And it all started with a very early morning.
Tee and Nissi had to wake up very early for yet another traditional Sri Lankan wedding celebration. A little more unusual than the last few, this one involved boiling some rice in milk to make Kiribath. Kiribath is an essential dish for any auspicious moment, bringing luck and good fortune to those that eat it...and Tee's and Nissi's auspicious time was apparently just as the sun was rising. Having had less then 2 hours sleep the night before, they were pretty sleepy when they arrived in the mini bus to pick us up, but we all had a 4 hour drive ahead of us to catch 40 winks and prepare ourselves for the day ahead.
One long, hot and bumpy journey later, we arrived in beautiful Habarana in the heart of Sri Lanka. Covered with jungle, hills and interesting geographical features, this part of the country is a haven for wildlife and a favourite for the seasoned safari-goer. Tiara told us there were hundreds of wild elephants in the area and we were getting excited about meeting some of the locals, but first we had to check in at our hotel.
Sprawled over 27 acres of lush, forested land, Cinnamon Lodge combines stunning architecture and opulance
With a top notch sustainability rating, complete with an on-site farm and a co-habiting troop of monkeys.
We were greeted by the lovely manager, a good friend of Tiara's who promised to look after us during our stay.
We headed to our rooms to freshen up, and were bowled over by their beauty. Can you imagine a room more fitting for a princess?!
I've since chatted to Rich's mum, Christine about this place, as she's also visited before and we both agree that one day we WILL have a bedroom like this. One day.
When we eventually managed to tear ourselves away from the luxury of our bedrooms, we headed out to a waiting jeep, and set off on safari.
I can't describe the feeling of awe I felt when we rounded a hill and our first herd of elephants came into view, grazing by the side of a lake in the late afternoon sun. The little ones were playing about while their elders bossed them around and kept them in order.
Between us, we took hundreds of photos.
And then sat back and just watched the scene play out in front of us.
Suddenly, we realised how late it was getting. The exciting events of the past few days were finally catching up with our bride and Tiara could barely keep her eyes open.
So the elephants waved us goodbye
And sent us off into the sunset and bed.
Leaving the newlyweds and a shattered Sarah to have a lie in, the rest of us got up early again, eager to walk to the top of Sigiriya before the heat of the day made the climb unbearable.
Sigiriya, or 'Lion Rock' in English is a huge column of rock or TOR (yes Vic, Mike and Rich, OK, I accept that it's not actually a tor now, but just give me this one last time!) which once housed the ancient palace of Kind Kasyapa. The archaeological remains, colourful frescoes and 'magic' pools still remain to this day, and make the climb a really interesting one.
We dashed to the top, and took in the far-reaching views below us.
'Lads on tor'
While we were up there, we received a call from Tiara saying she'd just woken up and asking how far up we'd got. In shock, we realised that we were in such a hurry to get to the top that it was still only 9am! Mummy Bags would be proud.
Having some time to kill, we took a leaf out of this fella's book and kicked back for a while
And took the time to replenish our stocks with some food and a big, long drink,,,
All of that climbing was thirsty work.
When the others emerged from their slumbers, we all headed off to Kandalama, a stunning hotel built into the side of a cliff, for an afternoon of sun, swimming in the beautiful infinity pool, and stuffing our faces.
We returned to Cinnamon Lodge to find that a special surprise had been left for us in our room.
And after a guided tour the hotel's sustainable farm, where they grow most of the produce that they cook up in their kitchens, an exploration of the grounds and getting a lot of enjoyment from their beautiful Banyan Tree (my favourite tree in the world)...
As well as tucking into our last endless, amazing buffet supper (Rich's heaven) and Lion beer...
We decided that we would definitely be making the trip back to this place someday, somehow.
It was back to Colombo for a lot more eating (a running theme on this holiday)
And a visit to another 5 star hotel for pudding.
My favourite part of the holiday was just around the corner...
I'd been waiting for this day for a long time.
Nine years before, tired, uncomfortable and sweaty from travelling for hours sitting on top of bags of mail in the postal carriage of a commuter train which was too packed for us to find a seat, my travelling companion Nadia and I had wandered in the dark to the nearest Tuk Tuk and asked the driver to take us anywhere that had a comfortable bed for the night. When we emerged the next morning to the most beautiful view we had ever seen in our lives, feeling swept up in the emotion of being in such a stunning place so far from home, we both swore that fate must have brought us there.
It might have been the copious cocktails we consumed but as we sat and watched the sun go down with the owners that night on the veranda overlooking the beach, which is known as 'Wijeya' to the locals, just down the road from the main beach in Unawatuna, I swore that I would take the man I was going to marry back there one day.
Maybe I will when I find him ;-)
After reading so much about coastal erosion, buildings going up too close to the shoreline and increased tourism in the area, I was worried the beach wouldn't look quite the same as it used to. But if anything, it was all the more beautiful. It made me so happy that my friend Sudu was still running the guest house, and even better that he still remembered me! Here are the best of my photos from an absolutely perfect day.
After the sun had set over the palms, Rich and I headed off for a bit of alone time to celebrate one and a half years together at the beautiful Thalpe Beach restaurant down the road. A very happy ending to a very happy day.
I couldn't believe our last full day was finally here.
We spent some time strolling around Galle Fort, which was built in the 1500s by the Portuguese and fortified by the Dutch in the 17th Century, and now stands as a historical settlement surrounded by thick walls. And it is extra special to us, because Tee's ancestors came from here, including a very important doctor who has a plaque in the central Church and a clock tower in his name.
That night we ate our last evening meal on the beach together and tried to be as cheery as is possible when we had it in the back of our minds that we would be jumping on a plane back home to normality the next day.
Tee's family, the Anthonizs' wouldn't let us leave without going out with a bang. When we were invited round to Tee's parents' house for our last meal before heading our separate ways, I knew we could expect some good, wholesome Sri Lankan food. But what we received was a veritable feast.
We said some sad goodbyes. We couldn't be more thankful to such a hospitable family, and for Tee and Nissi for sharing their special week and 'buddymoon' with us. It was so good to be back as a group again, and even though we'd been apart for so long, it felt just like the old days.
And I'm still dreaming of my beach.