According to Lonely Planet there is a large market in the centre of new Galle, so we head off to find it, despite not having been able to locate it on our short foray out of the fort yeserday. There is the Old Dutch Market, a long, open-sided structure which survived the tsunami despite the extensive damage sustained by the rest of the town. There is also a new fish market facing the sea front. But no sign of a large market area at the site marked on the map. So we change direction and head across Butterfly Bridge to the north of the fort and wander round Dharmapala Park which was recontructed after the tsumani thanks to American funding. It’s not as well kept as Victoria Park in Nuwara Eliya but like many parks here it is a refuge for numerous courting couples, each coyly hiding behind umbrellas in a futile attempt to preserve modicum of modestly in this highly conservative society that frowns on holding hands and kissing in public.
There is an Tourist Information Office in the park and, we have been told, a craft centre. There is no sign of the latter and the former is closed. As we make to leave, a man engages us in conversation. It is the usual gambit, where are you going, where do you come from. Of course, we make the mistake of mentioning the craft centre and we are all set for a long explanation of how to get there and no doubt and offer to show us the way when the attendant from the Tourist Information Office abruptly interupts and proceeds to bombard us with information about the old city around the Catholic Cathedral and the craft centre behind it – none of which is mentioned in Lonely Planet – and that we must be sure to take a metered government-acredited tuk tuk to tour the area. Eventually we are able to extricate ourselves, somewhat sceptical about the metered tuk tuks but intrigued by the ‘old’ town around the cathedral.
The Cathedral is an imposing grey and white building which dominates the skyline north of the Galle Road and as we head towards it, the man from the park catches up with us and insists on showing us the way to the craft centre. It’s apparently on his way home; a likely tale and is sure to mean that he stands to make a commission on anything we buy. By now we know that the craft centre is likely to be a tourist shop aimed at tour groups, but it makes for an interesting walk through the quiet lanes off the main road, passed the wonderful heritage buildings of St Aloysius College. It never ceases to amaze how quickly the hurly burly of the main shopping districts can be left behind for the calm, leafy and traffic-free neighbourhoods, as quiet as any inside the fort.
The craft centre is exactly as we expect and after a quick look round we extricate ourselves from the usual sales patter and heavy-handed sales technique and retrace our steps to look round the very simple cathedral. Its unglazed windows with mahogany shutters giving it quite an airy feel far removed from the dark and sombre ambience normally associated with such places. Just outside, the boys from the nearby college are playing a game of street cricket, their all-white uniforms being particularly appropriate, and we stop a while to watch, before making our way back to the fort.
We have found a rather nice little cafe called Punto Cafe in Pedlar Street. It only has three tables and is open to the street – although the aspect is not particularly preposessing as it faces the rather drab exterior of a local school against which the lady next door hangs her washing, of which she has so much, we speculate that she must be running a laundry – and the food is good. So we have taken to having breakfast here since the breakfast at Mrs Wijenayake’s is dire, as well as our evening meal. But each time we eat here Nakeeb, the owner, invariably disappears on his motorbike to obtain some essential supplies.