Yesterday’s bike part search was a success! Barry managed to get his bike fixed, and we managed to improvise a part for my handlebar bag so we are all good to go!
We had a walking tour scheduled for 4pm, so we decided to head out early, have some lunch (Which was amazing btw – Barry was almost embarrassing to sit with as he was having a “relationship” with his meal) then over to the Dutch Hospital that dates back to the early to mid 1600’s (where the tour starts). The Dutch Hospital is one of the only remaining examples of Dutch architecture in Colombo. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Fort in Colombo went through the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, all whom had differing opinions as to what the Fort should look like and be used for. The Portuguese mainly used it as arms storage and for shipping, the Dutch expanded the walls, storage and erected mansions (including the hospital), the Brits tore the walls (and mansions) down and built up a major commercial district. The Fort area was the commercial heart of Colombo, until a terrorist truck bombing in 1996 destroyed an entire block, killed 200 people and essentially forced businesses out of the area with the escalated security that ensued (The president’s residence is also nearby). The remaining buildings are for the most part examples of British/Eurpoean colonial architecture… Unfortunately, since 1996, most of these grand buildings have fallen into disrepair.. It is only recently, after the end of the civil war that an effort has been made to restore them and bring businesses back to the heart of Colombo. At the end of the civil war, the government was still paying all these soldiers who were basically now out of work. So instead of laying them off, they redeployed them to help rebuild the Fort area. So things are really starting to improve… Walking through the fort area was like walking back into time… So many things have stayed the same, it’s not difficult to imagine what the hustle and bustle of the busy Chattam street was like a century ago. Grand department stores, grand hotels and the like. I should mention, one of THE grandest hotels was built in 1834 – the Grand Oriental Hotel, or GOH for short, was the Titanic of hotels and was THE destination for travellers and potential colonists and required arrangements with the manager prior to arriving. It boasted a sewer system and hot water! Anyway – a grant was given by the British monarchy of 30,000GBP to build this thing… No expenses were spared… it still came in under budget and was built for a mere 10,000GBP?!?. Anyway, today it is still a hotel, but unfortunately only a shadow of it’s past… hopefully someone will attempt to bring it back to it’s glamorous self… It really is such a gem.
After the Fort area, we ended up in Pettah – which is the main market/bazaar area, one of the oldest parts of Colombo. It was nightfall by the time we got there and it was CRAZINESS. It is also one of the most ethnically mixed places in the country! Within 1 square block, we walked by a Mosque, Hindu Temple and Buddhist Temple… Anyway, you can probably find just about anything in this place, shops, stalls and street vendors peddling anything from clothing, textiles, to spices and fruit… It was quite the adventure, especially trying to avoid the tuk tuks whipping down the narrow streets with large vehicles, carts and whatever else. I am still amazed at the traffic and how it just seems to “work”… more on that later. Anyway – we got to see a lot, try some different street foods, have a few beers and have a more intimate look at Colombo – success!
For dinner, Barry in true form researched the heck out of restaurants, and found this one highly rated on trip advisor. It was called “Ministry of Crab”, apparently owned by some famous Sri Lankan Cricket players…. Anyway – all they serve is crab and you basically choose the size and preparation… we ordered 2 “small” size crabs and that was more than enough… I haven’t had crab like that in AGES! It was really quite a treat… expensive by Sri Lankan standards, but waaayyyy cheaper than we would get it a home. That is the other thing I should mention, prices here are relatively inexpensive. colombo is probably even on the high side of things. We have been getting across the city in tuk tuks for about $1/trip… awesome! Anyway – back to the crabby dinner.. we got there just in time as the skies opened up and it rained like I have never seen rain before. But it was all over with by the time we were finished our meal. I even have a picture of Barry in his “Keep Calm and Crab On” bib lol – I am SO posting that!
Today we started our day with yet another FABULOUS Sri Lankan style breakfast courtesy of our guesthouse. I am really starting to think Barry loves the food more than he loves me 😞 he has started multiple relationships with food this trip and we’re only a few days in haha! After breakfast, we headed out to the National Museum and strolled through a very large park (I will have to get the name of it – Sinhalese names are very long and very difficult to pronounce!)
The lady at our guesthouse ordered us some Lumpreys (sp?) for lunch – apparently a dutch-Sinhalese treat these days… rice, chicken and spices wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf… so again – YUM. After lunch we headed off for the spa! yes ladies and gentleman, you heard correctly, we went to a spa! Ayurveda, is a traditional spa ritual with various herbs etc. essentially we had a 2 hour treatment and it was WONDERFUL. I feel soooo relaxed…
Tonight, we topped off the day (After waiting out yet another monsoon) with a Sri Lankan Style buffet at one of the big hotels here in Colombo – have to say it was a tad tacky (was a pretend village with huts), but the food was served buffet-style and in clay pots and was again phenomenal.
So – this was out last day in Colombo – first impressions: friendly people, great value, beautiful country with HEAPS of potential – now off to bed early in anticipation of the 5:30 am start out to Bentota… hopefully we can beat the traffic out of Colombo (early) – I think if we can do that it won’t be too bad. As I said before traffic here is extremely chaotic, yet it seems to just work. They have adopted the British rules of driving on the left, drivers, while crazy are slightly courteous in that they will always give you a honk as they are passing and they ail drive around you – secret is just to stay in a straight line and don’t panic… I will let you all know how that goes after our 60Km ride tomorrow. We have a nice B&B booked in Bentota so hope to get in early and enjoy a day on the beach!