Totally rested and relaxed, today we were ready to hit the town again. That town being Galle. But first, gems had to be bought. Well, we are in Sri Lanka after all, what else is a girl supposed to do? Our driver, Vijay, suggested going to a gem mine factory, so off we set, me full of anticipation of cornflower blue sapphires….
We drove through a very different landscape, both geographically and socio-economically from anything I had seen thus far. (This island is a myriad of differing vistas, each no less fascinating than the previous one.) We passed lands that had been hit and obliterated by the Tsunami and were now being rebuilt, equally close to the ocean, despite government prohibitions.
Finally, we arrived and in my head I had already designed my about to be bought earrings.
First disappointment, it is a moonshine mine. Hmmm. Not quite what I had in mind or heart. But the guide reassured me; they had everything.
He took us through the mining and polishing process and en route we even passed a cinnamon tree grove so dried sticks were bought for my Greek family back in London who use cinnamon in everything. (Why on earth I am encouraging this I am not honestly sure when I really don’t love cinnamon in everything.)
Eventually, we reached the store. The salesman was intimidating and pressured me hugely; telling me dark blue sapphires were pale as though I could not tell day from night. The sapphires were as expensive as at home so despite him forcing them onto me, we managed to escape without parting with our cash. I think the days of crazily cheap bargains have long since gone; these people have so wised up to the Western market.
Next stop was Galle, a delightful walled city with much Dutch influence. As ever, Nigel is the knowledgable one (and he has visited Galle several times before) so he will give you all the facts later, I’m sure.
My impressions; chaotic yet sleepy all at once, both old fashioned and trendy – a fusion of old and new, Dutch and Sri Lankan – yes, you are getting the picture – a town of beautiful contradictions.
We went through a delightful shop called Exotic Roots which was a treasure chest of batik and art and a million things I could have taken home and which would have fitted very beautifully into my London home. But wait, I told myself…wait, think weight, and wait.
Lots more lovely shops, Barefoot – which seems to be a Sri Lankan institution……and endless very chic restaurants and hotels amidst crumbling buildings – yes, we are back to the contradictions again.
We stopped for a drink at the Fort Printers hotel, where the Boys had stayed before. The staff remembered them, even though their last visit was in 2011. Impressive staff or unforgettable Boys? I know where my money would go.
A drink (divine watermelon martini in my case, beer for the Boys) turned into lunch. Of course it did. We Wanderlust Junkies LOVE our food.
Then a walk over the city walls back to our car and home to our house in Matara.
Hot and tired, I change into my bikini for a jacuzzi to find the heavens have opened and I’m getting sprayed in many more ways than I imagined.
Time for champagne and cashew nuts (fried with mustard leaves – mega yum) before dinner and bed. A day crammed full of gems – even though not one sapphire was actually purchased.
Writing 14 December. Oh dear, 10 days to Christmas Eve! Who’d have thought so out here? Mind you, driving through the tourist areas here, most of the hotel lobbies are boasting ‘Christmas trees’ – the kind with everything attached so you can fold the whole lot up and stuff it away again until the following year.
Shortly after we arranged the trip to Sri Lanka for Lau, Maroulla and me, Maroulla’s stylish little gem-loving antennae were out.
Sri Lanka = sapphires. Sri Lanka = sapphires.
And the ‘Sapphire Quest’ was inscribed as an extra event in our itinerary. So yesterday was the ‘big day’. Originally we’d planned to wait until Colombo and visit a jeweller’s near our hotel. But our driver (sweet, obliging Vijay, but a driver nonetheless) had a better idea. As we were to discover, so did lots of other drivers. A gem mine! The journey was a bit of a detour in terms of visiting Galle (the main objective of the day). But we got to drive on the swanky highway with huge ‘Beware – Peacocks Crossing’ signs at various intervals. That was a first.
The gem mine was fundamentally the usual overwhelming jewellery shop with a mini gem mine theme park attached, along with a stall selling cinnamon products, which seemed irrelevant. Though we all bought some sticks anyway. The guide/salesman was pushy. You can only deduce that they know exactly what they are doing, these guides, and that in the heat of the moment (and gosh was it hot yesterday) people – through obligation or ignorance or having their minds made up for them – shell out on a moonstone or two. But such was not the case yesterday.
Maroulla was strong. We were supportive.
Who in their right mind is going to decide to part with huge sums of money after a few minutes’ thinking time? So no sapphires and no commission for our driver. And I think maybe Maroulla has now developed a gem allergy – she has become ‘gemallergenic’. But not for long. I’m sure there’ll be a cure along the line.
It was nice to visit Galle Fort again (me and Lau) and for Maroulla to get the chance to soak up a bit of its sleepy, quaint, antique atmosphere. We were first here in 2011 and stayed at the Fort Printers Hotel, a beautifully converted 18th-century mansion. It’s changed a bit since we were there – more rooms, a spattering of new, dare-I-say-it?, slightly pretentious furniture. But the pool area is exactly the same – a lovely green granite lap pool sandwiched between the main house and a crumbly, weathered, yellow wall. (We stayed in the room right next to the pool last time). We decided to stop and enjoyed a delicious lunch. The restaurant at the Fort Printers is highly rated – justifiably.
Galle Fort has withstood the test of time and remains charming.
Yes, the number of gift shops, not to mention the number of hotels, has increased a hundredfold (some have dropped by the wayside too), but it is still a magic little enclave, its antique houses and warehouses, its gleaming white churches, its alluring courtyards encapsulated by the sturdy, protective ramparts and bashed by the powerful waves of the Laccadive Sea.