Special Six: Manhattan highlights

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While returning home, after completing my APLP fellowship residency in Hawai’i, I had chosen to fly back to Colombo via New York. A close friend of mine had asked her sister working in NYC to host me at her apartment so I had a great base in midtown Manhattan to explore the city from.

Besides seeing iconic Manhattan landmarks such as the Empire State, Chrysler building, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, UN headquarters and spending hours at the Met and Guggenheim museum, these were my special six experiences from my first visit to Manhattan.

  1. Home-stay at an apartment with an amazing view

I enjoyed staying at my friend’s sister’s apartment and experiencing views of amazing sunrises and sunsets over the East river.

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I think I was actually quite content staying indoors, comfortably warm, enjoying the amazing view as well as reading the books I had brought for my NYC trip. I also enjoyed getting to know my friend’s favourite sister better.

2. Walking around the neighbourhood

It was quite frustrating that while I was staying in midtown Manhattan very close to so many landmarks that I had previously only seen in movies or online, the pain in my leg aggravated by the cold winter meant that I could only walk for very short distances with the help of a walking aid and I needed to take lots of breaks. This was highly inconvenient because walking around is the best way to explore Manhattan. While I did manage to enjoy a few short walks, I did not take any photos during these walks because it was a hassle to have to remove my gloves and juggle my walking stick and camera. A walking route that I particularly enjoyed was a short loop walk, between 1st avenue 34th street and 5th avenue 35th street, which meant passing by two places I grew quite fond of – St Vartan Armenian Church and the Empire State building. St Vartan Church drew me in several times and I really liked the peaceful atmosphere within the church, especially as I was at an emotional low point during this visit.

3. Experiencing a Broadway show

The only thing that I had pre-planned and booked well in advance for my visit to New York City was a Broadway show. I had to treat myself to one show while there and my choice for my first visit to NYC was Phantom of the Opera at Majestic Theatre. The theatre district is packed during evenings and is a sight in itself. It was especially difficult getting a cab after the musical and I had to walk a block or two before I could get a cab to stop.

4. Enjoying a mojito at Havana Alma de Cuba and exploring Christopher Street

A friend and I had made plans to meet up for coffee, after Christmas, at her favourite neighbourhood in Manhattan. I enjoyed exploring Christopher Street with her trying out some of her favourite places. We started with coffee at the now closed Mojo café, then visited McNulty’s Tea and Coffee shop where I bought some Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee for home.

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I had to walk into Sockerbit, a Swedish candy store, as soon as I saw the displays of godis, and it brought me back an edible piece of a country I consider my second home. The highlight of our walk though was enjoying a mojito at Havana Alma de Cuba, where we had popped into on an impromptu impulse.

We made a final stop at the Fat Cat jazz club. The place had not yet opened for visitors for the day but they let us walk around and see the venue. Since I was leaving the next day, I did not actually get to revisit the place and experience some live jazz music. However, I really liked the vibe of West Village, at least of the street that I explored.

5. Taking the Staten island ferry to see the Lady

I was meeting up with a former colleague living on Staten Island and was delighted to learn of the Staten Island ferry service, which gave me my boat fix for this trip, together with the pleasure of seeing the Statue of Liberty against the night sky.

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6. Eating out in Manhattan

With my kind host leaving me freshly cooked lunches daily before going to work, despite my repeated requests not to bother about it, I had no choice but to eat in most of the time. I did try out a few cafes occasionally though. Of the few that I tried, I very much enjoyed The Wright restaurant at Guggenheim museum, a museum I also enjoyed very much.

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Source: The Wright

What is your favourite Manhattan experience?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Lauren on Location, Snow in TromsoThe Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World]

Wanderful Wednesday

Swedish Food I miss

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A Swedish friend once asked me what typical Swedish food I missed. This post is about all the food that I miss from my years in Stockholm.

