Once outside the airport I must have been approached by taxis over 15 times in the 120 seconds I was waiting for my driver to pull the car up. So although I didn't ask for a price I can imagine its quite easy to get a cab for a very reasonable price at any time of the day there. Was a 40 minute drive along one of the only 2 highways in Sri Lanka and thankfully with zero traffic. I had taken a gamble when booking this hotel hoping that although check in is usually around 2, I would possibly be able to give them a story plus some charm to be able to check in at 5 am. Upon arrival it was no dice, my luck dictated that I get a trainee who wasn't about to swerve from official policy one iota and gave me 2 options, to either wait 45 minutes until 6 am and pay half day price or check in now for full price. I made a quick calculation using an advanced soon to be patented method and concluded I wanted sleep so I chose to check in immediately. They graciously agreed to give me a room on the lowest floor as requested.
The hotel was built one year ago and is very nice. Rooms are comfortably furnished and design is perfect.
There is a phenomenal rooftop bar
and infinity pool 26 floors up with remarkable views of Colombo.
It is the closest location to Chabad, directly across a one way street, less then 100ft away.There was some picketing happening outside then.
Crossing the streets are quite the experience, there are no traffic lights and drivers are certifiably cray cray. After a couple times I got the crossing tactic down pat. Its,
1) Wait 30 seconds for a clearing in the cars by which to pass.
2) When that doesn't happen grab you're loved ones hands.
3) Say a quick prayer.
5) Avoid the tuk-tuks and smaller, everything else is going to slow to really injure you if hit.
All in all I highly recommend it.... maybe unless staying for Shabbos. As I soon found out, the actual hotel rooms only start on the 12th! floor, and all doors including the front desk are electronic (lobby and front desk is 7th). These issues can definitely be dealt with and even if walking up 12 flights it still may beat walking a block in that severe humidity with a chance of a random downpour without warning in monsoon season, its a choice to make. There are only 2 points hotels there -both Hiltons- and minimum 15 minute walk. In the end I stayed in the actual Chabad house for Shabbos from sunset to sunset where the extremely kind rabbi hosted me.
After sleeping for a couple hours I went off to tour Colombo. There really isn't that much to do there especially considering what the rest of the island has to offer but for a weekend it was perfect.
Checked out independence square celebrating the liberation from the British in 1948 (2 months before Israel). Lots of locals seem to just come here to relax in the shade.
And the presidents office which they believe and proudly mention is a carbon copy of the White House.
I checked out the waterfront for a short while, nice place to go for a walk and there is a beach there. Complete with free Wifi.
as well as a bunch of other non interesting (to me) sites.
The Floating Market is a letdown similar to the "hoverboard" in that it isn't floating and it's barely a market. Also has some of the nastiest, greenest water.
The regular Pettah market about 3 minutes away is a must visit though if in the area. There are separate sections for fruits and veggies, clothing, electronics, crap.... Wild, packed, exotic, colorful, its a full immersive cacophony of different sounds, smells, and sights.
Some of the most disgusting looking and smelling dried fish.
Lots of this nastiness.
I didn't see a single tourist yet this whole time since exiting the airport. In Pettah Market it was only locals. Every single face turned to stare at me, it was as if I was a strange creature.
Everyone was whispering amongst themselves and pointing at us,and a path was miraculously cleared for us wherever we walked. There was not a child to be seen the entire day, apparently having babies in public is taboo, (a possible alternative explanation is they leave them all home when its this darn hot), the only child we saw came over to my sons stroller to see the "white baby". My 16 month old boy was getting whistled at like he was a 16 year old scantily clad female in the Bronx. Was getting late and inexcusably hot so back to my hotel I went.
I headed over to the Chabad compound across the street from the hotel and shabbos arrived and left before I knew it.
It was low season so there was no minyan but was a nice davening nonetheless. Staying there that week was the classics. An Indian mashgiach on assigment from OK, an older American Israeli couple,a businessman, a smartly dressed and very charedi looking individual from Israel whos mother was very sick and whos caretaker convinced him to seek out natural medication in her hometown, a couple expats trying to get a fresh start, and some irreligious Israelis.
It seemed I had come the perfect week as a businessman had been there the week prior and paid for them to install AC in the main area, I honestly don't know how they lived before, ridiculously unbearable without it. I had read some reports about the Chabad in Sri Lanka but this family is a different one, they have only been here for a year and a half. Chabad also operates some sort of restaurant (with delivery) though the Rebbitzin does everything and it's all in their house. They also provide free hostel style rooms and rooms for couples. Incredibly kind couple who go above and beyond.
To be continued......maybe