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Published: November 26th 2013
As we prepared for our flight half way around the world, it dawned on me that this will be the longest flight in my life -- not in total time, but in flight time -- at 23 hours. I was just wondering how hangry
(a combination of tired and hungry), as Shauna puts, she should get on a flight like this… We had a code-share flight with Air Canada and Sri Lankan Airlines, so logistically we were as well setup as any flight to Colombo from Canada could be with stopovers in Toronto and Paris between 3-5 hours. We were to even arrive in Colombo first thing in the morning.
Note to self though… when flying overseas to a tropical destination during the winter make sure that any stopovers in northernly cities, like Paris, to make sure I understand whether there will be a terminal transfer by bus… Guess what happened in Paris… As we are cycling, I have luggage down to a bare minimum. We will be in the tropics, so once we arrive, I would have no big need for pants and long sleeved shirts. I am sure I was the only person in Charles de Gaule Airport with
shorts and sandals that day… We found a quiet little lounge in the airport and we were able to get a bit of sleep. As we were flying with Sri Lankan airlines next, we didn't have access to Air Canada's lounge. Shauna will likely loose her Elite status and the lounges to go with that… Unfortunate… We were stuck in Terminal 1 for our layover, which was a unique but dated terminal. Completed in 1974, Terminal 1 was built in an avant-garde design of a ten-floors-high circular building surrounded by seven satellite buildings, each with six gates. To get those satellite buildings, you have to go underground. Unfortunately, the Terminal is woefully short on services and one could go a bit stir crazy with anything longer than a 3-4 hour stopover.
The next leg was an 11+ hour flight to Colombo. As we started our flight, I had the opportunity to have my first Sri Lanka meal which was mixed crudites salad will be served with chickpea & spinach masala and tempered potato and braised rice, which was very good. Sri Lankan Airlines A320 was certainly dated with seats and audio/visual equipment, which most of them didn't seem to
work, from at least 20 years ago. We did though have leg room and lots of it, so I was able to sleep between Austria and Iraq and ironically woke-up when we were right over Baghdad. It was night time, but needless to say an eerie feeling given the events of the past 11 years. We would also have the opportunity to flit over Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which were also quite spectacular.
Our arrival in Colombo was uneventful, as Sri Lanka is a developing country with only 20M people it didn't have an overly busy airport. The CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) was going on, so the airport and city were spruced up for the occasion. On our drive in, I couldn't stop but notice all of the policemen on the streets -- we saw hundreds of them. A few years ago, I am sure this made sense from a security reason, but it now seems to be total overkill.
Having spent five weeks in India on my World Tour nearly a quarter century ago, I was very interested to see the differences between the two countries. The first thing that struck me was the fact
that we were generally left alone. In India, I will never forget assembling my bicycle outside of the Bombay airport terminal with at least 50 people watching me and asking at time personal questions. The traffic also seemed to be more civilized and courtesy. All of the policemen working the intersections certainly helps, but there was more to it than that.
Our guest house was in a quiet residential neighbourhood a few kilometres from the centre of town. We we were able to check in early and to my surprise we had a king size bed, as the website noted only a double bed. After unpacking and having a shower, we came down for our first Sri Lankan breakfast. We had Pittu, steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut. It was service with a yellow curry sauce and sambal, a chill-based condiment. Wow, was it good! I never knew rice could taste so good. We were off to a good start. :-)
Fortunately or unfortunately, November 17th was not a great day for setting things around Colombo. On top of the CHOGM running for its last day and parts of the city being shut down because of
it, it was Sunday and a Poya Day, which is a national holiday celebrating the full moon. After walking around our neighbourhood a bit, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon assembling the bicycles while Shauna got some rest.
For the evening, we headed downtown to dinner and quickly realized that Poya Day also meant no alcohol being served. Damn those Buddhists… ;-) Not a big deal, as there were multitudes of fresh fruit juices to try. After realizing the hotel restaurant we were looking to have dinner at was off limits because of the CHOGM conference, we took a walk down to the Fort Area (historical part of town) via Galle Face Green, which is a scruffy half-kilometre promenade. At least, this part of Colombo was alive with thousands of mostly Sri Lankan's enjoying the evening with their families. Street food vendors lined the promenade selling much of the same deep-fried food that did nothing for my appetite. The one thing that struck me was the lighting, which was very dark. It did remind me how valuable light generally was in the developing world either because it wasn't available or too expensive. Low watt bulbs are
the rage here…
We ate a restaurant called Semondu, which was in the Old Dutch Hospital complex, which is really ground zero for tourists. The restaurant was highly rated on Trip Advisor and we were not disappointed. I had a beautifully prepared piece of fish.
Monday morning at least was spent finding a bike shop to fix my loose headset on my bicycle. I was a bit appalled at he quality of bike shops that I came across. I hope it was because I was not in the best part of town, but then this was Colombo. I did find the best of the three I was looking at, and the owner worked on my bike for close to an hour and charged me less than $5 for his labour. Incredible… With my bike fixed, I could now enjoy Colombo.
The food theme would continue in force on my second day, as all of our meals were fabulous starting with the fish curry we had for breakfast at our guest house (yes, fish curry… we didn't come here to eat what we can back home). For lunch, we went to the Gallery Cafe, and I had the
best pork curry of my life. The pork was braised and it almost melted in my mouth. For dinner, we headed to Ministry of Crab, which was a treat. The crabs could be prepared in a handful of different ways, but otherwise it was all about the size. You could actually buy the Crabzilla Crab, which was over 2KG and cost $110 upwards. The experience was long and messy, but so good. :-)
One the last day, I got out on my bike early in the morning for an hour of sightseeing. Afterwards, we went to the National Museum, which was set in a old white colonial building close to were we were staying. The first thing that caught my eye was that the admission fees were materially different between locals and foreigners. I have seen this in other countries most notably China, but not to the same degree as here. Anu, the guest house owner, ordered us some lampri for lunch which looked like a tamale with meat and red rice. Once again, so good… For the afternoon, we did a couple package at one of the high-end spas. We had a couple of ladies from Bali doing the work and it was quite good -- 2.5 hours of heaven...
We were off to a good start in Sri Lanka with incredible hospitality and food. Are initial expectations were met, and we can't wait to see the countryside tomorrow.
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