Une Journée à Paris (A Day in Paris)

When we embarked on our London adventure, I told the husband that my one traveling priority was to take a weekend trip to Paris.  Only a 2.5 hour ride on the Eurostar , it’s an easy trip from London.  Fast forward a month, and we both fell so in love with our  pub-hopping, show-catching, and Sunday-roast-eating weekend ritual in London that we significantly pared down our travel plans.  The husband kind of hated Paris when he visited with a friend after college, so it fell from being a priority, to being off our weekend travel list altogether.

Though I’d visited Paris in high school on a trip with my mom, I still wanted to go again while living so close.  Enter cheap, middle of the week train specials.  Tickets on the Eurostar can be expensive, sometimes even more than an airline ticket to the same destination.  However, if you’re on vacation, or have flexible travel plans, you can get really cheap tickets during the middle of the week.  I grabbed a winter weekday special, and for £59, secured a round trip ticket to Paris from London’s St. Pancras train station.  I considered staying the night, but the idea of taking a trip to Paris just for the day was, for some reason, very appealing, not to mention cheaper, so a day trip it was.

I headed out on the earliest train of the day and was in Paris before 10am.  Using the Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Paris, I planned my day on the train (amidst some napping).  Having been to Paris before, and knowing that I was traveling alone, I had a general idea of where I wanted to go before hopping on the train, but no formal plans.  After waiting in line to get a ticket on the metro for a really long time, I was on my way to my first destination, the Sacre Coeur.

IMG_6029

The Eurostar just after arriving in Paris

Like London, many of the most famous sites in London are free, which is a welcome treat for an American like me, who is used to paying to enter every place I visit.  The Sacre Coeur is located on the summit of the butte Montmartre, the tallest point in the city, and offers some of the best views of the city.  It’s a fair number of steps to get up to the top and it’s not for the faint-hearted, or for those who don’t want to be approached by people selling things.

IMG_6044

Avoiding the hecklers

I took the steps up on the right side of the church and avoided the heckling from vendors selling items that one neither needs nor should want.  There is supposedly a funicular for those with limited mobility, but I can’t say that I saw it.  After a quick tour of the inside, I headed to the front steps to sit and enjoy the views, both of the city and the basilica itself.  The stones used to construct the basilica are made of stones from Château-Landon, and when it rains, the stones react with the water and secrete calcite, which acts to bleach the stones.  This leaves the church a beautiful white color, providing beautiful contrast against the (hopefully) blue skies behind it.  Otherwise, I’m pretty sure it would be black, since I found Paris to be number one on the list of most polluted cities I’ve visited list (no, I’ve never been to LA).

IMG_6034

View over Paris from the Sacre Coeur

The next stop on my whirlwind tour of the city was the Champs-Élysées, more specifically, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, set on the Western end of the famous street.  The arch honors those who died during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.  I can’t say that this is my favorite site in Paris, and is probably one that I would skip next time.

IMG_6046

I risked my life by standing in the middle of the street for a crappy photo!

Up next was Paris’s most iconic site, the Tour Eiffel.  I approached it from an odd angle, and I have to admit that, when I saw it for the second time in my life, my reaction was, “oh, that’s it?’  It could have been the 80’s style building in the foreground, or the fact that all the clouds seemed to roll in at that moment, but I can’t say that I was super impressed by its beauty (I know, who am I?).  Given that I’m afraid of heights, and that the husband, who makes me suck it up when we travel together, was back in London working, I skipped the visit to the top.  Plus, it was pretty freezing at ground level, , so I could only image how cold it would be at the top.

IMG_6055

No caption needed

I next headed into the heart of the tourist-y area of the city to the Notre Dame Cathedral.  After wandering the streets for a bit, soaking in the local culture, and looking for a vibrant side street I’d loved on my first trip, but not finding it, I went into the cathedral for a quick tour.

IMG_6089

In my opinion, the prettiest view of the Notre Dame Cathedral

IMG_6098

No, I did not add a lock to the bridge

After more walking through the city streets, enjoying the smells of the food from the street vendors, and marveling at all of the macaroons and their flavors, I headed over to the Louvre, just to take a look (it’s closed Tuesdays, the day I visited).

IMG_6113

Not pictured: freezing cold and strong wind gusts

Finally, I headed over to my most-anticipated, longest, and final stop of the day, the Musée D’Orsay.  The museum is located in an old train station (the former Gare D’Orsay, hence the name).  The building itself is beautiful.  While definitely not free, it’s still worth a visit.  It’s most famous for its impressionist gallery, and if you like Monet, Manet, Renoir, or basically any impressionist artist, it’s a must-see.

