Canyon behind Restelica, Dragash in Kosovo

Beautiful canyon behind the village of Restelica where the path begins

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Mountain shepherds, enormous Sharr Dogs, free roaming horses, pristine babbling streams and dramatic mountains are just a small taste of what awaits you in Dragash. Located in the southern end of Kosovo, Dragash is an oasis of untouched natural beauty and traditional villages sandwiched between the borders of Macedonia and Albania. Ignored by the Yugoslav government, the area never received development money for tourism despite its wealth of flora, fauna and cultural traditions. Luckily, this also spared the region the communist era concrete hotels and restaurants that mar similar regions in Kosovo. To help spur sustainable eco-tourism to the region and highlight an untouched wonder in the Balkans I’m helping to write a hiking guide to the Dragash Region funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The last hike was a steep climb from Brod to Mt. Cule.

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Easy Hike from Restelica to Brod (or the other way around)

Restelica to Brod hiking map for Kosovo

Click the map for a larger version. The trail is not marked so be sure to print out a copy of the map.

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STARTING POINT: Restelica (or Brod)

TIME- 2 ½ hours one way

STARTING ELEVATION- 1,492 meters

HIGHEST ELEVATION- 1,972 meters

DIFFICULTY- Medium

The villages of Brod and Restelica sit on opposite ends of a fork in the road that begins in the town of Dragash. Representing the southernmost villages at the end of their roads, and Kosovo, they are only about 10 km away from each other by the mountain trails but it takes more than an hour to reach the other village by car. Each village has its unique atmosphere and a hike through the mountain passes between the two is an easy way to explore both the surrounding nature and the character of the small villages dotting the Dragash region. Their isolation from each other has reportedly bred a healthy rivalry between the two villages. You will have to decide for yourself which town speaks closer to your own heart. No matter which you choose you are sure to fall in love with the surrounding mountains, sweeping grassy fields reminiscent of New Zealand, and a local population eager to host the rare visitor.

Restelica Kosovo

The village of Restelica

I would recommend starting your hike from Restelica as you start higher on this end and the pass is less steep to reach, allowing you to enjoy your hike down to Brod. This will also allow you to stay the night in Brod in the only hotel in the area, Arxhena. The hotel sits 3 km from the town of Brod on the way into the mountains. Their attempt to build an insanely steep ski hill has marred the surrounding beauty, but the staff is friendly and accommodating. Their lamb is delicious, fresh from the town of Brod, and don’t forget to try the salty Sharr cheese.

Starting from Restelica:

Enter the town until you reach a sharp left hand turn that switches back on itself. Follow this road up into the main part of town. Keep following the road until it turns right and leads you out of town to the South and then into a river valley (pictured at the beginning of the article). From here the walking path follows the river into the valley. After about 20 minutes you will come to a fork in the valley with a smaller river flowing into the larger from the left. Leave the path here and follow the smaller river up into the valley on the left. After about 100 meters a path will start on the left side of this river. Follow this up along the river to the pass that leads down to Brod. On the way up you’ll find a spring where you can refill your water bottles.

Locals in Dragash, Kosovo

Meeting locals along the path.

Axhgenia Hotel Brod

Hotel near Brod and the insanely steep walk down to it. Careful its slippery.

Just before the top of the pass there is a Sheppard’s hut where a lot of Sharr dogs live. Give it a wide berth just to stay safe as Sharr dogs can be very territorial. Once over the pass follow the mountains down to the left. You’ll be able to see a rocky cliff in the distance, head toward this. You will hit the old road towards Macedonia. At this point you can either walk down the steep, eroded ski slope towards Hotel Arxhena if you are staying there, or continue to follow the old road north and it will eventually bring you gently down into the town of Brod.

Starting from Brod

Just follow the directions above in reverse. If you are starting from the Brod itself it is best to turn right across the river just outside of town to begin your climb along the old Macedonian road. If you start from the Hotel you are forced to hike up the ski hill, which is hot, dusty and very steep. Be careful not to follow the well worn path towards the glacial lake in the south. Instead once you are just above the hotel turn west and head up over the mountains were the path is smaller and made by sheep. Don’t worry too much about the path at this point, just get up and over the mountain pass and you will see where to go.

Don’t forget to look out for the wild goats that live in the cliffs above Arxhena hotel. They come out in the morning and later afternoon. A small restaurant called Ramce by the river (before you reach the Arxhena hotel coming from Brod) is a perfect place to relax and search for the goats. Ask the owner for this binoculars. They also serve great lamb so stop by on your way back from hiking. Just remember to call in advance and they need 1 hour to prepare the lamb properly (tel 029-285-119). They are only open in the summer but the scenery, cold beer, goat viewing and fresh meat can’t be beat.

Todd mobbed by sheep in Dragash, Kosovo

Yes, this is when I was mobbed by sheep. They were more aggressive than the dogs on this hike!

If You Go

Hills and wild flowers in Dragash, Kosovo

Early summer is the best time for the wild flowers and deep green grasses

Driving from Pristina it takes about 2 1/2 hours to reach Brod by car. Drive to Prizren and follow the one way roads through the city taking a sharp left at the city center and following signs for Kukes and Dragash where you will take a right hand turn to leave the city. Continue on the road to Kukes for about 15 km until you come to an intersection with signs pointing left to Dragash. Turn left and follow this road into the valley for about 30 km until you come to the  town of Dragash itself.

Going to Restelica: Just after entering Dragash and climbing the hill to the beginning of the town take your first right hand turn. Follow the road for about 40 minutes until you come to Restelica, the last town along the road.

Going to Brod:  Continue through Dragash center following signs for Brod. The road after Dragash winds its way through the mountains for another 20 minutes until you come to Brod, the last town along the road.

If you have any questions about visiting Dragash just post a comment below. Or share your stories and tips for visiting this wonderful area of Kosovo.

If you do visit, please leave a comment below as I will be sharing your experiences with the Mayor and the communities to help encourage them and show them the value of their resources.

Distainful, contemptuous Statues

I'm glad I had a better time in this city then they are having!

Update:

Sorry for the delay and skipping a week but hey, even travel bloggers need an internet free vacation. I know the suspense is killing you so the winner is Jasmine with an amazing guess! The picture was taken near the harbor in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I have no idea who these wretched looking folks are, but it is hard to understand how they can be so unhappy in such a lovely city. Maybe a bit too much hash in the coffee bars ;)

Please go check out Jasmine’s site Jasmine Wanders, a fun blog about Jasmine’s travels around the world.

Welcome to Travel Photo Contest Friday. If you’re a new friend, each week I post a beautiful picture (at least I think so) from my travels and you guess where it is. The first person to guess where this picture was taken (Country, and Place) will win a link back to their blog with the anchor text of their choice in this post (keep it clean and relevant).

Leave your guess and recent post in the comment section below. Last week Andy was the first to guess the location of the Arab District in Singapore, although most others knew exactly where it was too.

By now you must know that I love statues. Give nmy love for the sculpted and the fact that you all guessed Singapore so quickly, this week is extra hard again. No hints in the picture, but if you read this far you do get one hint: Maybe she is worried which part of the city he was having fun in. Good luck this week.

I will also stumble and review the latest post of anyone who leaves a comment even if the winner has already been picked (up until next Thursday). I’m a bit behind on the Stumbles and reviews as I’m swamped with work at the moment, but don’t worry I always get you in the end. Yes, the prizes heavily favor the blogging and travel geeks amongst us. If you don’t have a website, then leave your favorite website or better yet a charity that deserves attention.

Good luck!

Guesses aside, all comments are welcome!

This is a different type of post and may not be for everyone. It’s not about the sexy world of travel, or the international allure of conflict resolution. It’s not even about getting drunk in the woods, drinking horrible local liquor and dancing to Balkan music until 2 am (which did happen just last weekend). As you may have noticed there have been quite a few changes to the design and layout of Todd’s Wanderings over the past month. Some are cosmetic,while others took place under the hood.

These changes have coincided with recent requests for advice on how to develop a travel blog, how to find a niche, developments in the travel blogging world, how much effort it takes to maintain a site like mine, and how do I find the time to travel, work, blog and sleep. Interestingly enough, there is a thriving market for social media and blog consultants which it seems I am now qualified to be a part of.

While I’m not looking to build a social media and blog consulting business, I AM interested in making Todd’s Wanderings an awesome site and delivering top notch content. This involves, artful writing, jaw dropping photography, a large community of willing/helpless followers, a splash of humor, a dash of sarcastic commentary, and a willingness to keep writing for a large audience even when only your Mom is reading…after several reminders. Most advice you get when starting a travel/lifestyle design blog is to have good content. Seriously. That’s the advice. Have good content. Thankfully, people aren’t getting paid too much to offer such advice.

