Bali

Those Who Find You: A Tribute

Ah, Christmastime. Although we were in Bali well before Christmas, there were signs of it popping up here and there: a fake tree in the local Hardy’s Supermarket/Mall, a smattering of wreaths and lights adorning stalls. At the (many) airports heading home, trees and baubles surrounded every shop entrance. Flying into our home airport was a bit surreal – Canadians take this North Pole stuff seriously.

When we finally turned into our own little dead-end street, we saw that it had exploded with lights (we had some work to do to catch up). It was a bit weird; so familiar but we weren’t quite ready to embrace it. Yes, we knew it was coming, but when you’re frolicking around in a land of blazing sun and sand, you really don’t think much about it.

So I can’t say I’m deep into the Christmas spirit this year. That said, I do know what I am thankful for: families of all varieties.

There’s no question that I’m grateful for the family I was born into – as wacky as it is. I love them very much and appreciated every day I have with them, but here I’m referring the Balinese family we’ve adopted (or perhaps more correctly, they’ve adopted us).

We’ve been to Bali quite a few times now (five for me; six for Cam), and when you go back to the same place enough times, you’re bound to make connections – wherever you’re from, whomever you are.

Tandjung Sari at twilight. Just go.

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I’ve mentioned before how welcoming the Balinese are – and the Wawo-Runtu family, who founded and still run the sublime Tandjung Sari hotel on an amazing property in Sanur – is no exception. They’re a large bunch – a blended family extraordinare. (We kid them about being a Balinese Brady Bunch.) They’ve all received us with genuine curiosity, open arms, and two or three kisses on the cheek. This reception is a big part of the reason we keep coming back.

Yes, Bali is our home away from home, the place we think about often and fantasize about in the cold, dark, rainy days of a Canadian winter. We crave its colourful, mystifying chaos. It’s where we become accustomed to sweating constantly, needing three showers a day, and epic humidity.

After a breath of frangipani and incense, feeling the sun on my face, hearing the constant swish-shish of sweeping, the ‘ting’ of a bike bell along the boardwalk, stepping over the ubiquitous sidewalk offerings, almost bumping into mini-shrines and dodging stray dogs and cats – it’s like coming home. Actually, that is the coming home.

Here are two people who have made it so for us.

Me and Avi, with duelling cameras.

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Avi is general manager of Tandjung Sari; he’s the first person from the family that we met. He’s married to Wita, who’s father, Wija Wawo-Runtu, started the hotel. They are our age, and from there the similarities are endless (such as Cam and Wita having a birthday within one day of each other).

Me between two Sagittarians: pre-birthday dinner drinks at the fancy Legian on Seminyak Beach.

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Apparently we’re not the only ones who wish we were back there; as much of their job involves entertaining guests, both Avi & Wita relish the chance to hang out with people more ‘their age’. Our relationship with these guys has grown since the beginning; each time we go back we learn new things about ourselves, share funny family stories, indulge in our love for good food and even better company – such as good friends do.

Cam & Wita, toasting to their birthdays. Yes, Cam’s drink is wrapped in a bag.

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Cam & Avi: two great minds (and they have fun haggling over the bill)!

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Me & Wita goofing around at TS.

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I have fond memories of Wita coming down to join us every twilight at our bungalow’s porch for a couple of drinks when Avi was working late: the two of us shrieking as we dodged swooping bats; playing Bowie on the stereo; listening to Wita’s tales of living abroad and her brushes with famous people.

And then there’s us tucking into an enormous plate of kambing kare nasi goreng (lamb curry), homemade dinners at Tatie’s (Wita’s mom) or parties at one of her half-sister’s breathtaking open-air pavilion-style houses. And jazz on the beach, where Avi had the kitchen and the outdoor barbecue time our dinners perfectly. The time when Wita had extra bottles of water delivered to our bungalow when I was sick. It’s both of them going out of their way to make our stay as comfortable, happy and special as possible. Well, like family.

A Balinese tree ornament.

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For me, this Christmas is not about presents, or lights, or the big turkey dinner. It’s about family; it’s about remembering and appreciating your loved ones. There’s no denying the spirit of family this time of year brings, be it good or bad. For us – both near and abroad – it’s good.

Time to say goodbye – we’re smiling through our tears.

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Here’s to second families… ’til we meet again.

– S

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Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baliance: The Beginning

Well, we’re back in… you’ll never guess… Bali. Yup, it’s tradition that every two years we just have to get on a plane, fly biz or first for basically an entire day, and skip a day crossing the international dateline while we’re at it. The whole production is a tiring hassle, but it’s always worth taking a bit of pain for the ultimate Bali gain.

We started this Balinese adventure in an area near Ubud proper called Penestanan. If you want to tuck yourself away in the jungle and rice fields, this is the place to do it. Here are a few vignettes from our time there…

Please tell me we didn’t just do what I think we did

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Once upon a time there was a grand villa in the middle of the Balinese jungle. And it had many rooms. And with those many rooms came many doors and keys and locks in both analog and digital flavours. There were two main doors – one for the front gate that led to the road to other villas, spas, and restaurants admist the jungle – and the other for the back that led to the walking path to the main street.

And so it is our first night, which after travelling for 20+ hours left us weary and a bit slow-witted. We decide to go to the market to get susu (milk) for coffee, Bir Bintang and other vacation necessities. We walk out the back gate, and I firmly shut it, only to discover shortly after that it is now locked, and whatever keys we have can’t open it. It’s starting to get dark, there’s no lights and we can’t see any way around the house other than to take a long alternative route… which we don’t really have a grip on yet. I look at Cam and say, deliriously, you mean we’ve been here for five minutes and we’ve already locked ourselves out of the villa?!?

I thought I was going to cry. But, ever the problem-solver, Cam MacGyvered the situation using a temporary bank card to finesse the lock bolt. It opened in about two seconds. And we never fully closed that door again.

After all that, we forgot the susu. But my first taste of kopi Bali the next morning was nothing less than heavenly, milk or no.

Ol’ Growly on the path (no, not Cam)
That’s our place in the background of the picture below.

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You could say it was a wee bit big for us, but it was damn private, which was the principle goal. This place was so remote that we had to walk down a winding, partly hilly, cracked and narrow concrete path, complete with very steep steps from the main road. No motorized vehicles allowed. Thus, after making a few wrong twists and turns – the best being pitch black and sans torch, we would arrive at our palace.

One day we headed out on said path to get provisions at the Bintang Market, only to find a ‘guard’ dog waiting in the middle of the path, looking super-scruffy and growly (upon closer inspection, he was just old and cranky and didn’t want to move). Of course as soon as we got close, he started barking and growling. Cam, born to face fear it seems, just kept on walking and reluctantly Ol’ Growly moved out of the way. We made friends later when I threw him and a canine friend doggy treats out the villa window.

Have stick, will herd 

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While up on the rooftop terrace of Rumah Cahaya, Cam spotted this ~4-foot tall ibu (Indonesian for mother or elder female) herding ducks through the rice fields, with the intention (we think) of getting them to eat all of the bugs. Small or no, ibu could surely wield a mean stick.

More Ibu – from field to market
Cam’s been taking some serious language lessons, and enjoys practicing with the locals. One time while on a provisional trip to the Bintang Market for Bir Bintang – naturally – he was in the checkout line behind an elderly ibu who seemed to regard his bottles of beer with some disapproval. That is until Cam said to her “untuk makan malam” (“for dinner”). Ol’ ibu went from seriously serious to highly amused. She thought it so funny that she repeated it to her husband beside her. It really is the small victories.

