Rottnest Island: Where quokkas are the true Selfie-pros

For the audio-story, please click here

Bloody oath, did we just take an elevator up to heaven or what? Perth and its surrounding areas boast so much soul-kissing beauty that it can truly bring a tear or two to your eyes at times… I am not crying, you are!


Anyways, there are truly a lot of spots here that come close to what heaven might resemble, especially if that heaven was envisioned for Condé-Nast-travel-editors, National Geographic- wildlife-photographers or just intrepid travel lovers. Ok, now that the stage is set and your curiosity is sparked, let me introduce you to Rotto. Say what?


Western Australian wildlife at its best: The prettiest rats you´ll ever see


Rotto is local speak for Rottnest Island, an absolute chocolate-praline of an island located about a 25-minute ferry ride off Fremantle in Western Australia. Rotto is everything you think the Carribean might look like, plus quokkas. Say what again?


Well, imagine stepping off the ferry in Thomson Bay, being blinded by white sand beaches, greeted by incredibly clear blue waters sparkling invitingly in the sun and a sky the color of azure-blue confetti. Your gaze wanders around, your mood lifts from taking in all the picture-perfect impressions around you and then, something VERY unusual stops you in your tracks.



Is it an Instagrammed aka beautified rat? Is it a small kangaroo gone wrong? No! The small animals that like to wander around Rotto as if they own the place (which they kinda do) are called quokkas. If a zoologist would explain to you what they are, he would probably say that they are wallaby-like marsupials about the size of a cat.


Quokkas are a truly Western Australian wildlife phenomenon and make for an exceptional animal encounter, as they can only be found on some islands off the Western Australian coast and in the forest and coastal heath in the South-Western part of this vast state.


The quokka is a true trendsetter by the way, as he/she prefers vegan food, and is furthermore also very photogenic. It´s no wonder, then, that quokkas do fancy the occasional photo-shoot. Ah well, they might be slightly addicted. But who isn´t, in these times of social media mayhem? Sorry, I am wandering off. Back to your new found animal friend.



No matter whether you choose to explore the Rottnest Island nature reserve by foot or on a bike, you´ll see quokkas all around. They will approach you if you stick around for a bit, so get that selfie-stick ready and put a smile on your dial. The quokka usually already has one, that´s why it´s often called “the happiest animal ever” by its admirers. I would be happy, too, if a whole island was named after me!


The rat´s nest real deal: How to effortlessly make a quokka selfie happen


Yep, the name ´Rottnest´is actually a weird sort of love declaration to the fun-loving furry marsupials, because, just like you, 17th century Dutch explorers didn´t know what hit them when they saw these cuties for the first time. They accordingly named the island after their perception of the quokkas as cat-sized rats – Rottnest Island literally means rat´s nest.


Alright, let´s assume you are waiting for your quokka-friends on this car-free island playground, ideally around the main settlement area in the late afternoon. Your new photo-co-stars love green spaces and grass (ahem, no comment), so they often hang out around the green space where the bakery is, according to insider sources on the island.



You could also choose to interact around Thomson Bay or see if a quokka wants to keep you company at the Oceanside Pub. Anyways, quokka approaches you, next up, get low to the ground and close to the quokka’s level, and do not put your arm around it – you can do that with your uncle Bill, but not with this wild and free Selfie queen/ king. Do not touch it all, actually. Think of it as a Julia Roberts/ Jane Fonda or a Sam Heughan/George Clooney in animal form. You wouldn´t touch them, either, if you crossed their path, right? Being starstruck and all.


To top off your quokka-interaction- experience, continue on to the final step: Click that freaking shutter! Yeah, you´ve done it! And the best part: No need to Whatsapp the quokka-mate the new picture. They have plenty already.


Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever heard of Rottnest Island and its happy-go-lucky quokkas before? What´s the most unusual animal you´ve ever been around? Also: What is something that always makes you smile without fail? As always, would love to hear from you.


Handy information part

  • To get there: Take a ferry from Fremantle, central Perth or Hillary´s Boat Harbour. There are numerous ferries available daily with Rottnest Express and Rottnest Fast Ferries. 
  • Be a smart cookie: Do not touch the quokkas, you or them might get unwell from that. Think of them as a really, really shy and touch-averse Tinder-date.
  • Do not feed them, either. Think of yourself feeding them as that overeager aunt that always wanted to stuff you with food you didn´t want.
  • What to bring along: Bring a Selfie-stick to keep a decent distance between you and smiley quokka. Remember, they are basically movie or TV stars. Keep your cool and don´t get hysterical 😛

Copyright: Yadayadayada. You know the gist – All rights reserved for like everything @A gypsy at heart. Because. Its mine muahahaha (evil laugh) 😛

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Dubai: A city of superlatives or Midnight at the Mall


For the audio-story, please click here

My skin registers dry and warm sensations, telling me that, once again, I have landed in a new world begging to be explored. Inhaling the dry desert air is unusual for me, though, even after having lived in Western Australia for quite a while. The desert-dust-infused air seems more intense here, more demanding, more fierce. My throat feels a little scratchy from it and I pull my water bottle out of my hand luggage, which is packed to the brim as usual, and take a longing sip of the lukewarm, life-giving water. 



What is travel, if not the conscious decision to throw yourself in the deep end, to taste the waters of change, may they be spicy, bitter, sweet, pungent or, ahem, warm? My mind wanders off, which comes especially easy after a long overnight flight from Singapore with too many snoring guests aboard. Juggling a myriad of unknown sights, scents, and sweet nothings, I wearily step out of the bus and smack out into a crowd of industrious businessman, ladies in traditional Burka attire and a colorful melange of tourists.


“Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you.” – Shams Tabrizi, Persian spiritual teacher


Truly, it does take surrender to travel, I continue my train of thought, because you never know what´s around the corner – but that´s also what makes it so pretty damn exciting, right? The thrill of not knowing what to expect, who you´ll encounter, and which challenge you´ll have to (or have the blessing to) embrace next…. Talking of challenges: Here´s one – can you picture a mall with a gigantic ice-rink in it?



