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Colombo for Tourists

Today I woke up super-late for me for vacation- almost 8am!!! But since I couldn't get a tour and there's not a whole lot planned for today, that was fine. I packed my bag to leave at the hotel, and headed out in search of pancakes or something because I was craving sweet. I used my method from the other day and sat down somewhere that was pretty full. They brought way too much food. While the breads definitely fit what I was looking for, the condiments were burn-your-mouth spicy again. However, because I had bread instead of rice, I didn't make the same kind of slow mess that I did yesterday. I was relatively successful at eating with my hands. With a heavy tip, the more-than-I-could-eat breakfast was a whopping $4. I took a tuk tuk to the National Museum, although he didn't know where it was. Good thing my guidebook had a map or we wouldn't have gotten there. The National Museum is heavily under repairs. There is scaffolding covering all of the gorgeous building exteriors. The courtyards and gardens are swamped with corrugated metal buildings and dirt piles. Workers laze all over the place. I hope it looks great when it's done, because it's kind of a mess now. The inside is a little better in that most (but not all) of the work is hidden off in closed sections. The inside looks a bit old and run down, but the displays are in English (and other local languages) and are somewhat interesting. I learned a bit about the history of the island. To summarize: different Buddhist and Hindu rulers took turns controlling different parts of the island until the Europeans got into the mix. Then, different European powers took turns. The museum had a lot of stone carvings from the various areas and time periods. They had some pottery (lots of it from trade with China), some coins, some tools, some weapons, and some everyday goods. Not much stood out to me, except the urinals. The collection of ancient carved stone piss holes was quite amusing to me. The museum continued on to contain 70s-museum style dioramas and a few paintings by a Brit. I enjoyed the interactive "animal scarer" instrument that I could play with, but otherwise, it was all just something to look at. Had the museum been air-conditioned, I probably would have spent longer there. As it was, I spent a lot of time at the exhibits near the fans, and less at the others. The weather inside the museum was shadier than outside, but just as hot and humid, and not as well-ventilated. My ticket to the national museum also included entrance to the Natural History Museum. The weather in here was just as bad, but with an added moldy/musky scent. The museum starts out with a bunch of falling-apart taxidermy and formaldyhyded animals and plants. Towards the end, there are some better and actually educational displays, some of which talk about technology from this century, but that are so degraded by the poor museum environment that they look like they were installed in the 1960s. Don't even bother trying to use the "toilets" at the museum, if you don't have to. The National Art Museum is right next to the history museum. Based on what I could see through the open doors, it wasn't worth going into. However, right out front, an artist was displaying and selling his works, which were quite good. The free show he was putting on seemed much better than the room I could see in the official museum.

