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Colombo Short Stay – Your Posh Condo in the City

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With a magnificent setting in the 22nd floor of the Emperor Building, itself part of the five-star Cinnamon Grand’s complex, the luxury condo offered by Colombo Short Stay was an incredible place to spend our last night in Sri Lanka. Out on the balcony, with a bottle of red wine and a view that stretches over the Indian Ocean and most of the city, we couldn’t have found a better spot to wrap up our journey.

Rent Apartment in Colombo

The modern condo has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, sleeps six people, and combines the best aspects of a private apartment and a luxury hotel. Within the condo, you’ll enjoy the comforts of home, like high-speed internet (the fastest we’ve had in Sri Lanka), a huge flat-screen TV, BluRay player, washing machine, giant fridge, cozy furniture, and a well-equipped kitchen. Then you can step outside into the world of a five-star hotel — a swimming pool, incredible (and surprisingly affordable) restaurants, a workout room with ultra-modern machines and great shopping.

The Emperor Building is in one of the best neighborhoods of Colombo, right between the Galle Face Green and Temple Trees, which is where the president lives. And you have one of the city’s best shopping complexes, Crescat Boulevard, mere minutes away.

If you’re staying in Colombo for an extended period of time, definitely take a look at the availability in this condo. It also makes a lot of sense for families or small groups, who might otherwise have to rent multiple hotel rooms. We loved our stay here, and were happy to have such a comfortable final home in Sri Lanka.

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Wohnung Mieten Colombo
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April 30, 2012 at 7:58 am Comment (1)

The Train from Colombo to Kandy

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The slow-moving, three-hour journey from Colombo to Kandy is one of the most spectacular train rides we’ve ever taken. The track leaves the smoggy metropolis quickly behind, and travels inland through regions of increasing beauty and altitude, until arriving at Sri Lanka’s hilltop jewel, Kandy. Throughout the ride, we were captivated by the ever-changing landscape, and spent the trip poking our heads out open windows, or hanging carefree from the doors like the feckless punks we are (or, would like to be).

Kandy Express

In 1864, the British introduced rail to Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as the island was then known. Steady and reliable transport was needed to bring coffee and tea from the central highlands to the port of Colombo, and trains served the purpose nicely. Colombo-Kandy was the original line and, with the progression of decades, the network expanded. Today, you can travel with train around much of the country — the north, and south-east being the two big exceptions.

We had such a great time on the train to Kandy that we promised ourselves to utilize trains whenever possible. Second class tickets cost around 200 rupees apiece (less than $2). First class, also wonderfully cheap, was unfortunately sold out. I don’t know what kind of difference the class-upgrade would have made; our seats were plenty large and comfortable. And the unforgettable views were the same. Upon arriving, we almost felt like staying on the train, and heading straight back to Colombo.

Location of the train station on our Colombo Map
An other fun train ride we took: From Sucre to Potosi

Colombo Train
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February 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm Comments (3)

The Modern Temple of Seema Malaka

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In the middle of Beira Lake, the sleek Buddhist Temple of Seema Malaka rises elegantly from the tepid water. In comparison to the garishly colorful Sri Subravanian Kovil, which we had just finished visiting, Seema Malaka is a marvel of restraint.

Geoffrey Bawa

After the original Seema Malaka temple had sunk into the lake, the government commissioned Geoffrey Bawa to design a replacement in the 1970s. Bawa, known as the founder of Tropical Modernism, is Sri Lanka’s most famous architect and was one of the most influential in Asia. His stylish creations can be found throughout Colombo, and Seema Malaka is one of the highlights.

The temple is spread across three raised platforms in the lake, connected to each other and to the mainland by bridges. Bawa intended his design to echo the jungle temples of Anuradhapura, also bound together by walkways. Seema Malaka is small and, with the cool breeze coming off the lake, a sense of serenity and simplicity dominates the scene — quite the accomplishment, in the middle of steamy, chaotic Colombo.

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Seema Malaka
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February 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm Comments (3)

Take a Tuk-Tuk

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The practical, puttering tuk-tuk is one of the classic mainstays of Sri Lankan life. Clogging the streets of every city on the island, and found bumping along even the most remote mountain roads, the motorized rickshaw is an unavoidable, and incredibly fun, method of transportation.

Sri Lanka Tuk Tuk

“Taxi? Taxi, sir? Taxi?!” Ah, the joyous chorus that follows us wherever we go! As we walk down the street, a clamorous line of tuk-tuks follows us, demanding our attention. “Taxi? Taxi, sir? Taxi?!” Regardless of how often we say “no”, or how insistently we wave them off, they’ll not be deterred. The idea that we might prefer walking is positively baffling! And it’s not a reality the tuk-tuk driver is prepared to accept.