  1. Kanelbulle

My favourite Swedish food is kanelbulle (cinnamon buns). The smell of freshly baked cinnamon buns and the texture and taste of the bun is unique to Sweden and I have loved it since I first tried it out. I have tried making my own kanelbulle as I started enjoying baking in recent years, but have not been able to get it quite right yet. As you can see from the photo below, courtesy of Visit Sweden, a perfect kanelbulle is a wonderful treat for all ages.

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Credits: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

2. Vetebröd

Fika is a ritual in Sweden. I loved the fika breaks, chats over cups of Swedish coffee, like Gevalia, and a baked treat. One of my favourite fika treats, besides kanelbulle, is vetebröd. This is a lightly sweetened cardamom bread, that is perfect with coffee. I have tried making vetebröd at home several times using this recipe, which has turned out quite well.

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Source: Tasteline

3. Semla

This is a Swedish seasonal treat that makes its appearance in Stockholm bakeries during winter months and particularly for Shrove Tuesday. Semla is basically cardamom buns with an almond paste and whipped cream filling. What I like most about this tasty treat, besides the delicious combination of flavours, is that the cream is just a touch sweet without being too much.

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Credits: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

4. Lusekatter

These saffron buns are made typically for St Lucia’s day on December 13. I was first introduced to it at work, during my teaching year at the International School of Stockholm. It is a lovely Scandinavian tradition, with children participating in a singing procession led by one girl dressed as St. Lucy, wearing a white dress and a red sash and a crown of candles on her head. The kids would share these saffron buns or cookies with others.

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Source: Swedish food

5. Glögg och pepparkakor

Something served during the Christmas season, Glögg (mulled wine) and Pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) are a delicious treat during the cold winter days. In Sweden, there was also a non-alcoholic version of glögg called julmust, which was what my mother used to serve at home to visitors in December. My favourite memory of this combination of glögg and pepparkakor was at the ice-hotel in Kiruna, when after hours of waiting on the frozen river to see the northern lights, the warm spiced wine and cookies tasted delicious and wonderful.

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Credits: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

6. Pannkakor och sylt

I have always been a huge fan of pancakes since I was a kid and sundays at home generally mean a pancake breakfast. So, it automatically followed that during my year of teaching in Stockholm, my favourite school lunch was the same as that of the kids – Swedish pancakes and sylt (jam or preserve), mostly lingonberry.

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Source: Swedish food

7. Pytt i Panna

After seeing many adverts on TV on this dish, we tried out the store bought pytt i panna (Swedish hash) and it soon started appearing on a regular basis at meal times at home. I like the vegetarian hash, with carrots, turnips, radish etc. more.

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Source: Swedish Food

8. Räksmörgås 

The Swedish open prawn sandwich makes for a delicious lunch. If you are able to get hold of a Toast Skagen, you are in for a bigger treat. I missed this so much so that I went to a Scandinavian Christmas fair in London, for this sandwich and a kanelbulle.

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Source: Swedish food

9. Salmon with new potatoes and dill sauce

This is a typical combination in a Swedish meal – new potatoes and dill sauce with poached salmon or gravlax (dill cured salmon). We didn’t make it at home but I often chose it, when eating out in Stockholm.

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Source: Swedish Food

10. Ris à la Malta

I am a huge fan of Swedish rice pudding. One of my friends, Inna, and I used to play badminton at Frescatihallen at Stockholm University once or twice a week and we always treated ourselves to risifrutti (which is basically packaged store-bought ris a la malta) or mannafrutti, after our game.

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Source: Swedish Food

Which is your favourite Swedish food? Or, which of the above would you love to try out during your visit to Sweden?

[I had drafted this post a while back but had not got around to finishing it, when I saw that the #travellinkup theme for September was memorable meals so I decided to share this post on food that make me nostalgic about my years in Stockholm, with the monthly link up, hosted by Angie, Emma, Jessi and Tanja

I am also linking it up to :
Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World]
Wanderful Wednesday

Interview: Helga Perera

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I had the pleasure of visiting Helga’s Folly in Kandy twice this year. Each visit made me more fascinated with the house and its amazing murals. I also had some questions about the house. So I wrote to Helga, the owner and creator of Helga’s Folly, and she kindly responded to my email interview for the blog, despite being stricken with a flu.

