The German felsenmeer – it’s rock climbing but not as you know it..

It was a sunny day so my boyfriend Mario suggested we go climbing on rocks…
I thought he was getting confused with his English (being German) so I said “Don’t you mean rock climbing?”
It turned out that he actually meant what he said. We spent a bright morning climbing and scrambling over rocks at a felsenmeer, in the town of Reichenbach, which is something of a geological wonder.

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I mean look at all of those rocks! Where did they come from?

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Without going into a full blown geology lesson I can tell you that no one put them there and that their existence is the result of a type of weathering that happens when water gets into rock and turns into ice, thus expanding and breaking up the rock. Some people however will tell you that two giants had a fight and started chucking boulders at each other and kept on going until they created the “sea of rocks”, which is what felsenmeer actually means in German.

If you live in the southern hemisphere and you are going to travel to the north going to hang out at a felsenmeer is something you should try because these rock formations only exist in the northern part of the world and mostly in places like Iceland.

This one has boulders as big as trucks to trek over but if you don’t fancy climbing there is a woodland path that trails alongside.

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I would describe this felsenmeer as a play park created by mother nature –¬† pretty cool non?

We decided to climb from the bottom to the top for more of a challenge. Mario hopped from one rock to another without a care in the world. He can get to the top within an hour.

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I, on the other hand, was like a Bambi – all shaky legged and not knowing where to put my feet. It takes me twice as long to conquer the felsenmeer on a good day. I wouldn’t even attempt it if the weather is wet and the rocks are super slippery. Having said that, neither would Mario.

Good thing is there is a snack bar at the bottom and a restaurant at the top! We had no idea about the opening times of them so we took a picnic.

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It turned out to be a pretty awesome day and cheap too. It was a two hour drive from Frankfurt on the A5 in the direction of Darmstadt and Mannheim. We got off towards Reichenbach. Parking was just two euros and there was no charge to get in. I can’t wait to go back and give it another go ūüôā

My well planned day trip in Gran Canaria was an epic fail! Here’s what happened…

The night before the ‘ill fated trip’ I checked the map of and found a route through the pretty towns of Arucas and Firgas and on to the highlight, which was a picnic in the forest beside the famous natural sight that is Roque Nublo. All of this is the north of the island, which is famous for its gorgeous mountainous terrain.

I woke up early and packed a picnic, warm clothes, yoga mats, blankets, a frisbee and some books. I had everything I thought we could possibly need. We set off in our hire car in good time and I knew my itinerary was going to please the whole family but there was something I didn’t take into consideration – those sheer drops along the mountain roads are certainly not for the faint-hearted and made for some tense moments, bad moods and arguments.

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See look a the map. My idea was to take the highway from Maspalomas along the east side of the island up to Arucas, bypassing the long drive up through the mountains that lie in the middle of the island. The mountain route takes 3 hours but the highway takes about one hour so I thought, lets get to Arucas and then travel down through the mountains. See how lovely Arucas is. Everyone was so happy…

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The beautiful cathedral next to the car park leads onto the historic streets, which are lined with coffee shops and boutiques.

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Oh, and guess what? Arucas has a rum factory that does free tours and tastings. We tried about 10 different rums. The one aged 14 years put that smile on my face. My favourite, and the bottle we bought, was the toffee rum. I am so excited to splash that over some good quality vanilla ice cream. Yeah baby!

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Rum tasting before lunch!? We had little choice because factory is open from 9am to 2pm (click here for more information)

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My thoughts were ‘I’m on to a winner here’ as we walked around with the tour. It was short and sweet, like the rum!

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Lots of Spanish celebrities have been there and have put their mark on the aging barrels. It was so cool to see.

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I hadn’t even tasted the rum yet and I was feeling pretty awesome!

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I did a check. The whole family was happy and ready to move onto Firgas. We only needed a short half hour stay here because the main sight is the Paseo de Gran Canaria. It’s an artistic monument that pays tribute to the different towns of Gran Canaria with plaques lining a water feature.