The truth is there is SO much more to a successful travel blog (however you measure success). Just one of the key factors is the website design. It doesn’t matter how good the content is, if a site’s design makes my head hurt I’m not going to stick around long, let alone return for another round of vertigo. Since I have been undergoing design changes I have  decided to update you all on where I am, my excuses for the changes and where I’m going.  A huge thanks to Dave and Deb from the Planetd who shared their own changes recently and inspired me to do the same.

Reasons for the Changes

Before I get into the mechanics of the changes, there is the why change question. I changed the structure of Todd’s Wandering at the beginning of this year to appeal to a larger audience. It is no longer just about updating my friends and family about my travels but also connecting with and inspiring others to live a more free lifestyle, and building up my business as a travel writer and blogger.

Yes, this is a business. I’m not trying to get rich out of travel writing and blogging, although I wouldn’t complain if it happened either. I am hoping that my little corner of the Internet will help support my life of freedom (or at least contribute to it). I believe I have a unique advantage here as I’m not explain how I’m going to travel the world, work, and love my jobs. I have already achieved it, I’m doing it right now, have been for over 10 years and my readers get to not only come along for the ride but also see how I did it. I’m also using my website as a key pillar in my platform as an author. My goal is to put my words and ideas in front of as many eyes as possible while loving what I’m doing the whole time, and hopefully entertaining and inspiring along the way. Here is the shameless plug part of the post.

If you like Todd’s Wanderings please share it with your friends, subscribe to updates through RSS, and/or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

I get energized by the number of people reading my posts, interacting through comments, and connecting with me on social media. It is such positive reinforcement in a world of writing that is solitary by nature. The more people who come to Todd’s Wanderings the better we can make site together! There are a lot of working parts to driving traffic to a website and the following changes are part of them. Most of them are design related as I love an attractive, functional and clean design. The clean lines and uncluttered designs in Japan resonated deeply with my personality and my blog should reflect this.

Enough rationalizing, give me the Changes!

Ok, so here is what has changed on Todd’s Wanderings over the last two months. Much of this is based on a good friend’s advice (he happens to be a creative director for marketing agency and a graphic designer…so I listened carefully).

1) Background color. I changed the background to white from a solid green. Hopefully this makes the blog look more open and spacious. I also made sure the post and side bar background colors match (white in this case) to help everything stay consistent and get rid of the boxy feel that many blogs have.

2) I have a Logo! You can see it below, and in my new header (more on that in a second). I felt the logo was important for branding. The bonus is that TW is also my initials so I can use it for my authors website that I will be creating soon.

Todd's Wanderings Logo

Mahayana Statue at Gangarama Temple Sri Lanka

See, pretty picture, captivating caption.

3) Header and general color scheme. I have moved the main navigation into the header and made it black to stand out and contrast with the white theme. This gives me more room to content below the header image and makes the header area more functional. These changes were way beyond my own coding skills so I hired someone here in Kosovo to help. He also helped me to hack in to the caption section below each picture to match the black background with white text to my main navigation colors. I wa advised to only have 5 tabs in the navigation bar. I have six, hopefully it does not overwhelm you!

4) Drop down tabs in the Main Navigation. These are usually not a good idea for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as google has a hard time indexing the content. On the other hand they are much more functional for visitors. For me the experience of visitors is more important for a general blog where I want people to find old articles and new information easily.

5) I added a top navigation menu (also in black). These contain the more technical aspects to the blog beyond general enjoyment (advertising and contact  info, terms of use etc).

6) Cleaning up the Side Bar area. I admit there is still work to be done here, but I am resizing all pictures to fit fully in their boxes, I got rid of some of the “I love Todd’s Wanderings” badges (painful at first) and I’m added advertising to products I like. Currently you can purchase The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl’s Guide to Women Traveling Solo (more to come soon, but only products that I believe in and think are valuable to you).  I also got rid of the blog directory widgets:

I wasn’t sure about this at first but I took the plunge on the advice of Dave and Deb from Plantd. Let’s face it, they are ugly and apparently they are not helping drive traffic to my site any longer. They “may” have helped getting Todd’s Wanderings indexed with Google and the other search engines at first. But now they are just taking up space. If I drop off the Internet you will now know why!