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Helga at the Jane Lillian Vance grotto, courtesy of Helga Perera

  1. The fact sheet on Helga’s Folly provided on the self-tour mentions that your mother, Esme de Silva, designed the original house in the 1930s. What did your mother envision for the house? 

Just a  family home in the hills. Designed by my mother who was an artist in the 30’s.

  1. What is the story behind Helga’s Folly?

I was almost born here. The house became a hotel in the late 50’s, and has hosted many celebrities, and politicians.

  1. What inspired you to transform Chalet hotel into Helga’s Folly?

I love color, and as I was going to spend much time here, did it my way. Name  was suggested by Richard Mason the South African writer.

  1. There is a mix of whimsy and the spiritual in the artistic theme around the house. Was this intentional from the outset or was the theme an emerging and evolving aspect in the redesigning of the house?

Life should have whimsy and spirituality. The house  still evolves.. No theme! Think of the house as a nursery for all!!

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  1. I understand that different artists have contributed to the Helga’s Folly murals and creative pieces. How did this come about?

Not only artists, guests too.. Many come sad, and in a dark place ..I suggest that they ‘paint out’.. I am a great believer in healing through art’!!

  1. Please tell us about one of your favourite pieces, your own or by other artists, and the story behind it.

I love the Jane Lillian Vance Grotto, where I go for ‘that’ quiet moment, and suggest to guests that they do too. The story behind the grotto : 50 years ago my first husband gave me ‘that’ turn of the century magnificent gilded frame. The frame hung empty for 48 years, for want of an artist. Artists came, BUT went when they were told that I had a penchant for skulls, and would want prominence given in the painting to one! 3 ½ years ago, I was unwell, and I thought before I met my first husband who had gone on to his final adventure, I must give the frame priority. I googled and was ‘taken’ by Professor Jane Lillian Vance’s work. Professor Jane was one of the first Westerners to be allowed to paint the Dalai Lama. ‘Gift To The Village’, on You Tube, is a brilliant documentary of Professor Jane delivering the painting. What hit the ‘Golden Cord’ that I had at LAST found my artist, was the painting also on You Tube by Professor Jane of a field with a fawn,  and bumble bee, although it was the field where they found the skeletonized body of one of her most gifted students,  recognized by her jewellery. Professor Jane had transformed which would have been a gruesome scene into one of peace and beauty.

I knew then that I had found my artist. I wrote to the professor, asking her if she would consider doing a portrait of a woman on a hill in Kandy.

Professor Jane wrote straight back saying that she was brought here 18 years ago, when a Fulbright student, by Waruna Jayasinghe antiques and was inspired.

The magnificient turn of the century gild frame now embraces Professor Jane’s beautiful portrait of me, which she brought over 3 ½ years ago, and then continued to weave, with her brush, her magic in her great 15 ft mural of my family in her grotto!

The Jane Lillian Vance Grotto is ALIVE telling a myriad of stories!

  1. The lighting around the rooms seems to have been arranged masterfully to highlight a specific aspect in the artwork such as the logo of savethenextgirl.com in Jillian Vance’s painting, a cause she passionately believes in. Please tell us about the person who was behind the lighting arrangements.

I like atmospheric rooms. Our electrician  put the spots where I wanted, highlighting certain bits!!

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  1. Which is your special corner or space at the Folly and why?

Depends on one’s mood.. The Jane Lillian Grotto is one, and the other the small green drawing room, with family photographs, and where I used to sit with my parents  and brother as a child. Find this room very comforting.

  1. I noticed that the music played in the lounge area is mostly from the 30s. Was this coincidental on the days I visited or is there some significance of this music playlist to the theme of the house?

This was the music which we grew up with.

  1. To wrap up this intriguing interview, please share a quote or verse that inspires or motivates you especially when you are feeling a little down or stressed out or simply in need of some positivity.