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Further up are plaques on the ground representing all of the islands that make up the Canaries.

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The next stop was what I was most looking forward to. The drive past Tejeda into the pine forests next to Roque Nublo where we would have our picnic and chill out for the rest of the day. As we drove higher my ears popped and the landscape gradually looked more green. We were so high we could see for miles. I thought it was breathtaking.

We made it to Tejeda…

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Pretty isn’t it? In the distance you can see Roque Nublo. It looks like a finger pointing towards the sky.

The drive to this point is impressive. Narrow mountain roads lined with blossoming almond trees. A treat. True wanderlust but when you look straight down all you can see is cliff edge and a sheer drop into the wilderness…

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The aim was to go higher but the whole family was NOT in agreement. It was too scary so I took the decision to picnic here and then head home afterwards.

You know those moments that are not funny at the time but you laugh at them afterwards? This was one of them. We thought the quickest route back was southwards on the mountain road past the famous Roque. I should have thought we would have to go all the way before going down. OMG, I was clenching my bum cheeks too. The road was super windy and right on the edge of the mountain and it went on for at least an hour. I thank goodness that my boyfriend Mario is a very skilled driver but, if those mountain roads put you or anyone you¬† know in a panic, don’t travel from Tejeda south towards Maspalomas, unless of course you want tears at bedtime!

I got it wrong, you don’t have to be rich to relocate for the winter

Hi guys. It has been a while, but trust me I have been finding out how to make life into the ultimate adventure. Not just once in a while, but everyday. Here’s the latest..

I used to think that popping off long-term to a sunnier place when the winter months became too much was a privilege of the rich but I was wrong, it’s something anyone can do if you are prepared to change your life.

This is my new life.

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I came to Gran Canaria for a month to see if it was really possible to live the dream and be a digital nomad. The temperatures back in Germany were heading towards freezing and having spent the last three years of my life living and working in Thailand, it just felt too cold. So I had to do something about it. It was time to pack up the ‘office’ and change location, but could I really do it on the cheap?

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One thing living in Thailand taught me was that there is a growing number of people working at the beach, by the pool or soaking up the sun in some other wonderful place. It was a discovery that changed me and made me change my life. Who says I have to go to the office, deal with the commute and put up with the humdrum? When I left Thailand I came back to Europe knowing whatever my next career move was going to be, it was going to be online. For me, teaching English online and writing was an obvious choice.

When winter came all I knew was I needed some sunshine and some heat so I Googled the cheapest hottest place in Europe and Gran Canaria was my answer. Flights were 100 GBP so all I had to do was find a base. I used ihacom.co.uk to book an apartment, near to the famous sand dunes of Maspalomas, direct with the owner. My mother, stepfather and boyfriend all wanted to go so we paid 300GBP a head for the apartment for five weeks.

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I wanted to be able to work with good internet connection and then go for a stroll on the beach or swim. Mum needed conveniences and my boyfriend Mario wanted to find some good surfing spots so we ended up in the tourist area. It is easy to rent a car for about 150GBP for the week. When you take into account taxi and bus prices this is the most cost effective option for a group of people.

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Internet connection in apartments are notoriously slow because they are often shared among a lot of flats so I had to invest in renting a mobile wifi modem. I used a company called Traveler Canaries Smart, who delivered the fast wifi connection to me at the airport. A representative was waiting for me as soon as I got off the plane. He signed me in and I was connected. It cost 100 euros for the biggest package.

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So here I am, working and exploring the island. It has amazing mountains and these stunning sand dunes. It doesn’t have the glamour of a tropical country but it has what I need within my budget. Let’s see how the next few weeks turn out…

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Travel to Tuscany and discover the anti-ageing benefits of red grapes and bathe in wine

Happy New Year adventurers. Sorry I haven’t posted over Christmas and New Year, it has been so hectic with hosting my boyfriend Mario’s family in Germany on Christmas Eve and then flying off to the UK the next day to visit my family on Christmas Day. Phew! After that I needed time out.

AND I have been busy with some magazine projects, one of which is out now!

As you may know Mario and I travelled around Tuscany in a mobile home for three weeks in summer and one of our many adventures was visiting The Adler Thermae in Bagno Vignony spa town and UNESCO World Heritage Site to.. (get this)… bathe in wine.

I had no idea what to expect.

Would the wine smell linger in my hair for days? Will it stain my skin? Can I drink the bath water?…Even if no one’s looking?

The answers to those questions are no, no and no but I did discover the anti-ageing benefits of the red grape seeds that make the region’s famous Brunello wine.

You can read all about it in the latest edition of The Riverside Journals luxury lifestyle magazine in London. Click here to read (and ignore the content warning. It is a technical hitch).

8 of the kindest ways to experience elephants in Asia

Riding an elephant was one of the biggest regrets I have from my travels. I was new to the whole thing and wanted to experience elephants in Thailand so I booked a cheap tour that included an elephant ride. BIG MISTAKE.

The worst point was when I was sitting on a chair atop an elephant that was bleeding from the head because the handler kept on poking it violently with a metal stick. The elephant and I were in the middle of a muddy stream and I had to decide whether to protest and get off or shut up and deal with it. I chose the latter because I didn’t know where ¬†I was or how to get off. It was a sorry sight. I was a bit tearful because the elephant was being abused right in front of me and it was all my fault. I just wanted it to be over.

This was my first and last experience of elephants getting a rough deal as a side effect of tourism in their countries. I later learnt that they are often drugged, beaten and put through horrible ordeals in order for tourists to enjoy a ride. Their spirits must be broken to bring on submission. There is a name for this process. It is called ‘phajaan’. Rather than me explaining in words I found this video on YouTube for you to see for yourself.

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There are so many other better ways to enjoy these majestic animals while travelling Southeast Asia. Organisations that protect elephants let tourists visit and help care for the elephants and an increasing number of elephant camps are transverting to this conservational style of tourism. Yes you will have to spend a bit more money but that is the cost of keeping them happy. Scroll over the project names in this article to find links for booking and more information. Enjoy!

  1. This is more like it. Rather than ride an elephant people are opting for washing them and caring for them at sancturies, such as The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.

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2. You can volunteer as a conservationist with Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. This is more like being a scientist. You get to work with scientists and local people to help collect information, care for elephants and find solutions to help elephants and local people to live together without conflict.

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3.¬†Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage , in Sri Lanka,¬†is one of my favourites. It has the world’s largest population of captive elephants. The experience here is observatory, while relaxing with a snack.

4. You can actually go an see wild elephants roaming around Khao Yai National Park, in Thailand, which is just three and a half hours outside of Bangkok and easily reachable by minivan from Victory Monument Skytrain station.

5. One of the biggest elephant camps in Thailand, Sai Yoke Elephant Camp in Kanchanaburi, has transitioned into a conservation camp. Now called Elephant Haven, tourist trips include feeding, bathing and walking beside elephants.

6. You can emerse yourself in the Gwi culture by volunteering in a remote village in northern Thailand where The Surin Project provides economic sustainability to mahouts (elephant keepers) so that they don’t need to rely on elephant shows and riding.

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7. If you are visiting Chiang Mai pop into the Elephant Parade House where you can buy a painted elephant sculpture or even paint one yourself. There are no live elephants to see but your cash goes to support elephants conservation projects in India and Southeast Asia.

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8. Also see the Elephant Parade Exhibition in Bangkok at Asiatique from December 20, 2015, to January 11, 2016, and at Lumpini Park from Janury 18 to 31, 2016.

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Germany: Heidelberg in pictures (and 5 chic happenings for 2016)

 

I wanted to go somewhere new so we had a look at the map and decided on Heidelberg this week. Why? We didn’t want to drive far and it is just an hour away from Frankfurt ūüėČ

This small city has a lot going for it and has some awesome events throughout the year so check out the pictures of our stroll and read on for my favourite things to do here.

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The old town area just over the bridge is where you’ll find lots of gift shops and places to eat.