7) Video. I have started adding video to help you get to know me better and the places I visit. The most obvious place is on my Welcome to Todd’s Wanderings video up top on the right. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know the wind is blowing…it was shot on a mountain top in the wilds between Kosovo and Macedonia so give me a break :)

I know it doesn’t sound like a lot has changed, but as you can see the effect is quite different. It took about 1 month to put all of this together and a website coder to institute the changes. Simple is not always easy.

Further Changes

I’m still not satisfied with where my blog is at the moment (not sure if I ever will be!). But I’m a firm believer in setting goals and then setting new goals. My current goals include earning an average of $1,000 from my website each month and having an average daily visitor count of 1,000 people. Yes, that’s a 1000, 1000 Challenge, care to join in? I’m getting close but I’m not there yet. I have an average of between 150-200 visitors per day and over the past 6 months since I reoriented my blog I’ve earned an average of $225 per month. Compared with 5 visitors a day and an average of 3 cents per month during my first 2 years of blogging this is a huge change. I think I’m doing something right. Of course a large part of that included winning a writing contest for one of my blog articles (No, Thank You Laos).

These are ONLY my current blog goals. I have other loftier goals, including getting my Shikoku, Japan book published, actually finishing my Shikoku, Japan book, and world peace. Here is what you can expect from Todd’s Wanderings over the next month or two. Trust me this is a lot of work and I still have a full time job trying to make my little corner of the globe a better place to live.

1) Redesign my RSS and follow me section in my side bar. I want to include a newsletter option, start a newsletter, and have a consistent design theme in subscribe box.

2) Reduce the resolution of my pictures. I love having big, beautiful, colorful pictures on my site. But I have been saving them at too high a resolution and it is causing my site to load slowly and probably hurting my ranking in google. The sizes will stay the same but I will use Photoshop to “save for the web.” which will reduce the resolution and size of the files. I should have been doing this all along.

3) Increase the number of advertisers on the site. I am currently taking a great course called Affiliate Marketing for Begginners. It lays out how to recommend good products in an ETHICAL manner in order to increase the revenue from your own website. I really like the idea of connecting my readers to useful products. I also think affiliate sales has greater earning potential than Adsense or other pay for click advertising. I do hate the pressure tactics and sleazy feel of many affiliate sites. This program is different and shows you how to do it ethically from the ground up, including building an affiliate site together. I’m only halfway through the course but I would already recommend it! (of course if you buy it, I also get a commission)

4) A Free Lonely Planet ebook available for subscribers to Todd’s Wanderings. The ebook is taking shape as we speak and will feature 40 prominent travel bloggers, including me. The project was started in Lonely Planet’s Blogsherpa Program and we are really excited to be working with them. The tentative title is “Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers” and its a photo journey around the world through the eyes and words of full time travel bloggers.Yes, I will soon be a Lonely Planet Author, and you will get a FREE ebook. Awesome for both of us.

5) Change my homepage to a E-magazine design. This will be a major change so that the landing page to Todd’s Wanderings highlights the various articles and sections available on the website. I think this will make it easier for visitors to find content and explore the site. The latest posts will still be available on the “blog” section. Hopefully it will also lead to more pages with a higher Google ranking, giving me more advertising space and options.

6) It’s time to define my book further. You’ll get an overview of the book (my 900 mile walking Buddhist Pilgrimage in Japan) and its major themes (sacrad vs the profane, F$&^#* up Japan, and figuring out what I want to be when I grow up).

7) I will rearrange the Main Navigation tabs. My thought is to insert a Blog tab, take out the Shikoku Pilgrimage and move it to the sidebar area where I can add more resources.

That’s it. Sounds simple enough, but like I said blogging can be a full time job!

I would love to hear your thoughts, advice and experiences. And if you want to join my 1000, 1000 Challange let’s do it together and share our experiences.

Muslim Quarter

Hmmm, looks familiar...

Update:

The winner is Andy! The picture was taken in the Arab quarter in Singapore. While not technically Arab street I decided to give it to Andy anyway. The funky Haji Lane is just around the corner and is a must visit for those looking for independent clothing stores and cool cafes. I really loved the color, food and vibrancy of this area. It just goes to show you that Singapore can be interesting ;)

Please go check out Andy’s website Sharing Travel Experiences. Its a great resource for travelers as well as fun read for anyone spending a day on the couch.

Welcome to Travel Photo Contest Friday. If you’re a new friend, each week I post a beautiful picture (at least I think so) from my travels and you guess where it is. The first person to guess where this picture was taken (Country, and Place) will win a link back to their blog with the anchor text of their choice in this post (keep it clean and relevant).

