I tried another card but again the same problem. I was fit to cry. I am a total coffee addict and was counting on a good hit of caffeine before our flight. There was absolutely nothing to do but put everything back and go on our way as there were no ATM machines after security check-in. The staff had said their machines that could only cover local cards not international so we were stuck, it would be at least four hours until we reached Sri Lanka. While sitting at one of the café tables trying o figure out what could be the problem with the cards a staff member approached us, I was sure they were going to ask us to leave. The girls and the guy (all students age and part time I guessed) in the coffee shop took pity on us and arrived over with the items we had intended to purchase, all of them. I just could not believe their kindness and I have to emphasize that the eldest member of staff here was about 20 years old. I gratefully accepted the coffee for myself and the bottle of water for Róisín but tried to insist they take the other items back but they refused saying they would cover the cost between them. There comes a point where it is best and necessary to acknowledge and appreciate a kindness when done and that is just what we did. Besides a re-enactment of "Father Ted" and the cup of tea “go on, go on, go on" I just couldn’t face without the coffee. So to the staff in terminal 3 coffee near gate 4 my daughter and I are and were amazed by your kindness. I did have one unopened box of the lovely chocolates left which I rooted out of my bag to offer as a thank you. So all told India was beautiful and where our first encounter with the country was not a positive one most interactions thereafter were wonderful. We board the plane for Sri Lanka where the contents of the plane and ourselves are sprayed with something from a similar container that I would use to spray the garden. I figured it was a need to know and if I wanted to go to Sri Lanka I didn't need to know. Thank God or covid for the masks; or are they both manmade!
Sunset at Galle Fort
Arriving at Galle Fort
We flew into Colombo and had a driver organised to take us from the Airport to our hotel in Galle Fort, a two and a half hour journey away. The property in Galle Fort was receiving great reviews and although not within the parameters of 4 star, it was flagged as spotlessly clean by previous guests. Every thing else you can work with or around but if a place is dirty you sunk. Sometimes you can just be lucky with your plans. The guest house was called Sirene Galle Fort and it was beautiful. A real old world style. The room was small for the netted four poster bed with mosquito netting. Mosquito nets are not just a romantic aesthetic as they are in Europe. In these parts they are functional too, they save you from being the main course for the hungry little beasties. The hotel was a small family run establishment with every review mentioning the breakfast. It was one hell of a breakfast prepared by the grandmother of the house with love. Honestly you felt like a member of the family or at least a much welcomed relative the way this lady looked after us. We had platters of fruit. My first introduction to dosa, a rice flour pancake with a fried egg and a noodle type roll with a sweet paste filling, and an array of jams and spreads, wow an excellent start to the day and all delivered with the kindly countenance of the grandmother.
Breakfast in Sri Lanka
Galle Fort Food
Directly across the street was a Buddhist temple. The street was not more than 3 meters wide (10 feet). So, every morning as we sat on the veranda having our breakfast we watched the monks meditating for the betterment of the world, very comforting even if not of the same belief system. We spent the day just wandering the fort city along its battlements that towered towards the sea. The raised headland and 16th century battlements of the fort saved the old city from the worst of the destruction during the 2004 Tsunami. This was not the case with the low lying modern city which was all but washed away and 4000 of the city inhabitants died. This tragic event is still fresh in the minds of most people here but I have to honestly say it was far in the back of my mind until I saw the location. How quickly we forget things that don’t directly affect us. The buildings and streets in the fort are pretty much as they have been since the Portuguese’ arrived and established themselves here back in 1505. Jack Sparrow wouldn’t look out of place here. Well, less out of place here than in that court room defending his character against his ex. In this court of public opinion all I can say is “Mrs Ex, hard to come back from what you did in the bed, forget about the antics in the lift or the apartment”. Dirty, dirty, dirty. Need to wipe that from my mind so moving on.
As we strolled around the city we managed to find a fantastic restaurant specializing in fish dishes. I know a port town what a surprise but on advice from google we entered the establishment and promptly set to ordering the house specials. Now for those who know me well I’m not really a fish eater. Personally I believe it comes from the fact that my father was from a coastal village and fish was a staple in their household either that or his mother was a dreadful cook. Let us take it that my grand mother was not a dreadful cook but that the abundance and frequency of fish at mealtime meant it was under valued. At a guess I think this analogy is closer to the truth. I do remember in my childhood summers that steak was the dish offered to visitors when they arrived. My, my, what would I not do for a taste of wild salmon now? Okay, back to my restaurant story. So I peruse the menu and to my horror realise there is only fish on the menu so fish I must have. I have no intention of having it out with the chef if for any reason I don’t like it so I make a deal with Róisín to consume it if I cant. I decide on the Red Snapper and I am escorted to a glass fronted display fridge with every sort of fish laid out on a bed of crushed ice. I wouldn’t know a good Red Snapper from a bad one and so deferred to the chef for his professional opinion. I watched him pick out the chunkiest of the Red fish from the fridge, placed it on a plate and closing the lid took my offering to the kitchen. While we were waiting there was a power cut and candles in bottles were brought. The kitchen cooked with gas so cooking was still on schedule. One thing that struck me about Galle Fort was the numbers of visiting Russians. It's not like I spend a lot of my time wondering where Russians go on holiday. But I realised for the first time their absence from the Costas, the Cliffs of Moher, Temple Bar, the typical Euro/US zones where at some point I have met every nationality but no cannot say I have met any visiting Russians. So while we are waiting four stunning looking Russian women come into the place and ask if food is being served. The restaurant is getting very busy now with large family groups being turned away and yet these four beautiful women show up and they have the undivided attention of the waiters. Do I need to say it. Feck! I will surprise, surprise. Well these women went to the chilled cabinet like they owned a fish stall in Moscow. They took each fish out and turned it over, punched it, slapped it and then left it to the side before going at the next one. Believe me when I tell you they could have taught the lovely Nigela a thing or two about handling a fish. I was getting mad just looking at them. I mean there’s a power cut and unless there is such an object as a gas fridge these women were doing their best to ensure what was left would spoil and yet the waiters smiled and fawned over these beauties. Well I laughed out loud as the beauties left the building and the fish remained spread out around the counter. More power to ye ladies and that’s only because the fish you mauled was not mine. Lads, just keep it professional and you wont be made fools of, is that too much to ask? Well to end the story of the Red Snapper he arrived just as the power was restored and I ate every bit of him except the eyes which kept looking at me accusingly. So I think I have established that the food in Sri Lanka at this point has not disappointed.
Red Snapper in Galle Fort
Day Out in Galle Fort
So on to our tour and a walk through the Old city with the lovely Uzman, a part time guide we came across on Airbnb. When he is not guiding people around his native city he is practising law. He is an absolute gentleman. He brought us through the streets to the Court buildings, old entrance, along the battlements, pointing out all the interesting features along the way. Galle Fort is an UNESCO heritage site and as such the owners of the properties have obligations towards maintenance. Many of the properties in the old city are being bought up by large hotel groups which in turn is forcing the indigence population out. I have no issue with the capitalist system of profit first but I do have a problem with local people being forced out of their homes because they do not have the type of funds to make repairs to these properties to a heritage standard level. There are funds available but as is often the case they are not there for the little people. Uzman and his family are the 8th generation to live in their historical Dutch house. As part of his tour we had the privilege of being invited to his home and chatting with the matriarch of the family. She sat in the courtyard at the centre of the house. Part of the building is in urgent need of repair but the resources are just not there to cover it. Now, I appreciate that many would say that if they cant afford to do repairs they should move. Personally I think repairs to the level of heritage site integrity should be funded by government at the very least through an interest free loans scheme. Accepting that house has been in the same family for generations. They have cared and maintained it through many decades so that it is still standing to be in a position to be labelled UNESCO. Do the state not have some obligation to maintain such building without the eviction of the residence. I am confident that this property has been maintained with contemporary materials available as needed and at reasonable cost. Not the case with heritage materials. But sadly this is mostly a moot point with Sri Lanka being on the verge of failed state status. I was there in early January and there was a tension in the air. As we drove from the airport I at first thought that Sri Lanka was booming. The highway we were on was brand new and massive, far in excess of the volume of traffic I could see traveling on it. Our driver told me that the Chinese owned the new toll roads in his country. So every time a Sri Lankan drove on this road that was another rupee for China. I live in a country where the state sold off a lot of the silver and it took a lot of time and money to get bits of it back, M50 toll, shell oil and tax. I live in a country where we are still paying interest on state borrowing used to pay unsecured shareholders in the rest of Europe. I live in a country where our economy is booming but our public services are stressed. I will end this rant and this episode with a heart felt sorrow for the people of Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when the people are banging on your door telling you its time to go history tells us its best to go before your pushed. Oh and what really would be original is leaving the silver and not filling your pockets as you go.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.