Give it a go while you walk with me into the Dubai mall, which showed itself very unimpressed by my (our?) silly little doubts as to its unfailing grandeur. Bare with me, friends, malls are normally not my favorite place to hang out either – but this one can really not be categorized as a mere mortal mall. 


Just like the Middle East has a tradition of outstanding poets and philosophers that have gifted us with immortal poetry and wisdom, Dubai offers us its worldly counterpart and truly holds the title of global capital of superlatives. Want a little taste test of this? 


Alright: Dubai, the city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates, home to 3,1 million people, is also proud presenter of the largest man-made island, worth a whopping US$12.3 billion. Excuse me, I think I just choked on my cinnabon! Also: It´s shaped in the form of a palm-tree and subsequently called the Palm Jumeirah. Dubai also cements its reputation as global city of superlatives through the existence of the world´s only “7-star-hotel”, the sail-like Burj Al Arab, an iconic world landmark. 



People who are willing and able to cough up the US$1,200 plus per night can expect private butlers, 24k-gold iPads in two-story suits, the world’s largest chauffeur-driven fleet of Rolls Royce Phantom at their disposal, a helicopter-landing-place…and this pretty surreal list goes on! 


If you currently can´t afford this, you can still enjoy the joys of the world´s longest automated metro system, when you hop on a Dubai Metro train. The theme song to this experience could be a rather futuristic one, as the Dubai Metro is fully automated, and no human drivers are present. At 46 miles/ 74 km long, it’s the longest automated metro system in the world.



And, of course, the Dubai Mall, which we are currently about to enter, is a big part of the Dubai superlative equation. Giving into our urge to explore the largest shopping mall in the world, we enter the 50 soccer fields big center of fun and decadence. Financial Centre Road; +971 4 362 7500; www.thedubaimall.com


At first, your eyes just gaze upon the spotless corridors with luxurious shops upon shops lined up next to each other, one expensive brand after the other inviting their prospective customers to a little spending-playtime. So far, so good (or bad, depending on which perspective you take on capitalism).  Better remember that there is much more to the Arab peninsula than extravagant architecture and luxury-shopping-experiences:


This wordly life is like a shadow. If you try to catch it, you will never be able to do so. If you turn your back towards it, it has no choice but to follow you.” – Ibn Quayyim Al-Jawziyya, medieval Islamic spiritual writer


Let´s turn a corner now, and turn slightly to our right -yep, you´ll probably need to look twice! Because you are witnessing people throwing themselves down a waterfall! What? Where is the security-personnel?! Ah wait…you didn´t have your glasses on. Phew! The “people” turn out to be artistic fiberglass sculptures of human divers, thank God/ Goddess/ fill in your higher-power-belief-system here for that. 



Often featuring as a meeting point for the mall explorers, the so-called Human Waterfall (see, you weren´t so far off after all) turns out be a pretty impressive water feature that traverses the mall´s four levels and runs through the whole height of this Mecca for entertainment-aficionados. I´ll tell you one thing: I definitely stopped munching my cinnamon-infused doughnut when this fancy waterfall stopped me in my tracks! And that says something.


It even held my attention for so long that it was getting much too late to explore the 1200 shops including, and that one was a bummer, the world´s largest candy store Candylicious, and/ or the game center featuring a 3D bowling game. On the plus side, this time-induced Stop sign made me honor my conviction that its better to reuse and get creative than to support the endless story-of-stuff-cycle.



Anyways, we had to ask ourselves one major question at that time, when the clock showed that it was getting close to 22:30 PM. Were the 22 cinema screens and 160 plus restaurants calling us, was the amusement park seductively whispering our names, or was something completely different tickling our fancy?

I know, talk about too much-choice-induced- paralysis! You already know the answer to this one, my friend. Because, as opposed to me, you did your research before visiting – and are well informed that this Dubai shopping center of decadence also contains one of the largest aquariums in the world! Of course it did/ does. 



Laying eyes on the aquarium as the clock strikes almost-midnight is a rather supercalifragilistic- expialidocious experience, to say it in the words of Mary Poppins. The 2.64 million-gallon-Dubai Aquarium itself is held in place by the world´s largest acrylic panel – and is home to more than 400 (hopefully not shopping-averse) sharks and rays and a total of over 33,000 marine animals  on display. 



After connecting with sexy sharks, pretty penguins, fancy fish and heftily-dressed-humans, it´s time for one last impression of Dubai´s glitz-and- glamour-world of superlatives – and it´s just around the corner!

As you might know, one of Dubai´s signature trademarks is its ultramodern architecture. The Burj Khalifa building is one of the icons of Dubai – and, yep, the world´s tallest building. 1 Emaar Blvd., Downtown Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; +971 4 888 8888; www.burjkhalifa.ae 

At 2,716 feet/ 828 meters high (and worth US$1.49 billion) it can be easily accessed as soon as you step outside the mall. Come on, I am sure you will be impressed! You can snooze afterwards, I promise. The Burj Khalifa is that tall that its 164 floors make the rest of the city look like a miniature town!

If you fancy coming back here tomorrow and go to the top of the tower (with a fee), you can enjoy mind blowing panoramas of the city and Arabian Desert. If you aren´t a lover of hights, you can always catch a water fountain show, nightly at 7 PM, at the Burj Khalifa lake just outside the mall. Wow, talk about an evening of superlatives, hey? Well, I am off to the Burj Al Arab now. My butler just called. 😛


Healing tip: For inspiration on how to transform the way we make, use, and throw away stuff so that it is better for people and the planet, check out the fabulous Story of Stuff project.


Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to Dubai? What were your first impressions? If you haven´t been – which of the superlative-sights would you be most interested in checking out? As always, would love to hear from you:)

CopyrightAll rights for photography and text reserved @A gypsy at heart. Because. I believe in your own talent to create.