This week I’ve included a lot potential clues to help us bounce back from difficult one last week. Leave your guess and recent post in the comment section below. Last week no one was able to guess the location of St. Blaise in Dubrovnik, Croatia so good luck this week.

I will also stumble and review the latest post of anyone who leaves a comment even if the winner has already been picked (up until next Thursday). I’m a bit behind on the Stumbles and reviews as I’m swamped with work at the moment, but don’t worry I always get you in the end. Yes, the prizes heavily favor the blogging and travel geeks amongst us. If you don’t have a website, then leave your favorite website or better yet a charity that deserves attention.

Good luck!

Guesses aside, all comments are welcome!

Henro climbing stairs in ShikokuI know, it seems rather intuitive and obvious. On the surface it may be. After all why would we do things that don’t make us happy. But I meet a surprising number of people who aren’t happy. Some people think that travel is the answer to their happiness. Other people think settling down, having a steady job and a house will make them happy. Others think making an extra $1,000 USD a month will allow them breathing room to feel happy. If you are already happy with your life this post may not be for you. Then again you will be happy enough to continue reading as well ;)

Last week a collective atomic bomb was dropped on the travel blogging and lifestyle design community. I consider myself a part of both, and yes there really is a Lifetyle Design sector (although I use Lifestyle Strategies). The bomb was released by Gadling in this post On long-term travel, snobbery & judgmental blogging. It was amazing to see the swaths of destructive energy that rampaged from over 90 comments to this not so innocent post. What was even more surprising was from whom the comments originated…cool, enlightened travelers from both side of alleged divide (long term travelers vs everyone else). At issue was basically sensitivity around perceived judgments of any one particular lifestyle choice and what travel means in each context. Yup,you guessed it, that old fight and snobbery over “traveler vs tourist” just on a cracked out Blogging level.

The bickering, attacks, childishness and some very well reasoned calls for tolerance, made me think about how I express my life here on Todd’s Wanderings. And in particular, a recent interview I gave on Andy Hayes’ site Sharing Travel Experiences. In fact the interview was published the same day the atomic bomb exploded over at Gadling. If not for the timing I’m sure my interview would have gone viral, but as we know contentious issues trump cute puppies any day (tongue in cheek, please put the pitch forks down, I don’t really think I am as cute as a puppy).

Andy picked up on one of my themes in the interview and called it Organize Your Life in a Way that Makes You Happy. Putting two and two together I started to think about travel and happiness, having a ton of free time on my hands besides work, two book projects, running a blog and pretending to be a good guy. Sometimes we attach too much emphasis to this magical word “travel”. Travel is all about adventure, new experiences, meeting new and exciting people, expanding our minds and tolerance through practical experiences.  But, travel is also real life and has its fair share of disasters, flat tires, lack of water, getting lost, feeling lonely, and being miserable. Travel is fun. Sometimes travel blows.

Travel is a tool. And like most tools it up to us how we will use it. It gives us a chance to step outside of our daily lives and examine what is and is not important. If we hate our jobs, travel is not going to cure it if our lives are organized in a way where we return eventually to the job we hate. Likewise, if we are not satisfied with our lives, escaping on vacation is just that, a temporary escape. If we are happy with our lives, travel, work etc becomes an expression of that happiness. A necessary part of what makes us happy throughout our lives.

Before you ascribe some magical meaning and power to “travel” I would suggest you look at why you want to travel. How do you want to organize your life so that you are happy, content, and excited about what you are doing. If travel is a part of that, or the freedom to travel, then it won’t matter how you travel, long-term, short-term,  Solo Travel, backpacking, flashpacking, whatever. You will be happy with your choices, and be able to change things when you are no longer happy with them. Of course sometimes it takes travel, and the new experiences it brings to make us realize we need a systematic change in our lives. This is what happened with me, but I would never presume that others need to follow exactly what I did to discover what makes them happy. But some people may benefit and I firmly believe that travel can help in discovering what makes one happy. But I could care less about defining what “travel” is besides going out your front door.

So, to sum up. Do what you love, and love what you do. I believe travel is a powerful tool to figuring out exactly what you love to do, but “travel” does not have to be the end result. More later on how I figured my own happiness out and the planning tool that got me started.

What do you think? Was Gadling spot on, am I full of it? Share your thoughts, ideas, criticisms, and praises below!

