Passau to Wesenufer (Day 1 and 2)

We boarded the Dusseldorf train at 20:30 and settled in for a good overnight-train-sleep to Passau, Germany.  We arrived in Passau at around 5:30am and met up with Jen’s dad, David, and his friend, Lloyd, at the hotel.  

Our 8-day adventure crossing Austria along the Danube River, with our little folding Brompton bikes, was about to begin!


Day 1: Passau
While David and Lloyd went to pick up the bike tour packages and bikes, we tried to get a bit more rest before heading into town for a stroll and visit.

Day 2: Passau to Wesenufer (~35 km)
Our first day biking was short.  We left at 11am and rode down to the Danube River to begin our journey.  At the edge of town, we stopped to hike up the cliff facing Passau to get a view of the city and a glimpse of the castle.

Along the way, we stopped at Engelszell Abbey, a Trappist Monastery where they make beer and liqueurs.  We bought some sample sizes to bring home as souvenirs.

We spent our second night near Wesenufer, Austria, at a really nice hotel-spa called Gasthof-Pension Luger.  The rooms were super fancy/nice (compared to the way we usually travel), and the food at the restaurant was delicious!


Gouda & Dusseldorf

It took almost 3 travel days to get from Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka to the start of our next adventure in Gouda, Netherlands.  We started out by transferring to and overnighting in Colombo.  Next, we then flew to Qatar and then London for another overnight.  The next morning, we trained across town to exchange our kites for bikes, then cycled to the train station, hopped onto the Eurostar to Brussels, transferred to Rotterdam, and finally transferred to Gouda.

The original plan was to spend 3 days cycling through the Netherlands, but we arrived to a dismal forecast of dark overcast clouds and pouring rain.  It was a blessing in disguise.. we were exhausted from all of the travel and Jen had brought home a stomach bug from Sri Lanka.

Our AirBnb room was relaxing and our hosts were very lovely, so we spent some time chatting with them, watched movies, and recharged our batteries for the trip ahead. Whenever the downpour took a short break, we'd dash outside to explore and eat at the delicious restaurants. Gouda is one of the nicest towns that we've stayed in, with its cute little market, shops, squares, and buildings. 

Our first stop was obviously at a Gouda cheese store where we sampled Gouda cheese with all kinds of interesting flavours and colours including Basil, Red Pesto, Fennel, Truffle, and Carrot... just to name a few.  We also learned that we've all been pronouncing Gouda incorrectly our whole lives.. apparently their "G"s sound more like throaty "H"s, so when Dutch people say Gouda, it actually sound more like a throaty "how-da"!

On Satuday, as we explored the town, we found ourselves at the Saturday Market where they were showing off... cows?  We have no idea what the cows were there for, but it was interesting seeing them just chill out in a tent in the middle of the square :)

Jen was SOO excited to finally have Dutch pancakes in Holland - apparently it was on her bucket list! :)  
The verdict?  Well, apparently they were just as good as her favourite Dutch pancake restaurant (Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus) in Calgary.  Hahaha! 

On Sunday, we finally awoke to sun and blue sky, so we decided to do 45 km bike ride to Kinderdjik to see the original Dutch windmills.  Kinderdijk sits below sea level, so the windmills were historically used as part of a water management system to prevent flooding and keep the region dry. 

The area was scenic and peaceful, so we stopped here for a picnic of gouda, bread, gouda, fruits, wine, and more gouda. 

On Monday, we made our way to Dusseldorf - the last stop before our cross-country bike trip. Since we were finishing up some work, we didn't have time to do much in Dusseldorf other than a quick wander through town to try out the local cuisine.

Return to Kalpitiya

Our friends, Fabian and Iris, arrived in Colombo the day after Dom’s dad left.  We hunted them down at the airport to share a ride back to Kalpitiya where we spent our last 9 days working and hanging out with friends.  

We did a bit of kitesurfing

Helped Fabian and Iris with their creative hotel projects 

And celebrated Jen's birthday!! :)

Negombo

For Yves' last few days, we stayed at a small family run guesthouse near the beach in Negombo.  We spent a lot of time hanging out in the pool and visited Negombo’s fishing market, beach, and dutch canal.