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Chiang Mai part two: The elephants are smarter than you

For the audio-story, please click here

Ommm…melodious, tranquil and oh so inviting humming sounds move through the overwhelmingly beautiful temple entry and onto the street. They envelop you in a peaceful cloud, harmonizing every atom of your body and synchronizing your breath with your movement, your movement with your heartbeat, your heartbeat with your usually wandering and free-floating thoughts. 


Chiang Mai: Regal capital of ever-present peace


This is the spirit of Chiang Mai, a place where over 300 Buddhist temples and a myriad of monks dictate the rhythm of the Northern Thai capital city, and where peace is much more than an abstract and removed concept – it becomes palpable as not just a theoretical idea, but as a tried-and-tested way of life. 


Of course, there are the noises of countless motorbikes on the main roads of this city which has become a beloved expat haven and a thriving community for digital nomads. And there are the many visitors from all over the world who have come to explore Chiang Mai´s countless highlights. But notwithstanding, the lifeblood that pulses through Chiang Mai´s aesthetically pleasing veins is a deep and abiding peace, a peace that unceasingly cuts through the noise of daily life and to the heart of what the human mind is capable of – being completely at one with itself.



Maybe peace is the secret ingredient after all that connected all the dots and experiences of the 3-week- Chiang Mai stay I was blessed to experience a while ago.


Because there is peace even amidst the eclectic enthusiasm of a Muay Thay Boxing game, there is undeniable harmony in taking in the many vegetarian culinary delights the city has to offer. There is also peace´s cousin´s joy in experiencing the city´s vibrant and surprising night markets, and alas, there was even some peace to be discovered at the end of a 2 day Thai-massage-workshop led by a rather dominant She-Boss-Lady. And, of course, there was peace in communing with Leila, which is where we left off last time…


Walking with elephants: A dazzling day with Leila


Do you know/ remember that feeling when you´ve had a crush on someone for a while and then you finally get to go on a date with them? It´s exhilarating, intimidating, breathtaking, and inducing anxiety and euphoria in equal parts, I find. Palms are sweating, it gets a little harder to breathe, nervous butterflies have a tumultuous dance-party in your stomach… well, that pretty much captures all the feels I was feeling when meeting Leila! Plus a little concern she might, you know, stomp on me. Which she obviously didn´t – or is this a ghost, writing you this? Who knows 😛



Anyways, our mahout-trainers were about to teach us some command-communications which we were very keen to try out. Up until that day, I had not heard anything about mahouts – these elephant keepers have quite an important place in Thailand´s story! They are called “kwan chang” in Thai, which translates to the poetic phrase “one who walks with an elephant”.


I also found out that elephants are Thailand´s national symbol and are deeply entwined with the country´s history, culture and self-image. Leila´s ancestors have loyally served proud kings as well as humble commoners throughout Thailand´s history, be it in warfare, as a pretty up there means of transportation or for agricultural purposes. Elephants got therefore elevated to the rank of shining stars of Thailand´s magnificence. Good on them! They embody prosperity and power and, due to their stardom, also feature heavily in Buddhist art, architecture, and sculpture.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were a whopping 100.000 elephants in the former kingdom of Siam. Nowadays, Leila just has around 5000 mates left. Many of them are domesticated, around 1500, though, are free-roaming in the wild. (How cool is that! Imagine just randomly walking through the Thai jungle and casually jumping on a tree because you are suddenly catching two elephants making out!)



With Leila through the jungle: Down to the nitty gritty


After our group of about ten happy campers greeted Leila and her gorgeous elephant-mates, and after watching the mahouts demonstrate how to go about mounting a gigantic animal, it was time to test our courage and learn to steer the elephants through a piece of jungle ourselves.


So, how do you jump aboard an almost two meters twenty tall elephant, you might ask while scratching your head or devouring a handful of chips in front of your slightly too bright screen? It´s nothing like jumping aboard a train or a bike, my friends, I can tell you that much! There were basically two ways to mount Leila (ahem, you know what I mean!):

Option A – Get a running jump over her head onto her back (for real). Option B – Slightly more elegant version: ask Leila to kindly lift her leg in Elephant-speak, get on there and from there, continue onto her back. 


Option A was only a feasible possibility for one of the XXL-tall German guys amongst our group. He actually fit in well into the general environment because he looked a bit like a tree himself – tall, nice to look at, and skinny. Watching him jump over Leila´s twin sister Lulu´s head and onto her broad shoulders woke associations of a new Olympic discipline in me. That pretty unusual image is still vividly etched into my memory!

I refrained from over-ambitious Option A – as it already felt like a massive achievement for me to gently step onto Leila´s massive leg (sorry Leila, honesty is just the best policy) and somehow manage to get myself up onto her bare back from there…



We had learned a few commands for straight, left, right, turn, stop, as well as a command called “Bon Soong”, which is Elephant-speak for something like “lift your trunk and open your mouth and I’ll feed you a delicious banana“. We gathered our bravery and employed those commands diligently, keenly attempting to steer Leila through the thicket. Leila being the exceptionally smart elephant-lady she was – she owns the largest brain of any land animal after all, and has three times as many neurons as a human (Take that, Mensa-members-who-are-people-with-very-high-IQs-including Sharon-Stone-who-has-an IQ of-154) obviously had her own viewpoint on things.


Which included following her impulse to scratch her enormous behind on a tree and almost squashing my leg in the process. Oopsie! Next up, our mahouts guided the elephants, with us holding on for dear life, to the river. Again, Leila had a mind of her own and veered off the planned path and straight into the river when she wasn´t supposed to yet. Ah well, you gotta love a little, ahem massive, rebel!

In the end, we all ended up in the middle of the river anyways- splashing each other with muddy water, and bathing Leila, who, let´s be honest, would be totally capable of doing that herself! Kudos to her for allowing us some playtime with her and the other members of this absolutely incredible species.

