Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Morning in Galle.


 I
t was an early rise this morning.  We had to pack our bags as we would be staying at another hotel tonight.  As always, we made it downstairs in plenty of time and waited out front for Chandana and Chami to arrive.  For some reason, the front porch was filled with flies. Luckily, it was a short wait as I was starting to lose my patience with having to swat away flies every few seconds.  So annoying.


In the van we climbed, luggage safely stowed in the back.  Our destination for the morning was Galle.  I was looking forward to seeing the place; had heard and read so much about it.  I was curious what influence the Dutch were able to leave behind.

First things first though. Breakfast!  Chami's in charge in this department and he picked a nice roadside restaurant for us to eat at.  By now, it had become the usual breakfast for us - string hoppers with curried fixings and tea to wash it down with.

It was our last full day in Sri Lanka and I really wanted to take it slow so there was no desire to rush through breakfast.  Besides, I was really enjoying my cup of tea - they know how to brew a proper cup here thanks to their British heritage.



But breakfast had to come to end and in no time, we were back on the road.  It was a short ride to Galle.  As we pulled into the old city, we drove along narrow streets lined with Dutch colonial style buildings. It reminded me of streets in old town Malacca, Malaysia which was also occupied, back in the day, by the Dutch.

It was cloudy day this morning; everything looked so drab as we made our way through the streets.  Looking out the car window, I could only imagine how beautiful the buildings would look if the dark mold, that looked like it had been hand smeared across the exterior surface, was whitewashed off

Chami parked the car and we followed Chandana across the street.  In front of us stood a very small church.  






















Just inside the front gate and to our right was a very small cemetery.  All along the perimeter were headstones that stood inches apart from each other.  The names on the headstones were either Dutch or English and as best I could tell, the buried dated back at least a hundred years. 















The church's caretaker was waiting for at the front entrance.  As we entered the church, the first thing that caught our attention were all the memorial plaques that had been embedded in the floor.  I felt a bit disrespectful walking on top of them but there were too many of them to be able to walk around.  More parishioners from years past. A lot of them were pretty young when they died. 
























It was a simple interior.  You would expect that for a small town church and though it was a drab day outside, it felt almost cheery inside with the white walls, touches of blue on the ceiling and stain glass windows.  Simple wooden seats, with rattan backs served as benches.  Against one wall stood the organ.  I can imagine how the voices of the congregation, accompanied by the organ, would have resonated throughout this small space during Sunday mass. 







Memorial plaques lined the walls as well.



I pretty much walked the interior on my own, taking photos as I went along, so I had no idea about the history of the place. My brother was kind enough to listen to the caretaker's words and on his way out, he graciously left a donation with the caretaker.  It's the least we can do for this humble, little place.

Back outside, we walked alongside Chami and Chandana, heading down a street.  I didn't see any commercial establishments around so I figured we weren't in the center of the town.  We did pass by a small building that had a sign saying it was the library.  We did take the opportunity for a photo op though. I had told my brother that I had wanted to have a picture of him and I in all the major spots we would visit on our trip to Sri Lanka and as with trips past, we forgot to pose for them.  Since this was our last tourist attraction on our visit, I took special care to remember to have a picture taken. It's the photo that opens this posting and although Chandana is not the best photographer, it's a pretty nice picture of the two of us!





Our walk took us downhill, past a very large mustard colored buildingn with windows that were shuttered up.  About half way down the hill, Chandana stopped in his tracks and turned around.










At the side of the building, we walked up a small step of stairs.  












Large anchors lined the path leading to the door.  We were heading towards the entrance of the National Maritime Museum.  Given that Sri Lanka is an island, it makes sense for the country to have a museum dedicated to its maritime heritage.





Chandana got our tickets and we started our visit with a short documentary video on Sri Lanka's efforts to uncover and preserve its maritime heritage.  Apparently, efforts to recover artifacts from ship wrecks lying in the waters around the island are still ongoing to today.  This isn't a wealthy nation so I am sure it is struggle for them to fund their archeological efforts.











Sri Lanka's National Maritime Museum is housed in a former Dutch warehouse and the exhibit rooms are laid out back to back, so to speak. 

I was almost to the last room before I saw the no photography sign. The funny thing is that I walked past many a museum worker and no one stopped me.  I was careful to not use flash.




