, it’s a bit more of a challenge in my opinion. And I’ve driven in a lot of foreign countries  both developed and undeveloped – and as much fun as it is to say I did it, it was not a walk in the park.

Luckily Ireland is still pretty easy when it comes to roadtrips, after all I speak the language so that’s a plus in my ‘no problem’ column. However in the ‘I’m intimidated column’ I didn’t know how to drive on the other side of the road, I knew the roads would be super small and narrow, I didn’t understand the traffic rules, and everything was metric.

But here I was walking out to my very small red rental car about to take off and face those fears. And let me tell you – I had to do a lot of self-talk to accomplish that. Which side am I supposed to be on, stay in the middle, go slow, don’t panic, is this a turn lane, what does that arrow mean, am I going the right way, oh shit – that was a stop sign, am I supposed to be in this lane, don’t forget you need to push in the clutch when you stop, whoaaaa – where is my turn signal…the internal chatter/panic in my brain was endless – and I was just trying to get out of the airport complex!

But I was officially behind the wheel and on my way and that’s half the battle.  My best solo road trip advice – just get in the car and drive.

A Driving Transformation

Here’s the weird and wonderful thing about tackling your fears and becoming brave – you come out the other side feeling better and more confident than ever.  And who doesn’t want that?  Over the course of 3 weeks I slowly changed.

I went from giving myself pep talks and being terrified every morning to get into the car and start driving, to anticipating the day’s drive and being super excited to be on the smallest, craziest roads. I eased up on my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and actually got comfortable and let the blood flow back into my fingertips.

I started listening to music and sang along at the top of my lungs. I waved at people on little back roads as if I knew them. I passed other tourists and scoffed at their timid driving ability. By day 5 – I was wearing a perma-grin and yelling at slow tourist drivers.  (officially apologizing now if you were one of them and I dropped the F bomb at you)

I daydreamed about receiving the ultimate driving complement – people thinking that maybe, just maybe I was a local driver. By the end of 3 weeks I was driving faster and more aggressively than I ever had – I was completely comfortable. My solo road trip had been a transformative experience – which in my view – it means it was a giant success.

Getting behind the wheel in Ireland is a trip to remember!

Stay tuned – I’ll be sharing much more on this roadtrip in Ireland, as well as how you can do it yourself.  By the end you’ll be booking a ticket for your own road trip in Ireland!

 

Why Hit South Dakota When It’s Minus 4?

January 10, 2015 by  

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The start of my 2015 is pretty subdued as I have been enjoying a slower pace in South Dakota over the holidays.  We spent New Year’s Eve playing cards, eating a crock pot meal, and watching television.  The slowest New Year’s Eve I spent in a long time.  I won’t lie – it made me antsy, however it’s really nice to slow down.

Truth be told, there are very few distractions on my family’s farm in the middle of the winter.  The wind howls across the prairie and most mornings I wake up and it’s below zero – it’s good motivation  to keep me focused on my work rather than daydreaming about being outside.

However I have had a few moments where I had cabin fever and I bundled up every part of my body, put on my boots, grabbed my camera, and went out on my parent’s property to get some photos.  I have seen some of the most beautiful sunsets in South Dakota – it is a state with wide open space, long shadows, golden glows that light up a sky that never seems to end.   It even warmed up enough for me to go running outside on the 1st of January – helping me fulfill one of my ‘goals’ for the year.

Sunset south dakota snow

Sunset in cold snowy #southdakota . Taken in my parent’s field while I could barely feel my fingers! #HifromSD

tree shadow

Tree shadows in #southdakota

lokai bracelet

I received a Lokai bracelet for Christmas. The white bead has water from Mt. Everest inside because sometimes you are on top of the world, and the black bead has mud from the Dead Sea inside it because sometimes you’ve hit a low. The bracelet is to remind you to stay humble and stay hopeful and find your balance. http://mylokai.com/shop/lokai-bracelet-clear.html

Dusk South Dakota

Dusk captured at the farm between the stark branches. #HifromSD

winter Clothesline

For as long as I can remember my parents having been hanging clothes on the line even when it’s -5F out. It’s kind of like freeze drying I guess.

south dakota farm

Woke up and it’s -4 F here in South Dakota. The sun doesn’t stand a chance today.

winter running

First run of the year. Start it off right!

 

 

5 Luxury Hotels and Resorts For Your Sri Lanka Travel Plans

January 3, 2015 by  

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Kottukal Villa Sri Lanka

Insights after my second trip to Sri Lanka. Everyone asked me the same question once they found out I had been to Sri Lanka 3 years before, “Has it changed since you were here last?”

It took me a long time to determine that answer, but after spending 2 weeks there with way too much time looking out the window of a vehicle getting from place to place I decided it has changed in some ways.

There were more tourists (which means more cars on the roads), and a few new highways being built. But the main change I noticed was the sheer number of mid range to luxury hotels and lodging that had been developed since I was there last.

Sri Lanka luxury accommodation were in abundance now. 3 years later, the new properties I noticed were higher end and large – they were beautiful 4 and 5 star properties and experiences all on an Asia budget. Based on my experience there’s really something for every type of traveler and desire in Sri Lanka.

Cinnamon Hotels

Experience high end 4 or 5 star stays at all of the main tourism hot spots throughout the country through Cinnamon Hotels. Cinnamon sort of owns the country when it comes to development of tourism with 14 hotels/resorts around Sri Lanka, conference centers, as well as an domestic airline called Cinnamon Air.

They had some beautifully designed properties with multiple restaurants, fitness centers, bars, and some gorgeous pools – everything you would ever need and not have to lift a finger.

I stayed at Chaya Village near Sigiriya and Cinnamon Bey Buruwala on the southern coast. Cinnamon offers up some nice sustainability solutions and were starting to offer a bunch of ‘experiences’ which get you more involved with the local community. However, since they are so big they get a lot of motor coach tours it appeared and it was an overload of buffet food for my liking, but for the person looking for some easy luxury in super locations – they have great options.

Cinnamon Chaya Village

Cinnamon Chaya Village

Cinnamon Bey Buruwala Sri Lanka

Cinnamon Bey Buruwala

Jetwing Yala

Another big hotel (90 rooms) but it had a totally different feel of privacy. Boasting a huge pool (230 ft long!), an unusual sand dune coast line, simple classy design, 10 luxury glamping villas with private butlers, and a convertible/outdoor shower in each hotel room. I was pretty impressed with Jetwing Yala that just opened this year right next to Yala Safari Park. However, I became really impressed with it when I learned of their green initiatives.

I was introduced to the head engineer to walk me through the various uber-eco heating/cooling/water systems and explain how they worked.

He was so incredibly excited about these systems, he was grinning ear to ear and rapidly drawing me diagrams on how the cooling and water systems worked. I don’t think he fully understood he was talking to a writer – but I tried my best to follow along, as it was hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm. Boasting the largest private sector solar farm with 2,900 panels – it just started there.

The solar panels were used to heat the water and for 40% of the resort’s electrical needs. They had a huge boiler they fueled with 4 to 5 thousand kilos (a large truckload) of cinnamon wood per day. The steam power generated from the boiler also heated the water and ran the AC unit for the property.

The wood was bought from local farmers and was a byproduct of the cinnamon farming industry. Finally the engineer showed me the complex water system.

The resort used sea water, processed and filtered it to be used for all the non-drinking water in the resort (shower, sinks, laundry). They pump in 500,000 Liters per day from the sea, filtering it, and 200,000 liters are useable at the resort as the brine byproduct was pumped back into the sea. Needless to say – I was very impressed by the Jetwing Yala resort and would recommend it to anyone.

Jetwing Yala

The Dining deck at Jetwng Yala looks over the sand dunes

Jetwing Yala Sri Lanka

Jetwing Yala Eco Hotel

Filling the boiler with cinnamon wood. One of the many eco initiatives at Jetwing Yala

Mosvold Villa

Looking for smaller intimate luxury lodging then villa life in Sri Lanka might be for you. This is my favorite kind of place to stay – with only a few rooms and lovely shared areas. The Mosvold villa is located near Weligama bay on the south side of Sri Lanka. And most importantly – it is located right on the beach. In fact I’m typing this now while sitting on an outdoor sofa with the waves lapping near me 6 ft. away. The rhythmic crashing waves and constant see breeze is all I need to make me happy.

From the moment I arrived at this private setting along the sea – I was also doted on by the staff. The property is a haven for relaxation, however it’s also nestled between surf schools on the beach and if you can easily find some adventure by learning how to ride the waves nearby. Just walk down the beach and find Rashid, a local guy as skinny as a twig, but strong as an ox with curly dark hair and a big smile. He could be hired for surfing lessons and supplied the boards and coconut juice.

To relax you can also hire a yoga instructor to show up at the villa and run you through some good stretching and ‘Om’ after you get done surfing. The villa itself is just a villa – but you can arrange these other things with the staff or easily on your own. No need for a big concierge or tourist desk – this place is chill and they’ll help you however they can.

Mosvold Villa

Mosvold Private Villa – a beautiful beach view

Mosvold Villa

Mosvold Villa Entrance and shared space.

Kottukal Beach House

A secluded 4 bedroom home surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by the coast. Kottukal Beach House, located near Arguam Bay on the East Coast, is the most remote place I stayed. I didn’t see another tourist anywhere near here.

It was on a little corner of coast line which meant it had ocean and bay on 2 of it’s 4 sides. They were in the process of building a pool on the property, so it’s only getting better!

