Well, well, take a look at this. It appears I am now into double figures for posts in this (not so) little series about my three month trip to Sri Lanka in the early part of 2014. I am only on the tenth day of the 90 on my visa so I can see a long haul ahead although the writing so far has only taken me six days and where I am getting this sudden attack of productivity from is anybody’s guess. At this rate, if I can maintain it, I should be finished by about April 2020 but I’m not promising anything.
You can read the whole story from the beginning if you have not already done so although I know some of my “regulars” are courageously slogging their way through.
If you have read the previous entries you will know that “yesterday” in real time I had gone on a bit of a tourist frenzy in central Colombo so it was likely I was going to have a quieter day “today” and so it was to prove. If you want to find out about it, please read on.
18th January, 2014.
Saturday started late due to a fairly heavy session the previous evening and it appears that most of the day was spent in my room, probably either reading, utilising the excellent wi-fi to knock up some reviews for the website I contributed to then, watching the Food Channel, or any combination thereof. The Food Channel must have made me hungry as I had obviously decided to head out for a bite to eat and I didn’t even do that until nearly 1700 hrs. which is ridiculous as it gets dark in Colombo about 1800 so that was a day gone.
What is equally ridiculous is that I didn’t once eat in my hotel in the fortnight I was there despite there being a very pleasant looking rstaurant with a sea view. For reasons unknown I didn’t get round to it and when I went out and headed South towards the areas of Galwala and Dehiwala. Previously I had not ventured further in this direction than the Wadiya beach bar restaurant where I had previously met the wonderful TV crew and had a few great nights.
I started walking and came to the bridge over the river which is beside the beach bar but it was only later that I discovered it was not a river at all but rather the Dehiwala Canal which runs from the sea here Northeast to join with the larger Kirulapana Canal which in turn runs into a complete network of other canals.
I mentioned in a previous post about how much I love canals and I have even posted another series on this blog about a wonderful long weekend I spent with friends on a narrowboat in Yorkshire. You can read about it here if you like. I cannot believe that, even having seen one, I did not explore this apparently largely disused system. Memo to self: if you are ever able to get back to Sri Lanka, explore canals – consider kayak!
Back to my walk in the gathering dusk along previously unexplored territory, which is always fun. I didn’t see a whole lot before darkness fell but I did manage the three images above. I loved the one advertising a fruit drink, two mini hotdogs and a shower for 100LKR which was almost exactly 50 pence at that time which is a bargain in anyone’s book. Obviously the shower was intended for those using the beach across the road and Dehiwala Beach seems a little more attractive than Wellawatta Beach so perhaps they get some trade.
The other two images I took for couple of reasons, mostly because my surname is Campbell which caused me to wonder which one of my very far distant relations is being commemorated here and secondly because of the signage itself.
The official sign is obviously brand new as Tokyo Super had not had time to buy the advertising space and if you don’t understand that you’ll have to read back a few posts. It appears that prior to the new sign some of the locals had made their own attempt to identify the road with indifferent results as you can see. It did make me smile.
I obviously had no idea about the eating options in this area and so I just picked one at random and in my usual fashion I shall rely on my original title and notes, written for the Virtual Tourist website, to tell you about it.
Friendly, average food, odd serving style.
“I had decided to head South from my hotel one day to explore an area of South Colombo called Dehiwala. To be honest, it is not that exciting although it does feature the Colombo Zoo ((I shall deal with that later)).
Unusually for me I found myself a little hungry in the afternoon. I know it will sound odd to the casual reader here but I generally eat one large meal in the day in the evening / night time. I know dieticians will scream in horror but it is a system that seems to suit me.
On the Galle Road (the main drag heading South from Colombo) I came upon Flame ‘n’ Flavours which looked spotlessly clean and had a English menu blackboard outside which was helpful. I don’t need an English menu and regularly resort to “point and nod” as I have explained elsewhere.
I sallied in ((remember sallying from an earlier post?)), pointed at what looked like a decent curry and indicated rice and one of the rather thick roti that were sitting pre-prepared on top of the chiller cabinet. I had a look around and it was certainly a lovely eating space, including what seemed to be some sort of “chillout” bar to the rear which obviously doubled as the manager’s office.
This idea was confirmed when the obviously Sri Lankan manager, who had been in some sort of business discussion with a gentleman and lady approached me for a chat. In the course of discourse (I like that phrase, it might make a good song title some day if it has not already been used) it turned out that he had the slightly improbable forename of Shane and his grandfather (or was it great grandfather?) had been an Irishman who had come to the then Ceylon to help run the railways.
This was a strange coincidence as my maternal grandfather was a railwayman himself which led to an interesting conversation. He did tell me his surname which was equally British, I think it may have been White but I cannot recall now.
The meal duly appeared and it was served in a manner I have not seen before in all my travels. They put a micro thin sheet of cellophane on the plate before placing the food on it. I really have no idea what this is about, maybe it saves on the washing up!
