Special Six: Highlights of Oahu

Hawai’i, for me, is a place of natural beauty, blue skies and seas and a people with a beautiful culture.

In this post, I’d like to highlight six special places on Oahu island, that I enjoyed very much during my stay there and would highly recommend to anyone travelling to Hawai’i.

  1. Kahana valley

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During orientation week at East West Centre, we were taken to Kahana valley on the North shore. We first went to the beach area adjacent to the valley and did some beach cleaning and then drove to the state park area.

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While it is a state park and nature reserve, some land has been allocated to native Hawaiians for indigenous plant cultivation.

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The staff member, who had organized the trip, also organized a traditional Hawaiian potluck lunch for us, which his family and relatives cooked.

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As I was new to the East West Centre culture of bringing your own lunch box for potlucks and parties, so as not to use disposable plastic ware,  I had to make do with leaves to eat my lunch out of. I was quite fascinated by the dishes I tried out that day – a porridge like stuff called ‘poi’, which looked like the north Sri Lankan ‘kool’ except that there was no flavour added to poi, not even salt or sugar. I learnt that poi is considered the quintessential Hawaiian meal made out of taro plant (called ‘kalo’ in Hawai’ian). The native Hawaiian folklore considers the Hawaiian people are descendants of the taro plant so it is a very much revered plant. After lunch, we were taken to the taro patch of the staff member and he showed us the plants from which he had extracted some taro for our lunch.

2. Waikiki beach

Waikiki is a place that any traveller to Honolulu is bound to visit. It is famous for its beach. It was a place that my friends and I often visited.

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However, there are lots of lovely places around the beach area that is lovely to visit as well. Kapiolani park, with a view of the Diamond head crater, is a venue for festivals and picnics and I enjoyed a few, including the Okinawan festival.

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Another place at Waikiki that I enjoyed visiting was the Aquarium. Opened in 1904, it is the second oldest public aquarium in the United States. I saw the national fish of Hawai’i there – the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, which is not the fish below, by the way.

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3. Coconut Island

Since I became very much interested in marine life conservation from the environment week discussions at the East West Centre, I decided to organize a visit to Coconut island for our cohort. The island is a marine research facility of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawai’i.

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Groups, who would like to visit the island, need to book a prior appointment as visits can only be scheduled and there needs to be staff to guide you around the island.

4. Hanauma Bay

Hanauma bay is a lovely nature preserve and a marine life conservation area, which some of my friends and I decided to visit during our last weeks in Honolulu.

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5. Byodo-In

One of my cohort members was a resident of Hawai’i and one weekend, she invited another friend and I to go with her to a couple of places she treasured in Honolulu. One of the places we visited with her was the Byodo-In, a replica of the 900 year old temple in Japan, and opened in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to the island.

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We wrapped up our visits with brunch at my friend’s favourite pancake house.

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6. My favourite cafes 

Since I enjoy trying out independent cafes, I did try out some during my stay in Honolulu. Two cafes stand out in memory and I would recommend them both to someone, who really enjoys their coffee.

Morning Glass was a place I was introduced to when two leading Hawai’ian social entrepreneurs/ social business leaders I had wanted to interview suggested the Morning Glass as their favourite coffee place to meet up. It is a lovely coffee shop near East West Centre, with great coffee, and a great place to do some work or meet up friends or work acquaintances.

The second cafe, that I very much enjoyed, was Peace cafe, which is a vegan food cafe. A vegan friend and former colleague from my Stockholm teaching year had wanted me to meet her parents visiting Honolulu and this was the cafe, they introduced me to as their favourite cafe.

Have you visited any of the special places that I have mentioned above? Which would you like to visit?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard and Faraway Files #42]

Travel Notes & Beyond
Untold Morsels

Weekend in Maui

I had the opportunity to spend five delightful months in Hawai’i, as an Asia Pacific Leadership Program fellow at the East West Centre back in 2012. During my time in Honolulu, a close friend from my undergrad years, who lived in mainland US, made plans to visit me in Hawai’i with her family. She suggested Maui and selected a hotel on the beach.

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The highlight was catching up with her and getting to know her twin toddlers better, who were more excited about tent canvases and lamp shades, than the sunset or beach.

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We did enjoy short excursions outside the hotel we were staying. Her husband, who was also a batch-mate from undergrad years, had rented a car and we decided to drive along the famous road to Hana. Our stopping points were more dictated by the needs of the toddlers, anticipating whether they needed to run around a bit or get a snack break etc. And, we didn’t go beyond the Garden of Eden, as the kids were quite tired after our walk around the garden.

One of the points we stopped at was the Ho’okipa lookout, where we watched surfers in action.

