Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Sri Lanka: Colonialism, Minimalism, and Massages in Galle Fort (#sorrynotsorry)
From the chatter on Twitter, a trip to Sri Lanka isn't complete without a stop in Galle - the fourth largest city after Colombo, Kandy, and Jaffna. But the most fascinating aspect about the city is its history as the main port on the island, which had first been colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th-century, then by the Dutch in the 18th-century and - of course, last but not least - the British in 1796. This is important to remember as you stroll through the charming, narrow streets of Galle Fort today, as the architecture here is a fascinating example of the Portuguese style and remnants of British colonial rule still remain, as evidenced by this red post box we spotted outside one of the many souvenir shops targeting tourists.
When we arrived to the Fort after our beach stay in Thalpe, temperatures were soaring. Thankful for the sun, but desperately wanting the relief of air conditioning, we hurried into the reception of The Fort Printers, an 18th-century mansion restored into a boutique hotel - one of many which lined the streets of the fortress. Van-loads of school children in starched white uniforms were being led by teachers along the fortress walls on school excursions - some shyly smiling, and others, boldly waving. It was a very sweet scene.
I was immediately taken by the modern and minimalist aesthetic of The Fort Printers - I'd been looking forward to our stay for quite some time.
We stayed in the Church Suite, a spacious room housed in the main quarters, just off one of the streets. First of all, I fell in love with our key, of all things.
And then the room, with its dreamy four poster bed and mosquito net (which I was beginning to find quite romantic by this point!).
And, rather surprisingly, the bathroom, which I decided I wanted for my own house someday. The polished concrete and open space worked well with the high, vaulted ceilings. The skylight at the pitch of the roof lent a bright, airy feel.
After checking into our room, we braved the torrential downpour outside (which only lasted about 20 minutes or so!) to duck into some souvenir shops, where I bought vintage postcards and knick-knacks for friends, before taking a short walk along the fortress walls for views of the sea.
The next day, we stopped into the Dutch Reformed Church within the fort's walls and I obsessively read every tombstone/plaque in English that explained how the first settlers perished (drowning at sea, "the fever", etc.). I tried to imagine moving to a far-flung tropical destination with a view to conquer it, while having no immunity to new and (at that time) incurable diseases - and couldn't.
After slipping some rupees into the small donation box at the church, we wandered next door to the library, with its distinctly colonial features. A man was slowly turning the pages of a newspaper at the table, but it was otherwise empty. The smell of dusty tomes and the sight of the shelves reminded me of my college library, and I felt as though I was intruding - even though we were not. The library appeared to be suspended in time; a very surreal experience.
So here's where things got a little bit lame ... it was so hot and we were so tired ... we decided to opt for ayurvedic massages at the luxurious Amangalla resort next door instead of making the 3-hour long trek around the fort walls on foot.
Please don't judge me.
We'd been to Amangalla for a drink the previous evening and loved its colonial interiors - the fans whirring above our heads and beautiful views onto the verandah, which made you feel like you were in an episode of the Channel 4 series, Indian Summers.
So much so, that we asked for the spa menu and booked head massages for the next day, which we thought would help us dust off any remaining London-related cobwebs and fully relax into holiday mode.
A few minutes before our treatment, we dipped into this private hydrotherapy pool and I shrieked while ducking myself into the ice cold plunge pool before heading for a quick stop in the sauna and donning my robe.
John and I are secret spa junkies. I can't think of a hotel we've ever booked in the UK that didn't have a full spa - it's the ultimate way of relaxing and unwinding. My dream came true a couple of years ago when we booked a stay at this spa resort in Da Nang, Vietnam - where the pool villa price included two spa treatments per day. Per day, folks. Imagine if the most difficult decision you had to make that day was whether you should get a manicure or another Thai massage? I know, it's a struggle.
But I digress.
Those massages at Amangalla? The best I've ever had. The best John has ever had (and he's not even a fan of massages! I know! What's wrong with him?! When I'm feeling generous - which is not often - I'll be all, "Would you like a shoulder massage?" And he'll be like, "[long pause] Could do. Okay, yeah, sure." !?!??!). We emerged feeling completely blissed out (I couldn't actually open my eyes and ended up stumbling around for my clothes afterwards), with all the knots worked out in my back and shoulders ... and ready for lunch, which we took on that gorgeous verandah.
Just the light bites we needed before we headed off to our next stop in Balapitiya.
So, our antics in Galle might have ruffled some culture vultures' feathers, but in the end?
It was so worth it.