“Tomorrow is another day”!!

Special Six: Evenings in Siem Reap

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With everything there is to see during the day around Siem Reap, there is usually not much energy left by the time evening comes around. My friends and I used to take a short rest during late afternoon and then leisurely explore the nearby 2 Thnoc street and its neighbourhood in the evening. Here are our six favourite things to do in Siem Reap in the evenings.

  1. Pamper your feet with a reflexology foot massage.

After all the walking during the day, we felt our tired feet needed to be indulged especially as foot massages were so affordable. We tried out a different spa on 2 Thnoc street each day but liked best Bodia Spa, above U-Care pharmacy.

2. Shop at Senteurs d’Angkor on 2 Thnoc street.

My favourite shop on this street was Senteurs d’Angkor. The place not only smelled lovely, it had lots of bath products as well as a range of spices. Great place for some souvenirs.

  1. Visit Artisans Angkor

Artisans Angkor considers itself a social business. This company began as a project for providing skills training to youth from communities with limited educational opportunities. Since the company was formed in the late 90s, it has opened 43 workshops in Siem Reap providing employment to 1300 people. The handicraft showroom we visited was on Stung Thmey street and had lots of wood statues, lacquered sculptures etc. I bought some lovely silk scarves here.

  1. Eat at Pub Street

We enjoyed trying out different cafes on this street packed with restaurants and cafes. The place was always crowded during evenings with loud music blasting from different restaurants.

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Source: Shelley Graner @ Plans Subject To Change

  1. Explore Angkor night market where you can buy souvenirs and try street food.

On the last evening of our stay in Siem Reap, we visited the Angkor night market which, according to its website, is the first night market in Cambodia. The night market, open from 4pm till midnight, had different stalls selling souvenirs and handicrafts as well as food and drinks. I bought several krama, traditional Cambodian scarf, here.

  1. Take a trishaw ride across the city to see Siem Reap in the evenings

We enjoyed taking the trishaw ride from our guesthouse and going for a ride around the city in the evenings. It is a lovely way to enjoy seeing parts of the city which you would not have time to visit.

Bonus: I did like River Garden, the place we stayed at in Siem Reap. We had booked two rooms and were given a sort of two storey mini chalet to ourselves. The breakfast provided each morning was delicious.

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I did lose something of great sentimental value to my mother and me here though. After my road traffic accident, my mother gave me her special mini Annai Velankanni statue to take with me on my travels. I generally take out the palm sized luminescent mini statue and keep it in a place visible to me so that I would remember to repack it in my bags. However, I forgot to repack it when I left Siem Reap and the little statue after being in my family for nearly twenty years was lost. I wrote to the staff at River Garden but I received the reply that they had not found it in my room. My mother was quite upset about it but I hope that someone who needed the protection of Annai Velankanni more has it with her or him now.

Have you lost anything of great sentimental value to you during your travels? If you have visited Siem Reap, what was your favourite place to visit in the evenings?

[I am linking this post to

*Monday Escapes #42, hosted by Packing my Suitcase and My Travel Monkey

**City Tripping #42, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]

Packing my Suitcase
Wander Mum
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Sunshine Blogger Award

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I was delighted to be nominated for the Sunshine blogger award by Brooke of Anywhere with Brooke. Check out her blog for coffee spots in Louisville or her suggestions for things to do in Bordeaux.

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Quoting Brooke, “The Sunshine Blogger Award is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. It is given to bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”.

So, thank you, Brooke, for the lovely nomination and responding to your questions:

  • When did you start your first blog and if it is not the current one, about what was it?

I started my first blog back in 2004. It was called ‘View from my desk’, where I shared random musings when I felt like it. I removed it after a decade because I just wanted to focus on my two current blogs – this one and my food blog.

  • Dream travel destination?

Currently, it is New Zealand.

  • Name one book/movie that has inspired you

Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.

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  • What countries have you traveled to?