Where are these faces looking out onto?

Update:

Sigh, no winner this week. I really hate it when this happens, but don’t worry I’ll let you all know where it is anyway. This is a picture of  Saint Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The statue of St. Blaise above is from the main entrance to the walled old city and greets visitors as they walk across the moat into the city. Dubrovnik is a beautiful medieval city on the southern coast of Croatia. We visited for the day while we were staying in Kotor, Montenegro. Let’s see who can guess next weeks location correctly.

Welcome to Travel Photo Contest Friday. If you’re a new friend, each week I post a beautiful picture (at least I think so) from my travels and you guess where it is. The first person to guess where this picture was taken (Country, and good luck with the Place) will win a link back to their blog with the anchor text of their choice in this post (keep it clean and relevant).

This week I’m making it extra hard but also quite easy to guess just about anywhere :) Leave your guess and recent post in the comment section below. Last week Claire was the first to guess My Homestown of Jamestown.

I will also stumble and review the latest post of anyone who leaves a comment even if the winner has already been picked (up until next Thursday). I’m a bit behind on the Stumbles and reviews as I’m swampped with work at the moment, but don’t worry I always get you in the end. Yes, the prizes heavily favor the blogging and travel geeks amongst us. If you don’t have a website, then leave your favorite website or better yet a charity that deserves attention.

Good luck!

Guesses aside, all comments are welcome!

Buddha on Colombo's Biera Lake in Sri LankaCalled Serendib by Arab traders  (the origin of the word “serendipity”), Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity for a small island and offers the possibility of experiencing vastly different climates, history, and cultures during a short vacation. In this Four Part Series I will share a glimpse of four different areas of Sri Lanka that can, and should, be a part of any itinerary to the island of providence.

Part 1 explores the East Coast city of Trincomalee and the Hindu  Koneswaram Temple and Part 2 brought us to the Ancient Buddha Rock Statues of Polonnaruwa. Part 3 visited the Hill Country and Hikes Through the Tea Trials. In this final article we stay closer to home, the city of Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s largest city, and the starting point for travelers flying into this South Asian island nation, Colombo is often bypassed completely in favor of the southern beaches, majestic hill country, or the cultural triangle in the county’s center. Seeking the tranquility, history and nature promised, travelers head out of the crowded and chaotic city. However, the city deserves some attention and there are a few unique sites to see. Perhaps the most intriguing is the eccentric Gangaramaya Buddhist temple.

Praying in front of Giant Buddha, Colombo Sri Lanka Gangarama Temple

A man prays before the giant Buddhist Statue at Gangarama Temple. The main Buddha statue is just one of at least a thousand filling every corner of the temple.

An interesting and eclectic mix of Buddhist images from all over the world, as well as a smattering of random antiques, creates a crowded feeling to this popular temple. The temple is really the warehouse for the thousands of items collected by the widely traveled, eccentric head monk Podi Hamuduruwo. It’s impossible to draw a clear line between where the Theravada begins and the Mahayana tradition ends (the first officially followed in Sri Lanka , and the second the tradition that spawned Tibetan and Zen Buddhism). Throw in Hindu statues and you’ll soon forget to care about the differences. Podi accepts donations from everyone and everywhere, somehow finding room for everything. Whether intended or not, it’s a nice message of tolerance and acceptance in a country where ethnic and religious tensions fueled the now ended 20 year plus civil war.

Naked Statue at Buddhist TempleThis is one way to be greeted at a Buddhist Temple. Makes you wonder why I am asked to wear long pants!

Antique Buddhist CarBuddhist monks know how to roll in style!

How to hold up a Buddhist TemplePot-bellied dwarfs holding up the temple. Yup, they are naked too!

Gangarama Temple ElephantThe temple even has it own elephant, with gigantic tusks. Just be careful, he seems really agitated to be chained to such a small area all day long. On the weekends he usually gets a break and is trucked out of the city to get away from the pollution that is making him sick. Very sad, if you ask me. Leave the elephants for statues in a city temple.

Meditating with WaterA devotee meditating with a jar of water. She is attempting to make her mind as still as the water inside.

Sri Lanka MusicTraditional Kandian musicians playing at noon time. You can watch and listen to them on my YouTube Channel.

Gangarama Thai style Buddhist StatuesThese statues have a Thai look to them.

