Good day, Bienvenue, Guten tag, Goeie dag or even يوم جيد or
美好的一天 and don’t you just love online translation sites? In whatever language you choose welcome to the seventh instalment of a series regarding my first trip to Sri Lanka in early 2014.
For the benefit of new readers to my pages, and probably to the intense annoyance of my regular readers who I seem to be gathering a few of so thanks, I am going to give my normal word of advice here. The whole story will make a lot more sense if you read from the beginning which you can do here.
14th January, 2014.
Seven posts and this is now the 14th of January. I arrived on the morning of the 9th so even my rudimentary arithmetic can work out that I am constructing an average of more than one post per day. This is no problem for me but in this one I shall get back on the other side of the ledger as I do not appear to have done very much. Actually that is probably not true, I am sure I did something but I just didn’t take images of whatever it was and I am completely reliant on these and the notes I salvaged from the old Virtual Tourist website as aides – memoire to construct these pages.
In this page you are not getting a buy one get one free (with the amusing acronym BOGOF as “Bog off” is a slightly rude expression in English if it is not your first language). Not only that but I can go one better than that and offer you three for the price of one. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, three days for the price of one and that price is an incredible nothing at all!
OK, Fergy, shut up and get on with it. Oh dear, I am talking to myself now.
I must have allowed myself a good lie-in or perhaps gone for a walk as the first images I have are from about 1630 and are of the Dinemore restaurant on Marine Drive in Wellawatta. Here is what I wrote about it at the time and I have included the original title as it is relevant.
Not so fast food but very good.
“I had seen this place a few times as it was near my hotel and I had wondered what it was like. I had actually walked past it on a couple of occasions quite early in the day and knew that it did not open until 1100 and stayed open until 2300.
I had heard of the famous rice and curry, the staple of the Sri Lankan lunch menu and had determined to try it. It is the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Indian thali, namely a selection of dishes and pickles / accompaniments all served with the basis of a large amount of rice.
You should know that in Sri Lanka it is always rice and curry, not curry and rice as we would designate it in the UK as the rice is deemed to be the principal ingredient. It is, in fact, the staple food of a great proportion of the world’s population and I am told that the Lao people do not actually have a verb “to eat” as the word literally translates as “to eat rice”. Everything else is just an add-on.
I wandered in and was immediately directed upstairs. There appeared to be people sitting about downstairs but I took these to be staff as all the eating action appeared to be on the upper floor. I parked myself at a table by the window overlooking Marine Drive which is an interesting view.
It is always amusing to watch people risk life and limb on the road as you eat for that is effectively what the Sri Lankan road system is, a trial by ordeal. It is sort of like watching people performing the Wall of Death on motorcycles as you eat and makes for a wonderful if unintended “floorshow”.
I had decided the rice and curry was going to be the thing, it really is a staple here, so which one to choose? I went for the mutton, ordered from the very friendly waiter who did not speak a whole pile of English. No matter, why should he? The menu boasts predominantly Western dishes and my Sri Lankan friend Treshi later informed me that this particular chain, for such it is, is known for it’s subs and sandwiches.
The restaurant had a vaguely chain feel to it although it was much better furnished than say a McDonalds, KFC or Burger King in UK. The major difference was that there was waiter service. I suppose with labour being relatively cheap here they can afford to. I do not know for sure but I suspect the concept of the minimum wage does not apply here.
The staff were friendly although without much English spoken. No problem, the menu was in English so it was a matter of “point and nod”. Further reinforcing the chain idea was the fact that both the bottled water and the obligatory ketchup were marked as having been specifically produced for Dinemore.
The title of this tip should give you an idea as to what happened (or didn’t) next. I waited about 20 – 25 minutes for my meal. I do not offer this as a criticism, it meant to me that the food was freshly prepared and when it turned up it was delicious. As you can see from the image, there was the “main event” rice with curry, a bit of dhal, an offering (on the bottom right of the image) that was like a mildly spiced potato salad and very tasty, mango chutney, a poppadum and another onion sambal. I should mention that further papad were brought as I ate.
The entire meal was extremely flavoursome and at less than £1:50 Sterling it was extremely good value.
