The Portuguese first arrived here in 1505 and started to build fortifications but by 1640 the Dutch had taken the port and started to build in earnest. After the fort was constructed in the 17th century it became the main port for 200 years and its seafaring heritage is evident everywhere from public squares to the National Maritime Museum.
Inside the massive walls 400 homes, mosques, churches and business are located on narrow streets and alleyways. The most charming of the homes date from the Dutch Colonial period and the oldest church is also a 17th century Dutch Reformed.
I would spend my mornings walking the narrow streets taking photos and talking with the local men hanging around on the streets after morning prayers at the Mosque. Although Sri Lanka is primarily a Buddhist country almost all the residents inside the fort are Muslim. Everyone wanted to know where I was from and when I would tell them the US they would light up and engage me in a lengthy conversation. I never felt any anti-American bias while in Sri Lanka.
The city is surrounded on three sides by the sea which makes an evening walk on the ramparts that surround the city a delight. Sunrises and sunsets are perfect times to meander along the walls watching the locals who gravitate to the paths to either jog or stroll and mingle. One evening an impromptu local band had set up at the lighthouse and it was a fun evening to hang out and watch the sunset.
Sri Lanka is just now starting to recover its tourist business. The civil wars and the 2004 tsunami devastated the area. When the tsunami hit the coast the fort split the surging waters which then merged on the land side wiping out whole sections of the new town and killing 2,500 people. The old town had only minor flooding.
Of all the places I visited in Sri Lanka this was my favorite. It had the feel of a little village but offered good restaurants, cafes for my morning Latte and easy access to the sea. I would recommend it to anyone coming to the island.
I took the train from Galle back up to Colombo and it was quite the trip. There were no first class trains on this line so I bought a ticket in the non-AC second class car. The seats are first come first serve which makes for a stampede when the train pulls in….no one wants to stand for the 3 hour trip. I managed to score a window seat and enough rack space for my luggage so even though it was hot it was bearable.
The train runs along the coast road and offers three hours of beautiful scenery. Once I landed in the Colombo station it was hell. Thousands of people pushing to get on trains, blocking exits, filling the platforms, hanging on the sides of cars ….what I imagined it to be like in India! Hideous!
The tuk tuk and taxi drivers swarm you as soon as you leave the station and it is impossible to make sense of it. All one knows is that they are going to get screwed…it is just a matter of how bad. Due to traffic it took 1 ½ hours to get to the airport in a tuk tuk for our flight to Amman, Jordan. I needed a drink in the worst way by the time we arrived. Only one problem…no cocktail lounges. They don’t serve liquor at the airport…who ever heard of such a thing.
On to Amman…quick.