A Travellerspoint blog

Chaos and Calm in the Capital

Colombo

After a few days in quiet Galle on the South coast, we took a 3 hour bus journey North to Colombo, the capital city.

We arrived in the morning and headed straight for the Pettah disctrict in the North of the city. This is where all the action is. Its the bazaar district and the streets are crammed full of everything imaginable for sale. There were stalls outside shops and even auctions taking place on street corners. There were people everywhere, it was noisy and all sorts of traffic came flying out of nowhere in all directions..

Pettah district, Colombo

Pettah district, Colombo

No room for manoeuvre in the capital

No room for manoeuvre in the capital

Mosque in the central bazaar area of Colombo

Mosque in the central bazaar area of Colombo

After lunch in an Indian restaurant, we headed to Gangaramaya temple, the most important Buddhist temple in the city. It was a fascinating complex of buildings with the main one housing a giant Buddha and surrounded by other deities. All of the walls and ceilings were ornately decorated with scenes from Buddha's life.

Gangaramaya temple

Gangaramaya temple


Contorted dwarves at buddhist temple - symbol of prosperity

Contorted dwarves at buddhist temple - symbol of prosperity

Wandering around in the temple

Wandering around in the temple

Thai buddha at Gangaramaya temple Colombo

Thai buddha at Gangaramaya temple Colombo

Temple statue

Temple statue

Outside in the courtyard we found the temple elephant. It was a nice surprise, but he did seem really frustrated chained up there in the heat.

Temple elephant at Gangaramaya temple Colombo

Temple elephant at Gangaramaya temple Colombo

We then headed to the Seema Malaka temple across the road. This Buddhist temple is more modern and was designed by famous Asian architect, Geoffrey Bawa. It was made on the side of Beera lake and is a very calm and relaxed place compared to the chaos of the Pettah district. We liked the Thai Buddha's here all lined up around the edge of the temple, with the towers of the financial quarter in the background.

Seema Malaka temple with financial quarter in the distance

Seema Malaka temple with financial quarter in the distance

Soph feeling serene

Soph feeling serene

From here, we headed to Viharamahaderi Park (named after the mother of a historic Sri Lankan warrior king!), which is huge and was full of local families and children having fun. The park was established during the British rule and was originally called Victoria Park until the 1950s when Sri Lanka got independence and renamed everything! We had some freshly squeezed orange juice and rested our feet - it was HOT!!

Us chilling in Victoria Park

Us chilling in Victoria Park

Victoria Park, Colombo, before sunset

Victoria Park, Colombo, before sunset

Next, feeling hungry, we went by tuktuk to Galle Face Green, a grassy area running along the seafront where families and tourist come every day to relax, watch the sunset over the ocean, have some tasty street food and generally have fun. There were colourful kites flying in the sky and people down in the water. The whole mile long stretch of the Green was lined with food stalls and snacks. We tried a Sri Lanka dish called Chicken Kottu, which was amazing, the best food we have had so far! All of the tasty ingredients for the dish are chopped and fried at the same time, on a hot plate and the metal cleavers make a loud drumming sound - very exciting! Sully loved Galle Face and decided he now wants to move to Sri Lanka so he can go there every day!

Lady selling kites at Galle Face Green

Lady selling kites at Galle Face Green

Check your weight for 5rupees

Check your weight for 5rupees

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 00:38 Archived in Sri Lanka

Sunset on the ramparts

Galle Fort, UNESCO listed town

After a week on the beach we headed to nearby Galle, which is a port town on the South coast that has a well preserved fort, dating from the Dutch period of rule and has well preserved Dutch buildings and colonial villas plus a lighthouse. Its very quiet and peaceful in this part of the town and the families here have been around for generations. Outside of the fort area, the new town is much more lively and chaotic like you'd expect from an Asian city.

On our first night we walked along the wide, grassy, ramparts of the Fort and watched the sun set and the sky turn red. There were lots of families and children around and there was a great, relaxed atmosphere. Once the sun sets here (at 6pm) it goes pitch black!

View of the Galle Fort area

View of the Galle Fort area

Sunset from the ramparts at Galle Fort

Sunset from the ramparts at Galle Fort

There was a carom board in our guesthouse so Sully taught Sophia how to play. Its a traditional Asian game which is very slightly like pool, each player has to pot a colour by flicking the discs around the board.

Sully reliving his youth with a game of Carom

Sully reliving his youth with a game of Carom

One morning we went on a cycle ride around the countryside surrounding Galle. Before setting off we had a traditional Sri Lanka breakfast - egg hoppers. These are small, bowl shaped pancakes, with an egg in the middle! Breakfast tea is served very milky and extremely sweet here - Soph is not complaining!