There was one amusing interlude. The waiter was watching me but pretending not to and I knew it was to see whether or not I would eat the three chillies that had been offered. With a little trepidation I smiled at him, held it aloft and bit the whole thing off the stalk. Those of you with knowledge of Asian chilli will know this could have been a potentially catastrophic thing to do but it wasn’t that hot (I can eat quite spicy things) and he sort of nodded at me in a knowing way that suggested “you’ve done this before, Mr. European”. That pleased me a bit.
I don’t suggest you go here just to demonstrate how hot a chilli you can eat but I do recommend it as an excellent place for a cheap and very good meal. On another occasion I had an excellent chicken tikka masala there and which is only available in the evenings as is a lot of the menu. I don’t want the foodies to get on my case and I know chicken tikka masala is not even proper Asian food but I lke it occasionally and this was a very good example of the type.
There is a downstairs area which would be wheelchair / stroller accessible although both times I visited I was asked to dine upstairs. I am sure this would be waived in the appropriate circumstances”.
I have included an image above of the menu to give an indication of what good value the Dinemore represented. When I was there the exchange rate was almost exactly 200LKR to the £ sterling which made conversion mercifully easy so you can see that even the house specialities came in at just a touch over £2 which was an absolute steal.
After my meal I obviously decided to walk it off a little and naturally seek out a beer to wash it all down with and en-route to my assignation with a cold Lion lager I saw the large billboard you can see above which was typical of many that I saw all over the country but specifically around Colombo.
It appears that well over 60 years after the end of British colonial rule in Ceylon / Sri Lanka that education from my home country, and to a lesser extent the USA, is still highly regarded. There is compulsory state education to age 14 but many parents opt to have their offspring educated privately and at huge expense as great store is put on learning here if you can afford it. Sadly, many cannot.
As a further comment on the school system in Sri Lanka I have to mention that schoolchildren are always immaculately turned out. If you are out and about in the morning, which I rarely am, or in the afternoon when school get out you will see them in their spotless, well-pressed uniforms which gladdens the heart of an old man like me who wore uniform at school but tended to be a bit scruffy. I always liked scruffy and still do come to that.
For reasons which I cannot quite explain, probably because I was very thirsty, I found myself back in the Atlantic Hotel bar which I mentioned in a previous post as being a bit soulless and the image shows that it was completely devoid of patrons when I popped in. By then I had discovered the much better Topaz Bar in the Sapphire Hotel which was only a short walk along the Galle Road. I must have been really thirsty and I strongly suspect I would have made the Topaz at some point although I didn’t take any images as I already had some.
That, then was the 14th and so I thinbk we shall pass straight on to
15th January, 2014.
I made sure I awoke in good time on the morning of the 15th as I had something very special to do and I was not going to be late.
Here is the first section of my notes for that day and I should explain that anything in double parentheses (()) is a 2021 explanatory note should it be required.
“I had been in touch with my wonderful friend and very active VT member Treshi who has been such a great help on my current trip to SRi Lanka, and she had very kindly invited me to afternoon tea at the Galadari Hotel in the Fort area of Colombo which is the heart of the city. Afternoon tea? Posh hotel (I had passed it before)? Me? Oops, I might be a little out of my comfort zone here!
Anyway, I dragged a razor across the small portion of my face that is not festooned with facial hair, scrubbed myself up, put on the newer of my two pairs of training shoes, my most presentable travelling trousers and the one shirt I have with me that actually has a collar. Not great and I still looked fairly much like the main character from Jethro Tull’s excellent album Aqualung which I am listening to as I compose this tip. Still, it would have to do as it was the best I had”.
So, I was ready to go and on a technical note, I threw the razor away some time later and my beard now looks like a jungle! I caught the bus into town and was very early so I had a short wander round the Fort area which resulted in a couple of images.
I saw this statue which is nothing more than an advertising vehicle for the Grand Oriental Hotel which I mentioned before if you remember the Tap Bar and somehow it disturbed me slightly. I have discussed here how hiding your head in the sand does not change history but I was still surprised to see this rather well rendered portrayal of a barefoot Sri Lankan drawing a colonial gent, complete with pith helmet and Edwardian? dress, in a man-powered rickshaw. I felt just a touch uncomfortable.
