Rome...also known as Roma, the Eternal City, Urbs Sacra (the Sacred City, Caput Mundi (Capital of the world) and because it was built on them, the City of the Seven Hills. We arrived in Rome after almost 6 months in Asia and were prepared for some pretty severe culture shock. I was actually looking forward to some cooler temps and quality Italian cuisine~after my bout with Dengue Fever and food poisoning, I was easily 15-20 pounds thinner. It was time to fatten up on the "3 p's" pizza, pasta, and, pastries. We have 4 weeks scheduled here and are now half way through. I don't know how anybody comes here for any less than a week, the city is too large and there is way to much to see and do in any less than that. We were happy to have the extra time to relax on our rooftop patio and have some days in the apartment we rented to just relax, listen to music, and cook (we haven't had a proper kitchen for months). The first thing we made was grilled cheese and chilli!
It was quite a shock to hear the sounds of a big city again: sirens, trains, and the everyday hustle and bustle are something I kinda missed. We are staying in a area of Rome called Pigneto, a former working class neighborhood about a 15 minute bus ride from the city center. Pigneto is Rome's answer to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY. Trendy bars, bistros, and shops are everywhere and the young locals and immigrants mingle with the older, long time residents. I still haven't got used to the business hours here, most places open for a short time in the morning, then close during the afternoon before reopening for the evening. Its true that Italy is a night culture, but it has been a difficult adjustment as we have tended to wake early and be in by 9-10 (at the latest!) while in Asia to get the most out of the days (there also isn't much night life where we were in SE Asia). I was able to stay up to almost 3 am a few nights ago in order to see a band that happened to be playing at a club down the road from us. Sin Ropas is a two piece husband/wife team that plays what I would call psychedelic folk (one of my favorite genres). It was a great show and I had a chance to chat with the members for quite a while after the set.
The apartment we are staying in is situated in a courtyard off the main street in Pigneto. It is tiny (like 140 square feet tiny) but it is well equipped and very cozy. It is nice to have our own space again and the roof top patio is killer! The girls we rent from are great and recently took us to a local underground festival called Enotica (you may have to google translate this page). The festival is underground in a couple ways...first, it is put on by group of artists and musicians that have occupied the grounds of an old fort for years. The vibe is very counter culture with open air art exhibitions literally spilling over the walls. Second~ and here's the coolest part~ the wine tasting portion of the festival takes place literally underground, in the hidden passages within the fort.
I have to say, I was quite anxious about spending 4 weeks in Sri Lanka. I knew very little about the country and was expecting a carbon copy of India, but on a smaller scale. My biggest concerns were not knowing much about the cuisine (as you know by now, I have a notoriously limited pallet) and noise/environmental pollution. I was dead wrong. I absolutely love Sri Lanka. The country is stunningly beautiful and the people are some of the kindest and friendliest of any culture I have interacted with. As for the food~ lets just say I survived but am now down 15 pounds. As a photographer, I found Sri Lanka to be one of the easiest to document as the locals would sometimes chase me down to take their photograph. They get very few American visitors due to the distance, but love the US because of the aid we contributed to the tsunami disaster. Many US troops were stationed in the country for several months to help clean up and rebuild~ this has not been forgotten.
My first 5 days in Sri Lanka are pretty hazy. I managed to contract food poisioning at the Kuala Lumpor airport on the way to Columbo and didn’t eat or leave the house until our last day there~ this no doubt helped in my weight drop. By the time we left Columbo I was almost 100% again and looking forward to some time in the small beach town of Weligama, although I was a little bummed about not being able to explore the city.
The entire coast of Sri Lanka is still under re-construction due to the 2004 tsunami. You can see many empty shells that were formally hotels, restuarants, and homes. Many of those who decided to stay after the tragedy have rebuilt, but there are still some living in makeshift shelters. In total there were 35000 killed, 22000 injured, and 570,000 displaced across Sri Lanka~ mostly along the south west coast (where we were staying). The tsunami also caused the Sri Lanka tsunami-rail disaster which took at least 1,700 lives, making it the largest single rail disaster in world history by death toll. It was quite alarming to see how the country was still struggling with the rebuilding effort but when you see images and video of the destruction, it is easier to fathom.
We stayed in a great small hotel run by a young guy who really went out of his way to make us feel at home. He bought the small building a few years back from the previous owner who had survived the tsunami and has been slowly remodeling it. It wasn't luxury but it was clean, cheap, and comfortable~ it was also 30 feet from the beach! We hung out at a Hostel on Weligama Beach called Hangtime, it had a stunning panoramic view of the bay, was run by a great group of people, and served up tasty food. I started most every morning waking early to walk around town and chat with people. The tuk-tuk drivers were very animated and loved to have their picture taken. Many of the portraits in this series of images are tuk-tuk drivers and shop keepers.
After a week in sleepy Weligama, it was time to move to the surfing town of Hikkaduwa. This area of Sri Lanka has been attracting visitors since the early 70's. It is known for great surf breaks, beautiful coral reefs, and a (more) lively scene than Weligama. We stayed with a family in town run by a great guy, if you ever get to Hikkaduwa look up Padma at Camellia Dwelling. I found the towns Buddhist temple and began wandering around the grounds clicking a few images as I went. One of the monks wanted to show me around so I obliged. He was just beginning his daily rituals. In Buddhism, symbolic offerings are made to the Triple Gem, giving rise to contemplative gratitude and inspiration. Typical material offerings involve objects such as a lit candle or oil lamp, burning incense, flowers, food, fruit, water or drinks. He was excited to allow me to help him with his work but I was more excited and was grinning ear to ear as I lit the oil candles and incense. He was talking the whole time, but knew very little english so we got by with hand gestures. The one thing about Hikkaduwa (and any of the western beach towns in Sri Lanka) that I could do without was the crazy buses, taxis, and motor bikes that speed up and down A2, the main road connecting all the coastal towns. The buses are the worst. They are old school bus style vehicles that have been retrofitted with everything from disco lights and sound systems to crazy racing decals like "Rocket Cruiser", "Stallion", and "Lightning Line". They move along the narrow, one way road at about 60 miles per hour, often passing everybody else while blaring their horns (which sounds like a 18 wheeler horn crossed with a cruise ship).
I can easily say, without a doubt, that Sri lanka was my favorite stop so far. I would love to revisit the country in the future and see more of the east coast and interior. Here are a few interesting facts about Sri Lanka:
The national flag of Sri Lanka is considered to be one of the oldest flag in the World (and the coolest). This is the only flag in the world that recognizes different religions.
- Lion represents Sinhalese people of the island.
- leaves at the four corners represent Buddhism. These four leaves stand for four virtues - Kindness, Friendliness, Happiness and Equanimity.
- Orange vertical stripe represents Hindu and Green vertical stripe represents Muslim.
Hydroelectricity is the oldest and most dependant source of electricity generation in Sri Lanka due to the many waterfalls found on the island.
Sri Lanka has highest literacy rate in South Asia, 98.1%.
Sri Lankan nods their heads side to side to say yes, rather than up and down as we in the US do. To us, it looks like they are saying NO.
Although cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka, the national sport of the country is, in fact, volleyball.
The spice cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka and was discovered by the Egyptians.
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