IMG_6123

See what I mean, isn’t it gorgeous?!?

I attempted to take an introductory tour, but in the end, the cashier refused to sell me a ticket.  She said that there were no more English tours for the day (despite one of the guides, as well as multiple signs telling me that there was, in fact, an English tour starting at 2pm).  There are a number of dining options in the museum, and I opted for the cafe on the top floor with beautiful windows for lunch.  There’s also a small cafeteria on the main floor and a nicer dining room a few floors up.  I spent about 3 hours in the museum and don’t think I even got through half of it before it was time to head back to the Gare du Nord and home to London.

IMG_6124

Beautiful clock in the Musée D’Orsay

All in all, I have to say that I was a little disappointed on my second trip to Paris.  I remembered loving the city when visiting with my mom, and didn’t have the same reaction this time around.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great city, it’s just not my favorite among those I have visited in Europe.  I reflected a lot on why I loved it the first time, but not the second, and these are a few of the reasons I’ve come up with.

1. It’s a little rougher around the edges than other European cities (read: dirty).  It reminded me a lot of Montreal in this aspect, but, compared to London and other cities in Europe, it just wasn’t as clean.  Everyone seemed to smoke, too, and I got more than a little sick of walking through those puffs of smoke when passing someone on the street. When I first visited Paris I hadn’t traveled nearly as much, but now that I have, there are lots of places that I like better.

2. I just didn’t love the famous sites like I did the first time.  Maybe it was that I visited in January (I first visited Paris in sunny, warm July).  It might also have a little to do with the fact that I’m now much more well-traveled than I was the first time around, so what was beautiful to me then just wasn’t as cool in comparison to other places I’ve been now.  Given my love of the city the first time around, it’s also likely that I had too high of expectations due to my, likely romanticized, memories from my trip with my mom.

3. I was alone.  Paris is one of those cities that I think is best visited with someone else.  Much of the culture revolves around food, and I just don’t enjoy dining alone in a new place as much as I do with someone else.

IMG_6088

Taking selfies is the worst!

4. I was only there for a day.  It’s hard to really soak up the culture of a place when you are only there for a few short hours.

5. I couldn’t find the place where my favorite memories of Paris happened the first time around.  My favorite part of my visit with my mom all those years ago was when we stumbled upon a vibrant district full of cafés and locals selling local goods.  Fifteen years later, I had no idea where said area of the city was located.  The January streets were neither as full nor as vibrant as I remembered, leaving it feeling cold and impersonal.

6. The metro is gross.  I encountered more broken ticket machines than functioning ones, and more than once had to go far out of my way when the exits were broken and would only accept Paris metro cards, not tickets.  It’s harder to navigate, dirtier, and not as efficient as the underground in London in my opinion.

IMG_6049

See what I mean?

7. I happened to encounter the people who give Parisians the stereotype of being rude during my second, but not first, visit.  After my first visit, I thought people were crazy when people said that Parisians weren’t nice.  This time, I understood what they meant that Parisians are rude.  From the people who refused to speak to me in French even when I tried, to the lady who told me that there wasn’t an English tour at the museum when all signs (and the person giving the tour) pointed to the fact that there was, to the man who yelled at me in French for photographing a random building, to the people running into me on the streets, I finally understood where the stereotype comes from.  I’m not so naive to think that this means that all Parisians are rude, but I can confidently say that 80% of those that I encountered during my day trip were, in fact, rude.  If only I had known that the worker who told me that he loved me as I got off the train in Paris would be the nicest anyone would be all day, I might have appreciated it more.

IMG_6102

The photo I was yelled at for taking

If you’ve never been to Paris, I would still recommend going, just set your expectations accordingly.  I set mine too high, and was in turn, disappointed.  I really should have listened to the husband and set my expectations low—it doesn’t leave room for disappointment.

Thoughts on Traveling Solo

Prior to being in London, I hadn’t done much any solo traveling.  I’d taken the odd international flight alone to meet the husband for vacation, but the solo part ended at the airport; we had always done the traveling part together.  With the husband working long hours and me not working, waiting for him to be around to explore just wasn’t feasible.  Luckily, I’ve always been someone who needed my alone time, so I was excited about the prospect of exploring places on my own.

IMG_6413

Selfie after my tour of the UK Parliament

Having done the majority of my travel and exploring on my own over the past few months, I’d say I have a love/hate relationship with solo travel.  Given the option of staying home or traveling solo, I would choose traveling solo 100% of the time.  I have to admit, however, that if given the option to have a traveling partner or travel alone, I’d choose a partner every time, especially if that partner is the husband.  That being said, these are the good and bad parts of solo travel as I see it, and a few tips to make your time more enjoyable.

The Good:

1. The first, and most obvious benefit of traveling solo is that your itinerary is your own.  You can plan things to the minute, or go without a single plan, and no one cares.  Your day is yours and yours alone, allowing you to maximize seeing and doing the things that you want to do in the littlest amount of time possible.  I’ve found that I can see a lot of sites in a little time when it’s just me.  There’s no discussion, I just go!

2. You learn a lot about yourself when you are the only one you have to rely on.  It’s both an educational and eye opening experience.  You really figure out what you like and dislike when you are the one deciding what to do and when.

3. You can make plans and scrap them at the last minute and no one cares.  I love to just walk around a city and pop into any store that looks interesting from the street.  This drives the husband, who likes to keep on schedule, and doesn’t like aimlessly wandering around, a little crazy.  To keep us both happy, I did a LOT of wandering streets while alone, saving the plans for while we were together.

4. Navigating a city on your own, while daunting, is super satisfying when it goes well.  The sense of accomplishment I feel from finding my way through an unknown place alone is much greater than that I feel when navigating with others around to help.  That sense of accomplishment increases exponentially when traveling solo in a place where I don’t speak or read more than a few words of the language (Germany, I’m referring to you).

5. When you get lost, there is no one to blame but you.  The husband and I get along famously while traveling, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that we get frustrated with one another when lost.  When you are traveling alone, you can walk in circles for hours if you are too stubborn to ask for directions and no one will say a word.

6. You can stop to take photos whenever you want.  I’m sure you’ve all been in the situation when, while traveling in a group, you have to stop every (what seems like) 30 seconds to take a picture.  I’ve been both the annoyed person waiting for the photos to stop and the annoying person taking the photos.  The husband always gets irritated at how many photos I like to take, so I take as many as I want while traveling alone.

IMG_6042

At the Sacre Coeur in Paris

The Bad

1. The biggest thing that you miss out on when traveling solo (other than the obvious company )is the food.  Sure, you can totally go sit at a restaurant alone and order a delicious meal.  What you can’t do is order a bunch of different things to taste and share, which is my favorite way to eat, especially when traveling.  There are usually so many things I want to try when visiting a new destination, and being limited to ordering just one thing when traveling solo is a bit of a bummer.  I guess I could theoretically order a few things and not eat everything, but that is both expensive and wasteful, so I tend not to do that.

2. Another food related observation, I also miss the cultural part of dining when traveling solo.  I prefer to do many things alone (shopping being a huge one of them), but eating isn’t one of them.  Culturally, eating is a social experience, and doing it alone is just not the same for me.  I find that food always tastes better with good company and conversation, which is harder to find when traveling solo. I usually grab quick bites and head back out to explore when traveling alone.  This is the exact opposite of what happens when the husband and I travel–we sit and enjoy a meal and drinks, soaking up the food and culture alike.

3. Some things just aren’t as fun when you are alone.  I went to the musical Made in Dagenham by myself in London’s West End and absolutely loved the show.  I did notice myself feeling envious of those around me, however, as they shared the laughs with friends and family.  There was no one to ask when I didn’t catch what they said during the show, and no one to laugh with while they spent an entire scene making fun of the stereotypical American.  I’m still irrationally certain that I was the only American in the theater that day.

4. Taking pictures.  Yes, I also mentioned this in the good parts of traveling solo, but I think it has its place on both lists.  While I love having the freedom to take photos whenever I want, I also hate that I have no one to take photos with.  I’m not a huge fan of taking selfies, but also get bored looking at photos of buildings without people in them, so find it important to appear in pictures from time to time.  This usually ended in me feeling super awkward but taking a selfie anyway.

IMG_5747

Canterbury Cathedral as seen after my guided tour

Tips for successful solo travel:

1. Pick things that you don’t need a partner in crime to do.  If you’re choosing between a museum and an amusement park, pick the museum.

2.  Keeping #1 in mind, don’t avoid doing something you really want to do just because you have to do it alone.  I make a list of my must-do or must-see items in a particular destination and make sure to do/see those.  If I have extra time, I look through the other activities and choose one that I wouldn’t mind doing alone.

3. Take a tour.  No, it’s not likely that you are going to meet a fellow solo traveler on the train, totally hit it off, and travel with them the whole time rather than travel alone.  It can be hard to meet people while traveling, especially if it’s a short trip.  Taking a tour is a great way for some fellow-human interaction, and also a way to meet people, if that’s your goal.

4. Be safe and plan your travel accordingly.  As a not-very-strong woman, I always keep safety in mind when traveling solo.  While being home before dark isn’t feasible in the winter in England (the sun sets at about 4:30pm), being smart is.  I make sure to stay in a well populated area after dark, saving the more off-the-beaten-path areas for daytime. Make sure that you research hotels ahead of time and book ones in a safe area of a city.  Spending a little extra for safety is worth it when traveling alone.

5. Try not to look like a tourist.  Going along with the safety thing, I try my best not to look like a tourist.  I take photos of the relevant pages in my guidebook on my phone and use the photos as a reference rather than the actual guidebook.  It also saves me from lugging around a guidebook all day.  I also use google maps rather than a physical map.  Everyone looks at their phones, only tourists carry guidebooks and maps.  I also don’t tell people I’m traveling alone—you never know who is just trying to be nice and who is the next Robert Durst.

6. Make sure to let someone know where you are going, you know, just in case.  Register your trip with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) with the US State Department if you’re from the US, or similar program if you aren’t.  I register all of my trips with STEP.  You input all of your travel information and contact information to the state department website, indicating where you will be and when.  This allows you to receive safety updates from the US embassy in the place you are traveling.  I’ve gotten information on protests in Turkey, unrest in Israel, and demonstrations that may have affected travel in Peru, to name a few.  It also helps the US Embassy to contact you in an emergency (whether a natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency).  If something happens, and the government doesn’t know you are in a particular country, they can’t help, but if they do, they can.

7. Eat at the bar in restaurants that have one.  I’ve found that people will sometimes give you looks when eating solo, even if it’s your favorite thing in the world to do.  You will get less looks, and less pressure to eat quickly and head out, if you eat at the bar.  That being said, don’t avoid a restaurant that you really want to visit if you have to sit at a table alone.  Who cares what other people think.

8. Bring a book (or do as I do and read one on a kindle app from your phone).  Sitting on a train for a few hours can be boring alone, but if you have a book to read, time goes by much faster.  I typically read a book on the way to a destination, and write out postcards on my way home

9. Pack light.  You are the one that’s going to be lugging your stuff around all day, or during your whole trip, so keep it light.  It’ll make navigating unknown cities, invariably with lots of cobblestones, if you are in Europe, much easier.

10. Don’t avoid traveling alone because you are scared.  Be smart, safe, and do your homework and you’ll be fine.

IMG_6088

Overall, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences while traveling alone.  It may not be my first choice if given the option to travel with the husband, but it’s definitely preferable to not traveling at all.  I find that I’m much more present in a particular destination, and more aware of what’s going on around me, when it’s just me.  You really do learn a lot about yourself in the process.  I’m confident that I could navigate any city alone if need be and feel so much more confident in unfamiliar situations now that I’ve done a little solo travel.  It’s something that I think everyone should experience at least a few times in their lifetime.

Seminyak and the Not So Pretty Side of Bali

Seminyak is a very popular tourist destination in Bali, and is known for its high-end boutiques and spas, as well as its restaurants and nightlife.  About a 20 minute drive from our hotel (but only a $10 cab ride), the husband and I decided to check it out for dinner and drinks one evening while in Bali.

IMG_5515

Seats and View of the Indian Ocean from La Plancha Bar

Our first stop was La Plancha, a popular bar on the beach in Seminyak.  The “restaurant” basically consists of a bunch of brightly colored bean bags on the beach with wooden end tables between them.  It’s a really beautiful, comfy way to relax and enjoy some drinks, not to mention really good people watching.

IMG_5516

The hubs enjoying a cocktail

IMG_5519

Enjoying the sunset and the company

After enjoying the sunset and a cocktail, we headed down the beach to our dinner spot.  As we walked, we ran into a number of stray dogs.  All were mangy looking, many of them were also aggressive, scaring even me, a huge animal lover (my dog has more medical specialists than I care to admit).  The dogs are a huge issue in Bali; the government estimates that there are 500,000 of them and 4,000 people are bitten each month.  I’m glad that I didn’t read this NY Times article about the fate of the stray dogs until after we left Bali, or I probably would have tried to adopt them all.  It shows an uglier side to the island, from which the government tries very hard to shelter its tourists.

IMG_5517

Selfie attempt

IMG_5511


As we walked along the beach, another of the not-so-pretty aspects of the island became apparent.  It was just after dusk as we headed down the beach, so the lighting was poor to say the least.  I considered taking off my shoes to enjoy the sand in my toes, but quickly realized that doing so was not a good idea.  I kept seeing things in the sand, but couldn’t really tell what they were, so I pulled out my cellphone for a closer look, quickly realizing that the beach was covered in trash, most of it plastic.  I did a little research and learned that this is a yearly phenomenon that happens during the wet season in Bali.  The locals even refer to it as “trash season.”  It was a huge reminder of the environmental impact that we have both at home and while traveling.  Most of the trash comes not from the locals, but the tourists that flood the island to enjoy its beaches and other natural wonders.  Over 3 million people visit the tiny island of Bali each year and the infrastructure is not able to deal with the growing number of tourists that visit. Much of the trash is illegally dumped, and when strong winds come in from the North during the wet season, the trash resurfaces on the very beaches that the tourists flock to Bali to visit.  I’ve never seen the environmental impact of tourism displayed so obviously before, and it was a wake up call as to how much impact we are having on our environment.  The trash on the beach clearly was not the result of an irresponsible few, but of the millions of people who come to Bali to relax, many forgetting the impact they are having on the local environment.  Responsible tourism is so important.  If we are going to enjoy places like Bali’s beaches, we need to reduce our consumption and help countries like Indonesia develop the infrastructure to ensure that phenomena such as Bali’s “trash season” stop.  We really are trashing our oceans with all the waste we are generating.  Read more here.

balitrash

The beach in Seminyak Covered in Trash (photo courtesy of realbali.com)

Moving on from my we-need-to-stop-wasting-so-much-or-we-will-all-be-swimming-in-trash-soapbox, the husband and I headed from the beach to eat dinner to continue a long tradition that we have while traveling.  We’ve never been fond of fancy dinners, often preferring to visit cheaper, local places instead.  While we always try to embrace the local food and customs, we always keep a bit of home close, in the form of a burger tradition.  It started in Barcelona, Spain, and has continued in every country we’ve visited since; we always try to find the best burger spot in a particular city/country, and Bali was no exception.  One of the restaurants that was recommended to us just happened to be a burger restaurant, so we obviously had to check it out.


IMG_5524

Outdoor courtyard with cute lights and music

IMG_5525

Wacko Burger Cafe from the courtyard

Set in a totally random, hard to find, but quaint little courtyard, Wacko Burger Cafe was our destination.  We are both pretty traditional when it comes to burgers; we like beef burgers best, and typically keep it light on the toppings (usually just cheese and onions).  Wacko Burger did not disappoint.  The restaurant was super cute and the service was great.  Most importantly, we both really enjoyed the burger, and the fries, which are just as important as the burger, in my opinion.  Neither of us like ketchup, but I am a huge fan of aioli and the husband of hot sauce.  If you go, I would definitely recommend trying their Wacko sauce, it was so good I could drink it.

IMG_5523

Enjoying a Bintang, an Indonesian Beer

IMG_5521

My burger, fries, and the delicious Wacko “special” sauce

IMG_5522

The husband’s burger

After a nice night out it was time to head home to get some rest.  We had our last day in Bali and a long day of traveling back to London ahead of us.  Our first flight was about 9 hours, and went from Bali to Qatar on Qatar Airways (which I would definitely recommend).  It was mostly uneventful until they asked for a doctor on board…twice.  While I highly doubt that I was the only doctor on board, I was the only one to respond to their multiple requests for assistance, and ended up spending a good portion of my time helping two (thankfully pediatric) patients who weren’t feeling so well.  I’m fairly certain that the airline staff thought I was too young to be a doctor as they requested my medical license information before helping the patients (which I obviously didn’t bring with me) so I ended up giving them my NPI number, the only one that I could find after searching through files on my computer for 30 minutes.

Luckily the next flight from Qatar to London was much less eventful, which was good, as I realized during our layover that what I thought were sore muscles from being crammed into a small seat for 9 hours were actually myalgias from an oncoming illness.  We arrived home safely, and I spent the next 5 days (including my birthday) in bed in London with a high fever, dizziness, and muscle aches, all of which I’m pretty sure was from the flu.  Spending 2.5 weeks straight with the husband was amazing, and it was painful to have him back to work in London, my sickness adding insult to injury.  Luckily I was better relatively quickly and able to continue exploring my favorite city in the world…London.

Rice Terraces, Temples, Black Sand Beaches, and Awkward Encounters

The goal of our trip to Bali was mostly to relax and soak up some sun before heading back to rainy (but still lovely) London.  While we wanted to relax, we also wanted to learn a little more about the island and see a few of the sights for which Bali is famous.

We don’t do the big-tour-bus, hoards of people, cruise ship type thing, so we were very grateful to have discovered the site Tours By Locals a few years ago during our trip to Machu Picchu (Edwin was amazing).  We’ve used it in Peru, Israel, Croatia, and Bali, and it’s always been great, though I can’t say the same about our guide in Bali. He was the worst we’ve had by far, and I can’t say I would recommend him.  He went to school to be a tour guide, and his bio said that he had given tours to a Nobel Prize winner and other important people, so we expected him to be amazing.  His bio also said that he spoke fluent English, but he didn’t understand everything that we were saying, nor did I always understand him.

IMG_5505

Exploring with my favorite person

This is the inner nerd in me, but I love to learn the history of a place when I’m traveling.  We are so isolated in the US, and I hate how little we learn about the history of the rest of the world.  I learn so much from traveling and having my own memories to help tie together important events in a country’s (or the world’s) history.  I was really disappointed in how little we learned from him about the history of Bali.  As a Hindu island in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, I can only imagine that their history is an interesting one.

IMG_5479

A temple in a local house that we visited

The guide and his driver picked us up from our hotel early in the morning and we set out to tour the island.   Our first stop on the tour was a woodcarving workshop.  As we drove through the small towns, it became apparent that each one has a particular material that they specialize in using.  The shops of each village were all filled with items made from the same material, such as silver.  We could tell when we entered a new town because the store fronts, and the goods spilling into the sidewalks and streets, changed.  One minute, the streets were lined with wooden furniture, a few minutes later, they were lined with stone sculptures, and a few minutes later still, with items made of glass.

IMG_5483

The woodcarvers in action

It struck me as odd, at first, given that our modern business sense tells us that we should sell items in an area that isn’t already saturated with people selling the same thing, but in the context of the Balinese culture, it makes sense.  Balinese families tend to congregate in a particular area, and have a trade that they pass onto their children.  As a result, the wood carvers all live and work in the same village, as do the stone carvers.  People know which village they need to go to in order to get a particular item, and they also tend to know who is the most skilled in the area.  I’m still not sure how all of the craftsmen stay in business as it seems that they are all selling the same stone Buddha sculptures (or any other item made of the material of choice of a particular town
), but it seems to work for them.

After watching the craftsmen hand-carve sculptures out of a block of wood and then stain them, we headed to our next stop, a Balinese temple.  Bali is known for its Hindu temples, and it seems as though you can’t drive for more than a few minutes without seeing one. We stopped at Pura Tira Empul, a temple known for its purifying waters, where the Balinese people go to cleanse themselves.  For those that are believers, it is said to have healing powers.  The husband and our tour guide thought that we, too, should bathe in the purifying waters.  Modesty is important in a temple, so we were all given sarongs to wear to cover our legs prior to entering.

IMG_5487

The husband looking stylish in his bathing sarong

After changing into our bathing suits in the grossest bathroom I’ve ever seen, and putting on new sarongs especially made for bathing in the waters, it was time to experience the sacred Balinese water.  We entered the temple and removed our shoes out of respect.  We hopped into the water and got in line behind the first fountain to start the process.  The holy water flows from a spring below ground in to a pool above, then it goes through a series of about 14 fountains, and finally flows into the pool in which we were standing.  The Balinese give each fountain an offering, pray, and then put their heads under the water.  Most also drink the water after dunking their heads, but I was fairly certain that we might get typhoid if we did, so we did not. They move, in order, from one fountain to the next, skipping the second to last, as it’s only for dead people (I didn’t even ask if they actually bring dead people there, it was better not to know).  One of the fountains is only for people with bad nightmares, but it seemed that no one skipped that one.  Maybe everyone in Bali has nightmares?  I’m still having nightmares from the dirt and stench in the bathroom where we changed our clothes at the temple (I’m pretty sure that people just peed on the floor).  Maybe our tour guide made the whole nightmare thing up?  Who knows.

img_7535b

Fountains Containing the Healing Waters (Image courtesy of trekearth.com)

I could have done without actually getting in the water, and think I would have enjoyed it a lot more had I not succumbed to the pressure.  I always feel guilty and disrespectful being a tourist in a holy site that is not my holy site, and this was no exception, especially because most of the bathers were Balinese.  It didn’t help that right after jumping in, I happened to notice a needle at the bottom of the pool, and for the rest of the time was paranoid about getting a needle stick in the middle of Bali with no Employee Health department to call for help.

IMG_5494

Waiting for our food

Luckily, after visiting the temple, it was time for lunch, so we hopped back into the car.  After driving for about 5 minutes, we were in the middle of nowhere, and stopped at a restaurant on the side of the road, D’Alas Warung.  It overlooked the rice terraces and served delicious, spicy, Balinese food.  The views were beautiful, making this stop one of my favorites on the tour.  I could sit and look at those terraces all day and would definitely stop there for lunch if you are near Ubud.  They had very clean toilets, too, which were much appreciated after using the grossest toilets I’d ever seen at the temple.

IMG_5496

For a minute, we thought that they forgot the rice

IMG_5497

There it is!  They know how to do rice in Bali

IMG_5495

Enjoying the view (not to mention the company :))

After lunch, we headed to see some of the rice terraces.  I was really hoping to see some of the larger terraces, but instead we stopped at a smaller one just off the main road.  We stopped just long enough for a picture, but not long enough to learn anything about the terraces themselves.  I was disappointed that we didn’t learn more about how they grow and harvest their rice, but just seeing the terraces was beautiful.

IMG_5502

Rice Terraces in Bali

After a quick drive through Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali, we headed to a black sand beach to relax for a bit.  Our tour was supposed to include a walk through Ubud and a visit to the market, but we ran out of time.  (We did, however, find the time for a very awkward drop into a spa—more on that later).  It was my first visit to a black sand beach, and it did not disappoint.  Many Australians visit Bali to surf, and this beach was clearly a popular one.  We sat on bean bags (a popular form of beach seating in Bali) and watched the surfers for about an hour.

IMG_5504

Mike and our guide

This was by far the best part of the day.  The beach was hidden in a totally random spot, was super clean, and I could have lounged at the bar and had cocktails (or cokes) all day, watching the surfers crash into the waves.  Our pasty skin sure could have used the sunshine and vitamin D from lounging on the beach all day!

IMG_5507

The bar included a pool for swimming

IMG_5508

 Relaxing after a fun day exploring Bali

 After a nice, relaxing time at the beach, we headed back to our hotel.  Our guide offered to show us a really nice spa that was on the way home to our hotel.  We obliged, not knowing what we were getting ourselves into.  It turns out that the spa that we stopped at, while it looked nice, had horrible reviews on trip advisor.  It seems that all of their business comes from tour guides bringing their (captive) tourists there and try to force them to book services on the spot—the tourists get a “discount” and the tour guides get a kickback from bringing in the business.  Our guide was (very) uncomfortably pushy, trying to get us to book a service on the spot, and trying to stall us from leaving so that we would book a service.  It was more than a little uncomfortable.  Thankfully, the husband is much better at being direct than I am, and he held his ground, making up some story about us having plans for the other days.  Despite our guide leaving much to be desired, the people of Bali are among the kindest I’ve encountered while traveling, and we loved our day of exploring on the island.

Bali: Homemade Alcohol, Massages, and Flowers in our Hair

Since we got 3-4 inches of snow today in Columbus and I’m seriously missing London at the moment, I thought that continuing to talk about warmer, more tropical destinations would be appropriate.  After Perth, the husband and I hopped on a flight and, in about three hours, were in Bali.  Bali is a predominantly Hindu island, while the archipelago of Indonesia  has the largest Muslim population in the world (12.7% of all Muslims).  Only 1.7% of Indonesians are Hindu, but 83.5% of the Balinese practice Hinduism.  I knew nothing about the Balinese culture before landing in Bali and was excited to learn more.  We were very thankful that our AirAsia flight landed safely and were ready for some relaxation.

IMG_5462

Our View for the Week

The husband and I seem to have a propensity for visiting The Bachelor filming locations in the time between the filming of the episode in the location and its airing on tv.  We stayed in the same hotel room as Ben Flajnik at The W Hotel in Vieques, Puerto Rico (you know, the one where he and Courtney Robertson spent some “alone time”).  We were so glad that we didn’t know that they had been there just weeks before while we were staying there (gross !!).  This time  we just stayed in the same area of Bali that Chris and his women visited, not in the same room, thankfully!

IMG_5464

Nusa Dua Beach at Our Hotel, Also Where The Bachelor Was Filmed

We stayed in Nusa Dua, at The Laguna Resort.  The husband has a lot of Starwood points from all the traveling that he does for work, so we used those to “pay” for the hotel (aka to stay for free).  We were choosing between the nearby Westin and The Laguna, as we could use points for either one.  While The Westin was brand new, it was also teeming with children, and we were glad with our choice of the more adult friendly Laguna.  Breakfast was buffet-style and included a European breakfast, an Indonesian breakfast, an American breakfast, sushi, chicken, you name it, it was there and it was delicious.  We tried all kinds of new fruits each morning.  The only fruit I can remember at the moment was the jackfruit, but I assure you, there were more fruits available that I didn’t know than ones that I knew.  The hotel gets its name from the lagunas that snake around the resort; some of the rooms even have direct access to them lagunas from their rooms.  There is also typical chlorine-filled pool right next to the beach.  The beach is clean and the surf is calm, making for a perfect place to sit in the sun and read a good book, which is just what we did.

IMG_5468

Freshwater Pool at The Laguna

Nusa Dua is a resort-filled area of the island.  It does not give a vibe of the “real Bali” but is a very nice place to rest and relax.  There is a security checkpoint when you drive into the town and when you get to the hotel itself, despite the fact that the area feels incredibly safe already.  There were horrible bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005 that killed a number of tourists and severely affected the tourism industry in Bali.  Tourism accounts for 80% of Bali’s economy, so making sure that tourists feel safe and still want to visit the island is of huge importance to the Balinese economy.  Luckily, Bali has been able to recover from these attacks and the tourism industry is back in full swing.  We spent about 5 days and 5 nights on the island, using most of them to relax and recharge before heading back to London.

IMG_5466

Part of the Laguna at The Laguna

One of the best parts about Bali is how cheap things are.  The husband and I went to a spa where we got 90 minute couples massages for $45 each, including tips.  The exchange rate at the time that we went was about 12,500 Indonesian Rupiahs per US dollar.  This translates to a giant wad of cash in your pocket that probably amounts to no more than $20 US.  I would definitely not recommend leaving Bali without getting at least one spa treatment or massage.  They have all sorts of traditional Balinese services, but we went for the massage in lieu of things like an aromatic floral bath or scrub.  Do note, however, that they get a little more “personal” with their massages than they do in the US.  It wasn’t so personal that it was creepy, but still, good to know before you go.

IMG_5463

Another Area of the Pools at The Laguna

One of my favorite experiences in Bali was our first dinner out, at a typical Balinese restaurant called Bumbu Bali, which also houses a cooking school.  It is not typical to eat out in the traditional Balinese culture, so it can be difficult to find authentic food that hasn’t been modified for tourists.  This restaurant was started with the idea of opening the traditional Balinese home to tourists so that they can try traditional Balinese food.

The restaurant exemplifies just how nice the Balinese people are in general.  (Seriously, everyone was so nice, I just wanted to hug them).  First, the restaurant picks you up and drops you off at your hotel for free.  When you enter the open-air restaurant, the whole kitchen (which is open and located at the front of the restaurant), shouts hello to welcome you.  I was so surprised, initially, that I thought that something was wrong, or that someone more important than us was arriving behind us.  I quickly realized that they were simply greeting us, and that’s just what they do.  The hostess gave both the husband and I a flower for our hair and then took us to our table where we were given Balinese crackers.

IMG_5471

The Husband with His Flower in His Hair

Spirits in Indonesia are legal but carry 300-400% tax, making it cost prohibitive to drink them.  One way around this for the Balinese is the homemade alcohol, Arak, which can be up to 70% alcohol.  I would highly recommend against trying it unless you know the person who made it, or unless it is at a reputable place, as the alcohol content can be extremely varied depending on the quality of the distillation/production process.  That being said, the husband drank the Arak at Bumbu Bali, which seemed like the safest place on the island to try it, and really enjoyed it.

We started off our meal with an appetizer, Ayam Sambel Matah, which is a shredded chicken with a lemongrass and shallot dressing.  We also had a soup (yes, even in the hot weather), sop ayam.  It is a Balinese soup with chicken, vegetables, rice noodles, and egg.  Both were delicious, but despite not being marked as spicy, both made my mouth feel like it was literally on fire.  It was, by far, the spiciest food I had ever eaten in my life.  I  think that I accidentally ate a piece of pepper in my first bite of Ayam Sambel Matah, though, and there was no getting rid of it for the rest of the meal.  The husband thought I was crazy and that neither dish was even in the least bit spicy.

IMG_5478

Part of our Delicious Spread at Bumbu Bali

Pork is considered a Balinese specialty and is featured in some of their best dishes. For our main meal we shared the Sate Campur (chicken sate) and the Be Celeng Base Manis, better known in English as the pork in sweet soy sauce.  While the satay was good, the pork proved why they say that the Balinese specialty is pork.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Bali is a beautiful island with lovely people and a vibrant, rich culture.  While I’m not sure that I would fly around the world to visit the island a second time, I am certainly glad that we visited and were able to take in the culture.  We did spend some time outside the resort area of the island, learning more about the local people and their customs, which I’ll tell you about next time!