Sunday, 13 October 2019

Sunset over the Thames, near Greenwich, South East London

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Secret River, The National Theatre, the South Bank, Central London

Images from the National Theatre web site

Set in the early nineteenth century, The Secret River tells the fairly simple, yet absorbing, story of the struggle by a family of downtrodden Londoners to build a new life in Australia. They stake a claim to a plot of prime riverside land that has long been the home of the local Dharug people. From here, the rollercoaster of hopes and fears is fairly predictable. But the play conveys a powerful message, as the tension ratchets up, and the family are forced to take sides in the struggle for supremacy between the motley collection of former convicts from Britain and their aboriginal hosts. With a large cast and live music, this Sydney Theatre Company production is a feast for both the eyes and ears. While the spacious stage is quite spartan, the dramatic lighting and the precise percussion conjure up the Australian outback. When the family start digging holes, the sound of spades scraping on hard ground rings out convincingly. The Brits' faces are painted white, as if to emphasise their alien status, while they routinely refer to the locals as "the blacks". In another era of mass migration, this depiction of the disorientation and distrust, that often accompany dislocation, rings true.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Walking and Cycling in the Hills East of Kandapola, Sri Lanka

Blanketed in lush green plantations and studded with tea factories, the hills east of Kandapola are perfect for pottering about on foot or on a mountain bike - the winding roads are mostly quiet and the scenery can be stunning. You'll pass the odd tuk-tuk, the occasional improvised cricket pitch, as well as the many workers toiling on the steep hillsides. You might also see wild boar trotting along the many tracks lacing the hillsides. When the rain stays away, the cool climate makes the hills manageable, even in the middle of the day.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Goatfell, Kandapola, Sri Lanka

In a beautiful stretch of hilly countryside east of Nuwara Eliya, Goatfell is a very comfortable and relaxing place to chill out for a few days. If the weather holds, there are some lovely walks/cycle rides (the hotel has mountain bikes) around the rolling tea plantations in the vicinity, while the tuk-tuk ride down to the nearby tea factory for a free tour is also fun. At Goatfell, the service is exemplary and the views from the terrace and pool are special. There is a good choice of dishes for both breakfast and dinner, spanning both local and international cuisine, and the food itself is generally excellent. Drinks around the open fire pit are another highlight, as is playing card games or reading one of the many well-chosen books next to the open fire in the cosy lounge. Middle class Brits will feel at home here: there is even a (somewhat battered) croquet lawn, as well as a well-stocked umbrella stand next to the front door. It feels like the owners have put a lot of thought into creating a distinctive experience and staying in this tasteful and homely bungalow makes a refreshing change from the big hotels elsewhere in Sri Lanka. 8/10

The Heritance Tea Factory, Kandapola, near Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

A painstakingly and lovingly restored industrial building in the rolling hills around Nuwara Eliya,  the Heritance Tea Factory now serves as a upmarket hotel. In the foyer, basement and bars, the wooden floors and ceilings remain intact, as do the steel girders and the quaint window panes. These communal areas house numerous examples of the original factory equipment, as well as tea crates, vintage photos and other antique paraphernalia. Outside, are beautifully manicured lawns and wide-ranging vistas over the tea plantations, studded with the corrugated iron roofs of the pickers' homes.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Hakgala Botanic Gardens, near Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

Clinging to a hillside above the highway running south east out of Nuwara Eliya, Hakgala Botanic Gardens date back to 1861. For the modest entrance fee (2,000 rupees for an adult), you get fine views over the Uva Valley below as you wander around the terraces, flowerbeds and arboretums, complete with bands of monkeys. With about 28 hectares to explore, these gardens should occupy you for at least an hour or two.

Cycling around Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

In the immediate vicinity of Nuwara Eliya, the family cycling options seem to be pretty limited. The roads in the town itself are the domain of maniac drivers, while the surrounding countryside quickly gets very hilly. There is one fairly safe, but quite short, ride you can make down the track, through the woods, to the Boburuella Reservoir, which is quite a nice spot. You can ride back past Lake Gregory, with its swan-shaped pedalos and other kitsch Victoriana, but you won't want to take your eyes off the road for too long.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Kandapola, Sri Lanka

Kandapola Kovila, a colourful Hindu temple, north east of Nuwara Eliya.