Fishing boats were ‘parked’ out on the expansive beach, which also happened to be dotted with local fishermen throwing lines in from the beach. The best part is the villa comes with a villa dog – Dan. Dan will happily take you out on long beach walks and then you can come in and relax in the living room or on your room’s patio.

Do note though, the best time to be on the East Coast of Sri Lanka is May – September before Monsoon season. This is also a great surf area.

Kottukal Beach House

Kottukal Beach House surrounded by waves!

Kottukal villa

Dan the Villa dog taking me on a beach walk.

Other Small Local Hotels and Guesthouses

There are hundreds of these – but honestly they are hard to find on the internet. I was struck by how many beach hotels and surf schools we drove by on our way from Yala to Galle on the south coast, yet when I did a search on surf schools and midrange hotels I barely found any online. The country’s tourism industry still hasn’t caught up entirely with the online world.

So – if you really want a local experience and probably a really great deal on lodging, my recommendation is to get yourself to Sri Lanka and then look for a place to stay.

Transportation Infrastructure

Cinnamon Air

Cinnamon Air Flight

However – do keep in mind that when you are planning your Sri Lankan holiday, even though the country is now filled with luxury accommodations, the building of hotels has outpaced the country’s ability to build infrastructure to support the hotels. The roads are really rough and crowded (by buses, trucks, cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, cows, and stray dogs).

They are trying to build new roads as fast as they can, but like with most things in developing countries – infrastructure always seems to be slow to catch up. The country is only 150 miles wide yet it takes a minimum of 9 hours…(actually it took me 12 hrs) to get across it in a very roundabout way. Or – another example of change in progress – the 12km road to Yala Jetwing was in the process of being repaired and widened, and the12k took us 50 minutes to drive due to the potholes and construction.

So my recommendation is if you only have a week then only choose one location to go to – don’t try to do too much and go too many places as you’ll spend the majority of the time looking out the window of a car (or a bus/train if you are looking for local experiences!). If you have two weeks – go to a beach location and an inland location.

Don’t get caught up in trying to do it all, as I was miserable in the car feeling as if the country was passing me by and I wasn’t really interacting with it. Maybe it would have been different if I was doing the driving! But I wasn’t as engaged as a passenger being shuttled around.

Or if you feel like a moderate splurge and a unique way to see the country, then check out Cinnamon Air – the only domestic airline who offers ‘taxi’ service to main parts of Sri Lanka on the coast and inland in the hill country. This will cut down your time considerably and allow you to ‘do it all’.

Disclosure:  I was hosted by these hotels during my time in Sri Lanka.  However all opinions here are my own.

 

Dinner Theatre and Topless Dancers Oh So Paris Cabaret Style

December 21, 2014 by  

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You know you’re in Europe when a 12 year old boy is attending a Paris cabaret show. This is going to be a night he’ll remember for a while as he goes home slightly tipsy and dreaming of boobies. Somehow I have found myself in the odd situation of attending a dinner theater cabaret show solo. I have done a lot of things in my life solo and it normally doesn’t phase me – however I must admit I was slightly self conscience as I was seated at my table for one at the Paradis Latin theatre.

The good news was that I was going to get loaded – I had a bottle of champagne and a bottle of wine all for solo me. The bad news – I only had 3 hours to drink it and I knew I probably wouldn’t even be able to make a dent in it. I was at the show for two reasons – first because I am a Viator Ambassador and I was there to do a Paradis Latin review of the show, and second I am a dance voyeur. Yes, if you want to make me very happy, tell me there’s a new season of Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You can Dance. I’m kind of obsessed with dancing shows, so I was pretty excited to get to attend one in person in Paris – even if I was without a date.

The food was nothing special, but it was as good as you would expect for a dinner theater where they are used to having big coach buses pull up with people piling out of it and into the theater. Serving the masses is never easy. But I enjoyed my foie gras, chateaubriand steak, and apple tart as much as any typical dinner. And the bottomless bottles of booze helped.

Paradis Latin

My meal was sort of secondary to the main attraction…dancing.

A photographer was roaming around taking the standard ‘Love Boat’ photos of the couples in attendance so they could take it home as a souvenir. As part of my ticket I too got to be photographed. Yes – just little ole me all by myself. I’m sure this shot will go up on my mother’s mantle next to all of the wedding and family photos of my brother and sister. “This is my single daughter Sherry at a Burlesque booby show in Paris,” I can hear my mother say to her friends. Just furthering my relatives’ theory that I’m a lesbian since I’m 44, unmarried. and boyfriendless.

Paradis Latin

An hour and a half after I arrived, the show finally started. I was halfway into the bottles of champagne and wine by now – so I was ready for the quirkiness of Paris Cabaret – I was ready for boobs. I was amused by the dance numbers in an equal mix of “that’s cool” and “that’s strange” sort of way. There was one number they called “Training” which was basically a bunch of women dressed in Jane Fonda outfits doing sexy jazzercise. It even included a steamy locker room scene with an …”oh {wink wink}, I dropped my towel” moment.

