We've arrived in Sri Lanka! After two flights (via Dehli with Air India), spicy vegetarian plane food and 1 fellow traveller befriended we touched down early Wednesday evening in Colombo. We had our first taste of how travellers can be bewildered by locals as we arranged a taxi with a man outside the airport, who happily chatted to us in the car for a good ten minutes, telling us his name, his favourite parts of Sri Lanka, and where he was from, only to have him pull over, signal another man with a (very large) van and bundle us into that. Needless to say this new *taxi* driver had no idea where anything was in Colombo and Sander spent most of the time directing him with google maps... so lesson learnt, get a taxi arranged from inside the airport with one of the tour companies, don't just wander outside and see who will take you. We were rewarded with a fantastic Sri Lankan sunset on our journey from the airport to Colombo though, so all was not lost.
That evening from our very lovely airbnb ,we hopped into a tuktuk and had our first taste of Sri Lankan cuisine. It's bursting with flavours and there are so many things on the menu that I'd never heard of before; Like Kothu, a delcious roti, veggie and (cheese!) concoction that really is Sri Lankan comfort food. The hoppers (a kind of bread bowl) are very delicious and are wonderful to soak up all the fragrant curries we've tried so far.
Colombo isn't really on the tourist trail in Sri Lanka, most people arrive and then head straight out to one of the beautiful beaches, or South to Galle. We wanted to give it a chance (and we wanted to recover from our jetlag before getting on an overcrowded train to Hikkaduwa), so we spent 4 nights in Colombo. Our first day we pretty much did most of the sites that are on offer. We wandered around Fort, where most of the streets are flanked by colonial buildings, we stuck our noses into the Ministry of Crab but decided against eating there, as neither of us are massive crab lovers, unfortunately.
From the colonial charm of Fort we headed to Pettah, which is intense! It's Colombo's marketplace, street upon street of various shops; it's dense and heaving. We had our fair share of dodging tuktuks, people and vendors before we fled into a local cafe for our first lunch *like a local* experience. We ordered a vegetarian option and waited to see what would arrive; we were pleasantly surprised by around 6 different types of veggie curries (lentils, chickpeas, spinach etc) served with bread and rice. As soon as you finish one dish they just fill it right back up for you! We washed it down with some famous Sri Lankan ginger beer and headed back onto the streets of Colombo.
Our destination was the Buddhist temple Gangaramaya, which was a pleasant break from the strong sun. The temple is also a museum and houses an eclectic display of various Buddhas from around the world. Definitely worth a trip if you find yourself with a day or two in Colombo. It was almost early evening by this time and we went in search of a drink to watch the sunset. After a few unsuccessful attempts (top tip - many restaurants in Colombo do not serve alcohol and even finding an inexpensive bar for a drink is pretty difficult) we ended up at the Galle Face Hotel with a rather pricey beer in hand watching the waves break and the sun go down.
Unfortunately, the next day I came down with flu! So typical! So we were forced to take it very easy and only really left the airbnb for lunch and dinner for the following two days. We did have a few nice meals though and we would recommend the Barefoot cafe for lunch, it has a lovely tree-lined courtyard and a maze of a shop to browse in after you've eaten.
We would also recommend going to Galle Face Green for sunset and staying and eating some of the street food on offer here. The vendors are unlicensed but served us cans of beer, wrapped in paper, served in colourful plastic jugs to disguise the fact they were serving alcohol!
Colombo is worth a couple of days at the start or end of your trip to Sri Lanka, we enjoyed getting a feel for Sri Lankan people and life before heading to the more touristy places. Currently we're in Hikkaduwa, we arrived a day ago, the next post will be about our beach adventures so stay tuned.