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The Garden of Eden stop was great, because while it was a beautiful garden to explore, it also turned out to be fascinating for the little ones and allowed them to run around as they wished.

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Keopuka rock overlook

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As we drove back to the hotel, we saw dark clouds on the horizon and anticipated a heavy rain.

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However, fortunately for us, back at the hotel, there was hardly any sign of rain clouds and we experienced a beautiful sunset as we had dinner at the restaurant on the beach.

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Have you visited this beautiful island? What was your favourite part of your visit or what would you like to explore, if you visit it for the first time?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard and Faraway Files #30]

Two Traveling Texans
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: a weekend at Blenheim Palace

Ever since I saw a full feature magazine spread on Blenheim palace in my pre-teen years, that is the image I envisioned whenever I thought of a perfect palace. However, it was only during my most recent visit to the UK that I finally managed to visit the place. While my friend and I discussed, where to take her daughter for a special 13th birthday celebration during my visit, Blenheim palace popped up in my mind.

We spent friday night in Oxford and took the bus to Woodstock on saturday, after walking around Oxford university in the morning. After checking in at the lovely Pollen B&B in the village, we walked the few minutes to the side entrance of Blenheim palace. There was a notice on the outer wall, requesting fishermen to be quiet when they arrived within the palace premises.

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We decided to explore the palace that day and some of the parkland the next morning. These were the special six highlights of our weekend at Blenheim.

  1. The landscaped garden, especially the lake area

The lake immediately catches your eye, as you enter through the side gate, or when you near the palace, if you enter through any other gate. The lake in question, with the partially submerged bridge, is man-made and is one of Capability Brown’s(considered England’s greatest gardeners) legacy to Blenheim.

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The palace was built by the first Duke of Marlborough, in early 18th century.

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During our visit, the palace was decorated for Christmas and we learnt that though there were many different tours on offer, only the exhibition and the state rooms tour was open to visitors that weekend.

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2. The Winston Churchill Exhibition

The  exhibition focused on Sir Winston Churchill’s life. It was during a dinner at the palace, that his mother started experiencing labour pains and was ushered to a nearby room. The room, where Winston Churchill was born, is the start of the exhibition. Another section of the exhibition that caught my attention was about his marriage, and how he met his wife and that he proposed to her at Blenheim palace.

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Room where Winston Churchill was born

3. The stateroom tours

The staterooms tour started in front of two key portraits. The first was a family portrait of the first Duke of Marlborough and his family, including his eldest daughter who became his heir through Queen Anne’s command in the 18th century. The other portrait that the tour guide pointed out was the portrait of the woman whose marriage to the 9th duke of Marlborough in 1895, helped recover the palace and its estate from heavy debt. She was Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress, who was unhappily married to the Duke before they divorced and she remarried a French pilot. Her autobiography, Glitter and Gold, is available at the palace gift shop.

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Consuelo Vanderbilt

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The Red Drawing Room, is one of the first rooms that one visits and the huge picture at one end is the family portrait of the 9th Duke of Marlborough and his family.

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Red Drawing Room

Each of the state rooms was packed with portraits and tapestries, from across the centuries. The Green writing room had the Blenheim tapestry, one of the tapestries in the Victory series and commissioned by the first duke, which depicts his victory at the Battle of Blenheim.

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The Green Writing Room

The third state room, was the state bed chamber, and therefore glowed in gold. There were temporary art installations, in each of the state room, as part of an art exhibition. We didn’t get most of those art installations – like the one, which was a heaped bundle of rags in the middle of a state room.

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Third state room

My favourite of the state rooms was the long library. I thought it did not seem quite like how a library would have been envisioned and I learnt that it was originally designed as a portrait gallery but later housed the 9th duke of Marlborough’s collection of over 10,000 books.

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Long Library

On the day we visited, it was being organized and decorated for an evening function at the palace.

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4. Afternoon tea at the Orangery

As part of the birthday celebration of Nikki’s birthday, we decided to have afternoon tea at the Orangery, which looked onto the private Italian gardens of the palace and which is not accessible by the public.

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Nikki and her afternoon tea

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Private Italian gardens at the palace

5. The pleasure gardens

On sunday morning, after a lovely breakfast at the B&B, we decided to walk across the grounds and visit the pleasure gardens. I think Nikki loved this part of the palace the most. There was a miniature model of the village at the entrance.

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Peter Pan fountain

We tried out the Marlborough maze, which Nikki soon figured out and was zipping in and out to the centre of the maze. It was funny that my friend and I kept taking the wrong turns, until we finally decided to retrace our steps back to the entrance.