There were a couple of full sized wooden boats in the museum.  Amazing to think that boats like this are still being used today.


Exhibits of marine artifacts found in underwater explorations are show cased in the Museum. There are maps, naval craft, ropes, earthenware, beer mugs, smoking pipes, barrels, vast amount of articles including artillery guns and sailor shoes.  Smaller artifacts were housed underneath glass and in some cases, preserved in water.

The museum's collection is not large but I have to say that everything is very well presented. Information was described in both English and Sinhalese. 

There were only a handful of exhibition rooms for us to make our way through so it wasn't long before we were finished.  On the way out, we had to wait for my brother to visit the men's room.  I spent my wait time browsing through the museum shop which sold reproductions of Sri Lankan heritage treasures.....a lot of Buddhas!

As we exited the museum, who should we bump into but three of the four guys that we had a chance encounter with in Nuwara Eliya.  This is a really small island and as my brother says, every tourist pretty much goes the same route!  Of course, we immediately recognized each other!

This time, we actually had a nice chat with them - even got to ask them their names.  I have quickly forgotten all their names but that of the really gregarious man dressed in the tank top.  He said his name was Zen.  Can't forget that one.  I asked him what happend to their travel mate and they said that he had to return home ahead of the rest of them which is why there were only three in two.


Apparently, one of the guys has a soft spot for dogs.  According to Zen, he had petting each and everyone that they had come across on their trip. The moment the dog came into our circle, we lost the third guy to him :-)


Soon it was time to part ways. We wished them well on their journey and said our goodbyes.  I still hadn't any stores or restaurants so I decided to ask Chandana exactly where we were. Turns out, we were inside Galle Fort.  That explained things.

 A short distance later and a clock tower came into view. 






































Beyond the tower was the ocean.  It's so damp and humid here that everything  has a layer of mold growing on it.


















The stone path soon disappeared and we were on grassy knoll.


Looking in one direction, the ocean was in full view.



In the other direction was the harbor and the modern day city of Galle.


I decided to capture the panoramic view on video.  The audio is not great - I still struggle with taking video on my Nikon dSLR.  Either that or I should just stick with taking photos with it.



There was a gentle ocean breeze blowing and there was just a handful of other tourists about.   We walking among remnants of the original ramparts.  It would have been nice to have had a place to sit and take in the expansive views of the ocean but no such luck.

Parts of the modern city have encroached on the fort.  We could see ramshackled buildings adjoining the grounds that we were strolling across.  Nonetheless the view of the ocean could not be beat.  The waters around Sri Lanka are that picture perfect, tropical turquoise blue.




From the ramparts, we headed back to the van and drove through town.  This town, we could see the hotels, restaurants and stores.  Though everything looks a bit rundown, you can see the charm of the Dutch colonial architecture which seems to be more decorative but much smaller in scale than its British counterpart.  The Dutch were definitely more understated than the Brits :-)

Chami parked the van and it just happened to be across the street from an antiques shop.  I made a mental note to go back and check it out.





 We followed Chandana up a set of stairs.  At the top was a small plaza area that fronted the sea. Here, we finally met up with some tourists....about a handful.  It's a quiet time to be in Galle. 


Looking down one side of the coastline I could see the view that I had seen every time I time I had Googled "Galle" and looked at the images.  It's a classic vista :-)


Of course, it only made sense to have our last picture taken in front of this view.  This time Chandana took care to get us posed in the right position.  Somehow I think he's done this many times before :-)



After we were done looking at views of the ocean, we headed back down the stairs.  I remembered the store so I crossed the road to check it out.  It was the kind of store that I like - filled to max with old, dusty stuff that most people would not pay a second to look at but I could browse through all day. Unfortunately, I thought the prices were so steep that even if I would only pay half price for everything, it would still be far more than what I was willing to cough up.  So, I made a quick round through the store and then made my way out.

Back into the van and down the road.  It was late morning by now and we still had a full day ahead of us.  It was a quick visit to Galle and I'm certain we just nicked the surface of all there is to do and see.  To no surprise, Galle is a very popular travel destination for Dutch tourists who want to get a taste of their heritage abroad.  If I ever have the chance to come back, I would want to stay in the heart of the old city and experience what the Dutch tourists experience.  But for now, we have to move on.

Bye Galle!