Tips for finding ethical elephant encounters


Elephant rides can often be a tricky one – do avoid all elephant rides where saddles are involved, as they can injure the elephant´s backs – their spine is not their strong suit (hey, I recommend Yoga for that). For a more compassionate way of elephant riding, stick to where the mahout usually goes – behind its ears, and for a limited amount of time of about 30 minutes max.

Stay clear of any ivory products or elephant paintings and choose elephant- interactions, not entertainment – like time spent bathing and feeding an elephant. Or, and this might be the best option, volunteer at an elephant camp to make friends with the immensely intelligent gentle giants.



Read more on ethical elephant encounters here or here.

In our next Chiang Mai article, published in a week or two, we will finally get to hang out at an exciting night market, get handsy at a Thai massage workshop, and take in some more of Chiang Mai´s best things to experience. The passion for Leila and her elephant mates swept me away this time, friends, what can I say!

Back to you, dear reader: What is your country´s national animal? Also – as Leila is kind of a celebrity now, and this is a fun question: Who are your celebrity crushes? You tell me yours, I´ll tell you mine 😛 As always, would love to hear from you!


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Balinese dance and music: Passion meets grace


For the audio-story, please click here

Unusual melodies awaken you from your thoughts. Sounds that seem slightly disruptive, like speedy drivers on a silent road, suddenly envelop you. You might not know what to think of this music that´s at once exotic and bewitching.


Balinese performance art: Gamelan sounds and beauty abound


What you do know is that you simply can´t help but be intrigued by it all: the all-male Gamelan orchestra which elicits the traditional Indonesian sounds from xylophones, drums, gongs, and other percussive instruments. The stunning backdrop of the performance stage, with its intricately ornated angkul-angkul traditional gate and guardian statues. The gorgeous Balinese dancers, expressing the depth and versatility of their cultural stories and myths with such passion and precision.


There is grace in their movements, there is a pure embodiment of all that´s good, enticing and seductive about the Balinese culture. Theirs is the perfect blend of spirituality and sensuality, always offered up to the higher realms they so believe in.

Balinese dancers in Ubud, photo by Aditya Agarwal from Pexels

The accompanying Gamelan-music roots´ lie in an even older past than the Hindu-Buddhist origins of Balinese faith. They are a mesmerizing remnant of indigenous art forms that dominated the cultural expressions of Indonesia during its earliest records.


Barong and Legong Dance at Ubud royal palace: An artistic battleground


To get a taste of this very particular cultural phenomenon, head to Ubud royal palace at about 6:45 Pm as each night starting at 7:30 PM there´ll be a variety of rich dances shown there. The royal palace, known as Puri Saren Palace to the locals, is one of Ubud´s cultural hot-spots located along the town´s bustling main road Jalan Raya Ubud. The performances being shown there include Barong Dance, Mahabharata and Legong Dance… take your pick and expect to be wowed. To help you figure out which dance performance you might be most drawn to, here a little insight into two typical types of Balinese dance:


The Barong Dance is where Barong, a creature akin to a lion in the mythology of Bali, meets Rangda, badass-demon queen and mother of all spirit guarders. Sounds a bit like Game of Thrones, doesn´t it? Well, it´s not entirely the same, but there is an epic battle to behold, a war between good, mirrored in Barong, the king of the spirits, and evil, in the form of Rangda. I could go on a slightly feminist rant here due to “good” appearing in the form of a male figure and “bad” personified in a female. But fear not, I won´t. The dance is still an amazing sight to be enjoyed, after all!



The Legong Dance, traditionally performed by girls who have not reached puberty, enacts different traditional tales, one of them telling the story of the King of Lasem, a true heroic romance. Interestingly enough, according to legend, Legong dance came into being through a dream vision! The prince of Sukawati is said to have had a feverish dream in which two girls danced to Gamelan music. Subsequently, being the inspired guy he was, the prince arranged for such dream dances to be performed in real life.


Another story version of Legong´s possible origins states that it came into being through the sanghyang dedari, a ceremony involving voluntary possession of two little girls by beneficent spirits. Sounds kinda creepy, though, right? Again, fear not, the dance performances are absolutely mindblowing anyways, no matter where their origins really lie.


Legong dancers at Ubud Royal Palace. Photo: Saranabhi/Wikimedia commons

By the way, no matter which performance you choose to watch in the end, you can´t really go wrong: each one of them will be like a window into a very different world and enticing in its own right. And you might be more than just intrigued by its mesmerizing after- effects…


Musings on creativity: The inspiring after-effects of outstanding performance-art


I mean, do you know that feeling when you have just finished watching either a great stage performance or a fantastic movie and want nothing more than owning it like that performer just did? For some moments in time, the boundaries between you and the art in question seems to have dissolved, and its particular charm lingers in your consciousness, infusing you with the sense of new possibilities and alternative ways of being. The promise of a new you, waiting to be born into the world!


Because, let´s be honest, friends: who hasn´t aspired to be the Wolverine/ Rose from “Titanic”/ Rambo/ a Disney princess/ Mick Jagger, just moments after being utterly entranced and enchanted by their outstanding creation of art? Yes, I see you, singing into your hairbrush in front of the mirror or swaying your hips behind closed curtains …keep doing you!



Anyways, that after-performance-trance is exactly what happened to me after watching the aforementioned Balinese dance performance on the majestic playground of Ubud´s royal palace. Absolutely awe-struck by the dancer´s precise yet magical movements and with little hesitation, I booked myself into a Balinese dance class at the hotel I was staying at.



Balinese Dance lessons: Insights into a world of precision and faith

Funny thing though: The dance class eventuated in the foyer of the hotel, right next to the check-in and in front of the buffet, where people were munching on their mango-papaya-dragonfruit-salads and other tropical breakfast delights. Yeah, that´s right: My first steps into Balinese dance would be accompanied by dozens of digestive systems operating at highest speed.