There was an interesting Blenheim Bygones exhibition at the pleasure gardens, which exhibited various gardening tools that had been used at the palace over the years.

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The building also housed two tiny rooms, one of which was the gardener’s office and the other was the night room, where the junior gardeners took turns to spend the night, attending to the boilers and glass houses.

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Gardener’s office

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Night room for junior gardener

6. The majestic oaks at Blenheim

An impressive part of the palace park was the magnificent oak trees. The largest collection of ancient oaks in Europe can be found within the Blenheim palace park.

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We were not able to visit a lot of the outdoor areas that we had wanted to, since it was too large a place, but we enjoyed our first visit to the palace and its parkland. The entrance ticket to the palace is valid for a year, so for those living in England and especially relatively closer to Oxford can visit the place in smaller doses.

My friend also loved the B&B we had chosen for this weekend getaway. Pollen B&B, in the heart of Woodstock village and within minutes to the palace was such a charming place with a friendly manager. Our space was the entire top floor, which had a sitting room, a lovely writing space, two cosy sleeping spaces with three beds and a lovely bathroom. It was filled with stuff that the owners had collected from their travels.

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Which of the special six features intrigues you the most about Blenheim palace?

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday]
Wanderful Wednesday

Lunuganga – a garden tour

For quite some time now, I had been meaning to visit Lunuganga but it didn’t quite work out till earlier in April. Ever since I learnt that my favourite place in Colombo, Seema Malakaya meditation centre, was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I have been interested in his other work around the country. I went on the tour of No 11, his Colombo residence. And, it was time for me to visit his first landscaping work, considered his masterpiece.

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The country home of Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect, was his first landscaping work which led him to his passion – architecture. After completing his law studies in England, he realized that it was not the career he wanted to pursue. After spending some years traveling around the world, he returned to Sri Lanka and bought an abandoned rubber estate in Bentota in 1947. He started landscaping the place and continued working on it till 1998, when his illness prevented him from doing further work.

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The garden tours, at Lunuganga, allow the public to visit the place. For those ready to splurge a bit, one can stay overnight at one of the guest rooms at Geoffrey Bawa’s country home.

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The Glass House

There are fixed time tours, and you simply need to be at the gate at the specified times for the tours, and ring the bell. One of the staff takes you to the ticket office just in front of the Glass House, one of the spaces that is rented out to overnight guests.

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Garden room

The tour starts from the Garden room, a beautiful space where Geoffrey Bawa kept his gardening tools as well as used to work from.

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Lovely corner in the Garden room

Close to the garden room was his studio, which was originally the chicken shed and the cow barn. The studio is also one of the spaces that one can stay overnight in.

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The studio

From the terrace in front of the garden shed, one has a beautiful vista to look upon.

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Nataraja statue, with the butterfly pool in the background

This was a spot that Bawa enjoyed dining from and there was a table with a bell adjacent to it. From this spot, not only did he have a view of the butterfly pool, but also the rice fields and the river beyond.

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We walked down the stone steps to the butterfly pool and the water was very clear that day, they were beautifully reflecting the blue skies and the trees above them.

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Reflections in the butterfly pool

From the butterfly pool, we walked along the rice fields and came across a windmill, that is no longer used. In Bawa’s time, the windmill was used to power the motor of the well beneath. You can see the windmill and the well in the left corner of the photo below.

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We walked up to the bank of the river, where during Bawa’s time, a boat could be taken to his little private island. Boat tours can now be taken by overnight guests at Lunuganga.

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River bank

We came upon several benches placed at lovely spots, as well as alcoves that looked out on to beautiful views, while giving one privacy for reflection or a quiet read.

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View of Pan in the woods, from my bench

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The yellow pavilion

The main plantation house, which was where Geoffrey Bawa stayed at, had a view of the river on one side and a lovely frangipani tree and the cinnamon hill, on the other side.

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Frangipani tree, by the plantation house

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View of cinnamon hill

The design of the exterior of the gatehouse, which is close to the row of hedges seen in the above photo of the cinnamon hill, reminded me of Bawa’s Colombo residence and which perhaps, he had worked on during the same time period. The gatehouse is also one of the spaces that is available for overnight guests.

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Gatehouse

Passing the gatehouse, we came across a little corridor. The guide opened a window in the passage, which he referred to as the ha-ha window, and pointed out the public road below cutting through the estate but which could not be seen from any part of the estate ground, though it was right between the hedges seen in the photo of the cinnamon hill.

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View from the ha-ha window

We then passed a mural, that had been created by another of Bawa’s artist friends, and climbed cinnamon hill to its peak and the tree with the tempayan pot, that can be seen from the main house. This tree marks the spot where Bawa is buried and as per his wishes, there is no stone marking his resting place, except for the tempayan pot which one can see placed at different spots across the estate.