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Right now until January there are two Christmas Markets on. There is one at the castle and one in the old town square (Corn Square). There’s also an openair iceskating rink in the same area.

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The star boutique hotel of the area Heidelberg Suites has its own boat for dining events. There are also sightseeing boats available.

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The Carl Theodor Old Bridge goes over the River Neckar and is an iconic sight in this area.

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The view from the bridge is pretty awesome. It’s a romantic place to be…

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Just because Heidelberg Castle is in ruins doesn’t mean nothing goes on here. It has a lot of cool events. Read on to find out more.

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The castle is famous for having the world’s largest wine barrel called the Heidelberg Tun. Let’s go wine tasting!

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So Heidelberg. It’s cute right?

It has¬†a lot going for it for a small city . What’s also great is if you pop into Tourist Information at the Main Station or Town Hall you can get a Heidelberg Card, which gives you discounts at shops, attractions and activities as well as free travel on essential buses, trams and trains.

Here’s a list of my favourite things coming up in Heidelberg next year.

Ball Der Vampire on February 6 is a vampire masked ball in the town hall featuring bands and lots of people looking very scary.

The Castle Illuminations on June 4, July 9 and September 3, 2016 are the perfect time for a picnic along the river because there are impressive fireworks and light shows.

Artort 2016 from July 20 to 24, is one for the diary. The art festival, in its 10th year, will feature light, sound, installations and dance.

Love a bit of openair theatre? What better back drop than the castle! There will be musicals, theatre productions and music concerts at the Castle Festival from June 6 to July 31, 2016.

Heidelberger Herbst from September 24 to 25 is your chance to sample the region’s food and local life. The two-day festival, complete with parade, has craft and flea markets, music and dance.

 

 

 

 

8 amazing sights to see in Gran Canaria this winter

 

When the temperatures dropped and the nights got shorter I thought, ‘I’m out of here, I need some sun!’

I did a little research on the cheapest, sunniest and warmest destination to get to from Europe and that place was Gran Canaria. I managed to book five weeks in a two bed apartment for four adults and get return flights all for just under 400 euros a head.

You might wonder isn’t Gran Canaria just package holiday hell? Nope, check out these gorgeous sights.

  1. This is Bufadero de la Garita. It’s a water vortex in the Telde area next to El Hombre Beach and quite the geological spectre.

2. Believe it or not these are volcanic vineyards. They are actually in the La Geria region of Lanzarote but I have included them because I found return flights from Gran Canaria to Lanzarote for about 83 euros. So a short trip is possible.

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3. These amazing dunes are in Maspalomas and make the area look like a desert. Look hot enough?

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4. Roque Nublo is a famous landmark so it’s an ideal goal to reach when off on a hike.

5. The small village of Tejeda looks so quaint. It is on the highest point of the island and well worth exploring.

6. This quaint little fishing village is in Puerto de Mogan. It has canals linking the marina to the fishing harbour so people call it Little Venice.

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7. These colourful buildings are in the old town of Las Palmas, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

 

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8. What a dog? Isn’t he cute! This pup in fancy dress was part of the annual carnival that takes place in January and February each year.

10 things for a perfect day in Merano

Ever since my first visit last summer, I’ve had a massive crush on Merano. This town in northern Italy has everything I love: stylish boutiques, chic street cafes, thermal baths, a beautiful town theatre and a super elegant promenade where musicians play live music. It has a movie set feel. Men in¬†moustaches chill out with immaculately turned out ladies. I always put a little extra thought into my holiday wardrobe when Merano is in the mix.

So here’s the list.

1o things for a perfect day in Merano.

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  1. Hang out at one of the many cafes and do some people watching. The world here is a catwalk, especially on Passer Promenade.

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2. Listen to some of the best muscians in the world perform on the streets as well in various locations including Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle (below), Merano Theatre and Tyrol Castle.

 

 

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3. Take an Aperol spritz before going for a walk along the Gilf Promenade. This walk is gorgeous. The promenade overlooks the Passirio River, which is very pretty, and there are cute cafes along the way.