As for the food, well the curry was very tasty and packed a bit of a punch which suits me although it was served at room temperature which does not. It appears to be common here and I am always in favour of eating to local norms but I really do not like less than lukewarm curry. I had imagined that the roti was there as an indication of what was on offer but no, it was stone cold and obviously taken off the pre-prepared plate. It was tasty enough but I like my Asian breads hot.
Regular readers of my pages here will know that I hate giving negative reviews and I should re-iterate that the welcome and friendliness here was superb. The food may well have been to local taste in which case I apologise unreservedly for not adopting it but it really didn’t appeal to me which is a shame as Shane is obviously trying so hard to get a good place going here in an area that is not generally visited by travellers.
The lack of any obvious internet presence indicates to me that this may be a fairly new place. I did speak to Shane about my reservations and he promised to take them on board so don’t dismiss this place out of hand.
I can only tip it here on VT as I found it which wasn’t that great. Not, I think from lack of effort and I do wish them well.
It appears that no alcohol is served here. I did not use the toilets and so cannot comment but the restaurant is all on ground level without steps which should make it wheelchair accessible”.
Sadly, it appears as though they have gone out of business by 2021 so my good wishes apparently availed them nothing.
Having “taken on solids”, as the old Forces expression is, it was time for the major food group i.e. beer and I have no images to suggest where I went but it was only just gone 1800 hrs. when I left the restaurant so there was no way I was going to go straight back to my hotel. I am trying to use a bit of logic to get round this which is a trait not normally associated with me.
There were no bars between me and the Sapphire Hotel / Topaz Bar which was only about a mile along the Galle Road. If I had gone to a place I had not been before I would have been sure to have taken at least one image so I could write about it. If I had gone to the beach bar I would have undoubtedly tried to take “arty” images of the palm trees so I am going to go with a night in the Topaz and then bed.
As this was a short day I am going to crack straight on until the next day but before that I am going to do something rather evil to you, much as I love you all and I am even going to tell you what is coming next.
Do you remember I had told you that Colombo Zoo was in Dehiwala? Well, we’re all going to the zoo tomorrow. Do you know the song?
“Daddy’s takin’ us to the zoo tomorrow,
Zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow
Daddy’s takin’ us to the zoo tomorrow
And we can stay all day.”
Just about everyone has had a go at recording it – Peter, Paul and Mary, Julie Felix (seen doing it here), just about everybody. There you are, I have done the evil thing.
I do not know if you have heard of the concept of an earworm. If you have not it is when you get a song in your head and cannot get it out even if you hate it. There was a DJ on a national British radio station who used to get people to call in with their earworm for the day and then he would play it so the whole listenership would have it in their heads as well.
I will guarantee that some of you will in the next few hours or even days find yourself either thinking about “going to the zoo tomorrow”, humming it whistling it or, in extreme cases, even singing it.
Years ago I worked with a great bloke called “Barry the Bear” (don’t ask) who did this all the time. He would come into the office humming or whistling some ridiculous or incongruous song. I remember him coming in on a stinking hot summer day singing “Jingle Bells”. Then he would just sit quietly, waiting and listening. Inevitably and often hours later someone would be humming it as they typed and Barry would shout at them, “Got you”. Try it, I promise it works.
Of course there is one flaw in my evil little plan and that is the ever-present possibility of a self-inflicted earworm. When I was thinking ahead about what I was going to write in this piece and, contrary to all appearances I do think about it, I thought I would do this and I have been humming the damned song for about 24 hours now!
Digression over, “Fergy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow” and we will “stay all day”. If you want to come, just read on.
19th January, 2014.
I was up and about a lot earlier than the previous day for my trip to the zoo. It was a much warmer day than I had previously had and I was fairly warm by the time I got there.
On the way I spotted these two apsara on either side of a gateway leading to what appeared to be a patch of sand but there must have been some significance or else they would not have had these fine carvings there. I was aware of apsara form my travels in Cambodia, particularly round Angkor where there are literally thousands of them but these were the first I had seen in Sri Lanka.
Apsara are sometimes rendered in English as “fairies”, “nymphs” or even “angels” as they are believed to be able to fly and inhabit the air. They are much associated with dancing, which they are supposedly skilled at and are believed to do so in the homes of the gods.
Not far from the apsara I saw the lovely sight you can see above where a very welcome cold drink was taken. If you believe the old saying that “horses sweat, men perspire and ladies merely glow” then I was perspiring like the proverbial pig by this point.
I have no idea what the significance of the name Cornish Café is,because I used to spend a bit of time in that lovely English county and this had absolutely nothing to do with it, not even a picture of Perranporth on the wall. Either the owners agreed with me or they sold it on because it is now rebranded as the Marbaha Hotel and Bakers.