The bike ride was fantastic as it was sunny but not too hot. We saw peacocks in the trees and one in the field who fanned his feathers as we cycled past. We saw a huge monkey in a tree that looked too heavy for the branches. We also saw electric blue kingfishers and even an eagle. The most memorable sight was an iguana beside a small pond that was the size of a dog! We almost missed it but our guide pointed it out. There were also water buffalo with small white birds sitting on their backs. We passed a large buddhist temple, through small villages and rice paddies with men working hard in them. We saw a small tea plantation on a hillside and stunning scenery with palm trees everywhere!

Bike tour inland from the coast

Bike tour inland from the coast

Water buffalo

Water buffalo

Iguana the size of a dog!!

Iguana the size of a dog!!

Sully on tour

Sully on tour

Working in the rice paddies

Working in the rice paddies

Before we went through all the mud

Before we went through all the mud

Growing in the trees we saw coconuts, mangoes, papaya, limes, green peppercorns and bananas (which are much more delicious here!).

One morning we took a walk outside of the Fort to experience the hectic bazaar shopping district and bought some lego for the children of the family we are going to be visiting. We passed by the Galle International Cricket Stadium and managed to talk our way past security as there are no matches on while we're here. The local youth team were there and Sully had a great time with them!

Sully playing cricket with the kids at Galle international stadium

Sully playing cricket with the kids at Galle international stadium

Sully playing cricket

Sully playing cricket

We also visited a madrasa where young boys are living and being educated. It has been established specifically for very poor children and orphans. We spent some time learning about the place and saw the living conditions there, it was extremely basic and humble. We met the young boys there and gave them some sweets and Sully spent some time teaching them and getting to know them. We also made a donation to this charity.

Whilst we were in Galle it was Eid festival (Hajji festival) and we had been invited to see how it is celebrated with some of the local families. In the morning, Sully attended the mosque in the Galle Fort and we then went to a family's house where we were given breakfast. It was red milk rice followed by beef curry and noodles. We weren't too keen but really pleased to have been invited and to join their festivities. That morning the town was full of families and children visiting each other and all dressed in brand new clothes, which is tradition for Eid. It was a lovely atmosphere.

In the afternoon of Eid we went to the house of Hussein and Ismia. Hussein is the gem shop owner that we had met in Unawatuna. They live in a nice house outside of the Fort which they had recently had built and where they live with their three children. We had a traditional Eid lunch of beef biryani and then a traditional Sri Lankan dessert called Wattalapam which is a bit like soft fudge and tastes rich like treacle.

Sully went out to drive Hussein's motorbike and experience Sri Lankan roads. He was worried about the other drivers but it turned out the biggest danger was a large coconut that fell from a tree and nearly hit him on the head! Aparantly people actually die from that here!

After Sully's narrow escape we went back to Galle Fort where we watched the sunset from the roof top of our guest house (and where Soph was drying our laundry!).

Mosque at sunset

Mosque at sunset

Sunset view from the rooftop of our guesthouse in Galle

Sunset view from the rooftop of our guesthouse in Galle

Whilst walking around in the Fort we spent time talking to all of the local people and we met a very old man in the roti shop who is now retired. He was previously the muezzin at the local mosque and was a very pious man with an interesting face and a bike that had been funded by UNESCO!

We also saw a TV advert being filmed on the ramparts for an Indian shampoo called Himalaya. We asked if they needed any extras - but were politely refused!

We had three days in Galle and really got to see the local way of life and try some great foods. The Fort area was pleasant but a little too quiet for us (it was like a ghost town after 6pm!) and we are looking forward to moving on to Colombo, the capital city!

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 01:24 Archived in Sri Lanka

Lucky Tuna in Unawatuna

A week on the beach relaxing

Before we left the UK, we had decided to spend our first week on a beach, relaxing and making some plans for the months ahead.

We started in Unawatuna which is a small, picturesque village on the South coast of Sri Lanka. Its a popular hangout for backpacker types as it has a fantastic beach, some cool places to eat and shop all along the beacg and no package resorts in sight! We spent a week here and had lots more fun and adventure than we were planning for.

On our first night, we were woken at 4am by the sound of a flute and drums in the distance (think indian snake charmer), we got out of bed to investigate and saw a procession of men carrying lanterns and playing instruments, followed by around 20 women, all dressed in white and chanting as they passed through the streets in the dark. We found out the next day that its a holy time and that the Buddhist monks are praying for rain. They turned out to be successful as we had monsoon type rains every afternoon while we were here! The thunder and lightning over the ocean was amazing and really quite scary!