First, though, it would be time to meet Eka, a lovely Balinese woman who would help me transform into an aspiring Balinese dancer for the day.  I was a little nervous: The femininity and beauty of Balinese women is the stuff legends are made off, after all! 

From a young age, Balinese girls are trained in creating intricate flower offerings and presenting them in sequence at the family temple accompanied by rituals and prayer. Furthermore, they also learn about traditional Balinese food preparation and Balinese dance, as Eka told me while dipping her makeup brush into a vast array of colors and applying them generously to my face.



With the days of dramatic make-up mostly behind me and banished to my teenage years and early twenties, I was a little out of my comfort zone – listening to Eka´s fascinating insights into Balinese culture fortunately made the time go by rather quickly. To finish the transformation into a tiny dancer, I slipped into a fancy Balinese dance-attire that Eka had lovingly handed me, and off to the hotel-lobby-area aka classroom we went.


Alas, it was time to get over my pieces of shyness for a little while and delve into some typical Balinese dance movements as instructed by my gentle teacher, never minding the full-to-capacity breakfast area and countless people curiously eyeing off this foreigner-pretending-to-be-Balinese. And this is how it went down:



Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever seen a traditional Balinese dance performance before, or a traditional dance performance from a foreign culture in general? Also – did you ever sing into a hairbrush? Sorry, had to ask 😛 As always, would love to hear from you!

Practical information on catching a performance in Ubud:

  • The easiest way to get tickets:  If you are around Jalan Raya Ubud in the afternoon, you´ll most likely run into street vendors offering tickets to the nightly spectacles. Otherwise, just head directly to Ubud Royal palace no later than 7 pm to buy your tickets at the door.
  • Performance time and duration:  Nightly performances start at 7:30 PM every day of the week and last for an hour.
  • How much does it cost me? You´ll be 100.000 IDR poorer per person, yet a lot richer in spirit!
  • Where was it again? At Ubud Royal Palace, Jalan Raya Ubud No 8, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, World.

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Let´s head to Rotto and meet some quokkas


G´day mates! (Good day friends)

As you might know by now, we´ll head to incredibly mesmerizing, ancient, powerful, bloody stunning Australia this week! More specifically, we´ll pay Rottnest Island a visit and meet its ueber-friendly celebrity-inhabitants – the always charming quokkas. Ready to find out more? Then please embark here:

Rottnest Island: Where quokkas are the true Selfie-pros

(Audiostory will be added tomorrow)


Hanging out on Rottnest Island, Perth´s favorite island-playground

Lean back, relax, and enjoy your flight, ahem read, with A gypsy at heart. Cause Christmas-time always calls for some relaxing moments and chuckles! Quokka mates told me so.


Can you see the quokkas yet? Look closer…closer…nah, they´ll show up in the other post I linked to, got ya 🙂

Also, I´ll be taking a tiny creative break over the next weeks to, you know, chill and come up with some fun new input for the new year. Hint: The fun new input will be human. Sorry, quokka-mates.


I´ll most likely still stop by to wish you a merry Christmas, post-wise, and might comment here and there. But maybe not 😛 I ´ll be back though. Just like the Terminator.


You, my wonderful mates and readers, have definitely been one of the best gifts of this year for me! Thanks so much for your loyalty, interest, readership, input… you rock! So much love to you 🙂


Catch ya later my lovely mates,

your Gypsy mate

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The charms of Badass-Dancing in Bali


Om Swastiastu (hello in Balinese) cherished readers,

just announcing that this week´s travel journey will take us on a slight detour from Chiang Mai to Bali, before heading back to Leila and the Land of a million rice fields next week.


On this week´s adventure, we will encounter Rangda the daemon-queen, a Balinese prince with feverish dreams and the unusual and mighty sounds of Gamelan music. You will also join me for a kind of weird yet fun Balinese dance class!



To embark on our adventure, please join me here for insights into Balinese dance and music.


I had written and published half of this post in January this year, but the powers of WordPress denied a new notification to you lovely ones. As a bonus, I´ve also added an audio-story. So here you go, you are all caught up – stoked to have you join me in Bali this week as we learn more about the immensely intriguing culture of the so-called Island of the Gods.


Sampai jumpa lagi (see you soon in Indonesian), your Gypsy friend

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Calming Chiang Mai: An elephant always remembers

For the audio-story, please click here

Hurry up, hurry up, we´re gonna miss that bloody train!” My travel companion is slightly out of it after a crazy Tuk Tuk ride through Bangkok´s buzzing concrete jungle. It did rather feel like a stroller ride on Speed, and it also did look rather funny of sorts with all our, or should I say my, mighty luggage squeezed into the Tuk Tuk´s modest space. And us squeezed right next to it like willing pieces of Tetris that somehow miraculously seemed to fit together. 

Anyways, no time left for such silly musings while running through the Bangkok train station, desperately trying to catch the 12-hour-long jungle train ride to Chiang Mai, located 700 km north of Thailands´s capital Bangkok. 

Boarding the train to Chiang Mai, the crown´s diamond 

This is it, this is it!” , I encouragingly mumble to myself while approaching the Thai-Railways-operated train. Better take up running again, I kinda lost my former almost-athlete-momentum – my thoughts ramble on as a smiling, composed train employee helps us to lift our suitcases onto the train. Did that vehicle already start moving while we were just jumping on board? Quite possibly!

We were not in safety-conscious Australia anymore, after all. Nor in rule-laden Europe. No, we were in spiritual, faith-full and for the most part royalty-revering Thailand, and on our intrepid way to Chiang Mai, the Northern capital of the province bearing the same name.