I have traveled to over 25 countries, the most recent one being UK.

  • Tell something funny that has happened to you in a plane

I remember a funny conversation on my first time on a budget airline that had started operating in Sri Lanka. I had been delighted that I had got a return air ticket quite cheaply, until my neighbours on my flight chatted about the affordability of the airfare. I learnt that they had paid one-third of what I had paid for my flight. That was my intro to the big sales and seasonal discounts offered by budget airlines and I found it really funny that contentment can be quite relative.

  • What is your own favorite post from your blog?

My favourite post from my blog, Arctic Lessons, is on my travel to Kiruna, Sweden, in search of the northern lights. I also wrote it a long time ago, during my pre-blogging years, and I enjoyed writing it without having any audience in mind.

  • What are your three must listen road trip songs?

I don’t have specific must listen road trip songs but go with my mood. This means that when I listen to the same song back home, I am taken back to that particular road trip.

  • Do you believe in destiny?

I do believe that we meet certain people or experience certain things in life that we are meant/ destined to, but that we are free to make choices on how we wish to deal with these experiences.

  • Share your secret blogging advice with everyone

Blog link ups. It is not a secret but blog link ups are a great way to come across other bloggers, who blog on similar themes as you do. Since I participated in my first travel blog link up back in May, I have come across over 100 travel blogs which I enjoy reading.

  • Train, car, ship or plane travel? Which one do you prefer?

Trains. I prefer to travel by trains over land.

  • Introduce your blog in three words

A traveler’s tales.

Passing on the blog award, I am delighted to name my 11 nominations for the Sunshine blogger award.

  1. Mandy @Emm in London
  2. Carolann @Finding Ithaka
  3. Lauren @Lauren on Location
  4. Michelle @Michwanderlust
  5. Cathy @Mummy Travels
  6. Van @Snow in Tromso
  7. Clare @Suitcases and Sandcastles
  8. Isabel @The sunny side of this
  9. Katy @Untold Morsels
  10. Elizabeth @Wander Mum
  11. Marcella @What a wonderful world

If you choose to pass on the blog award, please display the sunshine blogger award logo in your post as well as answer my five questions for you.

  1. Why do you travel?
  2. Do share a travel experience that moved you deeply.
  3. Which is your current dream destination?
  4. What blogging advice would you give for other travel bloggers?
  5. Do share a motivational quote or short verse that has often inspired you.

Have a wonderful day!

Tonlé Sap – a photo tour

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On our last day in Siem Reap, we had requested our guide to take us to a floating village. He took us on a boat trip on Tonlé Sap, a seasonally inundated fresh water lake which is an UNESCO biosphere reserve. This was the lake that maintained the Angkorean empire and to this day, affects the lives of rural population. The houses have been built on stilts to withstand the seasonal surge of the river.

Here’s my photo story of life on the lake.

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Have you visited a floating village? What has your experience been like?

[I am linking this post to:

*Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World]
Wanderful Wednesday

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Exploring Pettah

Wolvendaal Church

I have never been a fan of the crowds and traffic congestion in and around Pettah, Colombo, so have mostly avoided it, until and unless I have to go there for a specific purpose such as catching an inter-city train or bus.

So, if you are like me, someone who avoids congested routes but still interested in seeing some of the historical sites within Pettah and at its outer edges, I would recommend the following walking route on a weekend morning or late afternoon. Weekends are relatively quieter in Pettah than weekdays.

The best place to start a walk through Pettah is at the Khan clock tower, at one end of Colombo 11.

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Khan clock tower

The clock tower was built by the Khan family of Bombay in 1923 for the people of Colombo. Walking around the clock tower, take the Main Street (which was known as the King’s Street during the Dutch colonial period). The Main Street is packed with shops selling clothing and can be a good bargain for those looking to buy sarees and kurta tops.

I suggest a mini detour, via 1st cross street, to visit the Dutch museum on Prince Street.