Walking around the village we saw squirrels in the trees, bright blue peacocks and even a monkey jumping between the banches!

We spent some time talking to the owner of our hotel. A small Sri Lankan lady who attributes all of her business success to her faith in Buddhism. She had designed the hotel herself and project managed the build too. The only thing she hadn't done was pick the layout of the floor plans, this is done by holy men in Sri Lanka as a building's plans must be set according to horoscopes to ensure prosperity!

Whilst here Sully took the opportunity to get some Ayurvedic (local herbal) treatment, its a speciality of South India and Sri Lanka. Sophia spent the time talking to a young village girl who introduced her family and read her thumbelina book in English. The family are very poor and the girl cycles miles to school everyday, but she wants to be a doctor when she is older!

Ayurveda treatments

Ayurveda treatments


Soph's thumberlina friend

Soph's thumberlina friend

Each afternoon we bought some snacks for lunch from the "bakevan" that drives around the village (like an icecream man) playing the tune to "Santa Claus is coming to town". He sells loads of cheap sweet and savory snacks and samosas and the local people all come out to get their fresh bread from him.

Bakevan

Bakevan

The older, traditionally dressed, men here wear a type of full length skirt which they call a sa-rong, they are cool patterns and look comfortable, Sully has decided that he wants to buy one. With his tan coming along nicely, he'll soon look like one of the locals!

One evening we had dinner on the beach at a place called Lucky Tuna. All of the freshly caught fish was laid out on and we picked what we wanted. Soph had a tuna and Sully picked a coral fish. It was then barbecued for us next to our table and marinated in a sauce made from orange, passionfruit and lime. Delicious!

Sully with BBQ chef and owner of Lucky Tuna

Sully with BBQ chef and owner of Lucky Tuna

Our fish marinated and on BBQ

Our fish marinated and on BBQ

Popular beachside restaurant

Popular beachside restaurant

Grilled fish on the beach

Grilled fish on the beach

One morning we heard drumming coming from a temple opposite our guest house. We ventured in to investigate and found a school in there. The children were having a marching band lesson (legacy from the empire??) and we were invited to sit and watch. We then joined the class and ended up teaching the children some English songs including twinkle, twinkle and heads, shoulders, knees and toes! We really enjoyed ourselves, maybe more than the kids!

Kids in marching band

Kids in marching band

Kids marching band lesson

Kids marching band lesson

Soph teaching nursery rhymes

Soph teaching nursery rhymes

Whilst out shopping, Sully got talking to a local business owner who runs a gem shop. After a long chat and a few drinks, we were invited to his house for lunch and to meet his family and spend the Eid festival with them. He told us about life in Sri Lanka and also about what it was like after the tsunami happened in 2004 and how he rebuilt his business.

After a discussion with our hotel owner about Sri Lankan food, which is tasty but not very varied, we arranged for Sophia to cook for her and her staff in the hotel kitchen (no pressure then!). Soph cooked up an Indian potato curry as Buddhist are mainly vegetarian, which went down a treat. Phew! In return, the young chef there taught us how to make coconut rotis and all together it made a delicious meal

Soph cooking with hotel chef

Soph cooking with hotel chef

Whilst in Unawatuna we also visited a Buddhist shrine which overlooks the beach. It seems that Buddhism and Hinduism are closely entwined here as there were shrines for Hindu gods too such as Ganesh and Vishnu. The priest accompanied us around, although he didn't speak any English. We climbed to a dagoba at the top of a hill and had great views out over the ocean. From here we could also see 'Hanuman's Rock' which is the Himalayan rock carried over to Sri Lanka by the Hindu monkey God because it had medicinal herbs growing on it.

Priest blessed us with his feathers

Priest blessed us with his feathers

Priest with idol

Priest with idol

Priest with Buddha

Priest with Buddha

Dagoba Unawatuna

Dagoba Unawatuna

Hanumans rock

Hanumans rock

When we weren't too busy having fun, we spent most of our time on the beach, swimming in the ocean, drinking coconut milk, eating fresh fruit and waiting for the beautiful sunsets. We love Unawatuna and would love to come back in future.

Sully with front row seats for sunset and music

Sully with front row seats for sunset and music

Lady selling items on beach

Lady selling items on beach

Local maradonna!

Local maradonna!