One evening, on our way to dinner, we happened upon a kite festival on the beach where crowds of kids were flying elaborate kites of all shapes and sizes.  Some were huge or had crazy long tails, while others were decked out with LED lights.  After dinner, we hung out at the kite festival concert for a while and then stopped to watch a local wedding ceremony on the beach that had live musicians playing really nice traditional music.


Dom's dad is a really friendly person who loves to talk to people.  Locals in Sri Lanka are so genuinely friendly, so Yves would often stop to chat with them.  On his camera, he had pictures of snow in Canada that he enjoyed showing to the locals. The funny thing is that it actually turned out to be a great way of fending off vendors in the market.  The locals who genuinely wanted to chat with him would look at the pictures with interest, but the ones who just wanted to make a sale would quickly get bored and race away to the next potential buyer. 

After our visit in Negombo, Yves returned to Canada.  We were really happy to have the opportunity to travel with him and have so many wonderful experiences and adventures together!  We look forward to the next time :)

Kandy

From Sigirya we went South to Kandy.  Our plan was to take the train to visit the highlands, unfortunately, the "first" class car (the only car with reserved seating) was temporarily cancelled for the next few weeks.  We were a bit disappointed, but since we weren't thrilled at the idea of standing in a hot crowded train for the entire 7 hour journey, we decided to stay in Kandy for a couple of days.  

We took it easy exploring the streets and discovering all of the delicious restaurants, markets, and temples in the area. 

On our way to Negombo we stopped to visit a tea plantation, where learned all about how the various types of tea are grown, picked, processed and exported. 

Sigirya

After visiting all of the Stupas in Anuradhapura, we made our way to Sigiriya. Who could say no to a little 5:00AM morning mountain hike to start the day!  

Thanks to an excellent tip from our friend Christos, we opted to climb Pidurangala Rock for $3usd, to see the sunrise and a beautiful view of Sigiriya (instead of spending $30usd to climb Sigiriya).  We were a bit surprised that there was a small section of boulder scrambling at the very top, making it a bit more treacherous for Dom’s dad. 

But we all made it up and down safely - it was definitely worth it!!


We returned to our guest house for breakfast and a nice mid-day nap.  Jen was super excited to have traditional Sri Lankan Egg Hoppers for breakfast!!

In the afternoon, we went on a jeep tour safari to the Kaudulla National Park.

We saw a handful of monkeys, lizards, and a variety of birds.

But the highlight was the elephants - we spent hours watching about 100 elephants grazing around us.  Jen was in heaven!

Our day ended by a nice dinner into the town where Dom discovered his favourite Sri Lankan dish - Kottu Roti!







Anuradhapura

After a week of relaxing on the beach, we set off to explore the countryside. From Kalpitiya, we took a tuk-tuk and 2 local buses to get to the historical city of Anuradhapura.  We arrived late-afternoon with just enough time to take a quick stroll through town and visit the local market. 

We found a really nice restaurant at the Little Paradise Tourist Guest House, with great food and a friendly owner, so we decided to book the next day's city tour through them.

The next day, we had an early morning start in our tuk-tuk, for a full day of sightseeing.  We visited pretty much all of the temples, ruins, and stupas within the UNESCO protected city.  

By mid-afternoon, we understood why they recommended starting so early.  It's mandatory to remove your shoes when near/within the holy areas, and the clear skies and 40+ degree heat made the stone tiles extremely hot!  Even many of the locals were wincing and prancing around the sites, seeking the tiniest patches of shade to stand on to give their burning feet a break.

Funny story - this picture looks like Dom asked to take a picture with this Monk, but actually it was the Monk who asked if Dom would mind being in a picture with him :). 





Kalpitiya

After our 6 month stay in London, we decided to bring Dom's dad, Yves, on a big adventure to Sri Lanka!  Our first stop was near a small town called Kalpitiya, where our friend Peter has opened a new kitesurfing school and hotel called Surfpoint Sri Lanka Kite Village.

Our final weeks of work in London were rather stressful and exhausting, so our number one goal for our week at the beach was to simply hang out and relax at the beautiful beach and hotel.

Many of our kite friends were there when we arrived, so as always, we were greeted with huge smiles and open arms.  It was great to introduce Yves to part of our kiting family. We all enjoyed each others' company with plenty of laughs, fun, entertainment, and memories to go around.  On one day, Yves got to experience his very first tuk-tuk ride, along the bumpy local dirt roads into town.  He described it as being both exciting and terrifying, but he really enjoyed the new experience!