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4. Seek out art and gorgeous architechture everywhere. Merano is home to Asfaltart, the International Street Art Festival, which takes place in October 2016.

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5. Go for a walk and discover intresting sights down narrow streets. Merano has a network of walks throughout the city so get a map and explore.

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6. Cycle around town and up past St Nicholas Church to the Roman Bridge. Meran has tons of cycle routes for relaxed and mountain biking. Hire a bike from Sud Tirol Rad and be on your way.

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7. Be like a local and stop at the water fountain for refreshment because Merano is famous for its super high quality drinking water that comes directly from the springs. There are 69 fountain points to choose from.

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8. Buy local ham, cheese and vegetables at the Friday market.

 

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9. …And then have a picnic by the river Pessirio before heading to the Thermal Spa Centre opposite.

 

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Splurge at the Portici Arcade. It is one of the most beautiful places for a bit of boutique and designer shopping.

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Best buys at Wiesbaden Xmas Market

Of all the Christmas Markets in Germany, I would say that Wiesbaden is the most elegant. It’s called The Twinkling Star Market, which is such a cute name! I went a bit crazy for all the stylish homewares and decorations.

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Eastern-inspired lights and bowls add the perfect colour for the season.

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Sustainable and cute – Rudolphs made from hay.

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Hang these against a white backdrop for a dramtic light show effect.

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Scented wooded balls. They smelt so good I hung around for a while.

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If I had one, I’d definitely drink more tea.

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I went iceskating at the nearby rink and just for that reason, I wanted one of these.

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These little smoking incense men are a classic in every German home.

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I totally love that raw wood look in the home.

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I feel like I want to cover my tree with lots of little fairies and a pink star on top.

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Six must-do cultural experiences in Bali

I love Bali and in particular Ubud. I have travelled there alone, with friends and I have even acted as a tour guide there for my parents. These are my top tips for the best cultural experiences.

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Join the locals in a water blessing at the Tirta Empul Temple

Bali is about 90 per cent Hindu and water is so important to the religion that its people even see it in different grades; normal, holy and healing.

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Cleansing and purifying, Bali is surrounded with water and that is why it is affectionately called ¬†‘The island of Gods’ or ‘The island of 1,000 temples.’

 

I don’t think I had ever experienced a spiritual connection until I visited the Tirta Empul Temple just outside a town called Tampaksiring. Tirta Empul means holy water spring and some people refer to it as ‘the Ganges of the East’ because the local Balinese Hindus, who go there in their thousands, believe the waters to have the power to heal illness as well as purify the mind and soul.

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The waters are distributed throughout a number of pools in the temple complex. For visitors there are changing rooms and a place where you can hire a robe and sash required for the water blessing.

I was taken through my blessing by a spirit guide. There are quite a few who offer their services at the temple for a very small tip. I would definitely recommend using a guide because they show you the customs, help you avoid faux pas and explain the history and meanings of things in the temple.

My guide took me on this amazing meditative journey. After dressing in the sarong and sash, I went inside the main pool area where locals worship. I discovered it was not a simple jaunt into the waters. No. One must make an offering, pray, meditate and wash in a particular order.

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It’s a ritual that starts with a meditative prayer to the spirit of the sun. I sat on the stone next to the pool with my offering of flowers in a banana leaf bowl in my hands and my eyes closed. My spirit guide showed me the way through thoughts of happiness, love, important people in my life, my hidden depths, the beautiful environment, the earth, the cosmos, the sun and the universe. I opened my eyes in a daze and he guided me into the waters.

The water was cool and there were huge koi fish swimming around. I could feel soft moss-covered stones under my feet and there were scores of locals and a few tourists queing at the fountains, having a chat and bathing.

The pool has 13 fountains and at each fountain I was to say a prayer, wash my face three times, rinse my mouth three times and dunk my head under the fountain and and let the water into my eyes to cleanse them. Despite my journey into self, I was still holding on to my vanity quite tightly. I went into the pool wearing my hair piece, which promptly disappeared under the water as soon as I dunked my head! I kind of stood there waist-deep in holy water grinning sheepishly as the locals surrounding me giggled.

