We emerged from our hotel after the obligatory delicious breakfast of curries and saw monkeys.
They were bounding through the grass, swinging through the trees and contemplating life.
There were peacocks in the grounds, full tail fanned out but sadly camera shy.
As the old red boneshaker of a train slowly pulled out of the station, we were off!
The city soon gave way to the country and jungle with banana trees, concrete shacks and corrugated iron roofs.
It was a very different view of Sri Lanka and we suddenly saw how the tuktuk drivers lived as shiny tuktuks were parked outside shacks, the family source of income. Perhaps getting lost had helped a family.
We rattled and bounced along as the sun started to go down, food sellers passed through the carriage and the breeze from the open windows kept us cool.
We passed through stations and then waited for another train coming the other way as it was a single track.
After four hours it seemed we had the time wrong as we arrived in Anuradhapura New Town station.
A man appeared at the window frame and said “Get off now, you need to get off!”
Yikes! We grabbed our bags, jumped off the train and thought something didn’t seem quite right.
The sign on the wall showed the next station was Anuradhapura and so we got back on the train. And then we thought that perhaps we should get off after all but before we could jump, the train was moving, the guard was blocking the door and we were off to the next station!
As luck would have it, we arrived at the right station, a lengthy taxi ride and scam avoided. We picked up a driver and arrived at our hotel only to discover our reservation had been accidentally booked for November…
Another crisis was averted as luckily a room was available and so we checked in, killed a couple of large cockroaches and relaxed.
Welcome to Anuradhapura!
The next morning we set off to the Old Dutch Hospital, now a collection of shops and restaurants where we discovered a local design shop called Barefoot and the hidden colonial buildings of old Ceylon.
There must have been an imperial grandeur in days gone by as the old Cargill’s grocers indicated.
We were glad to have a little more time in Colombo as there was more to it than we had thought. Including a post box…
Before long it was time to set off to the station as we were off to our first destination, Anuradhapura.
It promised to be an adventure, a six hour train journey going second class. We’d splurged £2.50 for a seat having resisted the temptation to travel third class for the experience….
As the train arrived, mayhem ensued as the third class passengers elbowed their way on in search of seats. We eventually made it to our seats where we sat sweating profusely.
We pushed up the window and before long the train pulled out of the station.
We were off!
The rest of the day was spent eating, walking and getting lost.
We ate a good lunch going to a local food court and staying native and then we walked about five kilometers to walk off lunch.
After that we managed to get lost while attempting to recognize landmarks in the dark from a zooming bajaj (tuktuk). It was somewhat inevitable.
In the end we made it back although it was touch and go for about half an hour and the driver made his monthly salary from our detour. Still it cost us about £5 so not the end of the world.
After that we felt we were settling in to Sri Lanka quite well!
We started the day with a delicious traditional breakfast. A selection of fruit including the most flavoursome yellow-skinned passion fruit was followed by buffalo curd and palm sugar syrup.
That was lovely and then we moved on to a Sri Lankan omelette, Dahl and egg hoppers.
Hoppers are a basket-like pancake made from rice flour. Similar to a dosa in texture, they were light and airy. The egg hopper came with s fried egg and it all tasted very good.
Despite the temptation to drink tea, I risked it and went for coffee. The gamble paid off and I was well caffeinated. And so breakfast was good.
Feeling full, we gathered our things and set off. We walked a few blocks to the sea and then jumped in one of the three wheeler tuktuks which fill the roads and headed up to the market area.
It was mid morning and starting to warm up. When we arrived in the markets we jumped out and started walking through the labyrinth of back streets, everything from clothing to food to jewellery being sold. The noise was incredible and the heat hard to take after the cool London winter.
We ducked into a cafe to rest, drink water and juice and use the most challenging toilet, the stand and squat. I’m familiar with them from France, ceramic foot plates over a hole in the floor essentially but this one was filthy so the challenge was not touching anything whilst holding my breath and balancing. Hmmm.
Heading back out into the fray, we set off again, this time heading to two temples. The first was underwhelming but the second temple was sitting on the edge of a lake and was designed by a notable architect, Geoffrey Bawa. It was much more tranquil than the market.
We sat on a pavilion in the lake contemplating our next move and as we did, the clouds opened and the tropical rain began. We waited for it to clear and then went in search of lunch…
Boxing Day saw us heading off to Heathrow.
We waved goodbye to the Little Dog who we won’t see for two weeks. We’ll miss Agnes but as she’s off to stay with the dog sitter she stayed with in May, she’ll have a great time.
We arrived early and so had time for dinner at Oriel, a bistro in Terminal 3 before boarding our ten hour flight to Colombo. We felt much better as we were cold, tired and feeling fragile from the day before.
We were flying Sri Lankan Airlines and had our first taste of Sri Lankan hospitality and food. Both were very good and it was a good experience all round.
And after three tear jerking films (sobbing at altitude as usual) and a couple of hours sleep we were catapulted into the tropics, we arrived in Sri Lanka.
We came out of the airport and were hit by the heat. Coming from London we were used to six degrees Celsius and multiple layers of wool.
We were met by a driver and set off in air conditioning to our hotel.
It seemed to take a very long time and I was drifting in and out of sleep for much of the journey. The traffic was heavy and the near-misses constant. With the sound of honking horns, it was surreal.
Two hours later we arrived at our hotel and waited another half an hour for our room to be ready but eventually we made it and after an hour long nap, started to feel better.
It was mid afternoon and suddenly the sky clouded over and torrential rain and an enormous thunderstorm rolled in.
The rain eased slightly and we borrowed an umbrella to venture out in search of food, water and cash. We hadn’t eaten all day and were needing food.
We soon found what we needed but as the restaurant was closed for a private function, we decided to eat at our hotel.
It was a good decision, we had a selection of vegetarian curries, curried omelette, potatoes, cucumber and pineapple salad, aubergine and more. It was delicious and we ate ravenously.
Replete, we went to bed and slept for eleven hours.
There’s nothing quite like a family get-together and this was certainly no exception.
From the initial laughter, Champagne and good cheer to the end of the day when the bottles were empty and tempers began to fray, we had it all.
Christmas comes but once a year… thankfully!
Christmas Eve arrived out of the blue and we packed to go and stay with the father of Big T for two nights and then on to Sri Lanka. Challenging packing indeed.
We also packed up the dog, Christmas presents, Christmas food and cleaned up the flat for viewings while we were away. We were exhausted before we started!
We took an uber (our first!) to Enfield where we went to midnight mass, the first time we’d heard anything about the real meaning of Christmas. I’ve really noticed the commercial side of Christmas this year and am thinking of going pagan next year.
Midnight mass was quite surreal as we were tired and cold but belting out a few carols woke us up. By 1:30am we were home and listening for sleigh bells…
Finally Friday arrived and I finished designing a forty five page style guide.
It had taken me a week and it was the first thing I’d designed for a while as I spend most of my time art directing.
I was pleased to be able to roll up my sleeves and get on with the job.
By 5pm I had wrapped up for the Christmas break and was cracking open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate.
Job done, or at least started.