Galle is an awesome town with a beautifully preserved old fort with most of the original walls intact. It is mostly a Dutch colonial city in terms of the remaining buildings, but the European-aspects of the city were actually founded by the Portuguese in 1589. The Dutch then took the city in 1640 and effectively erased the Portuguese presence from the map. The city was the most important port in Sri Lanka for 200 years but when it was turned over to the British in 1796, the ports of Colombo were gaining the dominance that prevails to this day. The tsunami of 2004 did hit Galle, and hit it hard, but ironically the walls of the old city and the Dutch drainage (let’s face it they are the world’s experts at drainage given that half of Holland is below sea level) meant that the old city fared far better than the new part of town.
Getting to Galle is ridiculously easy. As I mentioned in my previous post, the main North-South road that runs through Colombo down to Mount Lavina and beyond is the Galle-Colombo road. If you want to do it on the cheap, just go on the road and take a public bus heading south that is marked for Galle. Ask the locals which bus to take because some are more efficient. It will run you all of $3 maximum for the 3 hour ride. There are a ton of buses heading south so at Mount Lavina it’s a breeze to find an empty bus where you’ll easily get a seat. It may end up getting crowded along the way but I had several seats to myself for the whole ride. However, if I were you I would take advantage of the fact that Colombo is one of the few places in Sri Lanka where you can find luxury (and by that I mean, an AC bus where you are guaranteed a seat). Galle is such a popular destination that there are ton of bus company offices all over the main road offering the service for a reasonable price. Take advantage of it. You will be forced to experience the tortuous transportation that is the normal public system in most cities aside from Kandy.
The old city is truly an amazing site. I was lucky to find a somewhat inexpensive room ($40 CDN, Sri Lanka is actually very expensive for restaurant food and accomodation) in a guesthouse, the Millenium Resthouse, that was totally charming. The front of the the place is a jewelry shop, and the first floor is the family home. I came home to the kids doing their homework on the living room table or practicing the piano. The owner was also super sweet and even got me a free ride into town because he was sending someone there on an errand. The only downside was that, since it’s their house, they locked the place up by 9:00 pm so you had to knock on the door to get let in after that, which they graciously did, but that made me feel guilty. However, the place was within a 3 minute walk of the lighthouse inside the old fort and I had a whole floor to myself including a terrace. Which means that this was my view:
I did venture into the new city at some point to look for a laundry service and get my shoes fixed (4 months of wearing the same shoes practically daily ended up wearing a hole in both soles). The new city is worth a quick venture just to get a sense of the place, but you should focus your attention on the old fort which, to be frank is 100% geared to tourists and not particularly cheap, but gorgeous nonetheless. A shot from the new part of town:
I took a walk along the southern part of the wall upon my return, by the lighthouse:
The lighthouse is actually relatively new, dating back only to 1938, and it is still in use. The main beach, aptly named Lighthouse Beach is right below:
At night inside the old fort there are barely any bars, though there are plenty of restaurants. The best restaurants are all over the old city, but unfortunately they are very small and frequently packed. If you want to avoid the crowds, go to the Dutch Hospital buildings, the restaurants are also quite busy but you can definitely get a table. The food alas isn’t great. The only bar I was able to find in the old city is on the ground floor (Lonely Planet readers, Pilgrim’s Lounge appears to have closed down since the last edition was published). I think the fancy hotel in the city also has a bar, but I’m guessing the prices are absurd.
Galle at night:
I spent the next day exploring as much of the old fort as possible. The problem being not one of time, but of heat endurance. Even in January Galle was ROASTING hot. I could only endure about 2-3 hours outdoors at a time before hunkering down somewhere with AC, and I’m generally good with heat. I planned some indoor time on purpose in the Marine Archeological Museum but surprisingly it had no AC, and even though it’s embedded in the walls of the fortress–which I would expect to be cool–it was searing hot inside as well. The picture below is just outside the main gate:
The entrance to the Marine Archeological Museum:
The Galle library:
This is the area along the northern walls of the fort:
A lovely church which didn’t show up on Google Maps or Lonely Planet, I believe it’s a Baptist Church strangely enough:
The obligatory proof-of-life shot:
Sadly, it is in Galle that I came to the realization that restaurant food in Sri Lanka is pretty crappy. Well, aside from eating at “Hotels” which are not actually hotels but super cheap restaurants on main roads that make surprisingly good food, though kinda all the same. The awesome crab curry on my first night was an exception to the restaurant food quality. Sri Lankan curries are typically just too salty and do not come close to comparing to the curries in India. However, I later learned that the street food and bakeries are where the awesome food is at, in particular the latter. The samosas and other baked savory foods I got from the bakeries in Sri Lanka were epic and cheap. I had the best samosa in my life at a bakery at a bus station. Alas, aside from a decent breakfast, the food I had in Galle was pricey and pretty crappy.
I’ll leave you with two final beach shots: