#1 - Taking the Scenic Route to Colombo
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
At 5:35pm on Saturday 1st February, the long-awaited journey to Sri Lanka was finally a go. Me and Gus – friend and travel partner for the duration of these blogs (or so I thought) arrived in Stansted equipped with a fully unnecessary pair of reinforced, carbon nanofiber facemasks (this statement hasn't aged much better). Gus, eschewing the tag of hypochondriac even as he scrolled through Reddit in search of coronavirus updates, handed over the boarding passes and the reality of the next few days set in.
In the name of frugality, by way of getting to Sri Lanka we had opted for an indirect flight involving an overnight stay in Budapest and Dubai, followed by a 9-hour wait in Oman International Airport, before finally making a descent on Colombo. It was to be a journey of 3 days, 4 countries, and surely not enough sleep. But was this itinerary nothing more than an opportunistic attack on the scratch map or did our airline cruise really provide some worthwhile experiences in these locations?
Following the initial short-hop to Budapest we checked into our hostel smack-bang in the heart of the Hungarian capital’s infamous party district. Time was getting on and we were both eager to hit the town, so without changing we took to the streets. Despite being laden with a pair of walking boots and some detachable hiking trousers more suited to the Himalayas than to Lonely Planet's third rated bar/nightclub in the world, Gus enthusiastically led us in to Szimpla Kurt, and before long we were blown away. This is a club unlike any I have experienced before. Each of the famous ruin bar's rooms, accessed via a maze-like two-story complex, is of unique character and style; themes range from quaint traditional pub to outdoor hipster hangout to futuristic cocktail pod. In all honesty we could have seen out the night there, but we were equally drawn by the pull of another famous ruin bar just down the road in the shape of Instant nightclub. After a light drenching in the queue, we topped up with some drinks inside and danced into the early hours in a dark and smoky techno room that we were definitely not meant to be in. Things got so messy that by around 4am I was dragging Gus into a strip club as he raced to finish his kebab, only becoming aware of the common 'Hungarian strip club scam' once we had been greeted by two ominously-sized bodyguards upon arrival. By all accounts this goes down as a successful first night.
The next day, following a five hour spell of self-inflicted hangover torture on the second flight, we arrived at stop number two: Dubai. A late evening arrival inclined us to plump for a stress-free taxi, which served up a relaxing journey along a sparsely populated six-lane motorway. As we were driven on, skyscrapers flickered into view from all angles, the seemingly endless suburban sprawl enough to make me feel like I was being moved through the board of a keenly contested game of monopoly city.
Having been given but a taster of Dubai's urban delights, it took us only until the next morning to be enticed, like consumerist flies into a sparkling capitalist chandelier, towards the city’s dazzling centrepiece, its very own monopoly tower in shape of the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building, standing at a mind-blowing height of 830 metres, appeared bolshie even as it stood surrounded by similar vertical shows of economic firepower. Through its sheer dwarfing scale it managed to look as out-of-place in its surroundings as the golf courses that attacked the desert sands of the suburbs. That said, it sure makes a good lock-screen.
After returning by metro to the airport, a 45-minute hop saw us land in Muscat International, Oman. The nine hour wait that followed was about as interesting as it sounds, where amongst other points of debate, bets were exchanged on how many hours it would be possible to stay awake before the body starts completely shutting down. We battled on, however, and it took only four hours to make the final leap from Oman to Sri Lanka, arriving just early enough to catch the morning sunrise on the 72nd Day of Independence. And so I sit here now in the hostel at Galle Face, Colombo, feeling alive and invigorated despite the turbulent events of the last few days, with a satisfying feeling that a lot has been accomplished before the real adventure has even begun.
Was the scenic route worth it?
All in all – and only if your tolerance for waiting many cumulative hours at baggage reclaim allows for it – taking the scenic route to save a bit of cash is most definitely worth it. In fact, if planned adequately, this country-hopping approach to long distance travel has the potential to turn a wasted day in the air into a micro-holiday in itself.