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Dutch museum

The Dutch museum used to be the Dutch Governor’s residence in the country. It does not have much in the way of artifacts to exhibit or stories about the lives of its former residents, though the building in itself is quite interesting.

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View of building from the inner courtyard

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Inner courtyard at Dutch museum

It is a pity that the Dutch museum does not reach up to its potential and that it is in a dilapidated condition now. I would very much like to see the Dutch Burgher Union, for example, take a hand in making it a more interactive type of museum.

After your visit to the Dutch museum, return to Main Street via 2nd Cross street and continue your walk.

Look to your left for the beautiful red mosque.

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Red mosque

The Jami Ul-Alfar mosque, more commonly known as the red mosque, was built by the Muslim community in Pettah in 1909.

Continuing on the main street, look to your right when you reach the intersection of the 4th Cross street. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, you will see an old bell tower. The bell is supposedly from an old Portuguese church from the 16th century. The Dutch had it installed at the Kayman’s gate bell tower, at the foot of Wolvendaal hill.

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Kayman’s gate

Continue along Main Street and you will find the old town hall and market on your right. The town hall was built in the 19th century during the British colonial period. One can ask to see inside the old town hall.

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Old Town Hall

From the old town hall, continue on Sea Street for a very short distance before turning onto Sir Ratnajothi Saravanamuttu Mawatha. Continue walking until you reach Wolvendaal church or the Dutch Reformed Church, which is actually within the Colombo 13 zone (Kotahena).

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Wolvendaal Church

The church is the 2nd oldest church built by the Dutch in Sri Lanka, the oldest one is at the Galle fort.

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Wolvendaal Church facade

The building of the church was initiated in 1749 by the Dutch United East India Company, Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC). The doorway to the church still has the same old lock and the church has a lot of interesting tombstones within its premises.

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VoC logo on the church gate

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Tombstone at the church

There is a small inner room with a gallery of old paintings and photos that are open to visitors and church society members are generally happy to answer your questions provided that they are not preparing for services.

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Photo gallery at Wolvendaal church

After exploring the Dutch Reformed church/ Wolvendaal church, walk down Vivekananda hill until you reach K.B.Christie Perera Mawatha. Walk a little to your left and continue along Jampettah Lane.

The front entrance of Ponnambala Vaneswara temple is on Jampettah lane. This Hindu temple for Shiva is an interesting temple with an interior built entirely from black granite, giving it the feel of an ancient South Indian stone temple. Originally built in 1856 by Ponnambalam Mudliyar, it was rebuilt in granite by his son, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. The best times for visiting this temple is before 11 am and after 4 pm.

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Ponnamabala Vaneswaram

Exit the temple, via its back entrance onto Shrimath Ramanathan Mawatha and walk towards the church that you see on your left hand. St. Anthony’s church is considered a powerful church where people of all religious faith visit and make fervent prayers. During the Dutch colonial period when Catholicism was banned from the island and priests carried out sermons from hiding places, Fr. Antonio supposedly masked himself as a merchant. The Dutch subsequently had found out and came in search of him. He found refuge with a fishing community who asked him to do something about the sea erosion. According to the church website, a miracle happened after Fr. Antonio planted a cross and prayed at the beach and the sea receded. The fishing folk were converted and the Dutch authorities gained some respect for the priest and allocated some land for him to carry out his sermons. The current church is in the same premises where Fr. Antonio started openly having his sermons. He brought an image of Anthony of Padua and installed it in the church. When he passed away, Fr. Antonio was buried within the church.

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St. Anthony’s church

I am sure you would want to have some refreshments after all this walking and exploration. I would recommend trying out Sri Suryas, a vegetarian restaurant right next to Kathiresan kovil on Sea Street and within a short walking distance from St Anthony’s. Do try out their delicious Chennai style filter coffee and tasty vadai, which is a lovely way to end your walking tour of Pettah and the edges of Kotahena or a refreshing stop before you explore the streets of Pettah more.

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[I am linking this post to City Tripping#41, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]

Wander Mum
Travel Notes & Beyond