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The cinnamon hill house is a house that Geoffrey Bawa had built for visiting friends and it is at the edge of the hill, overlooking the river. It is also now available for overnight guests but is a bit isolated from the main house and the rest of the estate so I am not sure, I would want to stay in this space were I an overnight guest.

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Cinnamon hill house

We walked back to the main plantation house and walked up the steps to a tiny terrace that led us back to the ticket office.

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Steps leading to the terrace of the plantation house

We looked back one final time, from the terrace, at the view of cinnamon hill and Bawa’s resting place in the distance, before leaving Lunuganga. The place is certainly a labour of love and Bawa’s passion for landscaping can be clearly seen and experienced. I am glad that the Geoffrey Bawa Trust are maintaining this gem of a place very well.

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Have you visited Lunuganga? If not, I would highly recommend visiting it next time you visit Bentota in Sri Lanka.

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #27]

Wanderful Wednesday

Untold Morsels

A weekend in Gdansk – a photo tour

I was going through some old travel photo albums from my student years in Stockholm and came across the Gdansk weekend trip photos. So, I thought of sharing them this weekend, as a photo tour.

Given that the cruise lines going past Stockholm used to attract me, I used to watch out for cruise deals and finally came across one, that was too good to miss. So, during the Easter break of 2002, a friend and I decided to go for a weekend cruise to Gdansk. The cruise package was ideal for the budget traveler as it included accommodation in a large, en-suite cabin for the entire weekend on half-board basis so we did not have to find other accommodation while exploring the city.

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Gdansk old city was the highlight of our trip. We took the tram from the port to the old city area each morning and walked about. On our first day, we made our way over to ulika Duliga. The main street was a lovely street with an old fountain in the middle and interesting building architecture lining both sides of the street.

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While walking around, we came across another lovely street, which looked more of a quiet back street when compared to the flamboyant main street. ul Mariacka was crammed with hand carts selling art crafts and jewellery.

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As I had wanted to visit Oliwa cathedral, we took the bus to the cathedral rebuilt in 16th century, after it had been burnt to the ground during the 1577 rebellion of the city of Gdansk. Adjacent to the cathedral was a lovely park area, which we enjoyed wandering around.

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A third highlight of our weekend trip was the visit to another coastal city, Sopot, named for its springs, thought to be beneficial to one’s health. After Gdansk, Sopot seemed a much more relaxed place and people seemed more friendlier and prone to ask about us. I enjoyed the fresh sea breeze while walking along the pier.

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While I had enjoyed my visit, I really had no plans to revisit until I saw Eff it… I’m on holiday’s recent pictures of Gdansk. Vlad’s beautiful photos made me think that I should revisit the city to see the lovely changes that have occurred over the last 15 years.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration and The Weekly Postcard]

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Photo tour of a morning walk around Oxford

Last December, during my visit to England, my best friend and I decided to celebrate her daughter’s birthday by taking her on a weekend trip to Blenheim palace. To maximize our time at the palace, we decided to leave London on friday evening and spend the night in Oxford, before traveling onto Woodstock early the next morning. Though we hardly had much time to explore the city, we did manage to go on a couple of walks on saturday morning. The skies were cloudy that day and it felt like it was going to rain any minute so the city looked quite gloomy. However, I am glad my friend’s daughter did not seem put off by the weather, and the walk seemed to reinforce her fascination with Oxford university, where she wants to study when she eventually finishes secondary school in a few years.

This post is a photo tour of some of the highlights we passed by during our walk.

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Ashmolean museum

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The Martyrs’ memorial and St. Giles

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The church of St Mary Magdalen

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Faculty of History

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The back of Oxford Castle

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Nuffield College

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Start of Broad Street

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Anna’s hand carved wooden spoons stall at the corner of Broad street

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Arts and Crafts market

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Radcliffe Camera

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Old Bodleian library quadrangle

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Another view of the Bodleian library

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Radcliffe square

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Hertford bridge, also referred to as the bridge of sighs

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Weston library

What was the highlight of your visit to Oxford? What would you like to explore on your first/ next visit to the city?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Travel Inspiration and City Tripping #72]

Travel Notes & Beyond
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MummyTravels

Special Six: Colombo Cafes

I am more of a fan of cosy cafes, than fine dining restaurants, especially if they are independent ones and not part of a chain. In Colombo, there is a tendency for cafes and restaurants to mushroom and then close after a couple of years of poor business choices or tough regulations. However, there are some that have established themselves firmly over time. Here are my favourite six in Colombo, some of which I have been a regular customer for over a decade, and others which I like from the newly opened offerings around the city.