So, I placed my offering on the head of the fountain and did the ritual and continued on making wishes and prayers under each fountain. When I had completed the ritual I felt refreshed, revitalised, serene and somewhat hopeful for the future.

Learn Batik in the countryside.

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Batik making in Indonesia goes way back and is most famous in Java.

Basically batik is wax-resist dyeing. You pour an intricate wax design on fabric and paint on dye in various colours.

Surrounded by gorgeous batik prints on sarongs and cloths, I felt inspired so I went to try my hand at the skill at a Widya’s Batik Workshop in Ubud.

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He has a simple studio where people go to get creative. Backpackers, artists and families spend days surrounded by fields, his pet dogs and friends while they concentrate on their designs.

I’m no artist yet I have huge artistic desires that never turn out the way I want. Luckily Widya had a variety of stencils I could mix and match to help me create a workable outline of for my ‘masterpiece’.

He demonstrated how to do each step. It was quite simple really.

Batik is very detailed and takes patience. I spent a whole relaxing day on my 50cm x 50cm cloth design, which featured a lotus flower and plenty of dots.

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Live with the locals.

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The architechture and temples in Bali are amazing. I was told every home has a temple and while I was staying in Ubud I noticed that this was actually true. I walked down the streets and peered into the open entrances to people’s homes and saw temples and shrines standing centre stage.

This is what makes a Bali homestay special. You get to live with local people, who give you a real insight into local ife and great tips on where to visit and what to eat. I stayed at Gusti Kaler House in the heart of Ubud and it was very cheap (about 14 euros a night, which I shared with a pal).

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I spent my time there exploring its religious shrines and monuments. The rooms were basic but our needs were simple. We had huge wooden carved beds, cosy mattresses and a space for yoga and reading.

Stop and say hello.

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The people of Bali are really welcoming and curious about foreigners. As I wondered around Ubud, lots of ladies wanted to take a photograph with me! I was like famous…

I totally embraced the warmth of the people. The women are very touchy feely and affectionate. They wanted to stroke me and even wanted to feel my bloated belly for movement after a I ate a huge meal! I had to explain that I wasn’t pregnant, just ‘with food’.

Eat babi guling and ayam goreng in a warung.

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And when I say this I mean eat local. Babi gulling is suckling pig and one of Bali’s most famous dishes.

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Like many Balinese dishes, it comes served with rice and spicy vegetables. You can have any part of the pig you want as the Balinese leave very little to waste. I chose crackling and belly meat. I went to the very popular Ibu Oka, which has two locations: one on Ubud high street (best to go at 11am) and the more elegant version, just outside Ubud, called Ibu Oka 2.

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Both are great warungs. A warung is simply a tax-free eatery and it is where the locals go. If you’re worried about trying foreign foods, go by my rule – if an eatery is packed with locals enjoying food, it’s good and safe.

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While driving down the street I asked my driver where he goes to eat so he took me to a roadside warung for ayam goreng. Ayam is chicken. Most people will say ayam goreng is friend chicken. Mine came shredded and mixed with spicy vegetables and it was served with a chicken kebab and  a chicken drumstick.

Watch the traditional dances.

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From about 7pm every night there is a selection of traditional dances taking place all over Ubud. There are more than 10 locations that host different styles of dance and performance, including fire dance, bamboo dance and puppet shows (see here for a full schedule) .

I love the backdrop at Cafe Lotus in central Ubud (below).

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Arrive early at about 5 or 6pm to get a front row seat and you can dine and watch the show. They do expect you to spend a minimum amount (about 20 euros/21 dollars) on the front row tables. I found once you order a bottle of wine and a meal for three you can easily cover the spend.

 

And that’s it. These are just a few of my favourites cultural experiences in Ubud. What are yours? You can share your tips and start a conversation in the comment box below xxx