Dom also gave his dad a few kitesurfing lessons, so Yves learned some basic kite control skills and then went out body-dragging in the water. He had a lot of fun dragging through the lagoon, but wasn't a big fan of the ocean because of the strong waves. 

Yves' visit to London

Our last visitor was the one and only, master of his own destiny, Yves - known to all as “Dom’s Dad”. 

He joined us in London for our final 10 days, which meant helping us pack, and eating all of the leftover sweets (Maple Syrup, Maple Toffee and Maple Butter). We took it fairly easy for the 10 days, visiting our favourite sites one last time and just enjoying each other's company.
Yves had a lot of fun spotting all the crazy expensive luxury cars driving through the streets of London.  He fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams of seeing a real Rolls-Royce (3 actually) in person.

Biking Belgium

We decided to spend a long weekend biking in Belgium.  On Friday morning, we folded up our bikes, hopped onto a high-speed Eurostar train, and arrived in Brussels 2 hours later.  

Bruges

From Brussels, we took a local train to Bruges where we intended to spend the afternoon seeing the cute canals, squares, and shops, but it turned out that everything was closed because it was a national holiday. On the plus side, there was a huge stage in the main plaza with music/entertainment, so we picked out a nearby patio and had dinner while watching the show.



The next day, we cycled a 50 km loop to the coast and were really impressed with the cycle network here.  The car-free path from Bruges to the coast along the canal was particularly beautiful.  We were surrounded by unending rows of trees that protected us from the wind and light sprinkle of rain.

The actual costal cities were a bit disappointing. There is a cycle path running down the coast, but it runs alongside a busy main road, is not as well maintained, and you can’t actually see the sea from it. The area is quite industrial and the coastal city of Blankenberge looked like an overcrowded beach town with no soul. We stopped for a quick lunch of burgers and Belgian fries with curry mayonnaise. 


On our return trip, we were caught in a huge downpour and arrived back in Bruges soaked to the bone. Despite the rain and the costal town not meeting expectations, we still had an amazing day and would recommend it to everyone. 

Bruges To Ghent

We cycled about 50 km from Bruges to Ghent along another super flat, scenic path, away from the main roads. 


When we arrived in Ghent, we noticed Market booths in the distance, so we dropped the bikes off at the hotel and wandered over to check out the Market. To our surprise, we had arrived in Ghent on the last day of the Ghent Flanders Festival. Apparently it’s a huge 2-week-long music festival with 10 stages showing a variety of free music performances. We wandered around experiencing the sites and sounds, bought sausages, had dinner, and returned to the main area to watch a really good reggae band, Jahneration, playing on the main stage that spanned across one of the canals.

On our last day, we woke up to pouring rain. On our Eurostar train from London to Brussels, we were given a warning, that our bikes had to be in bags.  Since we didn't want to take any risks returning home, Dom braved a quick 10 km round trip in the rain to get DIMPA bags from IKEA. By the time Dom dried himself and we checked out, the downpour settled to a light mist and the sky eventually opened up to a lovely day.  We visited the Medieval Castle in the middle of the city and witnessed the city squares return to normal as they tore down the various festival stands, stages, and rides.

We then returned to Brussels and took the Eurostar back to London.  Lucky us - the Standard Premium tickets that we had picked up on sale meant we got dinner and wine for the ride home! :)

Food experience

One of the best things about travelling is tasting different foods everywhere you go!  On this trip, we found some local dishes to try: 
 - Belgian Fries: Every restaurant serves fries with the meal and we had way too many, but the best fries we had were in Ghent at a touristy fast food joint called Frituur Trans Hooiaard. They had several options for sauce (besides Belgium's typical "mayonnaise"), but we went with the one they recommended, "Joggie sauce", which was quite tasty.
 - Belgian Waffles: They were a bit expensive for what you get, but it was worth the experience - the taste and texture was unlike any waffles we had tried before - very dense and full of sugary goodness :)
- Stoverij: A traditional Flemish Beef Stew, served with Belgian fries of course!
- Gentse Waterzooi: A classic Flemish Chicken Stew with a soupier consistency.  Very delicious!
- RoomeR: A deliciously light and fruity liqueur flavoured with Elderflowers.