What a wonderful wat

A particularly stunning example of Thailand´s 41,205 Buddhist temples (source- Office of National Buddhism)

 

Image by Jenny Cleary via Pixabay

One of Thailand´s approximately 300.000 monks going about his not-business

 

Bhumibol Adulyadej, image by Hans Brax,maier via Pixabay

Former king Bhumibol Adulyadej was beloved by many of Thailand´s seventy million inhabitants

As indicated, any visitor to the land of the former kingdom of Siam should know that generally speaking,  the Thais love and truly care for their king. The Thai constitution even emphasizes that “the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated“. Let´s, therefore, remain royalty-positive and take in what former King Rama once said about our new travel destination:

Chiang Mai represents the prime diamond on the crown of Thailand, the crown cannot sparkle and be beauteous without the diamond…

King Rama V, 12 August 1883
 

Thai-train-training: Mind over matter

Friends, what can I say – if Chiang Mai was good enough for King Rama, it certainly would be good enough for us little munchkins. Whether King Rama would have diged that train-carriage, though – I guess that´s a completely different matter. In any case, we were booked in for the second class, which was quite alright. As was to be expected, the first class did look a fair bit nicer, and toilet amenities there were also more agreeable. A freaking lot more agreeable!

But our seats were clearly marked second class, and after my travel companion went on some train explorations and came back with his assessment of our current pee-possibilities (“Yeah, nah. It´s not good“), I decided to once again muster up all my courage and my iron strength of will and turn the train ride into a 12-hour-no-bladder-release-challenge.

While taking that almost heroic decision, I grimly clutched onto my “South- Eastern Asia on a shoestring” travel guide. Taking in as much well-researched information on impossibly alluring Thailand as feasible would be my best ally while defeating the lurking powers of down under.

 

And – taking in those views did its part in distracting me from the nether regions! Lush green landscapes moved past in a perfectly timed speed, allowing the eyes to be soothed after a week amidst the electric creative chaos of Bangkok. Humble shacks, built into the evergreen landscape, with beautiful Thai women carrying a child or two on their backs, passed us by. Contemplating these and other images of Central and Northern Thailand´s beating bountiful green heart, twelve long hours went by.

720 minutes whole minutes, in which I learned that Chiang Mai hosts over 300 Buddhist temples, the so-called wats, a Thai word you might recall from our previous Bangkok adventure. And that the inhabitants speak Northern Thai, otherwise known as  Lanna, owning to the fact that the area of Northern Thailand was the birthplace of the first Thai kingdom, the Lanna Kingdom. For my poet-souls out there: the poetically charming yet linguistically precise way to clothe these words into more eloquent robes lies in referring to the Lanna kingdom as “the land of a million rice fields”.  

On a slightly more trivial side-note: The twelve hours from bustling Bangkok to the land of a million rice fields did expire with zero bladder-release, I am proud to announce. 

Arriving in Chiang Mai: A theory about Germans and a thailicious array of options

We reached Northern Thailand´s largest city around midnight, and a local from our pre-booked hostel was supposed to pick us up from the train station. Or so we thought. That local looked suspiciously Caucasian, though!

As soon as he opened his mouth, my nagging hunch got confirmed – once again, it was an adventurous German on the run from grey winters and possibly too much self-imposed discipline standing right in front of me! No matter how far you travel, you can never escape the reliable presence of wanderlusty Germans, I thought. As a half-German myself, I should know… 

image by wichitth via Pixabay

Chiang Mai´s abundance is loved by Thais and Germans alike – Image by wichit thepprasit from Pixabay

 

chiang-mai-1670926 image by Michelle Maria on Pixabay

One of Chiang Mai´s fabulous 300 + temples, where Buddhist believers come to worship

Thomas had moved to Chiang Mai some years back and had opened a Backpacker´s with his Thai girlfriend, a kind yet cheeky looking, petite woman we met that same night before checking into what would be our humble new home for the next three weeks. Thomas was a laid-back, rather skinny guy with glasses and light brown hair, and when we started chatting for a while in German, it was rather easy to detect the soothing, melodious dialect of the Bavarians in his speech.

Thomas and his girlfriend, the latter a much more lively and enthusiastic type than Thomas himself, laid out our many Chiang Mai leisure activity options that same night (right, I still had not peed!! 14 hours had gone by…I know, where is the Guinness book of records data-entry-person when you need him/her?!).

From cooking classes to white water rafting, from Thai-massage-workshops, Muay-Thay-boxing events to talk-to-a-monk-sessions – I felt a rush of excitement when perusing through all the exhilarating options. It was one activity that really jumped out at me, though – a one-day-training-experience as an elephant mahout, an elephant rider/ trainer. Getting up close and personal with powerful animals and learning from them? Sign me up! 

Phad Thai, Thailand´s most famous dish

Possible cooking-class- result Phad Thai, a delicious noodle dish – yum!

Water for elephants: Learning to be a mini-mahout

Two days later, we were sitting on a vehicle with a Rasta-haired Italian, an intrepid German couple, and a few fancy Frenchmen riding through the Northern Thailand landscape, not far from the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. After a short stop at a picturesque butterfly garden, we arrived at our rather-out-of-the-ordinary destination – an elephant camp smack in the middle of the jungle nestled against a murky river. A quick introduction by the elephant trainers later, and…

there´s a rumble. It´s a different kind of sound, not too loud, yet powerful and imposing in its own right. Leaves are rustling, and all eyes are pinned on the horizon,  as the massive shape of a majestic Asian elephant appears in the distance. A self-assured trumpeting noise resounds… and there she is, gorgeous, regal; around 5 tonnes of pure fabulousness, right in front of us tiny and pretty intimidated yet curious humans.

Leila“, I name her quietly and completely awe-struck, just to get some kind of grasp on this almost surreal situation. Slowly, I m allowed to approach her. And then the first of a series of incredibly exciting things happen…

Meeting Leila and hoping she´ll like the treat

Meeting Leila and hoping she´ll like the treat

 

Elephant cuddles

Did you know? An elephant´s skin weighs over 900 kg/ 2000 pounds on average. Holy moly!