I was wandering about killing time when I saw the rather impressive stupa you can see here although in Sri Lanka such structures are more often referred to as dagobas which derives from the Sanskrit words dhatu – relic and garbha – womb chamber. It is said that such structures originated when Lord Buddha finally left the world and his mortal remains, in the form of ashes following the traditional cremation, were divided into a slightly improbable 40,000 portions and dispatched far and wide to the faithful. Stupas came into being to house these holiest of relics and the practice spread from there.
This particular rather fine example is part of the Sri Sambuddhaloka Maha Viharaya temple which is just along the charmingly named Lotus Road from the Galadari and it is absolutely huge. I liked it so much I went back after dark to take another image of it all lit up which you can see here and I hope you enjoy the comparison.
Back now to my assignation with the lovely Treshi and an explanation about the paucity of images. The simple fact of the matter was that I felt pretty embarrassed about snapping away at everything, especially using flash which I did once or twice and then gave up. Also, it would have been rude when I was in such lovely company. Here is the rest of my report from the time.
“I turned up in good time as it is impolite to keep a lady waiting and the lunacy of the Galle Road traffic is always unpredictable, and then I was faced with my first problem. Treshi had told me to meet her at the hotel but it is absolutely huge. I wandered about the place and was expecting at any minute to be thrown out by security or the very smart concierge on the main door but it didn’t happen although I could not see Treshi anywhere.
I went back outside to call her and have a smoke to calm my nerves as I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Treshi answered the call and said, “I can see you” which prompted me to look around everywhere but still not a sight of her to be seen. It was only when she emerged from her vehicle which was about ten feet behind me and handed the keys to the valet parking chap (I told you it was posh) that I saw her.
After a warm greeting we went inside and took a seat in the delightful foyer area as the afternoon tea service did not begin until 1530.
At the appropriate time we entered the dining area to be greeted by an immaculate maitre d’ who was obviously in charge of the numerous equally immaculate staff and I really was regretting my decision not to pack some smart clothes. The problem is that I have done that too often before in Asia and have lugged chinos, decent shorts and even good shoes around, never to wear them on an extended trip.
Dress codes seem to be so much more relaxed in Asia and I am sure I would have been admitted wearing flipflops (thongs), shorts and a T-shirt which is my normal mode of dress here. The maitre d’ never batted an eyelid at my appearance and was totally courteous and charming. Thanks mate!
Treshi had booked a table which was probably a good move as it was a poya (poye) day. Basically, a poya is a public holiday which occurs on the day of every full moon and so the place was fairly full even though it was a midweek afternoon. We took our seats and I had a look round the dining room which was large and beautifully appointed as you can see.
I am not quite sure what I was expecting of afternoon tea, perhaps the London Savoy variety of the event with quartered cucumber sandwiches, perhaps a clotted cream and raspberry jam scone or two and a nice pot of Orange Pekoe. I certainly was not expecting what I saw which was a buffet on a scale to gladden the heart of even the most dedicated trencherman.
It was a truly gargantuan spread and seemed to encompass just about every cuisine known to man. Sushi dishes sat close to Italian pizza slices, traditional sandwiches vied for space with Sri Lankan specialities and mini hot dogs were just opposite the range of delectable pastries. I have never seen the like of it and everything was constantly replenished by a brigade of at least a dozen cooks.
Treshi walked me round and explained everything to me that was not immediately obvious although everything was signed in English. I started with a bit of sushi, moved on to some sandwiches, a few other titbits and then some pastries to finish.
Everything was absolutely gorgeous and obviously prepared in a top-class kitchen. The presentation was superb. Naturally, I had to finish the whole affair off with a nice cup of Sri Lankan tea. Well, it would be rude not to
We must have been there for a good three hours, chatting and eating and watching the parade of very well-heeled Sri Lankans coming and going but there was never any pressure on us to leave.
There was even a wedding party having photographs taken and rather stupidly I missed the opportunity for what would have made a fine VT flag photo but there have been other chances since. ((I should explain that a feature of the VT website was that we all had small VT flags and we would try to take the most interesting travel images featuring them, you will be getting some examples later in the series)).
The only other Caucasians I saw came in much later and were presumably hotel guests as service had finished by then. I do like that when I travel, being the only “white man” in the place. Somehow it makes me feel like I am properly on the road.
The brigade started clearing away at about 1800 in preparation for the evening service in the lobby and adjacent restaurants. Treshi informed me that the hotel is Muslim owned and therefore no pork is served.
