My favourite place in Sri Lanka is Galle.
Walking around a small dusty town locked in by crumbling ancient walls, with Havelock city on one side and the waves of the sea lapping against the bricks on the other, you feel the whole area of Galle Fort is soaked in history and culture. The area is lined with expensive chic boutiques, art galleries, unique cafes and tasty restaurants. Walls are a mixture of colours, not out of style but due to wearing ageing layers of plaster, making a colourful fanciful swirl of blue, yellow and pink on the walls- although some streets you may find edgy art hidden on lamp posts or walls, hidden in this enclave of history for true art seekers to find. Local houses line next to ancient mosques and burger joints.
It is a collision of the past, present and future.
There are certain routes recommended and even walking tours in place- look to Serendipity Arts Cafe for a tour, however I advise getting lost in the meandering streets, stroll along the defensive walls of the fort, on your own accord at your own pace, taking in what you want, see and smell. Walking around you notice small details; like the name of streets and letter boxes reminiscent of Portuguese and Dutch colonizers, and an array of gem shops to satisfy the once Arabian tradesmen here who would exchange their treasures for his spices, and the local Lanka people sipping tea and eating roti’s on their front porch. There are a few museums such as: The Maritime Museum and the National Museum, although I enjoyed wandering around the antique shops, eyeing up lint boxes and fingering old Dutch rusty keys- wandering what they open. Local people are friendly here, aware of customer service skills for their restaurants or shops- but also happy to help the lost cause of guiding me to an internet cafe.
Watching sunset from the Flag Rock is a must, as all the local people ride over to Galle Fort to bathe in the sea and lick ice cream whilst watching the sky change colour and plod along the walls stopping for family photos. Although, visiting Flag Rock in the day is also a must as you see local men who crave adrenaline and thrill, free run and jump off the walls to the rocks below. Be careful, don’t try this yourself, as other tourists have and seriously injured themselves. The lighthouse is a popular Kodak and selfie moment, and catching a glimpse of the reformed old Dutch Hospital to a now reformed stylish establishment filled with expensive plush restaurants is mind boggling. Check out the main gate as well- where you can see an traditional and authentic coat of arms carved out in stone.
I fell in love with “Stick No Bills”, a pop art shop specializing in Sri Lanka’s beauty and culture. Although you will have to step out of the fort to get all your basic needs. In Galle city “P and S”, a restaurant opposite the bus stop, is a local diner where you pick food through the glass and its delicious, (I had the chicken Biryani which was in no way like India’s but rather reminded me of A Nigerian guy I once dated who cooked for me).
Serendipity Arts Cafe is a great place to eat with a mix of western and local dishes with original art splattered all over the walls. Spoons is a lovely local style restaurant that serves vegetable curry and rice for 550 rupees, (most likely the cheapest restaurant you’ll find in the fort) and the family members welcome you as if a long lost cousin. Rocket burger– a newly opened burger joint offers deliciously meaty and juicy burgers for a reasonable price- and makes my list of Top Ten Burgers I’ve had in the world.
However, my favourite place to eat, or grab a cup of tea is: The Royal Dutch Cafe. This place has characteristically more charm than any other. Sitting hidden by leafy scaling potted plants next to a mismatch collection of furniture and bits and bobs, you feel like you are in a treasure chest. I was tempted by the sign: “Every Time is Tea Time”, which made me smile and think to myself, to have a deserved break from the searing sun. Sipping a cup of tea and munching on home made butter cake, I spoke to the owner Fazal, about the history of Galle Fort. I was shown pictures of the devastation of the Tsunami, was told of Fazal’s birth in the room of his now renovated clothes shop, and I shared my thoughts and experiences of Sri Lanka. He gave me a stone to remember his cafe (his father was a tradesman), and I hope that all who read this, visit his homely alcove, not only is he smart and kind- he knows customer service well.
I stayed at Mrs ND Wihenayakes Guesthouse, recommended by the Lonely Planet. The rooms are okay, bathroom and beds are kept in good condition, however for 2,500 rupees I found it a little steep for a backpacker. There are many guest houses similar to this- and Peddlar’s Inn Hostel is directly opposite, which looked funky, although it was full at the time I visited- which I guess is a good sign!
Everything in Galle becomes pretty quiet after 8pm and I would advise solo woman travellers to return to their guest houses at this time. Wandering along the streets (that are not well lit) at night is not a good idea! And although men are friendly here- be wary of your intentions, I was offered “free accommodation” if I bought an old antique!!