We arrived in the early evening on the 11th March. We had obtained our visas online so there was no waiting around at the airport. We thought it strange that the first thing we saw in the duty free area were the number of outlets selling washing machines, fridges and all sorts of whitegoods. We probably could have got the kitchen sink as well!
After getting some Sri Lankan rupees (107 to the Aud)from an ATM and a sim card we left the airport and caught a disappearing sun as we were driven the hour and a half to the residential suburb of Colombo 7. It would have been a quicker journey but we arrived at peak hour.
We stayed at our first airbnb in Longden place which turned out to be a very good location. It was near all the embassies so was a very quiet neighbourhood. When we arrived it was extremely humid and hot.
There were many more cars than motorbikes or scooters here and many were new. Most of the locals appeared to wear western dress rather than the traditional saris worn in a Sri Lankan way. Those however in an official capacity had to wear sari.

The first impressions of Colombo were of the cleanliness of the city, the very green leafy suburbs and the friendliness of the people. Individual sellers still plied their wares in the upmarket suburbs calling out to the inhabitants. On Sunday morning a fish monger was sitting in the street filleting a large fish. Every Sri Lankan we met seemed to have a brother or uncle living in Melbourne and a very good restaurant called Upali’s even had a branch in Melbourne.

The owners of the airbnb were very helpful and recommended a restaurant called “Green Cabin” which served local food which was tasty and very reasonable. There was a mixture of locals and tourists – we tried hoppers (bowl shaped crispy rice cakes) and string hoppers (vermicelli like patties made from rice flour)- with a cashew nut curry and coconut sambal. There was a sudden clap of thunder and a tropical downpour followed but it abated quickly enough for us to get an auto-rickshaw back to our guesthouse which also provided us with breakfast every day, a mixture of western and local rotis with spicy coconut sambal.

The directions that our landlady gave us the following morning were not correct and we ended up walking many kilometres before realizing that we were not headed in the right direction towards Independence Square. It was a good long walk before breakfast along the wide streets shaded with beautiful “Mara” trees with their enormous canopies.

We visited the Gangarayama temple which had an inordinate number of buddhas in all shapes and forms. It was the weirdest temple we had visited with a very disjointed layout and a museum upstairs with thousands of articles, some behind glass all practically on top of each other. There was a temmple car museum on the ground floor and a fridge and freezer on the next level amongst all the buddhas as well as various sets of tables and chairs, many ivory tusks, a grandfather clock all put hiddledy piggledy around the many rooms.
A saffron robed priest led a few people at a time into a glass enclosed altar adorned with priceless statues of white jade, green jade, quartz and solid pieces of ruby made into buddhas and proceeded to bless them (me included). It was a short walk to Beira lake with a temple in the lake and a small island connected by a bridge where locals were eating lunch.

The tuk tuks were plentiful and many were metered but in the city centre we had to negotiate each trip as they did not use meters. Each journey was only 100-200 rupees or $1-$2. We walked the length of “Galle (pronouned Gaul) Face Green” by the ocean and where we saw a stingray jump out of the water. There is much construction taking place by the seaside with an enormous “Shangri-la” hotel and arcade taking shape. A large lake was fed from the ocean and a large monitor lizard and many herons were walking around in a large built up pond.

There were many pelicans perched on the top of several lamposts and one left a message down Maurice’s back and legs! He was not impressed.

The next day we found (after getting better directions) Independence Square and Monument and the lovely extensive park where many locals walked and exercised. Next to it was a beautiful colonial style shopping arcade with many shops and restaurants over two levels. On our way back to the house we saw another large lizard (about 1/2 metre) disappear down a drain. In contrast to the canals in Pondicherry the drains were not at all smelly!

We found the “Coffee Bean and Leaf” for a much needed coffee but we decided not to return after being charged more than AUD$5 for a cappuccino. This seemed exhorbitant given the labour and food costs here in Sri Lanka.

We settled on the Kaema Sutra restaurant for a light lunch at the Independence Arcade and then walked around the “Viharamadevi” park where families were enjoying their Sunday.

We returned to town to visit the “Dutch Hospital” building with it’s courtyards and many restaurants. The famous “Ministry of Crab” restaurant was located here. We walked to Galle Face Green to watch the sunset and there were huge crowds out enjoying the breeze from the ocean.

I was looking forward to a cocktail at the Cinnamon Grand where we had dinner at the “Lagoon” seafood restaurant but had to settle for a mocktail. There was no alcohol being served anywhere in Colombo that day as a revered monk had died and his funeral was that day. There was a power cut in all of Colombo for half the day and only the large hotels had generators so we could at least have light to enjoy our meal.

Our taxi didn’t arrive the next morning so we caught a tuk tuk with just our small bags (the large ones had been left at the house for our return to Colombo) to Mt Lavinia hotel about 1/2 hour away. Maurice had stayed there as a 3 year old with his parents on his way out to Australia for 10days when their ship broke down and my mother had visited Mt Lavinia hotel also 67 years ago on her way out to OZ with her parents. The hotel had changed over the years but remained an iconic building on the hill surrounded by the ocean, rocks and palm trees.

The train line went right past the hotel and to get to the beach on one side we had to negotiate walking along the tracks and ducking off to the side when the train blew the whistle on it’s approach.
We treated ourselves to high tea on the terrace and it was refreshing to have a constant breeze,

relax by the ocean and enjoy a lazy day before being collected the following day by our driver/guide for the twelve day trip around the middle and south areas of the island. The Australian government had warned not to go north as there had been some robberies of tourists in the area so we heeded their warning when planning the trip.

We were collected the next morning the 16th March by our driver Ravi for the 12day tour around the central and southern part of the island.

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