 

Leila´s skin is less wrinkled than her African elefant friends´one, btw

Getting up close and personal: Leila´s Asian elephant- skin is less wrinkled than her African elephant friends´one

next time, we will continue on the mahout-for-a-day adventure and find out more about ethical elephant encounters in Thailand – it´s important to distinguish here, more about this in the next post. We will also witness an eclectic, wild and inspirational night market and an intense Thai-massage-workshop, and much more. It will basically be my absolute best of 3 weeks in Chiang Mai for you, plus some juicy insights into the life of an elephant on top!

Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever had any out-of-the-ordinary animal encounters? What stood out to you about it? Or would there be any animals you would be particularly interested in hanging out with? As always, would love to hear from you! 🙂


Healing travel tip: Am gonna share some healing travel tips at the end of some posts from now on. Healing here refers to both the planet and oneself – which are always interconnected in my perception.

Today´s healing tip – If you fly for leisure or work and have the means to, please check out the possibility of flying climate neutral, offsetting your emissions to lessen our impact on mother earth. Mindful flights is a great initiative I´ve just come across. Thank you, enjoy:)

Categories: Posts in English, Reiselust- Hungry for travel, Reisen | Tags: , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Surprise time

Dear readers,

for the ones of us living in the Northern Hemisphere,´tis the time of year to snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket on the couch, your favorite steaming hot tea in a cup and a good read. Or…


…a good story being narrated from me to you, over oceans and deserts, mountains and forests, and through time and space! Sometimes it´s nice to rest our eyes and just listen for a while…


That´s why I´ve come up with some podcasts/ audiostories for you. For now, they will basically be audio-versions of my posts, so please find the links to the last two Baden-Baden-post-podcasts below.

There is also a podcast on “A monkey kind of day in Gibraltar” , an adventurous day spent between canons and free-ranging naughty monkeys on a giant rock. I will publish new podcasts on a weekly basis from now on, and continue to publish new travel-posts bimonthly.



Also, for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere/ any countries where it´s warm now: Please substitute blanket, couch and tea with bathers, grass-or sandpatch and watermelon-juice, and feel free to listen to the podcasts while jogging at the beach, Baywatch-style. Or while enjoying a leisurely picnic. Or while chilling out in a cafe.

No matter where you are, though – I wish you a fabulous, cozy and relaxing weekend with many positive impressions! Another exciting travel story will be out in the following week:) Thanks for your readership and loyalty, I really appreciate every single one of you and your time very much!

Here are….drum roll… the links to the podcasts:

Visting Baden-Baden: A dreamy blast from the past

Baden-Baden part 2: Relax and relish like royalty

A monkey kind of day in Gibraltar

Back to you, dear reader and hopefully-soon-listener: Do you enjoy listening to audio books or podcasts? Do you have any favorite ones to recommend or share with us? Do you have any suggestions or input for my future podcasts? As always, I´d love to hear from you!

Categories: Posts in English, Reiselust- Hungry for travel, Reisen | Tags: , , | 41 Comments

the longest journey

Hi dear ones, today the extraordinary Lonely Author himself gifted me with this incredible mention on his beautiful web-place of love, poetry, and support for the feminine. I feel really humbled and thought I´d try my first reblog to share this with you beautiful souls. Please check out the Lonely Author´s amazing online abode, it´s truly a place and refuge of love and kindness on the web:) Have a gorgeous day everyone, and stay tuned, as I have a little surprise up my travel sleeve for you coming soon!

The Lonely Author

There’s more to life than being a passenger.” – Amelia Earhart, aviation pioneer, author, visiting faculty member at Perdue University, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Prior to starting my Inspiring Women of WordPress series, I mentioned my dear friend Maria Elena of A Gypsy At Heart. Since today is my travel day, I wanted to introduce her once again. What can I say about a woman who has a gypsy heart and the soul of an angel? She inspires me with her beautiful journeys to far off lands. All the while, she enchants you with her sincerity and warmth. She may take you to the far corners of the Earth, but I assure you, you will never be far from her heart. Please get inspired by the brilliance of A Gypsy at Heart.

the longest journey

My three month journey…

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Baden-Baden, part 2: Relax and relish like royalty

For the audio-story, please click here

Aaaah….the warm, gentle waters caress your skin and embrace you in their all-accepting ways. You basically feel like a quietly content yet massive baby in a heated cozy blanket. You step in further, and with the healing thermal waters enveloping your body almost completely now, you notice all your relentless thoughts and questions slowly melting away. You are fully immersing yourself in this roman bath experience, and you are pretty thankful indeed that you opted for the Caracalla spa instead of the Friedrichsbad spa after all. You are just not ready for full frontal nudity from all those other spa-guests, for f* sake! And you might never be! You probably won´t.

Sanus per Aquam: The healing power of pretty darn hot thermal waters

Romans are rather awesome, though, you think to yourself. Not entirely awesome, obviously, because Gladiator-fights and stuff. And killing animals for spectator-fun – not cool! But good on the old Romans for remembering the old adage “Sanus per Aquam“, healthy through water, when they stumbled upon the curative Baden-Baden thermal waters 2000 years ago and continued to build the first thermal baths in town.

Daily, more than a whopping 800.000 liters of these waters at up to 68 degree celcius heat (154 degrees Fahrenheit) bubble upwards from twelve springs at a depth of about 2000 meters under the earth. On its adventurous journey to the earth´s surface, the water gets keen on making some housemates and so takes in minerals such as natrium, chloride, fluoride, lithium, and others. This is were the outstanding healing powers of the thermal waters originate.


Feeling dizzy? Looking rather pale? Achy joints at times? Off into the waters you go. The ones in the spa, not the 68 degree ones, that is. Otherwise, the ultimate relax factor might evaporate rather quickly…


The Caracalla Therme, a spa with a beautifully modern yet sophisticated feel, offers visitors a vast arrange of liquid-pleasure-pools, including but not limited to a rock grotto with hot and cold water, a sensual aromatic steam bath, and a salt water inhalation room. But what am I telling you, you know exactly what I´m talking about, seeing that you are the narrator of this story! Let´s get back to your experience.