Half the time, we let them win. The truth is, there’s no better way to get around in Sri Lanka. We’ve been here a week, and I’ve already lost count of how many tuk-tuk rides we’ve taken. And each one provides an exciting little memory we’ll treasure for years to come. “Remember that time we almost died on Galle Road?” “Oh gosh, right! That bus almost smashed us to pieces, haha”. Once, as we were speeding down a curvy hill in Kandy, our driver confidently remaining in the passing lane while turning around to chat with us, Jürgen observed that the ride was just like a rickety old roller coaster, but, you know, without any rails, seat-belts or safety considerations. This made the driver laugh.

I’m exaggerating a little. Though the adrenaline rush of the average tuk-tuk ride is profound, I’ve never felt really in danger. The drivers are experienced and familiar with the idiosyncratic laws of the Sri Lankan road. And each trip we take makes us more comfortable. We’re getting good at haggling prices down, and are learning the tricks of the trade. You should never get in a rickshaw without first agreeing on the price, and definitely refuse those who offer free trips. And if you’re in Colombo, try and find metered tuk-tuks, which almost always result in a cheaper fare.

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Tuk Tuk Driver
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February 9, 2012 at 8:49 am Comments (5)

Sri Subramaniya Kovil

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Found on Slave Island, Sri Subramaniya Kovil is one of Colombo’s most impressive Hindu temples. We were welcomed inside on a balmy February morning, and had a great time watching the ceremonies. When we left, it was with colorful dots on our foreheads and a beginner’s appreciation of Hindu.

Hindu Blessing

Slave Island takes its name from the days when Colombo was ruled by the Netherlands. It’s actually an inland peninsula, enclosed by Beira Lake, which provided the colonialists a handy place in which to confine their African slaves. Only one side needed to be protected against escape attempts, because the dastardly Dutch had filled the waters with alligators. It’s as though they delighted in pure evil! (1) Subjugate an island nation. (2) Ship in foreign slaves. (3) Guard slaves with man-eating monsters. They probably wore handlebar mustaches, too.

When our tuk-tuk pulled up in front of the Sri Subramaniya Kovil on Slave Island, my jaw dropped. An 82-foot tower reaches up to the sky, covered with what must be hundreds of Hindu deities. The sculpture work is intricate, colorful and not a little gaudy.

After removing our shoes, we stepped inside. Nobody seemed to mind us our presence and, to the contrary, we were made to feel welcome. A number of brahmans were wandering around, and gave us some flower petals to place before the shrine of our choosing, then put dots of color onto our foreheads: a tilak, which represents the “third eye” common to many of the Hindu gods.

This was my first time inside any sort of Hindu temple, and it was fascinating. There were a number of shrines inside, which people were circling in a clockwise manner. Priests were carrying offering plates to the various shrines and blessing the faithful. There was fire involved. Elephant gods. Face painting. Incense. Requisite shirt-removal. Bells, flowers and chanting. My overall impression? Hinduism is kind of a blast.

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Hindu Tower
Sri-Subramaniya-Kovil
Hindu Gods
Hindu Dude
Hindu Horse
Hindu Offerings
Hindu Temple Colombo
Hindu Helper
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Kid Hindu
Temple Candle
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Black Hindu Statue
Hindu Monk
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February 9, 2012 at 3:38 am Comments (4)

The Pettah – Colombo’s Colorful Bazaar

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Walking around Colombo’s Pettah neighborhood, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in Tehran or Cairo. A bazaar with definite Middle Eastern flair, the Pettah is where Sri Lanka’s multi-culturalism is at its most pronounced. The district has long been inhabited by Muslims, but a strong population of Sinhalese and Tamils contribute to an intoxicating mix of ethnicities in Colombo’s most colorful area.

Pettah District

We visited the Pettah on our first full day in Sri Lanka, and were instantly won over. The narrow streets are clogged with tuk-tuks and men pulling heavy carts laden with goods, while a bewildering assortment of shops clamor for business. The Pettah spreads out north from the Fort Railway station, and we walked aimlessly about for a couple hours, snapping photos and absorbing the ambiance.

Similar shops tend to be grouped together. Hundreds of jewelry stores cling side-by-side on Sea Street, then around the corner you’ll find a collection of shops selling ayurvedic herbs and roots. South of the Old Town Hall, there’s a covered market selling fruits and vegetables, some of them familiar and some less so. Vendors were happy to identify the stranger specimens, and I almost bought a jackfruit — but carrying around the giant, spiky melon-shaped fruit for the rest of the day wouldn’t have been a good idea.

Eager for a break, we ventured into the Old Town Hall. In the midst of such chaos, it was strangely deserted. On the second floor, we found a collection of dummies dressed in official uniforms, seated around a long table. Some sort of recreation of an old town meeting? I don’t know, but it was definitely bizarre. We took a seat in a room full of empty school chairs and recharged.

The Pettah is home to a wide variety of places to worship. We visited the New Katherisan Kovil (Hindu), the gorgeous red and white Jami ul-Aftar (Muslim), and the Wolfendahl Church (Christian). Anyone in the market for a new religion should head straight to the Pettah, for some convenient comparison shopping. Without a doubt, this was the most lively and exciting neighborhood we visited during our short time in Colombo.

Location of The Pettha on our Sri Lanka Map

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Pettah Colombo
Water Transport
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Pettah
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February 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm Comments (7)

The Multi-Cultural Chaos of Colombo

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Cheap Flights To Sri Lanka

Although the official capital of Sri Lanka is the nearby satellite city of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, Colombo is definitely the island’s top dog. Boasting by far the largest concentration of people, industry and commerce, Colombo is a noisy, dirty, and vibrantly alive city; an ethnic melting pot both invigorating and exhausting.

Colombo 2011

Thanks to its natural harbor, Colombo has been an area of trade ever since ships first sailed the Indian Ocean, but didn’t become a city of any importance until the arrival of the Portuguese. But it’s made up for lost time. With a current metro population of over five million, Colombo is a vast urban sprawl which stretches for miles up and down the coast. The words “Sri Lanka” usually conjure serene images of tea plantations, rain forests and pristine nature, so landing in Colombo is a startling wake-up call to the busy modern life of the island.

We immediately fell into the rhythm of the city. Not difficult, since Colombo is fun. There’s the insane bazaar of the Pettah, the strangely militarized Fort District, the gorgeous temples around Beira Lake and Slave Island, tuk-tuks clamoring for business every two meters, historic hotels, excellent restaurants and a buoyant urban vibe which owes a lot to the city’s fantastic mixing of cultures.

On our first full day in Colombo, we visited a Hindu Temple, a Mosque, a Christian church, and a Buddhist temple. We got into conversations with practitioners of all these various faiths. Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim… it didn’t matter: everyone was eager to talk with us, to find out where we’re from and what we’re doing. And they were especially interested to learn our impressions their country. A fail-proof way to elicit a huge Sri Lankan grin, is to gush about how wonderful Sri Lanka is. They’re very proud of their country… and their hectic capital city.

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Monk Colombo
Mosque in Colombo
Cultures in Colombo
Mosque Sri Lanka
Reading The Koran
Musrlim Sri Lanka
Main Street Sri Lanka
Old City Hall Colombo
White Church of Sri Lanka
Teens in Sri Lanka
Multi Kulty Sri Lanka
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Buddhism in Sri Lanka
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February 7, 2012 at 11:16 am Comment (1)

Ayubowan, Sri Lanka!

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Hotels in Colombo

Sri Lanka, the pendant-shaped jewel hanging off the earlobe of India, has had a number of names throughout its long history. Under British rule, the island was known as Ceylon. Arabs called it Serendib, the origin of the word serendipity, which hints at its beauty. And for a span of three months, Jürgen and I would be referring to it as “home”.

Colombo

Our flight from New York City left on the evening of January 31st, but we didn’t touch down in Sri Lanka until the morning of February 2nd. The time difference is ten and a half hours, and the distance about 9000 miles. Stinking, half-conscious sweat-zombies, we collapsed into a waiting taxi and embarked on a noisy 90-minute drive from Negombo to Colombo, the island’s capital.

Though it’s only about the size of West Virginia, Sri Lanka is home to over 22 million souls. Sinhalese Buddhists, Hindu Tamils, Christians and Muslims share the land in an unsteady peace: a twenty-six year civil war waged between the Sinhalese-majority government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) of the north only ended in May, 2009. The ethnic diversity is reflected in the island’s nature. Flat lowlands surround a mountainous center, and the nation boasts rain forests, pristine beaches, ancient temples and a richly diverse wildlife. A little piece of paradise in the Indian Ocean.

In order to do justice to Sri Lanka, we decided to roam about the island instead of dedicating all 91 days to a specific city. Though we were viciously jet-lagged on arriving, we wasted no time and went out to explore Colombo the very same morning… sleeping could wait; there was a whole new country waiting to be discovered!

Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to our RSS feed or newsletter. We love hearing from readers, so please get in touch with us via comments, our contact form or email. And if you’re from Sri Lanka, or know the island well, we’re always on the lookout for great tips and advice. Don’t hesitate to write!

Chucky, 2001-2012
French Bulldog

Before arriving, we spent a difficult couple weeks in the USA. We had to say goodbye to our ten-year-old French Bulldog Chucky, who had developed cancer. Our little co-adventurer, Chucky had been around the world with us, from Europe to North and South America. I’m not certain she really “loved” travel like we do… in fact, I’m rather sure she didn’t. But she was a trooper until the end, and we miss her terribly. So it’s up to Sri Lanka to distract us, and get our minds on happier things.

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Dutch in Sri Lanka
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Lonely Soldier
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February 6, 2012 at 5:52 am Comments (19)
Colombo Short Stay - Your Posh Condo in the City With a magnificent setting in the 22nd floor of the Emperor Building, itself part of the five-star Cinnamon Grand's complex, the luxury condo offered by Colombo Short Stay was an incredible place to spend our last night in Sri Lanka. Out on the balcony, with a bottle of red wine and a view that stretches over the Indian Ocean and most of the city, we couldn't have found a better spot to wrap up our journey.
For 91 Days