Martinis but no Internet? Perfect.
There’s a restaurant in Penestanan which happens to have the best martinis – by my opinion – in all of Bali. And we’ve been to a lot of swanky places. So, naturally, we happened to find ourselves there. It’s called Element and it’s waaaay tucked away in a small side street. The martinis come in two ways: strong or really strong. This place is so good that we’re actually thinking about making the one-hour trek back up there from Sanur. Plus, you’re forced to talk to your companions after 5 pm. Seriously?

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It’s a small world, after all
Before we even arrived, we quickly learned how small of a town Ubud is. Turns out that the house manager for Rumah Cahaya, Juli, is none other than the brother of the ibu whose family manages the other house we stayed in – Rumah Cinta – two years ago. In fact, we went to this cat’s wedding in 2012 – pictured below with me and bride Koming.

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Note the before and after pics of Juli – quite a difference! (No makeup for instance…)

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Pictured above: Bapak (Indonesian for father – also used for an elder male) – who carried my 50 lb suitcase on his bony shoulder all along the path and down aforementioned wicked steps – Juli and me the morning we left Penestanan. BTW, that’s Ol’ Growly in the background.

One of the coolest house features… EVER
The whole time we stayed at Rumah Cahaya, we were wondering how to access the basement suite. We could see the door from the outside, but had no idea how to get to it from inside. That is, until the owner Bruce showed us a secret door behind the bookshelf, which led to a whole other room, bathroom, bar, and theatre.

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The space between the shelves is the opening to the secret room below. Spooky!

Apparently this is where Bruce lived when the rest of the place was being built. I was super-impressed. How English gothic is that? Noted for our future mansion.

Stay tuned for my next post – a remote island called Gili Trawangan off the east coast of Bali.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Travel Moments of 2012

2012 challenged me. This year, I ‘let go’.

I left my old job of almost ten years and got a new and exciting placement three months later. Meanwhile, our 15-year-old cat passed away. Thing is: we ‘rented’ a cat shortly thereafter, which turned into a full-on adoption – that is, she adopted us.

And of course, we traveled. It was a bit different this year: we traded our usual summertime island jaunts for a longer stay in Asia, and I also traveled for work, which I hadn’t done for ages. Nonetheless, it was still varied, fun, crazy and challenging. But mostly fun. Of course, when it comes to the way we travel, I would expect nothing less. So here it is: my favourite travel moments from 2012.

February – Celebrating my birthday in Sayulita, Mexico.
Nothing beats the February blues and turning another year older than soaking up the sun on a beach – any beach, really. As long as it’s warm. Here I am sipping a ‘coco loco’ in Sayulita. Moments later, the Candyman appeared with his huge wheelbarrow stacked to the gills with – you guessed it – candy. I even got my very own spectacular sunset. It really was the perfect day.

shar and bday drink

April – San Jose to see Coldplay – twice!
We went to see one of our fave bands twice in one of our favourite places – California. Although it was my first time in San Jose, I was pleasantly surprised by all the city had to offer – namely pretty, tree-lined streets, the ridiculously expensive Santana Row, incredible food, and any kind of tequila you can possibly imagine. Oh, and Coldplay was pretty damn awesome, too. First night was up in the stands, but close to the stage; the second night was even closer – four rows out on the floor.

First Night: Chris Martin up-close with bassist Guy Berryman.

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Second night view from fourth row floor. See if you can spot Chris Martin in all that confetti!

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September – Maple Ridge.
I know I said in a previous post that I didn’t consider heading to the mainland Vancouver – namely Maple Ridge – as really traveling. What the hell was I thinking? This is as much as traveling as it gets – a 40-minute drive to the ferry, a 1.5 hour ferry ride, followed by a 1.5 hour drive to MR – and this isn’t counting side-trips to Starbucks (one must fuel up for such a journey), or my sis Karen’s fave clothing store Sweet Orange. However arduous the journey, trips to MR always include fun and relaxation in the form of martinis, junk food, wine, hanging with the kids, playing with their cat, watching cheesy movies, and of course more wine. This trip in particular was to celebrate my bro-in-law’s birthday, complete with a cocktail party and some of their best – and wackiest – friends. Simply put, I absolutely loved it – almost as much as I love them.

Me, sister Karen, and her daughter Emma (the awesome Emu).

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October – Las Vegas.
Although Metric at the House of Blues was amazing, probably the biggest highlight of this trip was our hotel room. For more pics and a detailed description, check out my first post on this epic trip. The room was beyond luxurious; by far the best upgrade I’ve ever received. For the first time in our traveling lives, we actually clocked some quality time in the hotel room. Who could blame us?

A shot from our conference room (seriously) looking out to the full-on living room suite. 

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October – NYC.
Less than a week before Hurricane Sandy, I went to NYC on business for a social media conference. Little did I know the place would be almost torn to shreds in a matter of days. Happily oblivious to that fact, I wandered the (very) crowded streets of Manhattan, taking in every smell, sound and funny catcall (at one point I was mistaken for Jennifer Aniston – to my delight the guy yelled it to the passing crowd). Additional favourite moments were spotting Snopp Dogg (twice), hugging Cookie Monster in Times Square, wandering beautiful Bryant Park and swilling double martinis in Hell’s Kitchen. (For the record, the Empire State Building is an absolute rip-off – v. expensive for a so-so experience. I’ve heard a night visit is far better.)

Fall on the streets of New York City.

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Downtown view from Empire State Building.

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November – Bali.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to traveling first class. Especially when going halfway around the world, as we do to Bali. Then there was Ubud, a town up in Bali’s rice fields. This picture was taken at by far my favourite moment – the rain pouring down and me sheltered on the deck with everything I needed: a beer, a good book, and something amazing to gaze out on.

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I couldn’t get enough of Bali’s bright, fragrant flowers and intricate woodwork. Also, I really loved the fact that I never once had to turn the hot water on for an entire three weeks.

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December – back to Maple Ridge.
With yet another few weeks off of work for the holidays (yes, it’s true – please don’t cry), I took the opportunity to spend some quality time at my sis’ again in MR for a few days before the Christmas craziness. It was nothing short of awesome. We did a lot of the aforementioned, with the addition of watching classic Christmas movies, admiring of tree ornaments, and actual buying at Sweet Orange (I acquired a little Xmas present to me – ok, I may have a slight addiction to clothes), plus a few socials, including a “Death Party”. This took place, fittingly, on December 21, which you’ll recall was to be our last day on Earth. It was actually a friend’s birthday, with the added cool twist of a death theme. Dress code was anything black (she wore her wedding dress spray-painted black). Along with a few questionable and amusing characters, there was a humongous tray of THE most amazing mac and cheese, a coffin filled with beer, rented slushy machines – one filled with bellini mix, the other lime and vodka – and a tarot card reader. A party the next day boasted 40 adults and 40 kids, a zillion appys, an open bar and even an official wine tasting. I was in heaven.

Me, my niece Alex, and their cat Tuna. Note the horrified expression on the poor kitty’s face.

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I’m sure 2013’s jaunts around the globe will be nothing short of memorable. Autumn in Italy, anyone?