Today, I was watching my health more than other days. Based on how I felt at the end of the day yesterday, I realized that this vacation would be much more fun if I wasn't dehydrated, heat-exhausted, sun-almost-burnt, and foot-sore at the end of each day. Since I was already in the Cinnamon Gardens area, I took a walk to an Ayuravedic Spa recommended in the guidebook. Their toilets were just fine. As for the spa though, I have to say, I was expecting something else. The entrance was a store selling various soaps, oils, and other home beauty products. The spa area itself was not bright and light, but dark and earthy. It was not air conditioned at all. Before I could get my treatment, they had me sign a medical form with about 4 real questions on it, some disclaimers, and a line explicitly saying that this is not sex and that they'll kick you out if you hit on the girls. Then, they took my blood pressure. They didn't weigh me and measure my height, but they had the equipment to along with a chart to identify if you have a "large frame" or not. I sat down in a big comfy chair, removed my shoes, rolled my pants up, and was ready to watch the magic. The first thing they did was put teabags of wet sandalwood on my eyelids so I had to lay back and relax. I tried to feel what she was doing and reverse-engineer it. She put some oil on and started out with some pokes, moved to some rubs, and then I faded off into lala land and wasn't really paying attention until she cracked my toe and finished the foot. I tried again with the other foot, but again, I was so relaxed by the hum of the fans, the drowsy weather, and the foot massage that I couldn't focus on what was happening to my feet, but was off in my own world. After she snapped that toe to finish that foot, she took off the eye bags and had me dip my feet in some sort of tea concoction full of leaves and twigs. She brought me a tiny cup of tea, and cleaned my feet with the leaves before drying the and letting me know I was done. While it definitely felt good and relaxed me, the pain in my foot didn't go away, and my leg muscles didn't feel that much better than before. It wasn't that expensive though, so I really can't complain. I headed back towards the museum because I had seen some interesting stuff on the way that I wanted to check out. One was a Chocolatier, selling chocolates at similar prices to what you might find at a fancy chocolatier in the states- $1 maybe gets you one piece. I tried a couple, and they were good, but not stellar or worth the price. Since it was a little after noon and hella hot, I stopped into an air conditioned international chain (Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf) for lunch. My bagel and cream cheese was not great by US standards, but not bad, and since I wasn't too hungry, and the place had wonderful AC, it sufficed. I think my appetite is being suppressed by all the heat and dehydration. For the number of liters of water I've been through today, I definitely should have had to make more pit stops. The clientele here is mainly international. I feel a bit bad about not eating local food at a local place, but I've been doing plenty of that to the point where my judgement was questioned, so I figured that this one place will be ok. I saw my second person (a foriegner) smoking since I've been here. Sri Lanka is quite advanced and pleasant in that way- nobody seems to smoke. They do seem to have a thing for the lotto though. Every block or so, there's a little kiosk selling lotto tickets, and all of them seem to be constantly swamped with crowds of people scratching off long rolls of tickets. That's a "vice" that doesn't mess up my air, so I'm cool with it. Though I didn't have great expectations for it, I headed over to the main part of town to see the currency museum. This museum was nice. The displays didn't always match the coins shown, but the really nice air conditioning motivated me to learn a lot. The second floor is where most of everything is, and the first floor seemed to be where they allowed the locals to go. I think that the reason the museum is free is so that they can attract people to sell coins to, and they figure locals aren't spending big money on coins. While I was inside, it started raining. I originally thought this was a good thing because it would translate to cooler weather, but it was still way hot when I exited. I still had some time to kill before my train, and the guidebook said the train ride to Mt. Lavinia was nice, so I got a ticket (about a quarter), asked what track, made sure the board matched what the guy said, and got on. It was like you see in the movies- people were packed in like sardines, some were hanging out the open door, and just standing there was causing everybody to sweat and smell. When we started moving, it wasn't quite as bad, since I was standing near a wide open door and the breeze was nice. But I kept being afraid that I'd trip and fall onto one of the guys hanging on the edge and knock them off. Fortunately, I was the second-tallest person on the train, and I could grab on well to the bar. Unfortunately, I was on an express train and not a local, so we blew right by where I had wanted to get off, and kept going for another half hour. The tallest person on the train had the same problem I had- a tourist's misunderstanding. We debated jumping off and grabbing a taxi at one point when the train slowed to wait for another, but the jump was too high and we couldn't see well enough to know we wouldn't get hit by an oncoming train. So, I got an extensive view of the coast. Within Colombo, poverty isn't so obvious and rampant. Outside, we passed plenty of corrugated-metal shack towns, where the residents were burning stuff and the beaches were littered with trash. We also passed some nicer areas with cement block homes that reminded me of the government projects in St. Kitts. It was a mix. Finally, the train stopped and we considered whether to taxi or train back. We ended up deciding to get a second class ticket to Colombo and take the express train. Second class isn't so packed, although there still weren't any seats free. I just sat on the floor by the door, which was actually quite pleasant, as I got a good breeze. Occasionally local burning wafted in, but for the most part, it was nice. My goal had been to find a cool place to pass the time, and while this wasn't quite what I had in mind, it worked. I grabbed my luggage and headed to Dutch Hospital (a mall, not a hospital) for dinner. I had seen a Thai place there earlier, and had gotten a craving for Thai food. For some reason, the place was completely empty. It was huge, but I was the only one there. Maybe they should station somebody downstairs to greet people and convince them it's open? In any case, I got personal attention, including the chef himself making suggestions. The food was good, and tasted Thai, so it hit the spot. I can recommend it. From there, I headed to the train station to wait. It was a while, but the ladies waiting room had a fan and was open until about the time that most of the daily grind crowd cleared out. The night trains were fewer and fewer people tried to cram onto each. Finally my train arrived. I had bought the highest class available on the pre-booking website- "sleeper class," so I thought I was getting a cabin to lay down in. No. Sleeper is second class and is like wider airline seats. Fortunately, there was nobody assigned to the seat next to me, so I had more room to spread out. Unfortunately, the sleep quality was worse than airline sleep. The lights were constantly on, the train did a lot of honking and stopping, and I was a bit more protective of my bags. The one nice thing was that the open windows provided a nice breeze. However, any external smells also came in with the breeze. For the most part, it wasn't an issue, but since the toilets are latrines, there was occasionally aromatic evidence of previous passengers in need. The sleep wasn't great, but I managed until morning. Then, I observed the scenery as the sun came up. It wss much more rural than the east, with lots of cows and farms. Since this is the mail train, when it stopped at a station, some guys would come out carrying mail bags, and exchange them for incoming ones. It was neat to watch.

Museum art

Museum art


Ancient toilet

Ancient toilet


Train station

Train station


Spa

Spa


View out the train

View out the train

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Sri Lanka

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