Given that information I was a little surprised to see a bar in the area we were occupying although it was closed as the sale of alcohol is prohibited on a poya day. Actually, I read that the sale of meat is technically prohibited so I am not sure how that works, possibly it is just the sale of meat from the butchers or whatever and previously purchased meat can be sold cooked. I really have no idea and will update this tip if I find out. ((I still don’t know)).
Afternoon tea is served in the Lobby Bar which is on the ground floor and I noticed a ramp to the slightly raised eating area we were seated in so it would be wheelchair accessible. This is one of the few concessions I have seen to the mobility impaired in Sri Lanka and I shall construct a separate tip about this problem. The spotlessly clean toilets are also on the ground floor and so again would be accessible for the mobility impaired traveller.
When it came time to leave, Treshi absolutely insisted on paying. I had fully intended to pay but she had the advantage over me of speaking Sinhala and thus persuaded the maitre d’ to give her the bill. Because of this you will notice that I have not put the cost here. As a matter of principle I refuse to look it up on the internet. If the reader wishes to do so I am sure it is on the attached website somewhere but I will not check and put a monetary price on the most generous gift of what was effectively a priceless afternoon. I didn’t even feel so scruffy as I left and bade Treshi a fond adieu before walking off into the Colombo night, I felt pretty special all told.
It was still only about 1900 but it was poya day and so chances of a beer were less than nothing so I just took myself off for a coffee and then an evening in my room probably watching the food channel, reading and trying desperately to get to sleep but no big deal. It had been a brilliant day and the first time I had met Treshi who has subsequently become one of my best friends in the world as you will eventually find out as and when I get all my Sri Lankan trips written up here.
16th January, 2014.
Thursday the 16th dawned and I know I must have been at the Fort Railway Station by about 1630 that afternoon as you shall see in a moment but what happened before that I have no idea. I am guessing that I had probably gone there to purchase a ticket for travelling South and here is a very useful piece of information for the traveller to Sri Lanka when such becomes possible again.
If you wish to travel by train then buy your tickets as far in advance as possible. Many of the longer distance trains, especially sleepers and the fancy tourist services sell out well in advance. I realise this precludes the type of “turn up and go” travelling that I love but there is no way round it. In those days there was no internet and still isn’t as far as I can see but you can reserve a seat or berth by telephone.
The reason I know I was at Fort at that time which was because I took the image above and I do not wish it to put the potential traveller off in any way. Remember that this trip was seven years ago and so the Civil War was only over five years previously so there were still concerns regarding security. Having been brought up in Northern Ireland I have an inbuilt radar for unattended baggage which has only been reinforced by living in London and the horrors that have happened there.
It is a very serious subject and I do not want to make light of it in any way but if you look closely at the poster you will see why I allowed myself just the faintest of smiles. “THERE CAN BE WALKING EXPLOSIVES!” the poster proclaims, now that I would like to see.
Right at the bottom you may be able to make out that this is a “massage from the Colombo Fort Station Three Wheeler Drivers Society” and that is not a typo. I know that massage is a big part of Asian culture but I think I would be a little concerned if a tuk-tuk driver offered me one! As my Sinhalese extends to one whole word and I don’t even have that in Tamil I suppose I am in no position to talk.
After that I popped into the little eating house right beside the station which never seems to close and offers very decent food in basic surroundings at prices which are possibly even cheaper than the Dinemore if such a thing be possible. This is in such stark contrast to the inflated prices charged anywhere even near a transport facility in Europe.
I remember on a subsequent trip going in there with Treshi at some ludicrously early hour of the morning to meet up with some friends before we all headed off to Kandy for a few days away and it was packed solid. It does seem to be a very popular place. Don’t ask me what the main dish was but I see that roti / paratha and ice cream / kulfi were certainly on the menu or would have been if there was a menu. It is another point and nod operation.
I have no doubt that beers featured in the later stages of the day although remain unrecorded by me but I know I got home OK as I woke up unscathed in my own bed the next morning.
Well, that was your three for one free offer of days in and around Colombo and I realise that there was little in the way of sites / sights but I hope you found something to interest you.
I promise you that in the next post I go hardcore tourist to the extent that I even attempt a bit of Spielberg with the video function on my little camera so if you fancy a bit of that then stay tuned and spread the word.