Swimming through a small exit in the outer wall of the indoor spa area, a 38 degree heated marble outdoor pool is awaiting you. It boasts a magnificent whirlpool at its center, in which a few people are leisurely enjoying their bathing experience. Getting a bit coy, you take a deep breath, dive under, and are suddenly submerged in calming quit and comforting stillness. The rejuvenating power of the tranquility under the surface never ceases to amaze you somehow.


Seeing that you can´t hold your breath much longer, you reluctantly emerge from your Zen-like state only to realize that rain has begun to fall. Cooling raindrops are quickly moistening your skin, building a sensual contrast with the heated waters enveloping your body. You spot a peaceful corner of the pool underneath some lush plants and trees, swim over, and just let yourself float for a while. What a perfect moment to reminisce about your extraordinary day in Baden Baden, really!


Baden-Baden´s Black Forest: A vibrant fairytale in the making

The morning seems pretty far away now, but yeah, of course you remember, how couldn´t you: that morning excursion to the mighty Black Forest was like something straight out of a fairytale!


There were splendid waterfalls to be marveled at, forbidden paths to be explored, soft moss to be felt, and, of course, thousands upon thousands of the mightiest trees you ever laid your eyes upon to be admired.


And that air! What could you even begin to say about it…Every breath you had taken before in less-than-pristine-environments had made you long for these silkiest of all breaths with every part of your being… for these innocent, pure, invigorating inhalations. Sweet nectar of the Gods, soothing balm for your lungs, the trees´ humble gift of vitality and life-force lifting you up and filling you with a new-found zest and passion for life!


In ancient times, people knew how to honor the power of the Black Forest: they worshiped the Celtic goddess Abnoba there, and named the Black Forest after her – Abnoba mons.

One of the most vibrantly alive places you could have imagined, the Black Forest was truly brimming with life: Cheeky birds merrily chirping away; the sounds of melodiously burbling streams; the wind gently rustling through the leaves of majestic Scots pines, silver firs, and English oaks.


The Schwarzwald (Black Forest in German), with its myriad of dark colored pine trees that give it its name, is undoubtedly one of Germany´s premier oases of peace and life-affirming magic. By the way, have you ever read the brother Grimm´s fairytales when you were little? Well, according to legend, it´s indeed Germany´s largest national park, the grand forested mountain range in the state of Baden-Würtemberg, our beloved Black Forest, that inspired these writers when they wrote Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and the likes.


Black-Forest-style Culture and Food: Of Spätzle and Lederhosen

On the way back to town – you remember as as you lie in the pool and observe that the rain has stopped and a cool yet pleasant breeze is slowly picking up – you passed some picture-perfect farmhouses with their sweeping half-hipped roofs. Looking at those houses somehow made you think of Black Forest Cake, and your grumbling stomach concurred that it was time to take a break and taste some of those local delicacies you had heard so much about. Luckily, you found just the right and rustic place for it!

Shortly after entering the traditional and exquisitely designed restaurant, you were greeted by a middle-aged, friendly looking waiter, dressed in the customary Lederhosen of the region. “Could you recommend something, please?” you asked him rather shyly in your best shot at hochdeutsch (the “proper” type of German that´s taught in schools).


The slightly chubby waiter gave you his biggest smile and commenced to shout some recommendations in a pretty weird accent with rather melodious sounding bits of German at you. You didn´t understand a word this man was telling you! It had to be your secret fascination with his “typical German look”, the one you otherwise just got to see at the Oktoberfests of the world, that had kept all your attention focused. You did like the look of what ended up on your plate, though, after the waiter returned to your table bringing foodie-gifts…

After religiously savoring every bite of your culture-on-the-plate, you did feel tempted to try some delicious Apfelstrudel for desert. The waiter in his Lederhosen, formerly used as traditional attire of the working peasant-community, could probably have sold you anything with his enthusiastic demeanor, combined with your definite lack of understanding. But, you weighed up, you also did promise yourself a walk through Baden-Baden´s famous rosegardens, and time was merrily ticking away. Looking at the cuckoo-clock, another typical Swabian invention, you had a change of heart- the spa visit it was!


“Good choice, good choice”, you mumble to yourself, while slowly swimming to the nearest ladder and climbing out of the pool. “Baden Baden, you are a treasure chest of fantastic things to experience. Danke, Baden-Baden, wir sehen uns wieder (thanks, Baden-Baden, we´ll meet again)” Not Friedrichsbad, though. That will never happen.


Back to you, dear reader: What was the most impressive/ beautiful/ majestic forest you have visited so far? What did you love most about it? And did you ever try any German food? Hopefully you were lucky, and didn´t taste Labskaus! Will explain in a later post 😉 Thanks for reading, and as always, would love to hear from you 🙂



Handy information part:

Thermal baths: For nudists or people who are not freaked out by naked strangers – visit stunning Friedrichsbad, For shyer souls – head to serene Caracalla Therme, where you can keep your panties/ swimwear on.

Swabian cuisine: Head to the Geroldsauer Mühle, where you can sample and buy local produce and have a shot at understanding the waiters (no worries, they also speak English).

Helpful links: For trips to the Black Forest, check out the Black forest tourism site. For visiting Baden-Baden town, have a look at the official Baden Baden tourism site.

Grateful shout out: Thanks to David for his lovely comment on my former post on Baden Baden that inspired the title for this post. Check out his truly wonderful mindfulness blog smilecalm for increased peace of mind and vibes of loving-kindness.

Photography: All rights reserved ©A gypsy at heart

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Categories: Posts in English, Reiselust- Hungry for travel, Reisen | Tags: , , , , , , , | 97 Comments

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