Mahayana Statue at Gangarama Temple Sri LankaThis is an unmistakable Mahayana Buddha statue. Perhaps of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Gangarama Temple Sri LankaA very crowded temple. The two large angry statues in the back are Nio guardians from Japan.

Just a five minute walk down the street at Beira Lake is another temple, Seema Malaka, that is worth a visit. It is not as eccentric as Gangarama, but it is also not your typical Sri Lankan temple either. Built on an island in the lake, the temple was designed by the famed architect Geoffrey Bawa. It is rare to find a moment of peace in a crowded city like Colombo, but this is one place you are guaranteed to find it. There is no entrance fee, so you can relax and watch the pelicans drift buy. Unfortunately, the water is highly polluted, and the bright green water is anything up refreshing to look at.

If the previous temple was a shining example of tolerance and acceptance, Seema Malaka has more dubious origins. Rumor has it, it was financed by a muslin who was kicked out of the community. No, its not a conversion gift, but more of a f$*#% you gesture. Regardless of its origins, it is one of Colombo’s must see sites.

Seema Malaka Lake Temple Sri Lanka Seema Malaka Temple from above.

Seema Malaka Colombo, Sri LankaWatch out, the walkways get VERY hot and you are not allowed to wear shoes in the temple.

Seema Malaka Temple Colombo, Sri LankaYou will never get lonely with such good company around.

I hope you have enjoyed this mini tour through Sri Lanka. The country has so much to offer this is but a small sample of what you can expect from the land of serendipity. But don’t forget to give Colombo its due. Two days is plenty to get a feeling for the city, but after three years of living there I was still discovering new surprises.

Have you been to Sri Lanka? Planning a visit? Just want to remake at how beautiful it all is? Leave a comment below and join the discussion.

This post is by: Kay (my lovely wife and founder of K’s Kitchen!)

In Japan and some parts of Europe, this summer has been extremely hot and harsh. In Kosovo, we had some rather cool weeks in July, but it’s finally become hot in the past 2 weeks. Having spent several years in the tropics, I actually prefer a hot and sticky summer to a cool one….I love licking ice cream while complaining about the temperature and the humidity….I know I’m odd (at least my husband claims so)!

Hiyashi ChukaThere are noodles under there, I promise!

When it’s hot, we lose our appetite and don’t know what to cook. A-ha! Here is a great menu for you! Hiyashi-chuka, which literally means Cold Chinese (or Ryan-Ban-Mien in Chinese). This dish is very popular among Japanese in the summer because the cold taste stimulates their appetite. The standard Hiyashi-chuka is with a soy and vinegar sauce, but I would like to introduce you to a Sesame Sauce this time, which is my favorite.

The beauty of this dish is that you can substitute the ingredients with different items that you have at home and also add or reduce according to what you have.

Ingredients (for 3 people)

Chinese noodles: 3 packs (If you can’t find them, you can simply use instant ramen noodles)

Chicken breast (or can be thigh): (150 g) – can be substituted with other ingredients such a cooked steak or ham.

1 Cucumber (or about 120g)

3 Eggs (with 3-4 teaspoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and mix of 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch and 1 Tablespoon of water)

Bean sprouts: 100g (optional) boiled.

Shitake mushroom (optional)

Tomatoes or lettuce (optional)

(a) Sesame Sauce

Soy sauce: 80cc

Sugar: 40g

Rice Vinegar: 50cc

Chicken broth (you can also use the chicken cubes): 100cc

Sesame paste (you can also use tahini): 40g

(b) Sauce to cook Shitake mushroom

Soy sauce: 1.5 Tablespoons

Sugar: 1.5 Tablespoons

Water: 3 Tablespoons

How to cook (cooking/preparation time: 30 min)

(1)  Make the Sesame sauce and set aside

(2)  Season the chicken with a pinch of salt and steam it until it’s cooked (or you can wrap it and put it in a microwave, or even boil it if you prefer). Shred them into long pieces. You can also use any kind of meat (or none at all) if you don’t have chicken. For instance, ham is often used at the restaurant. You just need to cut them thinly. If you have steak, you can also thinly cut them and use as a substitute. I used cooked pork, as you can see in the photo!

(3)  Cut the cucumber thinly (3mm), about the length of a toothpick. If you decide to have lots of fresh vegetables, you can also cut tomatoes and lettuce in a similar shape and length.

(4)  Quickly boil the bean sprouts and pour sesame oil on to taste.