Orange sunset at Unawatuna beach

Orange sunset at Unawatuna beach

Beach by night

Beach by night

Beach at night

Beach at night

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 00:42 Archived in Sri Lanka

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Our journey from Birmingham to Sri Lanka - destination BEACH

After a hectic week, we were dropped off at Kings Norton train station by Sully's parents. We took a train to New Street, a stroll to Corporation Street (wondering why we had packed so much!), a megabus to London Victoria, a train to Gatwick, a shuttle to the airport and a six hour flight to Dubai! Well, it was on a budget but took ages and we are starting to realise what we have let ourselves in for!

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Our transit in Dubai was short but we had enough time to venture out and experience the heat of the Middle East before heading into an air conditioned shopping mall to cool off!

Spot the Sheikh

Spot the Sheikh

Brand spanking new Dubai metro!

Brand spanking new Dubai metro!

Dubai stop off

Dubai stop off

Dubai at night

Dubai at night

Shoppers in Dubai

Shoppers in Dubai

We then took another four hour flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and then a bus from the airport to the city centre. The bus seemed to take forever and by this point it was Wednesday morning, we had left Birmingham on Monday afternoon!

After a short train ride slightly south of the city and our first tuktuk ride of many to come, we arrived in Mount Lavinia. Its a suburb of the city with cheaper accommodation and a quiet beach used only by local families. We did a homestay with a nice lady called Priya who has a turtle living in her garden! We were jet lagged and exhausted so after a quick curry, a cold shower and a walk along the beach (having crossed a railway line to get onto it!) we just slept!

Finally we are in Sri Lanka....phew!

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(Laura, I really should have asked you to show me how the mosquito net works, after stabbing myself in the thumb with the pins I managed to construct it like a tent using a broom! haha! resourceful at least! - Sophia)

The next morning we took a train to the South Coast of Sri Lanka, a 3 hour journey which was meant to be by train. However, we discovered that the tracks are being repaired half way down the coast and we completed the journey by bus.

Taking a train here is insightful experience. Firstly there are the holes in the ground for toilets through which you can see the tracks running below, then there are the salesmen that pass through the carriages selling all types of fruit, dried crispy prawns, samosas and pastries, medicine for dental ailments and local newspapers etc. There are also plenty of people who stop, stare and are willing to tell you their life stories and then want money in return (or a bottle of beer as its their birthday?!)

Apart from all this chaos, the train tracks run along the coast and there are great views of the beaches and the ocean, there are no windows so there's a great breeze. There are also no doors and the younger local lads ride on the steps of the train, half hanging out! On the other side of the track we passed lots of villages and saw all the scenes of daily life here; buffalo pulling carts, old men selling coconuts, small children playing in the road and waving at the train as it goes past.
DSCF6004.jpgTrain to Alutgama

Train to Alutgama

Highway by coast

Highway by coast

Finally we arrived in Dehawella, near Unawatuna on the South Coast. We had our first two nights booked for us as a present from the Redferns and the Achilleas (Thanks guys!) and it was a fantastic way to sleep of the jet lag, freshen up and relax in pure luxury and on a pristine beach - now we are ready to begin our adventure!

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Sri Lankan rice and curry for one!

Sri Lankan rice and curry for one!

Happy 30th Soph - from Koula and Laura

Happy 30th Soph - from Koula and Laura

Beach Bum

Beach Bum

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 04:51 Archived in Sri Lanka

Bon Voyage Bar

Leaving party and final week

Thanks to all of our family and friends for giving us a fantastic send off. The 'around the world' themed party was loads of fun and the cocktails and curry went down a treat! Koula with the whole world in her hands

Koula with the whole world in her hands

The Hoqs!

The Hoqs!

Raj and sister - arab ladies

Raj and sister - arab ladies

Koula on the kettle

Koula on the kettle

The mexican and Oz soon to wed

The mexican and Oz soon to wed

Vietnamese lady

Vietnamese lady

Fancy dress at leaving party

Fancy dress at leaving party

Pink flamingo

Pink flamingo

Cocktails at leaving party's Bon Voyage Bar

Cocktails at leaving party's Bon Voyage Bar

Leaving party dance

Leaving party dance

Our final week in England was hectic, with final packing and getting the house ready for letting. We also managed to fit in a high-speed go karting session (best laptime went to Sophia!), a surprise scuba lesson, Sully's send of roda at Capoeira and Koula and Mario's big, fat Greek wedding! Lots of fun!

We are already exhausted but excited about what's to come!

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 04:44 Archived in United Kingdom

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