Colombo gets Sri Lanka off to a great start

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January 3rd 2015
Published: January 8th 2015
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It was a long journey from Alicante to Colombo. We spent the best part of 24 hours on planes and in airports, changing in both Madrid and Doha (Qatar), before we emerged bleary eyed in to the humid heat of Sri Lanka's capital. We then pre-paid for a taxi to our hotel which avoided so much hassle.

We had chosen the Best Western in Colombo for our first three nights simply because they had a great deal on offer and we needed somewhere comfortable to recover from the journey! $50 a night turned out to be a bargain looking at other options and we even got a free breakfast on arrival as we had a few hours to wait for our room to be ready. The rooftop bar where breakfast is served has wonderful views over the city. We had to wait because they had been fully booked for New Year's Eve. Not bad for a hotel which has only been open for a few months. Ok, so its not central by any means but tuk tuks are easy to use and very cheap.

Colombo is a city which is expanding and modernising at what some might consider to be an alarming rate. We think it gives the place its charm though, and this can easily be seen in the shadows of the enormous twin towers where the old Dutch Hospital has been converted into shops and restaurants with a surprisingly Russ&Trish-friendly price tag! We had a nice wander around the Fort district with its crumbling but beautiful buildings, treating ourselves along the way to a sundowner beer in the faded elegance of the Grand Oriental's bar overlooking the modern port. Not far away but inaccessible thanks to the military bases in the port area stands a giant dagoba, a Buddhist stupa, and it took us so long to walk the long way round that it was dark when we got there and we could hardly see it. Oh well!

The next morning, feeling halfway human again, we headed down to Fort railway station. We had been advised to book our tickets to Kandy in advance but even 48 hours before departure we couldn't get two seats together. Others were told that for the next day all seats were sold. It is always possible to travel in the cheaper carriages though, which will be hot, sweaty and overcrowded. We chose to sit apart!! Next door to the station we had a late breakfast in a little shack. For just £2 between us we were stuffed full of rice with chicken curry which was hot, spicy and delicious. Curry for breakfast? Oh yes! It has to be done!!

We then had a good wander through the bustling market streets of Pettah. All manner of goods are on offer and there seemed to be every electronic lead, cable, plug or adapter you could ever need on some off the stalls. We found our way to the old town hall where someone with a key escorted us upstairs to a locked room inside which was a bizarre diorama depicting a council meeting from 1906. Hopefully they were waxworks and not the actual embalmed bodies of the councillors! In the iron store yard next door is a collection of relics which should form the basis of a transport museum. At the moment the yard seems to be providing a sleeping arrangement for some of the poorer side of society which gave it a rather edgy feel and resulted in just a cursory glance at what could have been an excellent exhibit.

We took a tuk tuk out to Viharamahadevi Park which used to be known as Victoria Park. The new town hall sits on the edge of the park and bears a close resemblance to the Capitol Building in Washington DC. It was getting a bit hot for wandering far though, so we found a shaded spot and ate the fruit we had bought earlier. It was a welcome break but we didn't spot any flying foxes, just hundreds of crows. After our rest we did finally see the flying foxes high up in the trees. One of the park's gardeners wanted to give us a tour but we resisted his advances and he got quite upset. It's possible he even swore at us! Near the park we popped into the National Museum but only to look into their fabulous giftt shop and use their facilities. We did have rather a nice cup of tea too!

After a siesta (yes, we really do have them!) we got a tuk tuk to take us to the MGM Casino. The driver assumed we wanted to gamble but the truth was it was the only place in the district we wanted to go to with a name which couldn't be misunderstood. From there we walked around a bit before settling down in the Green Cabin restaurant where we had very differing views on the food. What we did agree on was that it could have been hotter (but not spicier!) and that ginger beer is surprisingly good. Not fat away was the Cricket Club Cafe which is a veritable shrine to leather on willow. We had a pint at the bar, browsed the displays on every wall but couldn't think of anything suitable enough to write in the tribute book to cricketer Phil Hughes who died in action at the crease recently.

Our last full day in the capital began with a trip to one of the two Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries. The Jawatta cemetery was immaculate as these places always are. It was interesting to see some Dutch military graves and a tribute to Italian prisoners of war there too which is quite unusual. As we left someone was gesticulating to us that we should look in the far corner of the normal cemetery and as we got there we found a series of stone blocks standing up in a rather random order. A man came over and explained that these were the unmarked graves of tsunami victims.

From there we walked towards Independence Square, stopping on the way for a breakfast of samosas of various types which were delicious. The square is a new shopping centre which has been created in an old lunatic asylum. As people who don't particularly like shopping, it seems quite fitting! Nowadays it has been restored in all its colonial glory and the gleaming whitewash was stunning to a painful degree on the eyes. Posh shops were everywhere and posh restaurants too, although the prices on the menu didn't seem too bad for such a place. We found air conditioned comfort and lovely ice-blended coffee in Toby's Estate Coffee House. In front of the shopping centre is the Independence Commemoration Hall. It is a grand monument to Sri Lanka's independence and features a statue of the country's first president.

Nearby we found the race course and sports grounds which were holding a sports day. We saw a bit of hockey, rugby and basketball but how they manage in the heat we don't understand. We retreated to the race course shopping centre for some cool shade. The old grandstand is still a seating area for the sports arena despite not having held a horse race for over 60 years now.

In the evening we went to the swanky Cinnamon Grand Hotel. It is très posh and there's no way we could afford to stay there but being a white westerner nobody bats an eyelid when you stroll in off the street. We decided against eating in one of its restaurants although the prices were not completely outrageous. Instead we went next door to the basement food court in Crescat Boulevard Mall and had some really cheap grub along with many others.

The next morning we felt like jet lag was a thing of the past and made our way to the train station. We left enough time for another £1 curry breakfast before waiting for our train to Kandy.

As a city Colombo grew on us the more we were there. In two weeks we will be back but in the meantime there is much exploring to be done!!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 27


8th January 2015

Curry for breakfast? Yes please!
We LOVE curry for's the best way to start the day. We'll be following your blogs with interest as Sri Lanka is a place we want to visit but haven't managed to yet.
10th January 2015

Curry, curry and more curry
One of the joys of travel for us is that we are foodies so we love the aromas of spices and the dances our taste buds do when we experience new flavors. Siestas should be mandatory.
10th January 2015
Outside KFC the beggars get ignored

Well framed
Very nice framing on this photo
10th January 2015
Outside KFC the beggars get ignored

I thought the combination of the beggar and the KFC sign was quite powerful.

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