OK, let's start with the obvious: who wouldn't love a city that sounds exactly like the word used to describe the sweetest stuff on earth? Just thinking about the name of Kandy, considered Sri Lanka's "cultural capital" as it was once upon a time the center of the kingdoms that flourished here, conjures up Nutcracker-worthy visions of sugar plums and cotton candy and rainbow-colored lollipops. And saying "I'm going to Kandy" makes my inner six-year-old immediately think I'm skipping off to Willy Wonka's secret chocolate factory, even though the mature, rational person inside me knows it's just a big city in Sri Lanka with no candy factories or magical Christmas fantasies in sight.
I mean, hey, if you needed to rebrand a city or town to sound way more appealing, woudn't yummy food be a great place to start? Who wouldn't want to visit Tiramisu, Ohio, or Butterscotch, Texas, or Caviar, Russia, or Smorgasbord, Sweden? I would. I would put all those places on my list, even if there wasn't a single smorgasbord in sight. (Smorgasbord, by the way, is one of those words that is so enjoyable to say, I wish I had more ways to use it in regular life. Maybe I should move to Sweden?)
Anyhoo. Here's the travel recap for those of you who actually care about what I'm up to and not my thoughts on renaming towns-seeking-tourists with names that sound like they belong in Candyland.
I arrived in Kandyland (ahem, Kandy) on Monday last week and made my way to the Kandy City Hostel, which turned out to not really be in the city of Kandy at all and instead up a winding, narrow road quite a ways away up a hill. I took a tuk tuk down to a popular spot called The Garden Café for dinner, where locals were loading up on takeaway, and had a typical Sri Lankan dish called kottu -- fried roti with a mixed of veggies and meat.
The next day I took in the sights of Kandy, which meant a visit to the famous Tooth Relic Temple, where a tooth of Buddha is supposedly guarded in a golden casket. After wandering around there for a while, I checked out St Paul's church, then wandered around the busy streets of Kandy. If you read my last post in which I declared that Sri Lanka is (obviously) Not India, here I felt like it was a lot closer to India than I'd first thought. Again, there are no cows wandering the streets and there aren't a billion people everywhere and there isn't the same overwhelming sense of desperate poverty (or dirt or pollution) in the air. But, there were a lot of people and cars honking and traffic and mens' eyes on me, and I was glad I'd followed the common sense advice about wearing clothes covering my legs and arms and used my tried-and-true practice of avoiding eye contact with any men (it works).
I stopped for lunch at a place recommended in the Sri Lanka Lonely Planet guide called The Empire Café and had a traditional Sri Lankan "rice and curry" for lunch, which included one chicken curry, two vegetable curries as well as the most delicious chutney and some roti. The café itself is in an old historical building and was beautifully decorated in bright shades of hot pink and white in one room and turquoise and white in the other, with cool old Bollywood posters on the walls, some antique furniture, white wicker chairs, and a wall of postcards of old Ceylon travel postcards.
After I was done lunching, I wandered around the city some more, discovering the Kandy Central Market, a two-story market with all the vendors' open shops overflowing with fruits, spices, grains, meats, fish, and products, all organized around an open air courtyard with a fountain in the center surrounded by flowers. Then I walked some more and found myself in an indoor mall, where I took some relief with the ice cold air conditioning and took note of what brands were for sale. I also went into a bookstore for a while (another one of my favorite past times, I love seeing which books they have in English and in a country like Sri Lanka that has a lengthy colonial past, it was interesting to see the number of books written in English about Sri Lanka's history and culture).
I walked all the way back to the hostel (about a good hour long walk from the mall), along the lake in the heart of Kandy. The lake is man made and was built by a king long ago. It's surrounded by a pretty little white foundation and with the white buildings peeking through the trees surrounding the lake, for a second you might think you were in some little European village in the Alps. I relaxed for a bit at the hostel, then jumped in a tuk tuk to go to Slightly Chilled for dinner, which I'd read had great views of the lake during sunset. I snagged an awesome table right at the edge of the balcony just as the sun slipped behind a mountain range and while there were too many clouds to have a good sunset, enjoyed watching the colors of the lake turn into soft pastel pinks and blues and greys as the dusk turned into night, while eating some Sri Lankan "deviled chicken" (which seems to be fried chicken in a spicy sauce).
And from there, it was back to the hostel to sleep and get ready for my big day tomorrow, an outing to the cultural sites of Sigiriya and Dambulla. There I was met with another travel miracle -- I had a third night of no dorm mates sharing my room so I quickly fell asleep, while visions of rice and curry and tuk tuks and markets overflowing with tropical fruits and spices danced in my head.