– S

Categories: Bali, Beach, British Columbia, California, Glamorous, Mexico, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sanur: Home and Away

Well, it’s been a while now since we returned from our favourite place in the world (that would be Bali, for those of you not paying attention) – and let’s just say it’s a bit of an adjustment. But I don’t want to waste your precious reading time lamenting about being back in chilly Canada. This is a postcard about our home-away-from-home: sleepy Sanur.

After dusty, scorching Seminyak and the serene lushness of Ubud, we departed for the golden sands of the southeast coast. Sanur is where we first experienced the magic of Bali, where we discovered a peaceful bungalow-style hotel on the beach, where we made lifelong friends and are always treated like family. With fond memories in tow, we were anxious to get there and start creating new ones.

Once we turned off the main street (Danau Tramblingan) and into the Tandjung Sari driveway, I exhaled deeply. It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when I enter these grounds. It’s like I’ve closed the door on an all-too-busy, crazy, rushed world, retreating into a hidden paradise. The long, narrow, two-laned driveway is lined with palms in the middle and high hedges on either side, only hinting at the bungalows behind it. It’s as if I’ve entered a home in a village, going back into another quiet, simpler time. It’s a feeling of arriving at a place unlike anywhere I’ve been before; someplace safe, warm and welcoming.

As usual, we were greeted warmly by the staff in the receiving area: a huge, open-air pavilion that was once part of a Balinese royal house. Three ceremonial beats on a large gong announced our arrival, and we were given cold towels by a fresh-faced Balinese woman. Happily signing in, we started what was to be a two-week-long reunion with all our old friends and the Tandjung Sari family. Indeed, several times a day we were welcomed with a chorus of exclamations, handshaking, kissing on each cheek (often three times), and lots of Apa kabar (what’s the news?). To which we’d reply: baik, baik (very good – especially since we were there).

The Tandjung Sari beachfront at twilight.

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We had booked one of the new garden bungalows (they hadn’t built new ones since the ’90s, so this was pretty special). Bright and spacious, the bungalow boasted beautifully blue tiled floors depicting Balinese themes of animals and birds; industrial-strength air conditioning; a welcome bowl of island fruit adorned with frangipani; a separate room with wash area complete with skylights; and yes… the classic outdoor shower. This time we even got an outdoor bathtub – an essential tool for the cooling-down process, especially after scorching beach days, and yes, our dreaded morning runs along the boardwalk. (This we endeavoured – and succeeded – to do every morning, despite any late activities the night before. It was really the only sane time to do it – that is, if you didn’t want to faint of heat stroke while dodging bikes, scooters, sketchy gangs and, God forbid, the razor-sharp women hawkers who hang around outside the Circle K, just waiting for the next victim to drag down a crowded and confusing alley of shops.)

Outdoor bathtub – Cam’s favourite place to cool off while reading the latest Jack Reacher and sipping a cold Bir Bintang.

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Shortly after our arrival, I really began to relax. Translation: lots of spa treatments. Fresh fruit peel facial and rose petal face masks, a dual manicure and pedicure (to the tune of $15 Cdn – absurdly cheap compared to the $70 – before tax and tip – jobby I had at home).

And then there was the massage. Not just an ordinary one – it was a Javanese massage. Picture a 4-foot-ish Javanese ibu knocking on your bungalow door with just a sarong and some oil. You dress down to your skivvies, lie on your bed and proceed to get worked over by her magic fingers both back and front. Modesty goes out the window as she transforms your entire body into a lump of jelly and goodness. Her touch is utterly perfect: not too gentle that you can’t feel anything, but not too strong that it starts to get stressful. Perfect for us picky North Americans. Again, absurdly cheap: $20. For an hour and a half. ‘Nuff said.

Then there was the fresh fruit every morning at breakfast: pineapple, papaya, watermelon, even passionfruit or banana juice if you so desired. Not to mention perfectly-baked buttermilk biscuits and Tandjung Sari’s famous croissants: fresh from the oven, with a rewarding puff of steam when you break one open. Everyone swears they are better than what you find in Paris, and we can’t disagree.

Shar on bike along Sanur’s beach boardwalk.

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Our resident family of ginger kucings.

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Our third and last week in Bali – what we referred to as our “bonus week” – was spent pretty much planted on the beach, where our biggest decision of the day (aside from what to have for lunch or dinner), was if we should go for a swim in the pool or float on our backs in the 27 degree Indian Ocean.

However, we did manage a day trip to east Bali – to a series of pretty, small fishing villages lining the coast and stemming south from the town of Amed – satisfied our snorkelling urge. The quality was outstanding, with the best part not having to rent a boat to get to the reef. All we did was park on the road, cut through the grounds of an obscure homestay on the beach, step out onto the black sand and put our flippers in the water. A push off the rock and we were transported to a world of angel and Nemo fish, bright blue coral, sea turtles and eels. We let the current take us deeper into the relatively garbage-free water (a treat compared to, say, what we experienced in Nusa Dua) – swimming through warm, cool, and then almost too hot patches – down to a sunken Japanese shipwreck (there are doubts about its provenance, but it was cool nonetheless). We emerged two hours later, and with salt water crust in our hair and cracked lips, rinsed off underneath a rustic communal shower before wolfing down our picnic lunch. Hours later I felt the ill-effects of the classic too-long-in-the-water-without-protection nasty burn, but it was sooooo worth it.

A young woman dances the traditional Balinese legong

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After the ‘cool’ mountain air of Ubud (28 degrees as opposed to 32 – it makes a difference, believe me) we were once again cozily-wrapped in the hot and humid, even with the ocean breeze. But the warmth of the island doesn’t just come from the elements. It’s in the people, too: their gentle and welcoming nature, their stunning smiles, their genuine interest. During our time in Sanur, a series of invites ensued: drink gatherings, birthday outings (including Cam’s), legong dance performances, art exhibitions, dinners at our friend’s house… so much that we barely had a night to ourselves during our whole two-week stay.

But that’s what I love so much about the Balinese: they are eager to include you and have you take part in their customs (and to practice their English while they’re at it). Just take the wedding we went to in Ubud. It’s just what they do, who they are. And that’s what keeps us coming back.

The full moon and me.

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– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Pool, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ubud: Serenity Now

Tucked into the Balinese highlands, in the midst of long and lush flora, gently-flowing rivers, and cooling skies, lies Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital. On previous trips to Bali, we’ve only gone to Ubud on day trips perusing silver, batik and wood carving shops while baking in the afternoon heat, stopping to have a kopi es (iced coffee) until we’d gathered enough energy to venture out again. We’d have a grand old time at the monkey forest, or partake in a popular locals’ pastime, such as dining at Ibu Oka’s (for more detail on that, check out one of my previous posts: The Freaky, The Fresh, and the Fabulous).

But listening to other travellers describe how peaceful, even magical, it is to actually stay in and around Ubud made us think differently for this trip. There were stories of incredibly private villas with glorious pools set in the middle of lush rice fields, with a myriad of spa resorts and retreats steps away, where you could rejuvenate, meditate and no-doubt exfoliate yourself to a temporary Nirvana. Many people swear Ubud is the ‘real’ Bali, so we thought we’d give it a try.

We arrived via transport from Seminyak, about an hour away. Our destination was a villa in the outskirts of Ubud proper, in an area called Penestanan. Once our driver figured out how to find our rather elusive and hidden villa, it was crazy to think we could actually have missed it. I took one look at the entrance’s 100 or so steep (and I mean steep) stone stairs and said to Cam, “How are we going to get our suitcases up there?” He pointed to the two frail-looking Balinese women who greeted us on the street and said, “That’s how.” OK – I had to see this.

Without hesitation, each woman took a 50-pound suitcase of ours and placed them ever so gently on their heads. And up the stairs they went. And up. And up some more. By the halfway point, I was panting from just carrying my beach bag. Watching these women, I was respectfully humbled. Who needs bootcamp, anyway?

Pic of our entrance stairs sans incredibly strong ladies (but an equally capable Cam).

The villa is called Rumah Cinta, which translates to the house made out of love. It was humongous – built to contain at least a couple of families. In fact, they closed off half of the house so the two of us occupied the newer half.  The place had all the right things: a large pool and an open-air, stone-built shower (the greatest thing EVER) for starters. It was simply an awe-inspiring place, somehow mystic, comprised of beautiful traditional Balinese architecture as shown in the pic below, which just happened to be above an alcove in our gardens:

(There were so many large and small touches like this that every day we seemed to discover a new gem or another – including many shrines on the property, which received daily offerings.)

Shortly after we settled in, it started raining unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard. Not the typical long, misty, all-day affairs we get at home. No, it was one of those tropical rainstorms that give little warning and a lot of result: big, hard drops that render you completely drenched almost immediately, umbrella or no.

Our timing was spectacular: getting caught right in the middle as we were walking back from the supermarket. It was so ridiculously loud and intense that we  laughed most of the way… until the aforementioned 100 steps, where we slopped and slipped as we juggled bags and umbrellas all the way up. Despite this, it was a lovely respite from the from dusty, scorching streets of Seminyak. Once somewhat dry, we tucked in for a night of watching the rain from our balcony, relaxing, reading, and drinking Bali Hai beer. We finally succumbed to a long, deep sleep to the tune of a VERY loud singer – what we originally thought was a frog and then later learned it was actually a large gecko – and dreamt of green phosphorescent fireflies (which we really did see – very cool).

View of our villa grounds from the master bedroom balcony during a rainstorm.

We woke up early that first morning and breakfasted at Ibu Putu’s warung, a local’s restaurant just down the path. Ketut, the man whose family manages the villa, met us there to help us prepare for our first-ever Balinese wedding. He had invited us to his brother-in-law’s wedding about five minutes after we arrived. Although we were initially taken somewhat aback, we quickly learned that it’s considered a bit sophisticated to have foreigners at your wedding, especially as we were in the (relative) Balinese sticks. Whatever the case, we were only too happy to oblige to attend as very pale ornaments. Ketut dressed us in layers of fancy sarongs and sashes – required for entering holy sites and temples – and off we went with another couple hailing from – weirdly enough – Edmonton, Alberta.

Ketut led the way through the village, and once at the family compound, we were greeted warmly by the betrothed couple, who then promptly disappeared to adorn themselves in elaborate dress and makeup.

Then we proceeded to wait. And wait. Two hours, many cups of sweet tea, spicy satay, rambutan (a favourite of Cam’s) and several suspicious-looking jellies later, the young couple emerged, snapping us both out of our near-comatose state. The bride and groom then led a procession through the streets to her family’s home for more visiting and eating. As the actual ceremony was not for another several hours, we decided to bow out at that point.

Me with the bride and groom: Koming and Wayan. I’m the one in the middle.

Since we were only in Ubud for three nights, we decided to do yet another thing we hadn’t done before: walk through the Ubud countryside (translation: vast rice fields). While attempting to follow a route suggested in one of our guidebooks (the directions left a bit to be desired), we made a few wrong turns, one in particular that set off a neighbourhood dog in a fit of snarling barks, chasing us back up the slope (much to its owner’s delight).

The trek took about three hours, during which we sighted rice field after rice field, flooding, harvesting, a river gorge and an intricate irrigation system, scarecrows comprised of a combination of stalks, metal and garbage, and miniature shrines. Finally the crooked stone and dirt path spit us out, sweaty, hot and dirty, about 1000 metres from where we were staying. Very convenient.

An old ibu works the fields.
A flooded rice field before harvest.

Although you can pretty much get anything you need in Ubud – massages, manicures, health retreats, yoga studios, sweet organic cuisine – really, there is no need. The place itself is enough – serene and beautiful in its nature alone. It envelopes and captures you with its beauty and raw nature. (Not to mention you could hide out in a warung/homestay and pretty much disappear altogether for months on the cheap.)

I can’t really articulate properly how I felt in Ubud. Some people may describe it as a spiritual connection. Others would say my aura agreed with it, or some other such nonsense. All I know is I felt quiet. I could just clamber up to our rooftop terrace (where the feature photo of this post was taken) and stare into the surroundings all day. Just watch life go by. I felt like I didn’t need to talk, or even think all the time. I felt serene. Or maybe I found something there I haven’t found anywhere else: peace.

Then again, it might have been the Bali Hai – pun intended.
– S
Categories: Adventure, Bali, Dining, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Postcard from Seminyak

Sooooo… it’s been more than a week since we first arrived on the sweet, sweet island of Bali, in the Hindu heart of the Indonesian archipelago. As incredibly long as the flights were (about 21 hours of total travel), we ‘toughed’ it out as best we could in our first-class pods. Rather than reiterating the fabulousness of traveling first class on Cathay Pacific, I’ll direct you to my 2010 Bali trip post.

We arrived in the crowded, hot and vaguely smelly Denpasar airport unperturbed, because after several trips to Bali, we know the drill. We arranged for immigration Fast Track service, and sure enough our paid ‘facilitator’ was waiting for us with a sign as we got off the escalator.

As our new friend disappeared with our passports, we eyed up the long and winding customs queue from the other side and couldn’t help but sigh with some relief that we had skipped over all of that. Of course, it’s always a little scary handing your passport over to a relative stranger, but this service is definitely worth it. Six mysterious minutes later our man emerged with our stamped passports and tourist cards for the return trip all tucked inside. Sweet developing world goodness.

Newsflash: it’s bloody hot when you’re in close proximity to the equator. Here, it’s 32 celsius with 100% humidity pretty much every day at this time of year. Constant sweating and at least two showers a day is the norm. This goes on well into the evening – it’s basically shorts and tanks ’round the clock. After a couple of days, we seriously can’t even remember what it’s like to be cold. Mind you, according to the weather reports from home, it’s the usual 24/7 November rain and wind festival, so I’m definitely not complaining – we’ll be re-joining the rest of our grumbling paisanos soon enough.

Our Seminyak villa: where all that is good and warm can be found. (And also many, many mosquitos.)

Our previous visits to Seminyak were done by day trip from sleepy Sanur (AKA Snore) on the east side of the island, our usual home base. This time, however, we rented a villa off Jalan Laksmana, the main road, sometimes called “Eat Street”. The idea was to hit some of our favourite haunts and actually log some beach time.

A Balinese cremation ceremony on Seminyak beach – note the duck trying to escape.

It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to hit Ku De Ta at least once a trip for sunset drinks and epic people-watching, and this trip was no different. It was a beautiful night, definitely sunset-worthy, and after scoring a sweet spot overlooking the beach, we settled in for lychee martinis, mojitos and lobster dumplings.

It was all moonbeams and kitten bums until I was returning from the washroom in high heels, misplaced a step, and did a spectacular face plant right in front of picture-snapping dinner patrons (I distinctly remember a flash or two as this was happening). The frustrating thing was I hadn’t even had that much to drink!

I returned to my seat with a wobbly chin and tears in my eyes, smarting from a temporary nose-dive (literally) to the ol’ self-confidence. Cam brought me around by pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation and soon had me laughing again. Everyone’s been there, in one form or another. Mine just happened to be on camera where every poseur in Bali happens to show up.

Hawkers on Seminyak beach.

On another night on the town, at another putatively super-cool Bali hangout (that shall go unnamed here), we happened to spot a big, furry rodent friend while sipping martinis and – unfortunately – waiting for our appetizer. I heard some scuffling, but Cam saw the whole thing, complete with rat jumping from the top of the bar (yes!) to the ground before zipping away. Our appetizer arrived shortly after that, and we promptly crossed the place off our list. Forever.

On the flip side, if you’re in Seminyak, go to Chandi. Just. Go. Are you there yet?

Let’s bottom-line this: for some, Seminyak is a must-see, renowned for its brown/black sand beach stretching from Kuta to the south, great (but expensive) shopping, and incredible restaurants. I know what you’re thinking: Oh, that sounds just horrible! However, compared to much of Bali, Seminyak is dirty, dusty, crowded, noisy, and just generally waaay too busy for us. It’s kind of like a been there, done that sort of place. Once is enough, say us.

But if you’re looking for a more ‘real’ laid-back Bali experience, try a villa tucked into the rice fields in Ubud, or head for the quiet sands of Sanur. That thought leads to my next post: walking through rice fields, getting caught in torrential rains, being practically deafened by gecko calls, and attending a Balinese wedding. This is all from our private haven tucked up in the cool, serene Bali highlands.

Sun setting over Seminyak beach.

– S

Categories: Bali, Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Pool, Shopping, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Freaky, the Fresh and the Fabulous

From a rustic beach fry shack to fine-dining at the Eiffel Tower (well, in Vegas), I’ve had some pretty varied and unique foodie times. While traveling, Cam and I tend to shy away from all-inclusives (with the exception of one or two no-brainer getaways), instead opting to frappe la rue on our own and explore. To me, not only the cuisine but the actual dining experience is all part of the unknown, the weirdness of travel that often makes a good story. (We have another litnus test of how good the restaurant is by what their bathroom facilities look like. I’ll save that for another post.)

Since I refrained from listing every funny little place I’ve been to in my last post of a similar nature (A Dozen Ovens), here’s the second part of some weird and wonderful foodie scenes. Let’s start with one of my favourites…

1. Ibu Oka  Ubud, Bali
Our driver Made accompanied us to this Ubud, Bali institution in the heart of the mountains, where the specialty is fried Babi Guling (suckling pig). The scene is rustic, the menu basic with a choice of four different combinations: Special Suckling Pig (with rice), Different Suckling Pig (also with rice, not entirely sure what’s ‘different’), Suckling Pig Meat, and just the Pig Skin. Grab some Indonesian fruit tea, have a seat on the floor and get cozy with your neighbours. Personally, I found it the whole meal extremely fatty, so I mostly ate just the meat sans skin, giving the rest to Cam and Made. But it was a must-do and undeniably an unforgettable experience. If you go, don’t forget to collect your shoes from the massive pile on your way out.

2. Tapas Bar in San Sebastian – Spain
The old quarter in San Sebastian was home to my first tapa dining experience. Basically, we tried to do what every good tourist should do: follow the locals. So we walked in pretending like we’d been there a hundred times (we couldn’t have been more green), casually sidled up to the bar (more like carefully picking our way through hoards of leering Spanish men), and helped ourselves to the dizzying array of itsy bitsy bites lining the bar (well, I might have wrinkled up my nose and given some the sniff test). The whole time we wondered how anybody would know how much we ate, or who was keeping track for that matter. Turns out the bartender had a pretty sharp pair of peepers, because by the end he had a tally of everything we touched, even including a few glasses of the local vino (which we ordered via the pointing system). He gave us the bill itemized on the back of an old receipt and we were done. Oh, and food was awesome – everything from fresh prawns to thin proscuitto on crostinis – and the atmosphere crowded, smoky and alive.

3. Pizza Venezia – Sayulita, Mexico
Along a dusty, lone Mexican village road appears what at first seems like a mirage, and then turns into a bright yellow surfboard. On it boasts the menu of Pizza Venezia, a place that is both a feast for the eyes and the stomach. All bright reds and yellows and brick, this fire wood oven, thin-crust pizza joint is home to some gutsy Italian-turned-surfer who landed in Sayulita sometime within the last three years. Apparently he liked it so much he decided to stay a while. Delicious and refreshingly uncomplicated, the pizza pies were cheap (an extra-large pie put you back a mere 90 pesos – about $6 Cdn). Perfect for a late-night snack on the way home, the rest saved for a picnic on the beach the next day.

4. Le Baiser Salé – Paris, France
Le Baiser Sale translates to “The Salty Kiss”. Being avid jazz buffs, Cam and I decided to hit up this place after we attempted to get into another jazz club where the cover charge back in ’04 was 25 euros (about $50 Cdn back then). This was at a time when the Canadian dollar was at an all-time low, mind you, but still – $50 to get in? Each? Even though they were open to negotiation (the price got lower as we began backing out of the club), we decided to move on and stumbled upon Le Baiser Sale. Despite the fact that it was ‘only’ $25 to get in, it turned out to be one of the best jazz clubs we’ve ever been to. I’m including it in this dining post because they did serve food – mostly snacks to accompany your champagne – but I think that counts. Enter via an outdoor patio, sweep past a bar and up a narrow staircase to a small, dark room with a makeshift bar and a stage – and when I say stage, I mean a basic platform of sorts. The sheer intimacy of the place was astounding: as four young guys belted out classic Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson, we were so close we could feel the beat pulsing in our chests; see the spit and the sweat. It was like they were playing just for us.

5. Hu’u Bar & Grill – Seminyak, Bali
Picture a dark and romantic outdoor setting, the tropical breeze tickling your bare shoulders as you stroll along the poolside patio under white canopy and twinkling fairy lights. Now imagine the delish taste of duck crepes as you dine surrounded by mosaic-like decorative busts and low-hung chinese lanterns, with cool hip groove beats filling the air. And, if you want your own private dining experience, there’s always the cozy dining day-beds strewn about the property. The food is pretty decent, but it’s really the ambience that keeps us coming back. Where else do you get to lounge about on huge white pillows while sipping on a lychee nut martini? Who knows: you may just run into Paris Hilton partying it up right next to you.

6. Lobster on Booby Cay Beach – near Negril, Jamaica
Let’s face it: this is no fancy hotel dining, or drinks by a hip poolside bar. It doesn’t get more fresh, and I mean really fresh than having your lunch cooked for you right on a sandy cove in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I think these lobsters were caught maybe 20 minutes before, and the next thing you know they’re on the grill. Delightfully delish. Have Famous Vincent take you over to the island.

7. Kayu Manis – Sanur, Bali
This funny little place is slightly off the beaten track, some distance from the touristy throngs on Sanur’s beach boardwalk. After reading some decent reviews on Trip Advisor, we had our hotel make us a reservation. Still, it took us a while to find it in the dark, and after wandering around for an hour, we found it tucked just off the street, surrounded by trees and tropical flora. Even at 8 pm, the interior was sweltering hot, and much to our dismay, they didn’t serve any booze aside from the local beer. We forgave them because the food was good; however, when we tried to get the bill, they wouldn’t let us pay, no matter how much we insisted. Suffice to say both parties were very much confused. So, we ended up leaving without paying. For some people this is a dream; for us just felt downright strange and wrong. Totally bewildered, we relayed the story to our hotel hosts, who were just as confused as we were. Then about a week later, the restaurant phoned our hotel to say that someone from the restaurant was coming to pick up the money for our tab. Seriously! Poor Cam had to run about to get cash from the money exchange, put it in an envelope, and have it at the front desk for pick-up. So much for thinking we got it comped because they thought we were movie stars.

8. Eiffel Tower Restaurant – Las Vegas, Nevada
For a special occasion, a completely decadent experience (or if you just can’t get to Paris, France for the weekend), the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Vegas is a must-try. It’s pretty close to the real thing, its authenticity bolstered (pun intended) by makeshift tower beams jutting through the walls, an almost pitch-black interior, and a martini bar to die for. My sister and her husband came with us to Vegas last year for a special birthday of mine (see A Most Un-Glamorous Journey for more on that trip), and although my sister got sick the night of my birthday dinner, we still enjoyed a romantic evening for three. Attended to by at least four tuxedo-clad servers (who all seemed ecstatic to be serving us), this restaurant boasted an incredible view of the main strip, notably the fountain show at the Bellagio. It oozed romance and yes, a bit of a cheese-factor, albeit classy cheese. An appetizer of roasted foie gras for $28? Why not? You may as well really splurge and have the Filet Mignon for $56. It’s totally worth it.

9. Random Restaurant at the top of Mt. Batur – Bali
Although the view to Gunung Batur is clearly incredible, the touristy and crowded buffet-style restaurant perched on a cliff at the side of the road wasn’t. Think exorbitant tourist prices for a measly, fly-ridden selection of fried rice, dried-up satay, and wilty greens. I won’t even get into the state of the washroom. Not to mention it was so windy up there, my bad food practically flew off my plate. (To be fair, that’s not the restaurant’s fault). Anyway, an obvious tourist trap, but what can you do – not a lot of choice way up in the middle-of-nowhere-mountains. The only thing that tasted somewhat okay was the prickly red rambutan fruit – plus it was really cool and exotic-looking.

10. Burrito Revolution – Sayulita, Mexico
A Sayulita institution, Burrito Revolution is a gem of a place, with burritos the size of babies and sauces with different spice levels (hint: watch out for the whitish one – very spicy). Although you can sit inside, it mostly caters to the grab-and-go people. Make sure you get lots of napkins, because within one bite you’ll be wiping the delicious stuff off your mouth and chin. Incredibly fresh, handmade  and hot – think smoked marlin wrapped up with tomatoes, beans and fresh guacamole. Come hungry and prepare to wait a bit – you’ll be glad you did. The last time we were there, the proprietor let us have a taste of the newest thing on the menu: tacos (yummy). And, you gotta love their awesome sense of humour – I just had to take a picture of this sign!

– S

Categories: Bali, Dining, Europe, France, Glamorous, Jamaica, Mexico, Spain, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Traveling Critter Diaries

Bonding with creatures in a foreign land – whether it’s on the cliffs of Negril, off Bali’s Indian Ocean or even the Pacific shores of Sayulita – is always an adventure. Mind you, I’m not too disappointed when it doesn’t happen, but it’s always a fun and unique experience when it does. Seeing as both Cam and I love animals and amphibians (I’m somewhat less inclined toward insects or massive hairy arachnids), I thought I’d share a few snapshots of our favourite critters from around the globe.

1. The Yowly Bungalow Kitty – Sanur, Bali
This grumpy little meower was constantly hanging around, lurking by one of the stone statues, creeping up the steps, or hanging off of the roof. Wherever it was, it would always let out a howler (or three) of a greeting, but would never let you get close enough to pet. In any case, Yowly was good – albeit distant – company, and always seemed to take us by pleasant surprise when we were having our late afternoon shower outdoors or sitting on our porch drinking kopi bali. I have a feeling life wasn’t all catnip and lazy mice for this one, though, judging by the not-so-impressed expression on its face.

2. Pups  West End, Negril, Jamaica
Pups (our clever nickname) was the dog of one of the caretakers from a villa property we stayed at on Negril’s dramatic cliffs. Pups immediately won us over with her friendly manner and infectious ‘smile’. She would wait for us by the gate when we came home from a day’s adventure, and then proceed to lounge in a patch of sunshine on the deck while we wound down. Other times she would play with my feet or sniff at Cam’s Red Stripe (that’s a beer, not a laceration). Although young, Pups was an excellent watchdog, knowing instinctively who should be on the property and who shouldn’t. She wasn’t a big fan of the water, though. Every time we decided to hang out at our private cove by the cliff’s edge, she would stand at a safe distance, barking at any wave that dared come too close to the rocks. A bit unusual for an animal who resided so close to the sea, but we accepted her for her loveable quirks nonetheless.

3. The Casa Iguana – Sayulita, Mexico
In Mexico, iguanas are about as common as tortillas, so it was no real surprise to encounter this enigmatic creature who suddenly appeared one late afternoon at our villa. We saw it only a couple of times, usually when we were floating in the pool or quietly reading in the shade. Out it would crawl from some nearby bush, and slowly and carefully inch its way across the warm rocks in its attempt to blend in with nature. It would then become a statue of sorts, soaking up the sun and occasionally eating the blue flowers growing nearby. (If you look closely you can see some petals in its mouth.) I could almost reach out and touch it. Almost. I kinda didn’t want to, though.

4. The Shrine-Wrecker – Seminyak, Bali
We were having a casual dinner at one of our favourite beach bars in Seminyak called Ku De Ta when this mischievous kitty jumped up on a shrine and began foraging for cookies and rice, knocking all of the prayer offerings asunder in its haste. Luckily I had my camera at the ready and managed to capture a genuine “Busted!” expression on its face (see featured photo at the top of this post). It didn’t seem to care much though, as it had obviously hit the late-lunch jackpot.

5. The Neighbourhood Happy Cat – Sayulita, Mexico
This was one of my favourite cat encounters while on holiday. This wide-eyed stunner just appeared at our door one evening and waltzed right into our villa (hard not to do when the climate demands doors be perpetually open). Fortunately it seemed to belong to someone, and so was free to roam around at will instead of having to look for food. Not in the least shy, this kitty would walk right up to you and wrap its little paws (sans claws) around your ankle, wanting to play, play, play. It visited us a few times around the same time every day, and I grew so attached that I missed it when we left.

6. The Whites – Mayfield Falls, Jamaica
Happily wagging away, this trio of strays greeted us outside the falls like old friends, snipping and playing with each other as if they didn’t have a care in the world. They kept a watchful eye as they followed us to the van though, sensing an opportunity for something more. Unfortunately all we had were limes, so they had to settle for a pet (or three).

7. The Cocky Cockatoo – Hamilton Island, Australia
I don’t know what it is with creatures and timing. Even this noisy little bird would appear on the railing of our posh beach club room at the same time every day, chirping and cackling. One time it actually flew into the room. Promptly unnerved by my surprised shrieking, it settled for a casual perch the railing for the rest of our stay, cackling away. Note the people watching from the infinity pool below.

8. Barfs – Sanur, Bali
“Barfs” is what we nicknamed a pathetic little dog that would roam Sanur Beach at twilight, making these heartbreaking gagging sounds, somewhere between a bark and a cough. It would never venture very close to us, mostly keeping to itself and sniffing under chairs for scraps left by beachgoers. We felt so sorry for it that we considered feeding it some of Cam’s boozy birthday cake, made for us by the kind hotel folks. As delish as this cake was the first time, every time we opened our bar fridge thereafter the strong smell of booze would make our stomachs turn (especially at 6 am). When we finally decided to give some to this poor little thing, he disappeared. Sorry, Barfs.

9. The Cutest (and Smartest) Pair of Hustlers – Negril, Jamaica
Anyone who’s traveled to a developing country has experienced the stray-animal-in-the-restaurant scenario, at least to some degree. It almost always involves canine or feline, usually pretty scruffy, with matted hair and an emaciated body. Patiently (or not so patiently), they wait for table scraps either dropped or given to them by hand. Or, you can get two real cuties like these who avoided common nuisance tactics. Instead, they let us know they were there with a couple of soft subtle mews, and then proceeded to watch us from across the patio. Although I admired them for it, it didn’t really matter in the end; they had me at first glance. What – I’d like to see you resist these adorable faces.

10. The Monkey on My Head – Bali
This memorable moment occurred on my first trip to Asia, when I was still a naive tourist (not like now – jaded and suspicious at every turn… just kidding). We were at a monkey forest up in the island’s highlands, getting a tour of the forest and its inhabitants. Of course, we’d been warned that monkeys like to pinch anything of value – wallet, keys, camera. However, no one told me they might end up jumping on your head. One minute we were in the middle of observing a mother cleaning her baby; the next an adult monkey had gotten a hold of my leg and started scrambling and clawing its way up my torso. I hardly had time to react before the crazy thing was holding on tight to my hair, grabbing for some nuts in the guide’s hand, which was of course right over my head. I realized it was all a plotted plan when the guide signalled Cam, who quickly snapped a pic. I’m sure glad we could all work as a team to make it happen.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Jamaica, Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Tickets to Paradise

Once upon a time, I traveled international first class. It rocked, and it rocked all the way to Bali. Since Cam and I had racked up so many air miles with our Alaska Airlines card, we finally had enough for two tickets to fly anywhere in the world first class. Mind you, this didn’t come easy. The first time we traveled to Asia, we both paid straight-up for business class tickets on Cathay Pacific (which was freaking awesome, too – literally a world away from economy).

On our second trip to Bali, we had enough air miles for one business class ticket and paid full price for the second one. You may be thinking at this point that I’m crazy to be spending a lot of money getting from Point A to Point B. I see it as a matter of priorities. Don’t even get me started on how much people spend on material things – or even children for that matter – without blinking an eye. I believe that experiences generate way more happiness than say, an ATV, or that shiny, just-renovated back porch. Travel is my child, if you will, my sanity check, and I am more than happy to spend money and time nurturing and investing in it. Enough said.

So, many purchases (we put everything on our card: $1 = 1 air mile; you can see where this is going) and many flights later (you accumulate even more points when you actually fly), we both had enough to travel first class on air miles to Bali. That’s both legs: from Vancouver to Hong Kong, and then HK to Bali. Needless to say, with that much distance we wanted to be as comfortable as possible. From check-in in Vancouver to arrival in Denpasar more than 24 hours later (plus skipping a whole day crossing the International Date Line), it was definitely worth the expense.

To document all of the wonderful things about traveling in this kind of luxury (physically and emotionally) would take forever. So here are my top 10 highlights:

1. By-passing the “cattle class” line-up and heading straight for the first class check-in. In many cases, there’s also a special priority line-up for security clearance. That rocks.


2. Entering the first class lounge. I could almost hear the angels singing. The cardboard cut-out was a nice touch, though.


3. Awesome lounge perks of champagne, wine, spirits, and a dizzying selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including gourmet coffee. Complimentary snacks: depending where you’re headed, this can range from muffins and fruit to sweet pork buns, various noodle dishes, specialty cheeses, assorted tiny sandwiches, homemade soups, pizza, etc. An endless array of magazines and newspapers at your disposal. Oh, and of course free Wi-fi. All surrounded by a quiet and relaxing atmosphere, sans baby-screaming, blaring tellys, and annoying people yelling into their cell phones. In this particular case, we practically had the whole place to ourselves for like five hours. It was almost lonely.


4. Priority boarding. There’s no better feeling than being the first to board, even before “those who need assistance and/or are traveling with children.” It’s even more fun if you’re late getting to the terminal (thanks to that last glass of champagne in the lounge). No worries; if that’s the case, you get to simply by-pass the economy class line-up and budge in front of passengers who are already boarding. Tee-hee.

5. Stepping into your roomy first class “pod”. Sometimes located on the top floor if it’s a double-decker plane, which is especially cool. Did I mention you’re greeted by name? For a more detailed perspective than what’s shown here, check out the first class cabin on the Cathay site. It really is all that.

6. More champagne (this time it’s pink). In your first class suite.


6. Even at 3 am, you get to order smoked salmon, specialty cheeses, fancy water crackers, and caviar. Washed down with expensive French bordeaux. You can even dine with your fellow travel partner in their pod. Yes, they are that big.


7. A beautiful complimentary toiletry pack containing all sorts of little creams, facial moisturizer, toothpaste and brush, eye mask, and hairbrush. Oh, and your own set of pyjamas and sleeping socks. It’s the perfect prelude to what comes next…

8. A good night’s sleep in your lie-flat bed. When’s the last time you had one of those on a plane? This is after you’ve watched a movie or two on your personal entertainment unit.


9. Waking up to the smell of kick-ass gourmet coffee, followed by a full-on breakfast, smoothie, more caviar, whatever you desire. Served to you when you want it, not the other way around.


10. A refreshed, relaxed and ready-to-go arrival. Wherever in the world you happen to land.


Have you ever experienced outstanding international first class travel? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

– S

Categories: Bali, Glamorous, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Dozen Ovens

One of my favourite things to do is eat, especially on vacation. There’s something about being away from home, trying different places and styles of cuisine that’s addictive. It can also represent an opportunity for prime people watching. So without further ado, here are some of my most memorable dining experiences in no particular order: the weird, the wonderful, and the quirky…

1. KU DE TA – Seminyak beach, Bali, Indonesia
At some point whenever we’re in Bali, we hit this place – not so much for the food (good but very pricey) as for the atmosphere. The idea is to get there just before sunset, order a chocolate martini (no, really), and get ready to be blown away. Overlooking amazing Seminyak beach, the place seems large enough to be a resort, with lounge chairs on the grass, covered dining areas framing a large pool, and a lounge with long benches and pillowed seats (be prepared to get chummy with your neighbours, who are probably rock stars from, say, Glasgow). For prime sunset-watching, try to score seating on little wooden-type stools that offer a rustic beachy feel. Chill-groove beats abound and the people watching is stellar: you’ll encounter everyone from Aussie trust fund kids to Japanese tourists, surfers and even sheiks and trophy wives. See if you can tear yourself away from the view and the scene to hit the washroom – an experience all its own. (And a great place to cool off, too.) Oh, and don’t forget to look as bored and jaded as possible.

2. The Living Room – Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Great upscale dining, walkable from KU DE TA. It’s the epitome of how Bali can really dress a place to an exorbitant scale with massive floor-to-ceiling white curtains, chandeliers, white lights, and red velvet settees. True to its name, it did kind of feel like you were in someone’s living room – if that someone happened to be Henry VIII. After an excellent dinner, we headed to the bar to party it up until the wee hours with a couple of Aussie girls we had met at KU DE TA. I swear, if the Balinese weren’t so polite, they would have kicked us out hours earlier.

3. Kinta Mexican Bistro – Cozumel, Mexico
This is an off-the-beaten-track gem of a place on an island that otherwise caters to cruise shippers on day trip mini-benders. You’ll be charmed as soon as you step through the front door and into the funky interior, with its low-lighting and chic art, dazzling bar, and inventive menu (strawberry starfruit martini anyone?). Step along the lit walkway through the garden patio with its hushed privacy amidst mini-palms, where we dined the first (and second) time we graced this little eatery. It’s no Señor Frog’s, and that’s the whole point.

4. Balcony Bar & Restaurant – Byron Bay, Australia
This restaurant’s tagline is, “Be seen on it, not from it.” Step onto a red-carpeted winding staircase and make your way up and through a curtain to the main dining area. Fortunately, that’s where the cheese-factor ends. You are then transported into a wicker-abundant, beachy-type scene. If you’re fortunate to sit outside, prepare to drink in one of the highest views of funky downtown seaside Byron Bay (which, BTW, is reminiscent of BC’s Saltspring Island. Except on more acid). It was here that we feasted on the most unforgettable Moroccan chicken wings while listening to three drunk Aussie girls complain about their dating woes.

5. Chandi – Seminyak, Bali
Located on the main strip in fashionable and gastronomically-diverse Seminyak, this restaurant quickly became one of our regular haunts, with its heavenly combo of Indonesian and Australian cuisine. We initially stumbled upon it while looking for a place to take refuge from shopping in the interminable heat (which, to say the least, doesn’t make Cam a very happy camper). Chandi exudes calm and cool, which instantly put us at ease (that and the fact we weren’t shopping anymore). We settled in lounge chairs surrounded by glass walls, overlooking the street where we could gaze at the poor saps still shopping. Must-tries: watermelon gazpacho soup, crab dumplings and Balinese crispy duck.

6. “Ghost Restaurant” – Sayulita, Mexico
Since this place actually deserves its own blog post, I’ll just give you a snippet of our experience. We were wandering around looking for a break from chile relleno and taco chips when this tiny Italian reso popped up out of nowhere. Desperately needing something to mask my acute back pain (namely red wine), we decided to give it a shot, and it turned into one of the best evenings in Sayulita (what back pain?). However, despite returning there several times, this enigma of an eatery remained closed for the remainder of our trip. We pressed our noses to the windows several nights and saw only upturned napkins and abandoned wine glasses that never moved or got washed. Eventually we concluded our night there obviously never happened at all, but that it would have been a great time, and we were glad we didn’t experience it together. As you can tell, the place messed with our minds.

7. Restaurant Perraudin – Paris, France
Steeped in old-world charm, this French reso in Paris’ Latin Quarter will make you feel like you just stepped into Madame’s own kitchen. It’s quaint and cozy, with red-and-white checked tablecloths, and popular with both students and professors (needless to say, we stood out a little). It’s so homey that the menu is written on the mirror with a white wax pencil. Naturally it’s all in French, so while there, we furtively cracked open our language book to translate, all the while keenly aware of the patrons squeezed in at both sides of our elbows. Boudin noir sounded intriguing until I realized it was blood sausage. After much deliberation, we eventually dug into a rich lunch of beef bourguignon, potatoes gratin, and a hefty bordeaux. We topped off that feast with creme brûlée. I basically didn’t need to eat for 10 hours after that meal. (And I think when I did, it was back to this place.)

8. Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar – Melbourne, Australia
Hands-down, Melbourne has some of the best eateries in all of Australia. Mind you, I haven’t been to every inch of the place, but this city sure hits the mark when it comes to cuisine variety, affordability, and quality. What I love about Oz is the abundance of wine bars – and Melbourne does not fall short of these. Enter Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar. I think we tasted pretty much everything on the bar menu, and not because we were flush at the time (far from it), but because the proprietor kept bringing us samples to try (at no charge – how great is that?). Specialty wines, dessert wines, honey wines … oh the honey wines. After a solid while of debauchery, we figured it would be a good idea to actually eat something, and so appeared the tiniest chicken (it was actually a quail) on a plate before us. The poor thing looked so comical, so, well… dead that I had a hard time lifting even a waif-like morsel to my mouth. More honey wine?

9. Unidentified Grotto Restaurant – Saint-Émilion, France
Due to a long time lapse, I can’t recall the name of this particular establishment, but it’s either Le Tertre or La Cote Braisee. In any case, picture a dark, stormy night in a tiny medieval village in the heart of France’s wine country. A torrent of rain, heels slick against the cobblestones running for shelter into an underground wine cellar carved out of solid rock. Once inside, this grotto was strangely welcoming with its candlelight and out-of-this-world smells. And so ensued a storm-filled evening complete with what it seemed like endless amounts of foie gras: on toasts, in salads, stuffed in roast duck (thankfully not in my tarte). Then there was the odd choice of Celine Dion on the stereo. One or two songs, I can deal with. But a whole album? Let’s just say by the time it started round three, we were gone. (If you had a similar experience, please let me know what the restaurant was actually called.)

10. Cafe Batu Jimbar – Sanur, Bali
This is one of my best-loved restaurants in Bali. Located on Sanur’s main drag, this friendly establishment is within walking distance from the lovely beachfront Tandjung Sari hotel and boasts Indonesian and Australian specialties. Although there is seating in the more casual cafe inside, the real treat (sans air conditioning) is the outdoor patio, a great spot for people watching amidst white fairy light-bedecked palm trees. Live music accompanies the scene, from classic jazz numbers to salsa to rock & roll. There’s also a store next door featuring specialty foods, wine, even greeting cards. The best part is you can buy a bottle of wine here and have it uncorked at the restaurant, only paying a corkage fee instead of restaurant bottle prices. Try the gourmet ice cream.

11. Brasserie L’école – Victoria, BC, Canada
Located in (gasp, yes!) my actual hometown, this classic French restaurant remains one of my favourites anywhere. It doesn’t take reservations (bless them, they don’t want to be the type of place that’s booked solid for 3 months), so it’s best to show up early, put your name on the waiting list and then head to one of the many other selections across town for a drink (try the bar at Fiamo). Chances are you will get a table within the next hour or so, and it’s so worth the wait. Once there, cozy up and sink your teeth into the endive salad with bacon, apple, hazelnuts and mustard wine dressing. Pair it with the Albacore tuna. Or sirloin steak with Roquefort butter and frites – ask for the “fancy” version – fries cooked in truffle oil. (I knew someone who once just ordered a side of the fancy frites to go, and then ate the whole lot of them before she got home. It’s that good.)

12. And, of course, Le Resto Ming – Sanur, Bali

– S

PS. This is just a smattering of memorable global dining experiences (it was extremely hard to narrow it down). So keep an eye out for a part two of this series.

Categories: Australia, Bali, Beach, Dining, Europe, France, Mexico, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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