  1. Barefoot Garden Cafe

Ever since I first stepped into Barefoot Garden back in 2003, it has been my favourite cafe in Colombo. Aesthetically pleasing, the outdoor cafe adjacent to Barefoot gallery, which hosts art exhibitions and music performances among others, serves great food, has a good tea menu and a better wine selection. The customer service can vary but I usually go to Barefoot when I plan to spend a couple of hours there catching up with friends so I don’t mind the sometimes long waits for food to arrive. It also used to be my preferred place of work, during my consultant years, as the atmosphere on weekdays prior to the lunch hour is conducive for working on a report.

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Broccoli and mushroom quiche with salad

Barefoot cafe is at the back of Barefoot, the shopping outlet of the cotton handloom company started by Barbara Sansoni in 1964. The company engages rural handweavers and has continued to be the best in the Sri Lankan handloom industry over the years, yet to be matched by other handloom companies for its vibrant colours, quality and choice of products.

While I enjoy the ambience of Barefoot, I prefer to go to Barefoot during weekdays than weekends, despite its live jazz on sundays, as it is too crowded then for my liking and you are conscious of people waiting for tables to leisurely enjoy your own meal.

2. Commons Coffee House

Commons, the first of Harpo Gooneratne’s ventures, was opened in 2004. From his DJing career, Harpo shifted to the hospitality industry and worked as an entertainment manager at 5 star hotels. With the start of his own Harpo Productions company, he has launched a series of cafes and restaurants with different concepts. While I like several of his cafe/ restaurant ventures, I like his first the most.

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Stringhoppers with fish curry, kiri hodhi and sambol

Commons at Flower Road, Colombo 3 has continued to be a place I have enjoyed meeting up with friends. It has a relaxed atmosphere, friendly service, good food, particularly their Sri Lankan menu – my particular favourite is the rotti cart, with the selection of rotti with fillings.

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Rotti with tandoori chicken filling

3. Heladiv Tea Club

Heladiv Tea Club is an initiative of one of Sri Lanka’s largest tea exporting companies. They started the Tea Club at the old Dutch hospital precincts at Colombo Fort in 2011, after the site went through a massive renovation and restoration project. While I enjoy their tea offerings and their limited food selection is good, my particular favourite here is the soursop iced tea soda.

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Soursop iced tea and peach iced tea

4. Whight & Co

While Sri Lanka is well-known for its tea, it’s coffee is hardly known. It is surprising therefore that for a few decades in mid 19th century, Sri Lanka was one of the top global producers of coffee. In fact, according to the website of Whight and Co, one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo, the Dutch introduced coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen to Sri Lanka in early 17th century and the British subsequently expanded coffee cultivation. It was the coffee blight of 1869 that resulted in the switch to tea plantations.

James Whight, the owner, had tested coffee plants in regions where they had once grown coffee and found that the sample from Mathurata region in Uva province were from the descendants from an Ethiopian coffee bean mother plant. This coffee is now available as the Ruby Harvest coffee and is served at Whight and Co on Marine Drive, Colombo 3.

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Cold brewing in progress

I have tried a few of their coffees and my favourite is their cold brew, which is only sold in two coffee shops in Colombo that I know of. The upstairs space is lovely, if you need to work on your laptop for a couple of hours, read or simply enjoy the view of the Indian ocean while you appreciate your coffee.

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Cold brew coffee

5. Cafe Kumbuk 

A cafe that opened up a year or so ago, I like the way they have decorated their space at the Prana Lounge premises at 60, Horton Place, Colombo 7. It is an inviting, cosy cafe serving delicious meals. I love their french toast specials, which they seem to change seasonally. The couple, who run the cafe, have lived in London for several years and had been inspired by the food scene in East London and opened up this organic cafe. They have opened up another outlet, called Kumbuk kitchen, next to Good market on Reid avenue.

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Pistachio French toast

6. Kopi Kade

I visited this newly opened coffee shop on Stratford avenue, Colombo 6, last month and I immediately added it to one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo.

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Nimesh Namasivayam, the owner and barista of the coffee shop, has come up with a lovely menu of small plates and bites of Sri Lankan food with a twist.

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Roti crisps with a choice of accompaniments

My favourite part of the coffee place was of course the coffee, which Nimesh sources directly from organic coffee producers around the world. The delicious cup of coffee that I tried out recently was a blend of Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee beans.

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Have you visited any of these six special places during your visit to Colombo? Which ones would you be interested in trying out?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #71 and Faraway Files #28]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles