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A VENETIAN WALKABOUT

How to Spend 5 Days in Venice, Italy – a solo traveller’s perfect self-guided walking itinerary Join me on a leisurely journey around Venice – on a ‘walkabout’. Over four…

How to Spend 5 Days in Venice, Italy – a solo traveller’s perfect self-guided walking itinerary

Join me on a leisurely journey around Venice – on a ‘walkabout’.

Over four days, my self-guided walk led me to some incredible experiences as I strolled through and discovered five of Central Venice’s six districts. On the fifth day, I went island hopping to Murano and Burano.

It is possible not to get lost in Venice if you allow yourself just to wander; with the very occasional “Where am I?” moments. The secret being that Venice has got wise, and everywhere you go there are strategically placed signs pointing the way to St Mark’s Square or Rialto Bridge, both major landmarks. However, I have to confess that I did pull out the map once – in San Polo. I had wandered down so many narrow alleyways that when I entered a tiny courtyard, I didn’t even know which direction I was facing.

Venice is flat. The best way to see it is just to walk. With my camera slung over my shoulder, my favourite walking shoes on, and my trusty guide book in hand, I let my feet and curiosity find the direction.

The starting point for each day’s walk was my hotel, Hotel da Bruno, in the San Marco district. Located at Sestiere di Castello 5726/A – 30122, Hotel da Bruno is ideally located in Venice’s historic centre. For my review on Hotel da Bruno, refer to the section, ‘Where I stayed’ at the end of this post.

As I have taken a different district each day to explore, you don’t have to follow my self-guided walking itinerary per se. This post is a guide, explore what you want, mix it up, or add to the discoveries.

This guide is an updated version of the post, A Venetian Walkabout. Originally Published: January 23, 2018. Updated: August 5, 2020; providing more information and resources.

Let’s walk together. Or step out on your very own walking itinerary.

Day 1: San Marco

On my first day in Venice, I wandered down alleys, crossed some of Venice’s 400 unique bridges and watched the waters of the canals lap the doorsteps of antique buildings in various states of glorious decay. Everywhere I turned I saw evidence of Venice’s unstable foundations, with lopsided arches and leaning church bell towers. So much to photograph. I have fallen in love with Venice.

Over a coffee in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, I saw canal barges loading the linen from hotels and learned from the waiter it is taken off the islands to the mainland for laundering so as not to pollute the canals.

Taking in my surroundings from one bridge, I witnessed a gondola traffic jam and was thankful I was not playing tourist.

Many open boats jostling for position on a narrow canal

Gondola traffic jam

 

Multi-storied brick building with external spiral staircase

Contarini del Bovolo Palace

 

Venturing down a very narrow alley near Campo Manin, requiring me to maneuver through crab-like, I came across an unusual building with the most elegant external multi-arch spiral staircase – the gothic Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. The staircase, with its ascending rows of round-headed arches, is the only one of its kind found in Venice today. Closed at the time of my discovery, I let my camera do the sightseeing.

Stumbling across Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) for the third time within half an hour, I decided it is time to experience a coffee at the iconic Café Florian in St Mark’s Square. Established in 1720, Café Florian is the oldest café in Venice and claims to be the oldest in the world. At the cost of €15 for my coffee, I knew it was an experience I would not be repeating.

As I wandered around Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s Cathedral), marvelling at the brilliant mosaics, I wondered at the story of the two merchants from Alexandria in Egypt stealing St Mark’s body and bringing it back to Venice. And then there is the miracle of St Mark’s body reappearing in 1094 after being destroyed by fire in 976. St Mark’s body now lies in the Cathedral’s altar.

I experienced a sense of awe as I watched a fireboat race down the Grand Canal and disappeared into a side canal. My amazement was due to the unusual sight of a ‘fire engine’ being a boat and not a large truck. Later, I witnessed an ambulance maneuver into a narrow canal.

Day 2: San Polo and Santa Croce

The defined boundaries between San Polo and Santa Croce are not as clear-cut as those of Venice’s other four districts. Hence, their grouping together in this post and many guide books.

Crossing the Grand Canal from San Marco into San Polo via Rialto Bridge, my first stop this morning was Rialto Markets. Markets are a great way to gain an understanding of the local people; providing an insight into the local culture. As I wandered around the vegetable section of Rialto Markets and chatted to the stallholders, I learned the humble tomato is not so ordinary. Firstly, there are 25 tomato varieties in Italy. Secondly, no self-discerning vendor will sell you tomatoes without first knowing what you are cooking. To know it is imperative because they all have a different taste and must accompany the right dish. Only by understanding what you are cooking can the stall owner advise on just the correct type of tomato to use. I have to admit my palate is not up to Venetian tomato standards.

A white mask with open eyes and a long nose

The Plague Doctor Mask I bought from Tragicomica

 

Walking past San Giacomo di Rialto’s 15th-century 24-hour clock and through Campo San Polo, I found the shop Tragicomica on Calle dei Nomboli, San Polo 2800, which my research at home before leaving for Italy told me it sold traditional Venetian masks. The shop was crowded – with masks – and I wondered how I was ever going to find that special mask with my name on it. After a lengthy chat with Tragicomica’s artisan Mask Maker about the different types of masks and the history behind the masks, I bought an authentic Venetian, paper-mache Plague Doctor Mask, with its long beak-like nose. The beak was filled with herbs to protect the doctor from the plague.

 

Sitting in a café opposite the rear of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a large Gothic church commonly known as the Frari, I spent a pleasant hour just people watching. Even though Eyewitness Travel (Venice) describes the interior of the church as “striking for its sheer size and for the quality of its works of arts”, I did not venture inside. Instead, I wandered around the church’s exterior taking photos. The front of the church was very plain while the rear was much more impressive architecture.

Exterior of large brick church in gothic style with many windows

Rear view of the Gothic church, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

 

Lunch today was at Pizzeria Cico in Campo San Polo. The food was edible but ordinary, and the Square was plain but great for people watching.

Day 3: Cannaregio

Today was my longest walk – 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) from my hotel, via Strada Nova to the Jewish Ghetto in the Cannaregio district. The walk took me longer than the said 21 minutes because I kept stopping to explore different areas, admire the architecture, and take photos.  And I had to stop for a coffee!

The Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto, is a small, pretty Square with compelling monuments to the holocaust. Very tall buildings, unique in Venice, characterise Campo di Ghetto Nuovo. The tall buildings are due to the Jewish population being confined to a tiny area 500 years ago to segregate them from Venice’s Christian population. As the Jewish community grew and needed more housing, the only way was up.

The Ghetto’s five synagogues, unrecognisable from the Square, date back to the 16th century. Through the Jewish museum’s guided tour, the only way possible to see these hidden treasures, I discovered three of the five synagogues on the top floors of buildings – the French, German and Levantine, each representing a different ‘school’.

Back in Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, I contemplated the Holocaust memorials depicting Nazi brutality to the Jews during the Second World War.

The Holocaust Memorial on the brick wall in Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, created in 1980, comprises of seven bronze bas-relief plaques depicting deportation, Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), the quarry, punishment, execution, the Warsaw Uprising, and the final solution. Nine years later saw the addition of another memorial, the Deportation Memorial, also called “the Last Train”. Carved on the wooden boards behind the Deportation Memorial is the name and age of each victim who was deported.

Before the long walk back to my hotel, I had lunch at GAM GAM Kosher Restaurant. GAM GAM is located opposite the main entrance of the Jewish Ghetto on the Canale di Cannaregio – a great place to people-watch while enjoying a leisurely meal. I couldn’t resist ordering the house speciality, ‘Israeli Appetisers with Falafel’, served with the most delicious Italian bread. I was not disappointed and can honestly say this was the best meal I had in Venice.

With my feet crying ‘enough’, I took a traghetto (pedestrian transport) across the Grand Canal, alighting near Rialto Markets. Traghetti are cheap ‘pedestrian’ gondola ferries that just cross the Grand Canal from one side to the other. There are several points along the Grand Canal where you can pick up a traghetto. A traghetto will cost you (the tourist) 2 euros, while residents pay 70 cents. The crossing is so short that locals usually stand up in the traghetto. I sat! I didn’t trust my balance well enough not to end up in the Grand Canal. Did I save any walking distance? Probably not! But for about 6 minutes there, I felt like a real local and knew I had experienced something unique as tourists don’t usually use this mode of transport.

An open boat on water with people in it

A traghetto (pedestrian transport) crossing the Grand Canal

 

Day 4: Castello

From my hotel, a 15-minute walk this morning took me to the Arsenale in the Castello district. While primarily disused today and, except for exhibitions, closed to the public, the Arsenale was once the greatest naval shipyard in the world. A whole galley, using an assembly-line process, would be constructed in 24 hours. Two massive lion statues (the symbol of Venice) guard the gate to the Arsenale. Venice’s maritime past can be viewed in all its glory at the Naval History Museum, near the Arsenale. I found naval personnel a common sight around the Castello neighbourhood.

Clock tower beside a canal

The Arsenale

 

The largest of Venice’s six districts, Castello was a lovely area to walk around and lacked the tourist crowds found in neighbouring San Marco. My wandering took me to Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. Lined with restaurants, bars and cafés, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi is Venice’s widest street due to it being a filled-in canal. Feeling hungry, I stopped for a sandwich and coffee at Hopera Coffee and Bakery on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Heading back towards Piazza San Marco, as I crossed Ponte Canonica, I saw for the first time Venice’s most famous and only covered bridge, the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). This little Baroque bridge spans the canal, Rio di Palazzo, between the New Prison in the Castello district and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) in the San Marco district. From Ponte Canonica, I had an uninterrupted view of the Bridge of Sighs for my camera to record the moment.

Covered bridge

The Bridge of Sighs

 

After a coffee and people watching from Ristorante Carpaccio on Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice’s most famous promenade, I took a tour of the Doge’s Palace and the New Prison. The tour included crossing the Bridge of Sighs. Walking across the Bridge, I sighed, just as legend has it that the prisoners did when they crossed the Bridge from the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to their cell or execution in the New Prison. Catching their last glimpse of Venice through the Bridge’s windows, they sighed, knowing they would never walk back the other way. I learned Casanova was the most famous person to have crossed the Bridge of Sighs on his way to his prison cell, from which he later escaped.

Close to my hotel was a gelato shop, Gelatoteca Suso, on Calle de la Bissa. Before heading back to my hotel, I decided I would try a gelato because everyone I met raved about Venetian gelato and this shop in particular. I am not a big ice cream fan, and this experience did not convert me.

Day 5: Island hopping – Murano and Burano

Before embarking on my trip to Venice, I had decided there were two things I wanted to buy – a Venetian mask and Murano glass jewellery. Having bought my Doctor Plague Mask in the San Polo district on day 2, I had that item crossed off my shopping list. Now I needed to concentrate on finding that right piece of Murano glass jewellery. The best way to do this was to go to Murano. So, I took a day tour of Murano and Burano islands. Located in the UNESCO World Heritage Venetian Lagoon, both islands are a short distance from Venice; with Murano being the closest.

Taking a private boat across the Lagoon, our first stop was Murano. Murano is world-famous for its glassmaking and has been since 1291. At this time, there was a forced removal of all the Venetian glassmakers to Murano. Woe betide the glassmaker who tried to leave the island. Any attempt to leave the island would result in severe penalties, including death. The tour included a visit to a glassmaking workshop and a demonstration by the in-house glass artisans. I always feel it is a privilege to watch artisans engaged in their craft. We were given free time following the glassmaking demonstration to shop and explore the island on our own.

Glassblowers in their workshop

Glassmakers working at their craft at a glassmaking factory on Murano

 

I was now on a mission – to find that piece of jewellery with my name on it (figuratively speaking). I looked through the showroom attached to the glassmaking workshop, but the jewellery was too glitzy, too fussy for my taste. I was not able to access other showrooms (in the hope of finding something more to my liking) as it is only possible to go into a showroom with a tour. With some free time still available, I tried my luck at small, individual jewellery shops. But they offered nothing better. I expressed my bitter disappointment to the tour guide. She offered to take me to a boutique jewellery shop on Burano, where I should find Murano glass jewellery more to my ‘no bling’ taste. Read on to find out why I will be forever grateful to this guide.

Leaving Murano, we motored to Burano. Burano is primarily a fishing village but is famous for its brightly coloured houses and handmade lace. After a lacemaking demonstration, my guide took me to the shop, Alessandro Tagliapietra Murano Glass Jewels. The owner of this small jewellery shop only sells what he makes. I had a lovely time choosing several pieces of handmade Murano glass jewellery – necklaces and earrings. So, I bought my Murano glass jewellery on Burano – go figure! Now totally satisfied, I wandered around Burano taking photos of the canals and coloured houses, chatting with the locals and discovering the 17th-century leaning bell tower.

There ends my self-guided, 5-day walking tour of Venice. Where will your feet take you?

When to go

I was in Venice in early May. According to the World Weather Organization, the average daytime temperature in Venice in May is 21.5OC (70.7OF), and the average number of rain days is 8.2.

The week I was in Venice, the daily temperature was around 23OC, but felt warmer. Perhaps all that water increases the humidity?

Being my first visit to Venice, and from what I had read, I expected tourists to be inundating Venice. I was pleasantly surprised by the reality of crowds in May. Sure, there were many tourists around St Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge, but in most other areas, I was virtually on my own.

In my opinion, May is an ideal time of year to visit Venice. Not too hot, not too cold, little chance of rain, and limited crowds.

Getting there and away

My time on my own in Venice followed an 8-day river cruise on the Po River. As such, I had two arrivals in Venice – the first at Venice Marco Polo International Airport and the second, at Venice’s pier Marittima 123 (where most cruise ships dock).

I first arrived in Venice, at Marco Polo Airport, on a flight that was 36 hours delayed. Consequently, I had missed my pre-arranged private transfer from the airport to the ship. As a result, I took the Alilaguna water bus (vaporetto) Red Line (Linea Rossa) service from the airport to the Arsenale stop (the closest stop to the ship). Catching public transport proved to be very easy; leaving me wondering why I had organised a private transfer in the first place. The Alilaguna water-bus Red Line runs only from April to September. I was in Venice in May. See Alilaguna for lines and timetables throughout the year.

My second arrival in Venice was at pier Marittima 123. From a nearby canal, I took a water taxi to my hotel (Hotel da Bruno); as opposed to the vaporetto. The travel guide, Eyewitness Travel, describes the water taxis as a means of transport for those short on time and with lots of money. While I was neither time-poor nor wealthy, I baulked at the thought of managing my bags through the crowds around Rialto Bridge; especially as I was unsure how far the hotel was from the Rialto stop. So, a water taxi it was! Ninety euros later, the water taxi dropped me off at the canal beside my hotel. I won’t do that again! Knowing now how easy it was to get around Venice by vaporetto, I will be catching public transport on my next visit to Venice.

From Venice, I took the train to Rome. A friend had advised me to allow one and a half hours to get from my hotel to Venice’s Santa Lucia train station. I don’t know how my friend managed to take so long to get to the train station because it took me half an hour maximum. The trip time included walking from my hotel to the Rialto vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal and catching the vaporetto to the train station, also on the Grand Canal. Dead easy!

Where I stayed

I stayed at the Hotel da Bruno for my five nights in Venice. This hotel is all about location, location. Being only a 5-minute walk to Rialto Bridge and a 6-minute walk to St Mark’s Square), it is well-positioned to explore all Venice has to offer on foot.

However, I was bitterly disappointed with my room. I had booked a single room and was shocked when I saw it. My room was no bigger than a broom closet. It was dark and dingy, with outdated, tired furniture. The view from my window was that of the air shaft. Not a place I wanted to be! I tried to upgrade to a double room, but there were none available. Hotel da Bruno’s only saving grace was its location.

Would I stay again at Hotel da Bruno? Yes. But I would ensure I had a double room. As the saying goes: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t! And location, for me, is paramount.

 

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For more on Italy, read: “The Sassi di Matera – from national shame to cultural showcase”

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Joanna Rath.
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FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination. I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister…

Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination.

I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister and brother-in-law for a 23-day trip around this teardrop shaped island. This was a private tour with our own driver. However, it is also possible to travel around Sri Lanka by taxi, bus or train.

I still hold mixed feelings about my trip to Sri Lanka. After all, we can’t always expect to like everything about every country we visit. That said, Sri Lanka held some highlights for me that are well worth mentioning, such as walking the railway line between Ella and Demodara and our visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden. I also highly recommend visiting Galle Fort. In fact, it is worth staying at least a couple of nights.

Galle Fort is a historical fortified city, with the New Town of Galle located outside the walls. Galle is situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka – a distance of 126 kilometres (78 miles) down the west coast from Colombo (Sri Lanka’s capital).

Why visit Galle Fort

Galle Fort is rich in history; with 400 years of history spaning Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism. Built by the Portuguese in 1589, the Dutch seized the Fort in 1640 and extended its fortifications, which survive to this day. The British modified the Fort after Galle was handed over to them in 1796. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains the best example in south and southeast Asia of a fortified city built by Europeans.

Galle Fort is protected by a wall (ramparts), with 14 bastions, that has seen little change since completion by the Dutch in 1729. The fortifications run for 3 kilometres and are over 1 metre thick. Inside the Fort is a mixture of architecture, with Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, and grand mansions. Here you will find cafés, restaurants, boutiques, museums, and hotels. It is also a thriving commercial centre.

With an area of only 0.52 kilometres square within the fortifications and being relatively flat, Galle Fort is easy to walk around and to see everything. It is also a good base for day trips to the southern beaches, gardens, tea factories, rain forests, and nature walks.

From Colombo to Galle Fort

At the suggestion of our driver we took the coast road to Galle rather than the expressway. While taking the expressway would have been quicker (approximately 1.5 hours as opposed to approximately 3 hours), the coast road, according to our driver, is more interesting; more scenic. And it was. Hugging the coastline, we passed through many small villages which provided a glimpse into local daily life; where farmers and fishermen continue to live and work as they have done for generations.

This was our first real experience of driving in Sri Lanka. I have been in many a country where I thought the population as a whole are terrible drivers, but Sri Lankan drivers take the prize. Their idea or practice of passing is downright scary. Picture this … You have a two-lane road just wide enough for two cars, with one lane for each direction. Suddenly, your lane has three vehicles abreast (including your own, with your driver on his mobile phone) as two vehicles want to pass one, and there is a bus coming in the opposite direction. No one gives way as all four vehicles come abreast and all you can do is close your eyes and hold your breath. And yet, I never saw an accident.

I learned a valuable lesson on this drive – don’t ever think of doing a self-drive holiday in Sri Lanka as you may never survive the experience. Their driving and use of the roads are, for these foreigners, positively frightening. My brother-in-law was never able to relax when we were driving. For some reason, he always managed to get the seat with a clear view out the front windscreen. Causing him to remain transfixed on the traffic and in a perpetual state of anxiety.

Galle Fort 

We arrived in Galle Fort mid-afternoon. Our hotel for the duration of our stay in Galle Fort was the Fort Bazaar, inside the Fort itself.

The Fort Bazaar (at 26 Church Street, Galle Fort) was formerly a 17th century merchant’s townhouse.  Opening in 2016 in its current status as a small, boutique spa hotel, its 18 rooms are very spacious, cool and furnished with comfortable four-poster beds. Unfortunately, at the time of stay (April 2017), the pool and spa were not yet completed, and they were still waiting on a liquor licence. However, it is in a very central location within the Fort and complimentary tea and cakes were served daily between 3.00 and 4.00pm. My kind of hotel. I could not fault the staff, who were friendly, attentive and helpful. Sri Lankan hospitality at its best.

