Friday, January 14, 2011
I love train travel. I never traveled by train growing up, and despite taking trains all over Europe since moving to London, it’s still a novelty to me.
When I booked my trip to Sri Lanka, I planned to take the trains as much as possible. Unfortunately, my itinerary and the train schedules didn’t allow for much of it. But on the last leg of my trip, I was finally able to take the train from Colombo to Galle.
The train ride, which lasted just under three hours, ran right along the coast. From beautiful palm-lined beaches to small villages with baby pigs running through the trees, the journey was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop staring out the window. This was even true when the man next to me tried to persuade me to become his girlfriend (“You’re American, I’m Sri Lankan. It just makes sense.” Does it?).
When I arrived at Galle railway station, I hopped in a tuk tuk. It whisked me south along beaches full of brightly-colored fishing boats before dropping me off at my final destination. This was the Frangipani Tree hotel in Thalpe, an area along the beach just south of Galle Fort.
When I arrived at the Frangipani Tree, I was greeted by Wojtek and Justyna, the managers. They showed me to my room—one of only nine at the hotel—on the upper floor of the main building. Huge and surrounded by wooden-shuttered windows, the room had a four-poster bed, a desk, and a bench that wound its way around the perimeter. The bathroom was equally large, and had a huge bath tub and open shower.
After I got situated, I decided to explore the area a bit. I took a walk down the narrow beach that ran in front of the hotel, passing by other resorts and private homes along the way. It was the first purely sunny day I had experienced in a few days in Sri Lanka, and it felt great to be walking on the beach even if I was smothered in SPF 45 the whole time.
I spent the rest of the day lounging by the swimming pool at the hotel. At dusk I went out to the beach to watch the sunset, and then had dinner al fresco. The catch of the day was jumbo prawns, and they were amazingly fresh. While I ate, a lone sand crab ventured over to say hello, and came back several times during the meal.
The next morning I woke up early and headed into Galle Fort for the day. The fort is Galle’s main attraction, and dates back to the 17th century Dutch colonial period. The old walls are still intact, and inside of them are historic churches, trendy shops, rooftop cafes, guest houses, and boutique hotels like the Frangipani Tree’s sister property, the Fort Printers.
I started my day in Galle at the Amangalla, a beautiful hotel right inside the main gate. After walking through the spacious lobby full of colonial-style furniture and decor, I left and made my way down the street to the Fort Printers. On the way I passed a Dutch colonial church, Galle’s maritime museum, and the high-end Galle Fort Hotel, as well as a smattering of jewelery shops and cafes.
At the Fort Printers I stopped to say hello to the manager and thank him for offering me two complimentary nights at the Frangipani Tree. I enjoyed an orange juice in their poolside courtyard, and then continued on to the sea. When I got to the famous Galle lighthouse, I climbed up the city wall and walked all the way around it until I was back at the entry gate of the fort.
From there I explored more of the interior, including a large plaza surrounded by law offices and courts. The center of the picturesque square was sadly being used as a parking lot, although I later found out that cars weren’t actually supposed to park there. It would have been lovely to see it full of benches and people as opposed to vehicles.
Continuing on from the plaza, I wandered around for a bit longer until finding a cafe called Mama’s. It had been recommended to me by a food blogger for the supposedly excellent cuisine the views over the city. Unfortunately, the food was terrible, and my vegetable curry was so bad that I barely touched it. At least the views were nice.
After lunch I walked around for a bit longer until returning to the hotel to get some work done. But Galle Fort beckoned, and I returned in the evening for dinner at the Pedlar’s Inn Cafe with a new friend I had met through the group I went to Unawatuna with on New Year’s Eve. After the meal, we had drinks at a local bar and then I headed back to Thalpe for the night.
The next morning the weather was nice again, and I took another walk on the beach. All around were local flora and fauna, including crabs that blended in seamlessly with the rocks, and birds of all kinds perched on driftwood and tree branches.
After my walk I relaxed by the pool until lunch time, where my vegetarian curry was so good that it more than made up for the previous day’s debacle. The variety of dishes—from pumpkin to eggplant to potato—was vast, and the flavors were so good that I couldn’t stop eating until I was way past the point of satiety.
After lunch it was time to say good-bye to Thalpe and the Frangipani Tree. I jumped into a tuk tuk and headed back to the Galle train station to board the 3:45pm train to Colombo. The views were pretty once again, but I was so exhausted that I fell asleep for most of the journey north.
When I arrived in Colombo I had six hours to kill before my flight from Colombo airport. Laden with bags and still feeling tired, I went around the corner to the Hilton. There I had a martini at the bar and dinner in the Indian restaurant before taking a taxi to catch my flight. The Colombo airport was a complete disaster, with security and check-in lines so long that my flight was delayed two hours because so many passengers were late. But eventually we were airborne, and I was en route to Singapore for the next leg of my Asia travel adventure.