We left Kandy soon after breakfast, determined to catch the 11.10am train. We didn’t reserve any tickets (usually you can book these through an agency at least a month before your journey) and purchased 2nd class tickets on the spot.
It didn’t look too busy at the station although during breakfast, Suranji informed us that it was actually a public holiday that day. As soon as I heard that, I had this sinking feeling that the trains were going to be packed.
Slightly later than scheduled, our blue train arrived and immediately, there was a crazy rush of people hopping on and off of it. By the time Flo and I squeezed on, all the seats were taken and we were resigned to standing the 4 hours it was supposed to take to reach Nanuoya, the nearest station to Nuwara Eliya.
About 2 hours into the ride, the nice couple we were standing next to felt sorry for me and the lady scooted closer to her beau so that I could sit with them. In fact, it was obvious during the train ride that a lot of locals would make space for others to squeeze in with them so that three people, even four sometimes, could sit on the two seats.
We didn’t have any luck with other passengers around getting off the train before us so while I sat with the couple, Flo had to make do with plopping himself on our trolley bags.
And as tightly packed as the train was, there were constantly vendors marching up and down the aisles, stepping on toes and bumping elbows, while carrying baskets of refreshments.
These spiced peanuts were quite popular, as were the vada (the smell was inviting!). There were pickled mangoes being sold, as well as cold drinks, and even some snack involving betel leaves. Do note that as is usual throughout Sri Lanka, foreigner prices are applicable even on the trains, and blatantly so. Of course, even at an elevated price they’re considered cheap. This guy bought a packet of these peanuts and was charged 100 rupees (SGD0.77) while the couple next to me got them at 50 rupees (SGD0.38).
As much as it would have been fun to take those Instagram shots, the hoard of people crowding the door area was too big to battle. Also, I was getting quite comfy sitting with my new friends. Flo managed to get some gorgeous shots of the landscape though.
There’s no doubt why the area around Nuwara Eliya is known as Tea Country.
Our train arrived at Nanuoya later than expected. Instead of 3.01pm, we were there just shy of 4pm. Flo and I were quick off the train, happy to be stretching our legs a couple of minutes while we searched for a tuk-tuk driver who would take us to our hotel stat.
We were booked to stay at night at The Grand Hotel and reading up before our trip had us eager to try their afternoon tea. At 1200 rupees (SGD10) per person, along with a free flow of fresh brewed tea of our choice, how could we not?
Within 15 minutes, we were at the doors of the hotel, and before we even checked in, we went straight to the tea lounge, hungry from having had nothing to eat since 9am.
Three tiers of food were brought to us swiftly consisting of some cold finger food, hot nibbles, and some sweets.
Beginning with the cold, we had Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese and Cucumber Finger Sandwiches, Mushroom with Cheese Tart, Smoked Beef Pinwheels, and Vegetarian Maki.
Having not had much western food since our arrival, the finger sandwich was highly welcomed. The other two-bite eats were not particularly outstanding though.
We quickly moved on to the hot items.
We began with the Vegetable Vol-au-vent which was sadly, not as filled as I’d have liked. Usually vol-au-vents have a nice big cavity in the middle of the pastry for fillings but this was more like puff pastry topped with vegetables. I did however, really enjoy the spices that went into the vegetable mix making it exceptionally tasty.
There were also Minced Chicken Patties which were ok. The outstanding items here were their Curried Potato Balls (think: Bergedil) and the Fish Cutlet, both of which had a delectable crunch that gave way to flavoursome, creamy insides.
Dessert consisted of the mandatory Scones filled with cream and strawberry jam. These were not the best scones but having not had one for ages now, they were enough.
The Coconut Pancake was similar to our local kueh dadar, but sans the pandan flavour that we often have infused into the skin. These were not bad. The Coffee Cream Slice were quite delicious, as were the Chocolate Bonnet Tarts.
It was a simple high tea set that we enjoyed for the experience. The highlight for sure was the teas. Flo and I had three pots worth of tea each! I started with soothing Camomile, and had it a second time, before braving it and going for a Lychee Tea with Rose. That was a bit too perfumed for me with the rose overpowering the lychee.
Flo had a fragrant Vanilla Tea, before moving on to Cinnamon, and finally to a BOP English Breakfast Tea if I remember correctly.
When we were sa(tea)sfied…
Off we went to check into our room. As we walked from the front reception to the back of the hotel where the rooms were situated, I was blown away by the spacious hallways and cosy rooms complete with comfortable English settees for reading in, and fireplaces to keep warm. They don’t call it The Grand Hotel for nothing!
Our room had a charming datedness about it. Everything was placed just so and the room was extremely well maintained despite its age.
We had a super relaxing evening, not even bothering to have dinner even though I heard that the Grand Indian and Grand Thai are both restaurants serving amazing food and very affordable prices. Instead, Flo and I lazily made do with the complimentary fruit platter in our room, together with the coconut jam and bread we’d brought along with us from Kandy.
If you’ve read my other posts on travel, you might already know that what excites me most about staying in hotels are their breakfasts. I love hotel breakfasts even when they’re not all great. I enjoy waking up, heading down and seeing the spread they’ve prepared, and then deciding on what to eat.
At The Grand Hotel, Flo and I entered the dining hall to see this banquet set before us.
And on the left, where the courtyard was, was another spread of food that consisted of local breakfast items.
At the breakfast set up, they even had these sculptures made out of marzipan created in-house!
Flo and I had to think how to tackle all the food in one breakfast, since that was all we had unfortunately. And we were determined to try everything. Or rather, everything that we thought would tickle our tastebuds starting with dosa, hoppers, and curries.
We also filled up on waffles, pancakes, doughnuts, cookies (their cashew shortbread was divine!), some cheeses, and yoghurt topped with fruit. We had to literally roll ourselves out of our chairs and try to walk off some of our food.
We spent some time walking around the compounds of the hotel which very nearly transported us to the English countryside.
Thereafter we walked over to Victoria Park to have a look at what flowers were blossoming.
Apparently if you visit around April or May, the park will be in full bloom and you’ll get to see lots of gorgeous flowers everywhere.
We didn’t manage to see too many flowers in bloom but it was still a tranquil place to wander around.
We didn’t manage to spend too long there before we had to head back to pack up and get ready to catch the 12.45pm train to Ella.
This pretty much sums up our 20-odd hours in Nuwara Eliya. There are actually a lot of things to do there, especially activities that are more family oriented from strawberry picking to doing water sports at Lake Gregory, there’s a national park you can visit, tea plantations to check out, or hike from Horton Plains to World’s End. As you can see, we did none of that. It was a welcome break and one that rested us well before Ella. Perhaps our next trip to Sri Lanka we’ll cover more of Nuwara Eliya…