Despite having a minor snafu with our hotel reservation upon our arrival, we finally had a good night sleep knowing that we didn’t have to take any more flights or have any exhaustive layovers.
Based on advice we received from others, we decided that one full day in Colombo would probably suffice, so we wanted to get an early start to fit everything in.
By 10 am we were already at out first stop of the day: Barefoot Cafe. Barefoot is an artisanal shop with fashionable clothing, trinkets and knick knacks crafted by local artists and designers.
We were there to visit the cafe portion of the store, which was located near the back in a peaceful garden secluded from the noise of the calamitous Galle Road.
Anthony Bourdain had eaten there when he visited Sri Lanka and we were expecting some great food, but unfortunately they only started serving Sri Lankan dishes for lunch, so we settled for a coffee and some Chinese spring rolls.
We left the peaceful tranquility (and shade) of the garden and went back into the unrelenting heat and humidity that Colombo is known for. 40 degrees with 70% humidity combined with endless traffic and incessant horns makes for an introduction like no other. Almost like Colombo is giving us the finger and telling us to “come at me bro”.
We were staying in a part of town called Bambalapitiya, which roughly translates to far from the city centre. We were around 7km from the most desirable part of town so I decided that walking the entire distance in the scorching heat with porcelain winter skin from Canada with no sunscreen would be a perfect idea. Tracy reluctantly agreed.
A little further down Galle Road we reached Hotel de Pilawoos. Hotel in Sri Lanka is synonymous with local restaurant and this one was famous for its Kotthu Roti: a dish of rottis sliced up with vegetables, meats and gravy for a surprisingly delicious meal. It is sliced up by the cook with metal spatulas and you know when your meal is being made by the intense metallic banging coming from behind the kitchen wall.
My initial impression of Colombo was that it was far more modern than I was expecting, had many western brands at almost every corner and was a hell of a lot cleaner than anything we could have imagined coming out of South Asia. It wasn’t a shit hole!
After passing the unassuming Canadian High Commission and walking through a pretty ritzy area, we finally came upon the National Museum. We didn’t actually go in, but the grounds itself were quite beautiful and opulent.
Right across the street was Viharamahadevi Park. While somewhat arid, it was still nicely groomed and had a large golden Buddha flanked by two rows of palm trees.
The Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka are devoutly Buddhist and I think someone in a car was honking at us as we took a photo in front of the Buddha.
We continued walking in the blistering sun until we arrived at Seema Malakaya Meditation centre. This little oasis of a temple floating on South Beira Lake contrasted by the exhaust of too many cars and skyscrapers around it made for quite the photo op.
This was not far from the Gangaramaya Temple. This temple was quite eclectic and seemed more like a giant tree house with a Buddist motif.
There were countless different Buddhist relics or more likely replicas and a beautiful wall of Buddhas and stupas reminiscent of Borobudur in Indonesia.
The temple even had a sad little elephant being ushered through the gates by its trainer and could be heard from far away due to the metal chains dangling from its poor back.
By this point, the sun was at its absolute worst and we decided to cover some more distance in a tuk tuk. The 3-wheeled tuk tuk ride is a delight in itself. The way the drivers zig and zag through traffic and come dangerously close to all other vehicles on the road without actually ever hitting them is really remarkable.
We were dropped off at the train station and picked up tickets for our next destination, the difficult to pronounce yet spiritually important Anuradhapura.
Right across the street was the boisterous Pettah neighbourhood. This area is the primary market and trading area where you can find and purchase whatever your heart desires.
The streets around Pettah were bursting with activity and the combination of traders, buyers, trucks, tuk tuks and thousands of shoppers made for a very atmospheric stroll.
Pettah is also an extremely diverse area housing the really impressive Jami-Ul-Afar Mosque.
From there we walked to Fort, the more upscale financial and colonial area. Other than banks and government buildings, there wasn’t much to do there.
We stopped to take a break at the Old Dutch Hospital, which is now a restaurant and bar complex which seemed to be pretty popular with all the whities in Colombo.
After having a Starbucks style iced tea and some nuggets from Burger King (we’re very cultured aren’t we), we headed to our final stop of the day, Galle Face Green.
Galle Face Green, while making no grammatical sense, is actually a waterfront hangout with food stalls, park benches, a boardwalk and a large grassy area for kite flyers, cricketers and families.
As we were walking down the boardwalk, a crow decided to check Tracy’s head for potential real estate. Already not a fan of birds, she was not amused.
We then sat down by the water at a small food stall and enjoyed a curry chicken dish as the sun set.
Not a bad first day in Sri Lanka. I think we did everything you could possibly do, see and eat in Colombo.
Now it was out with the new and in with the old. Next stop: the sacred city of Anuradhapura!