Note: The Fort Bazaar, according to a recent view of its website, now has a pool, a spa, and a liquor licence.

Due to the lack of a liquor licence (which did not suit at all), we booked dinner in the restaurant at the Galle Fort Hotel (at 28 Church Street), which came recommended by guide books.

The Galle Fort Hotel was a former gem merchant’s mansion. The restaurant’s setting was picture perfect, with the tables set up on the wide veranda overlooking the pool and garden.

However, dinner was less than ordinary, and the service was very slow even though there were only a few diners. In the heat and humidity, all we wanted was a cold drink to start with. But, once seated, we were suddenly invisible. We were starving by the time they remembered to take our meal orders. We do not recommend the restaurant in the Galle Fort Hotel.

A walk around Galle Fort

Over dinner, we decided to make an early start for our walk around Galle Fort, its bastions and ramparts (walls) the next day, so that our walk would be completed before the day got too hot. In hindsight, it makes no difference in April, heat-wise, what time of day you venture out as it is always very hot and wet (humidity, not rain).

On this day that we decided to do our walk, the humidity was 80% and caused some havoc with our DSLR cameras – fogged up lenses and constant error messages. While I have never found out conclusively if these problems were due to the humidity, it is certainly something to be aware of.

The humidity also impacted on my clothing. I wasn’t just dripping perspiration, I was completely wet. I was wearing a dark pink t-shirt that I had washed several times prior to this trip. However, the pink dye was coming out of my t-shirt. It stained my body, and my camera strap and my camera where they were touching the t-shirt. To top it off, the colour was completed bleached out of the t-shirt where my backpack was touching it – to the point where my t-shirt looked as though it had been tie-dyed.

After a leisurely breakfast at the Fort Bazaar of fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, and freshly ground coffee, we set off on our self-guided tour (walk) of Galle Fort.

Galle Fort map

(Map courtesy of the Fort Bazaar)

 

All Saints Church in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

All Saints Anglican Church

Walking up Church Street (Galle Fort’s main thoroughfare) towards the main gate and the Clock Tower, we passed All Saints Anglican Church (its stumpy steeple, a distinctive landmark) and the Maritime Archaeological Museum

Galle Fort dutch church tombstones

The tombstones laid in the floor of the Dutch Reform Church

Our first stop was at the Dutch Reform Church. Originally built in 1640, the floor of the Dutch Reform Church is laid with tombstones which were moved there from the Dutch cemeteries. The oldest of which dates from 1662. There are more tombstones in the grounds of the church.

Leaving the Dutch Reform Church, we continued up Church Street, making our way to the Clock Tower; our starting point for our walk along the Fort’s ramparts.

Heading east and past the Main Gate, we walked up onto the ramparts at the Moon Bastion with its Clock Tower that was built by the British in 1882. From here we were able to look down the ramparts (east and west) to the Star Bastion and Sun Bastion.

This is the most heavily fortified section of the ramparts as they protect the most vulnerable side of the Fort – the northern landward side. Galle Fort is surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean.

For those cricket fans…These northern ramparts provide a good view of the Galle International Cricket Stadium outside the Fort. This massive, 30,000-seater stadium has hosted more than 100 one day international matches. Australian bowler, Shane Warne claimed his 500th Test wicket at the Stadium in 2004. In 2010, Sri Lanka’s legendary cricket player, Muttiah Muralitharan played his last match at this venue. However, as at July 2018, the Galle Stadium was a risk of loosing its UNESCO World Heritage status due to the unauthorised construction of the 500-seat pavilion.

Turning south, we came to the Fish Market Bastion, where we left the ramparts to walk through Court Square. Here we stopped at the Old Gate. This was the original entrance to the Fort, with the Fort side of the gate inscribed with the Dutch East India Company’s coat of arms. The port side of the gate is adorned with a British crest (which replaced the original Dutch crest).

Court Square is shaded by magnificent, massive banyan trees with branches that seem to spread forever. The Square houses the law courts (with the lawyers standing around in their black suits) and the Old Dutch Hospital (now home to shops and cafes).

Galle Fort lighthouse

Galle Fort lighthouse on Point Utrecht Bastion

 

Heading south down Hospital Street, we found ourselves at Point Utrecht Bastion which is dominated by the lighthouse. Built in 1938 and standing 18 metres high, the lighthouse is still in use.

At the lighthouse, we climb back up onto the wall; walking along the southern rampart towards Flag Rock. Along this southern section of the wall, families were gathered on the shaded grass; picnicking and playing cricket.

Walking past the Meeran Jumma Mosque (which looks very much like a European Baroque church), we came to Flag Rock located on the southern-most end of the Fort. People dive from Flag Rock into the ocean – described as daring free-style divers. I did see one young man run along the top of the rock and dive from it. “Idiot” might be a better description than “daring”. “Clearly potty” is how one guide book describes these jumpers. Perhaps they have insider knowledge of exactly where the submerged rocks are?

 

We finally headed north as the ramparts hugged the west coast. We ended our ramble along Galle Fort’s ramparts near the army barracks, just before the Clock Tower where we had begun. Here we cut across the village green, past the Army Barracks as I had thrown a hissy fit; being upset that we were still walking in the heat. This was a short cut back to our hotel and a welcomed decision.

The guide books and tourist brochures inform you the walk along the ramparts will take 90 minutes. We took almost twice that length of time due to the heat and constant stopping to take photos. It’s surprising how hard it is to lift your feet when weighed down by heat and humidity!

We made a couple more stops before heading back to our hotel for a well-earned rest in a lovely cool room.

A long cool drink on the wide veranda of the luxury Amangalla Hotel was warranted before visiting the Manor House Museum (at 31-39 Leyn Baan Street – entrance is free). This is a private collection of antiques and miscellaneous objects (described by one guide book as “outright junk”). The collection belongs to Abdul Gaffar, a local gem merchant, and is on display in a restored Dutch house. In my opinion, Gaffar has a serious hoarding problem, with rooms and cabinets stuffed full of old typewriters, cameras, telephones, crockery, spectacles, jewellery and old Chinese memorabilia. To describe this collection as bazaar is being very kind and generous. It was just downright weird! For that reason alone, it is worth the visit. The museum does provide insight into some traditional crafts with presentations of lace embroidery, gem cutting and jewellery making. However, be cautious if you suffer from asthma because the museum is very, very dusty.

Lunch was at the Serendipity Arts Café; recommended by one guide book as a place to eat. The food was good (had a very tasty chicken club sandwich – not very imaginative of me) but I would not recommend it as it was not atmospheric; as was foretold.

We were back at the Fort Bazaar in time for a rest before partaking of the hotel’s scheduled afternoon tea and cakes served on the terrace.

This night we had dinner at The Fort Printers (39 Pedlar Street). This elegant, small private hotel (a restored 18th century mansion) was a printing facility in its former life. The original printing press is on show in the lobby of the hotel. We had discovered this hotel on our morning walk. I found the menu limiting as I am allergic to seafood and this was the speciality of the house. My sister and brother-in-law do not suffer from the same affliction and loved the menu choices. However, the menu did include chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes. The restaurant is in a lovely setting in a courtyard around a small pool. We were tucked into an alcove at the side of the courtyard that afforded a good level of privacy. Which was just as well as our conversation became quite lively and animated. Even so, we were not forgotten. The staff were friendly, attentive, knowledgeable about their menu, and ready to answer any questions we had. The food was so good, we went back a second night.

And so, our first 24 hours comes to an end. But not so our stay in Galle Fort as we spent a further day venturing outside of the Fort and into the countryside beyond; visiting the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum, Kataluwa Temple, the coastal village of Willgama, and a final stop at the Peace Pagoda. But that’s another story.

 

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Palm trees on a beach with a rock wall in front and the sea behind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and unsponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

Check out these related posts:

A Photographic Tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s Garden

Walking the Line in Sri Lanka from Ella to Demodara

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