UNESCO Heritage Site #87: Beguiled by Galle

I don’t want to talk in detail about all the hoops we had to jump through  to get to Sri Lanka. All I can say is that the airline overbooked the seats on the plane, and by the time we checked in our luggage, they had the entire plane overflowing with Christmas travellers with no space for us. The customer service apologized profusely, assuring us that this has never happened before and never have ALL of the passengers showed up for their scheduled flight (really, never?). After trying desperately to argue and reason our way onto the plane, we had to settle for the sleepless night at the airport, followed by a rerouted plane to Colombo via Chennai. 12 hours later than when we were supposed to arrive, we were finally in Sri Lanka.From Colombo we took the last train to Galle in a cheap, cheery and vacuum-packed third class carriage. As the locomotive followed the coastline, discharging passengers at the villages along the way, our train accommodations improved from cramped to comfortable to finally sparse. On the approaches to Galle, a friendly man joined us, asking about our comings and goings. His cheerful disposition allowed me to let go of any reticence, and we engaged in quite an animated, if somewhat broken, conversation. The man turned out to be a mechanic, and knew an exceptional amount about trains. For example, he told us that we were currently on a train, which was imported from Romania where it was used during the communist times. Upon hearing that I was from Canada, he wistfully talked about the quality of the old Canadian trains that used to run in Sri Lanka. I’ve never met someone so passionate about trains, and had I met them, I would’ve never imagined they would intrigue me this much.

The following morning, we took to the streets of the Galle Fort. Bathed in the air of colonial tropical charm, Galle boasted well-restored barracks and warehouses repurposed as Ayurvedic salons, craftsmen studios and trendy open-concept restaurants. Layers of Portuguese, Dutch and English occupations have shaped the fort’s thick bastions, straight streets and imposing ramparts. Especially during the evenings, the ramparts bustled with families, couples and tourists. However, for me personally, the main attraction of the city lay in the beautiful lighthouse, which despite being built as recently as 1938, effortlessly matched the walled city and in fact becomes the focal point of the entire fort. The gleaming white erectness of the lighthouse forms a contrasting background against the outstretched curves of the palm trees around it. The city feels wonderfully international as the old streets with Dutch names house mosques, churches and Buddha shrines.

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