Suitably refreshed, I stepped out for the zoo and again my original notes will serve here to describe the it to you.
I’m still not sure about this place.
“I should preface this tip by saying that I love Asia and just about everything about it. It is the continent I have travelled most extensively in and, whilst I hope to visit other continents, I remain drawn here. I should also say that I do not particularly like zoos as I am inherently against the idea of wild animals being caged, often in conditions that are far less than their requirements.
To me the concept of a wild creature pacing a cage with no means of living any sort of natural life is completely repugnant. I remember a visit to a zoo in Darjeeling (India) many years ago which actually left me quite traumatized.
Yes, I have been to London Zoo which is apparently one of the better examples worldwide but I am still unsure. I know that many international zoos run very important breeding programmes maintaining species that find it no longer viable to exist in the modern world, and they do a wonderful job, but I’m still unconvinced.
Anyway, I had heard of the Zoo in Colombo and it was in walking distance from where I was staying in Wellewatta. OK, I say walking distance although this is my walking distance and I do like to walk a fair bit even in the blazing heat of a Sri Lankan midday. The reader may want to consider alternative options.
When I eventually arrived at the place (there is no signage, I was using a map) the sign for admission price was extremely explicit. I have always known that there was a locals price and a tourist price which is not a problem at all but the discrepancy here was very marked, somewhere in the order of five times.
The lovely lady at the ticket booth took my very inflated tourist rupee and so I entered. I have to say here that the signage is very good inside and if you follow the numbered signs, you will not miss anything. Basically, start by going to your left and just keep looking for waymarks, you’ll be OK. They number up to 60, I believe.
I began my tour in the aquarium which was interesting although rather busy. Being a Sunday afternoon, the place was very full. I suggest the traveller visits (if he / she wishes to) on a weekday.
I am not going to go into every single beast I saw here ((I shall show you some of them below)) but suffice it to say that I still do not like zoos. In fairness, there were many signs about the plans to improve and even expand the place.
My guidebook mentioned that this zoo had been started by a foreigner who wanted to house his animals when his circus was no longer financially successful. It seemed like nothing had changed much.
Frankly, the image of this place that I shall carry with me is one of two beautiful leopards doing a sort of choreographed pas de deux in a tiny, bare cage. I am so glad I got to see these most beautiful and hugely endangered beasts as I had never seen them before and possibly never will again but this was obviously a result of too close confinement in poor conditions. The poor animals were obviously out of their minds.
Of course, being Sri Lanka there would have to be elephants, those magnificent creatures that I am so fond of. One of the many very strange things I could put on my CV in the unlikely event I was ever looking for another job is that I can “drive” an elephant. A Nepalese mahout taught me many years ago.
I spent a few hours there and saw some wonderful animals that I have little chance of seeing in the wild but I left feeling terribly sad somehow and that is not a normal emotion for me in this most wonderful country. I shall leave it up to the reader to consider this tip and whether or not they want to visit.
You lot, stop monkeying around, will you or are you just aping me?
I have deliberately left out about half of what I could tell you and none of it is complimentary. If I return to Sri Lanka, as I dearly hope to do, this Zoo will not be on my list of things to do.
What follows now is what were a series of “travelogues” on the VT website which were used to showcase images as you could only put five on a single tip / review. I am using the original captions I used at the time
I am afraid the flamingoes were being a bit coy that day.
At least the fish weren’t camera shy.
I really wasn’t going to stick my hand in here to test the water temperature
You’ve got some neck on you. The second image is perhaps a less flattering view
If you do wish to visit, I have included the relevant details here. I did see people with strollers and there appeared to be some ramps so it may be accessible to a great degree. I would suggest that not all of it will be but by Sri Lankan standards it is certainly making a very commendable effort. I really do not want to be negative but I think that these are not the best conditions to keep what is obviously a wonderful collection of animals in”.
This is the butterfly house which is closed on Sundays for some odd reason. I visited on a Sunday and obviously couldn’t enter. I would have thought it would have been one of their busier days of the week and the zoo was certainly crowded that day.
Another fine looking specimen.
Oddly, these lovely creatures are not part of the zoo at all, they are totally wild and seem to have their residence round a small lake adjacent to the zoo compound. They seemed totally unfazed by humans.
This is where things started to go downhill a bit. I am sure this lovely bear was not happy at all. The second image was the poor creatures enclosure.
These lovely beasts are called lechwe. I must admit that I had never seen nor heard of them before this visit but I did find them rather appealing. As you might guess they are a type of antelope and are native to central South Africa.
This is about as close as I want to get to one of these.
Well, no zoo is complete without a few lions, is it? These two were being particularly affectionate.
I felt sorry for these two beasts who were again being kept in an enclosure that looked far to small and was devoid of any sort of thing to amuse them.
