As a travel blogger, the hardest part about visiting beautiful and fascinating countries is almost never the travel part. (I say almost, because sometimes you have days like this one…). No, the difficulty always comes in writing about these places. The more beautiful they are, the harder it seems to be to do justice to them with words alone. How to make these destinations come to life, to vibrate with the same intense loveliness as that which we experienced while in situ? As much as I pride myself on my ability to wield words dexterously, every so often we visit a country or city that leaves me speechless and words fail me.
Sri Lanka as a whole is definitely one of those places; perhaps more than any other country we have been to, it will be the hardest one for me to write about because it was so ridiculously gorgeous. Its beauty smacked me in the face every single day we were there and I spent much of our time there utterly content to just stand and soak in as much of its exquisite magnificence as I possibly could, even if I did it dumbfounded and slack-jawed. It’s a country that scrambles the senses and leaves you reeling.
Thinking back on our time in Sri Lanka, I have no words for most of what we witnessed and experienced… Thank goodness for the all-mighty photo essay!
After so long in Asia, our standards for “charming colonial” towns are pretty high, especially since we’ve visited some of this hemisphere’s very best. So I admit that I was dubious that the port city of Galle would be a cut above (or even all that different) from Melaka or George Town or Kampot or Yogyakarta or Savannakhet, etc.
But as the people in this part of the world love to say, Galle indeed was “same same… but different”.
As we had come to expect, the buildings, many of them dating back to the 1500s when the Portuguese first took shelter in the city’s harbor, are gently decaying edifices painted in cheery pastel hues such as sunny yellow, soothing sage green, blush pink and buttery cream.
Every block is home to a mishmash of architectural styles, with the sweeping curves of the east casually crowding alongside the stalwart straight lines and hard angles of the west. In the center of the old town (formerly a fort) sits a massive Anglican church that takes up most of the block; standing in its shadow, eyes south towards the ocean, the minarets of mosques can be seen.
The laneways are cramped and filled with cafés, hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops, as tangled garlands of electrical wires run high above the street; cashing in on Sri Lanka’s gem trade, it seems as though every second store is a jeweler (and every shop after that seems to be an upscale boutique), the shop keepers ready with a keen eye to pounce should you slow your pace and glance at the baubles displayed in the window. In particular, moonstones are a hot commodity given Galle’s close proximity to one of the country’s top mines for the stone.
Of course every store features inflated prices (although the vintage poster shop pictured above had awesome postcards, there was no way we were paying $2.50 per card!), but that is ok, because we are not here to shop and are more than content to simply wander and enjoy the atmosphere. In the late afternoon, it’s a sleepy, idyllic one as children make their way home from school and locals gather to catch up on the latest gossip. Although Galle is something of a tourist hub, the streets are somnolent and lazy as we drift from block to block.
What really made Galle special, however, was all the tropical touches that were undeniably Sri Lankan and made Galle feel worthy of a colonial crown.
For instance, I love that even in the cities, Sri Lanka is covered in flowers; they cling and climb up buildings, as if a reminder of the jungle heart that steadily beats at the core of the country.
And what would Sri Lanka be without its tuk tuks? Decked out and painted in garish swirls of shade, the tuk tuks of Galle made King Tuk look like a wilting wallflower!
As if the city itself weren’t enough of a draw, there remains Galle’s original allure: its coastline. A stroll through town inevitably ends with a walk along the old fort wall, admiring the gleaming lighthouse, the rolling surf, fields where ponies graze, and—on clear days—a view of the peace pagoda across the water.
As day pushes towards dusk, crowds begin to gather along the wall. With the sun due to set, there is no better place to watch it drop… even if clouds blow in and obscure things at the last moment, which is something of a running joke for us in this part of the world.
Maybe it says more about our evolution as travelers than it does about the city itself, but Galle is one of those places where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, and the greatest pleasure for us was simply in being there. There were no specific sights or landmarks we wanted to see, and the only activity we cared to do was wander the streets with cameras in hand and bask in the color, the quiet, and—yes—the charm. I didn’t have words for its beauty then, and I’m afraid I still don’t now, but if pictures really are worth a thousand words, then hopefully this collection has said enough!