(5)  Cook the Shitake mushrooms with ingredients (b) until it is cooked. Add sesame oil to taste after cooking. Cut them thinly.

Flat Eggs in Japanese and Chinese Cooking(6)  Beat eggs and add sugar, salt, and starch. Pour a small portion into the pan,  just enough to cover the pan as if you are making a crepe (see the photo). Make several sheets of crepe looking egg omelets. When you are finished, wrap them all together and cut them long and thin (3mm) from the side.

(7)  Boil hot water and cook the noodles. Please don’t cook too long!! Pour noodles into the strainer and wash them with cold and fresh water until they cool down. Drain the noodles.

(8)  Serve the noodles on a plate and put different kinds of ingredients on top of the noodles. Pour sesame sauce on top and the dish is ready!!

Moms Are Strict

As you have noticed, all the ingredients are supposed to be cut thinly. Since I was young, I was always told by my mom to cut the ingredients in a similar shape. If they are mostly long shaped, cut them thinly. If they are rounded, cut them in a round shape with the similar size. Japanese tend to be very particular about the shape of ingredients in general, but I think this principle also applies to many cultures including China….

Was that easy? Delicious? Tell us how tasty it was, or how it all went horribly, horribly wrong :)

Sea, boats, bridge

Update:

The winner is Claire! You can connect with Claire and read all about her travels on her blog First-Time Travels.  This picture is from the town docks in Jamestown, Rhode Island (yup, we are smaller than Hawaii!). What makes it so special (besides the incredible beauty of the area) is that this is my hometown. My parent’s house is just a 7 minute walk down the street. Jamestown is the town located on Conanicut Island in Narragansett bay. You may have heard of Newport, RI (our slightly bigger neighbor) which is famous for its colonial town feel, nice beaches and enormous mansions (think The Great Gatsby). Jamestown is a quieter version with a lot of charm and a bit more laid back. There are parks, farms, nice restaurants and as you can see, amazing views of the ocean.

You may wonder why I would leave such a beautiful place. I’m not sure myself at times but I always love coming home, sitting on the porch, watching the sailboat races in the harbor, and walking through the town.

Welcome to Travel Photo Contest Friday. If you’re a new friend, each week I post a beautiful picture (at least I think so) from my travels and you guess where it is. The first person to guess where this picture was taken (Country, and place) will win a link back to their blog with the anchor text of their choice in this post (keep it clean and relevant). Leave your guess and recent post in the comment section below. Last week there was no winner as there was no contest. Instead we had a Blog Party as an opportunity to introduce ourselves and promote our latest projects. Please feel free to keep the conversations going!

I will also stumble and review the latest post of anyone who leaves a comment even if the winner has already been picked (up until next Thursday). Yes, the prizes heavily favor the blogging and travel geeks amongst us. If you don’t have a website, then leave your favorite website or better yet a charity that deserves attention.

Good luck!

Guesses aside, all comments are welcome!

Traveling, writing and blogging can be a lonely business. It can be as difficult to meet people on the road as it is knowing how many people read and enjoy what you write. Maybe this is why we as writers and travel bloggers are so obsessed with our site traffic numbers and the number of friends/fans we have on facebook (hey, please be my friend).

We all go through rough patches while traveling where we miss home and family, just as we go through bouts of self-doubt wondering if what we write is worth anything to anyone. Like anything in life, when you face a period of depression, self-doubt, adversity, whatever, you have two choices: wallow in it all and remain in the same place, or continue walking and see what’s around the next corner. Every corner for me has always offered a solution to my problem now out of sight.

Just as important as moving on is celebrating our victories…whatever they might be. As such I’m excited to report Todd’s Wanderings has FINALLY made the Top 100 Travel Blogs list sponsored by TravelPod. And I didn’t just debut at number 100, but hit the list running at a cool #68. Having goals is important and making this list has been one of mine ever since I reoriented by blog at the beginning of the year. Being placed next to the other amazing writers and travelers is a huge honor and I encourage you to check out the other blogs on the site (no, no, no, not yet, read the rest of my post first).

In part to celebrate, but also to make virtual travel world a bit less impersonal, here is the first video introduction to Todd’s Wanderings. You can watch it below or on the side bar to the right. Either way, I just want to say thank you for supporting my site and helping to keep me going. It’s been a long, tough road filled with exotic locations, sandy beaches, delicious beers, dancing…so much dancing… Yes, it’s been a rough life so far.

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