At least the zebra looked quite content so that was a happier note on which to end my journey than some of the things I saw. I hope you have enjoyed looking at them or at least been informed in some cases”.
With a slightly saddened heart I took myself off with a vague idea of getting myself something to eat and a very firm notion of getting myself a beer, sooner rather than later as I was really hot and bothered by now.
My beer quest was temporarily suspended when I saw what you see in the images above. I saw the sign and I could not believe my eyes, a bank open 12 hours a day every day of the year, that was amazing. On subsequent visits to Sri Lanka I discovered that some of their larger branches never close. 24 hours a day every day, amazing. I knew that I was going to need to change money some time soon as my “walking about” cash had taken it upon itself to walk about and so I popped in. I was dealt with quickly, efficiently and politely and I have used the Sampath Bank very successfully ever since.
With my wallet fully replenished it was full speed ahead for the Topaz Bar in the Sapphire Hotel which was rapidly becoming my “local”, I did like it in there and the staff had got to know me and always had a bit of a chat.
I mentioned in a previous post that I had discovered the delights of Three Coins lager which is a very minor player compared to the big boys – Lion Lager and Carlsberg but it obviously did the trick after four hours (I checked the times on my images). How do I know this? I started to try to get “arty” with the camera and that is something I only ever do when I have had a few, that’s how.
I have discussed here before how singularly lacking in any artistic talent I am but it always seems like a good idea at the time. At the risk of well-deserved ridicule I have included the best of a very bad bunch here and I still have no idea why this did seem like a good idea at the time, it certainly doesn’t with the benefit of reflection. Before you comment I know my thumbnil is absurdly long, it is for finger-picking my guitar – honestly!
I had only vaguely considered eating earlier but the beer had given me the munchies and so I thought I would have a splurge and try out the restaurant on one of the upper floors. The bar food here is excellent but the money I had obtained at the bank must have been burning a hole in my pocket or something so time for some more contemporaneous writing.
What a strange experience.
I have mentioned in a separate tip that I love the Topaz Bar in the Sapphire Hotel in Wellewatta and that I had had an excellent bar meal there as well as sharing some equally tasty bar nibbles.
When Thilak, the lovely bar manager, informed me that the hotel restaurant on the third floor was open to non-residents I thought I would give it a try some evening.
I got the lift to the third floor, entered and waited to be seated which was never going to be a problem as the place was pretty empty. In fairness, it was a Sunday which is not a huge night for socialising locally and it was getting a bit late by local standards.
I opted for a table by the window which afforded a decent view of the apparently always busy streetscape that is the Galle Road, it just never seems to stop there. The restaurant itself seemed well-appointed with particularly fancy looking chandeliers. The images below may give you an idea.
The waiter spoke good English and was very charming as he presented the menu, again in my native tongue. It was quite extensive with both local and international dishes featured and did not appear overly expensive considering the type of place it was. I ordered a mutton dish and sat with my beer admire the view whilst I waited.
Experience told me that I would have to wait a while and so it proved but it was not overly long which indicated to me that at least my meal was being prepared freshly. I had not made the mistake of over-ordering as I have done before. In Sri Lanka, a main dish will often be served with several accompanying dishes which may be larger than the main offering itself.
I had also opted for dosas instead of rice as I absolutely love them and hadn’t had one thus far on the trip. If it was dosas I was after then I was not to be disappointed. You can see the size of the things and they were absolutely gorgeous. The side dishes were done to perfection, not overly spicy but I suspect they cater to an international clientele here.
Now we come to the strange bit I mentioned in the title. I realise I am getting on in years but I still have some of my own teeth left and usually have no problem with even tougher pieces of meat but the meat in this dish absolutely defeated me as it was quite incapable of mastication. I genuinely don’t know how they could have cooked it to make it this tough, it was like shoe leather which was a shame because the general flavours of the dish were really pleasant.
It really is a mystery to me as I know the kitchen here is obviously good, the chefs look immaculate and it is a top of the range establishment and so I can only put it down to a one-off aberration. Perhaps this is the local taste but I have not encountered it elsewhere so I don’t find that argument particularly convincing.
I know I should have sent it back but I really didn’t want the hassle and the rest of the dishes had filled me anyway so what was the point? Perhaps going vegetarian for the evening may be a wise option here.
After my meal there was only one thing for it so I took up station at the bar again, loosened my belt a notch and resumed hostilities with the Three Coins stock. When I had drunk enough beer on top of that large meal that I literally could not get anymore in me I took off for a slow amble home and what I did on the way again defies all logic but you are probably getting used to that from me by now.
As the image shows, I did no more than stop into a late / all night bakery on the Galle Road and bought a couple of buns. I could barely walk because I was so full and yet I still wanted to buy buns, which were gorgeous. Utter madness. I can assure you that there is plenty more madness to come on this trip although none in the next post so if you want to find out what does happen then stay tuned and spread the word.