Well, I’m home.
I’m sitting in my back yard in that surreal passage of time where holiday has not been over for long enough to transport your astral body back to ground zero. But very quickly, vacation-mode is slipping away, in converse proportion to the headache creeping in. An early start (5am), a flight with children (particularly the three year old, who’s visa page nearly got torn out by an irate mother who wanted him deported – for a moment anyway), an horrendous long-weekend immigration queue that developed Indian queue proportions at one stage (1 person deep but 50 wide), and battling with epic proportions of absurdly shaped luggage including the standard 10 bottle in 10 plastic bag duty free wine haul (obligatory in dubai) and a 7ft surfboard in an 8 ft bag, and then of course said three year old who refused to walk and yet squirmed like a chocolate covered 15kg mongoose while carried. Marhaba Waltons.
But this time yesterday…
I was sitting in‘s old chair at the , sipping on a kir royale. The age-worn tessellated checkerboard tiles warmed by the fading Colombo sun, the antique teak furniture creaking with the tales of the colonial derrieres that had once held their place, waiters stiffly standing on the sidelines dressed like pursers on the QE2 maiden voyage, children blissfully quiet due to modern technology ( and ) and icy Shirly Temples, the television out of place yet forgivable, for it showed recent cricket highlights interspersed with tourism shots of the tea plantations and southern beaches. A rare moment to talk with Husband and reflect on life, but all we could do was look at each other, smile in that gaga way, sigh, and then look back over the gently rolling surf.
Oh yes, it feels very different now. I suppose still have the option of a twilight dip, but without the formally attired waiter bringing me Campari, the humidity right on the edge of pleasant and really-must-get-in-the-water state, the tanned and non-child-encumbered bodies lying on banana lounges unwittingly about to be harassed by the noise and movement of my rowdy brood. (Forgive me – it’s years of having people like them sneer at me on aircraft when I am obviously in need of assistance with my children that have turned me to the dark side.) It’s just not the same.
Rooms at the Galle Face Hotel are about the size of a small tennis court. They are in almost original condition, including the bathrooms, but are clean and like many parts of Sri Lanka, make the guest imagine for a moment they are royalty in a bygone era. The floors are polished smooth by the wear of feet over the last century, a massive mahogany wardrobe looms over my suitcase full of dirty clothes, and almost begs to be stocked with taffeta ball gowns and and in the corner stands a dressing table that really requires a pearl-backed hairbrush, a powder puff of antique proportions, and a jewelery box full of marcasite and jet.
The Galle Face Hotel is the old English Baron of Colombo. It was built in 1864, and sits at the end of the Galle Face Green, a five hectare expanse of lawn and dirt that is supposed to contain lawn on the edge of the Indian ocean. In the evening, it comes alive with market stalls selling the most incredible looking food – pancakes with trapped whole prawns that are eaten head and all, enormous flaky paratha-style bread, whole wok-fried soft-shelled crabs, and nuclear-coloured candy corn for the kids – all items loaded with a non-westerner amount of chilli. Beside me as I walked, vendors chased me to touch Goldilock’s platinum curls, and tried to sell me views at dancing monkeys or cobras, and blasted my ears with kiddy-techno from the ice-cream carts. Below me muslim girls frolicked in full garb in the waves, and boys looked on in awe. Above me sailed one thousand and one vibrant kites that can be bought for less than $4 a piece, and on the lawns, mats were laid with miscellaneous florescent coloured vibrating, flashing and squeaking Chinese crap that the children insisted we buy instead of the stunning kites.
Colombo was a one day visit at the end of a journey both physical and spiritual around Sri Lanka (I will blog more about it in coming days.) If we had stayed longer, I would have visited Pettah market, and travelled further south to the Mount Lavinia Hotel, but apart from that, there is little but the Galle Face to keep you there. I had hoped Colombo would be a rambling colonial relic like Hanoi or Phnom Penh, but years of civil war and other drains on city funds have meant that only a handful of the best buildings have survived as anything but a blackened mess. In fact, I considered that some of the streets of Colombo would be an appropriate set for movies such as Oliver Twist, or Les Miserables – they appear entirely untouched (except by the monsoon) since the exit of Colonial British power – in fact, probably since before then.
It’s not that Colombo is a bad place – like all cities, one cannot expect to know it in a moment, and time must be taken to scratch the surface to find the gold beneath the grit, however, the rest of Sri Lanka is so completely awe-inspiring, that staying in Colombo for too long will sacrifice the time in better places, such as Unawatuna and Nuwara Eliya. Over the next few posts I will talk more about my travels – I truly think you all need to know how wonderful Sri Lanka is, and hope you all have the opportunity to go there.
Visit the Galle Face Hotel website here