Note – sadly no pictures were allowed during the show, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Next the evening looked like it was turning up the refinement level with a ballet. However it of course had a twist in it – they ended up getting practically naked. As I watched the two dancers do lifts and pirouettes topless with little g-strings, I thought that there were probably a lot of men out there that would like this version of Parisian Cabaret Ballet.

paradis latin

Bottomless champagne was tasting pretty good about now…

There were a number of times that the dancing and the sets reminded me of the movie Flashdance. Specifically the motorcycle carousel where the women got very up close and personal with their Suzuki Speed Bikes slithering all over them slowly taking off their motorcycle leathers revealing g-strings and nothing much more. Think Alex the welder from Flashdance does a strip tease with She’s a Maniac playing in the background.

Lest you just think that there were only dancing boobies at the cabaret – there were other things too – such as the acrobats (who were fully clothed – whew). “He’s going to try something a bit dangerous now,” said the MC. I let out an audible laugh as I thought that the tricks he was already doing were plenty dangerous! My favorite part of the show by far was the jaw dropping acrobat performances; an incredible juggler/unicycle rider and then a gasp-worthy trapeze artist who dangled above the audience with no net in sight. The man swinging just feet above our heads was really exciting to watch – even more than the topless dancers!

The night wound up with a traditional Can Can number which was my favorite dance number. Seriously – how can they kick their legs that high? And I’m talking about the men! I wasn’t the only one to leave the show with a smile on my face – the little 12 year old boy was grinning ear to ear. However, I’m pretty sure his grin wasn’t due to the bottomless champagne like mine was.

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Viator Travel attending the Paradis Latin Cabaret Show.  However all of the opinions here are mine…and no I wasn’t influenced by the champagne or the boobies.

 

 

The Oh So Fun Art & Culture of Colombia’s Cartagena

December 16, 2014 by  

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Do you feel the beat?  I sure did this last week in Cartagena Colombia!  This was my first trip to Colombia and with a few salsa beats and welcoming hugs it had me won over and wanting more.

Our itinerary was jam packed with local experiences and adventures beginning with dinner with a local family in the Cartagena suburbs — a great introduction to Colombian cuisine and the incredible warm hospitality of the Colombian people.

Bazurto Market Colombia

We spent a morning at Buzurto Market – a dingy, gritty, smelly, local experience that had me smiling from ear to ear.  This was the best market I’ve ever been to in the world – but it’s not for the faint of heart.  What made it amazing was the soul of the market – happy people, working hard, with a constant musical beat in the background.

I even tried fish testicles fried up at the market – and that was probably one of the more tame things I could have tried! We also spent time learning more about Colonial history of the city, taking salsa dance lessons (and putting them to use at a local salsa club), and we even went island hopping in the Rosario Islands.  Cartagena had it all.

It’s hot & spicy in the Bazurto market in #Cartagena . People dancing, laughing, cooking, drinking, & eating at this local market which turned out to be one of my favorite market visits in the world!  

Rosario Islands Colombia

Beach day! Enjoying water sports in the Rosario Islands – a great day trip from #Cartagena.

Cartagena Colombia flowers

A beautiful start to the morning in #Cartagena ! Touring around the city today wearing lots of sunscreen! This shot is from my lovely hotel – Casa San Agustin.

Palenquera women Cartagena

2 Palenquera women sit in the shadow of the old city walls in #Cartagena selling fruit. The women have a fascinating history that tells the story of the slave trade and subsequent freedom in Cartagena.

Getsemani Cartagena

Explored the colorful neighborhood of Getsemani in #Cartagena by foot. It allowed me to find fun little hidden alleys like this one to explore. All of the locals were eating lunch in their homes with the doors open and really welcoming! I have no idea tho why they had plastic bags hanging in the alley – but they added to the atmosphere!

Salsa Cartagena Colombia

Dancing and music is the heartbeat of #Cartagena we found a fun local bar in the old city to dance the night away. The locals had us up on our feet in no time and I was able to practice my new salsa moves!

Casa San Agustin

The streets of the old city in #Cartagena are lined with colonial houses that have been refurbished into beautifully designed boutique hotels. The best designs highlight the old structures and the history while bringing fresh elements to the old. Such as an old cistern turned into a pool. I love the textures & design of Casa San Agustin where I’ve been staying – it’s a patchwork quilt of Spanish tiles and coastal colors that all works together beautifully.

Within 2 hours of landing in #Cartagena, we were having dinner in a cute little suburb with the most affectionate local family. The outpouring of hospitality and cultural exchange had me buzzing like the Colombian coffee they served me!  

Kohsamui Hotel Colombia

Slowing down & enjoying the beach view at Kohsamui Hotel.

 

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