It´s cold, and a damp chill is slowly winding its way up my worn-out denim jeans. A myriad of different impressions is bombarding my nervous system, still worn out from the long flight across the Indian Ocean. Next to me: Chickens and bus seats, and people conversing in loud, passionate sounding voices I cannot understand. The people are carrying the chickens, not the other way around. Or is it?
The massive culture change must be getting to me somehow. It all seems a bit of a blur, but suddenly the scenery changes and jolts me wide awake with its awe-inspiring beauty. Finally, the 90-minute journey over bumpy country roads is coming to an end! Not that I don´t enjoy feisty chickens as travel companions, but I do enjoy gazing upon mesmerizing, majestic mountain ranges thinly veiled by blue shaded fog that much more.
“Common, let´s drop our luggage off at the hotel and get ourselves a nice warm pear tea. It´s freezing, and I can barely feel my feet anymore!” my travel companion states. “Sounds like a plan!” I answer distractedly while taking in the cozy beauty of picture-perfect Yangshuo all around me. Its contrasting appearance to Guilin, the city we had arrived in and where we had oddly enough been the only people who had left the plane, is staggering.
Where Guilin suppressed the soul with its tightly stacked grey upon grey high-rise buildings, leaving barely enough room for one’s being to breathe, Yangshuo is an entirely different matter. It opens your heart and feeds you images straight out of nature´s endless palette of spellbinding imagery. The picturesque resort town in Southern China´s Guanxi region is set amid pinnacles like Bilian Feng (Green Lotus Peak) and is a pure paradise of all shades of green and blue and grey and wonder.
A popular destination for hiking and rock-climbing enthusiasts alike, Yangshuo is undoubtedly a charming little minx. She first winks at you and then enchants you with one single gaze, transporting you to an exhilarating world of wonder and possibilities. Visitors can choose between countless intriguing options: From quaint Li-river tours to warming Pot-Luck meals, and from healing Qi Gong classes to exciting Bamboo-rafting experiences – a world of Chinese-wonderland- options awaits.
After a lovely little tea-time time-out, we head to our hotel. Once in my cozy room, I flick through a very artsy Yangshuo travel guide that someone seems to have forgotten on the bedside table…
The booklet whispers to me through the subtle magic of the written word:
欢迎亲爱的访客, Huānyíng qīn’ài de fǎngkè, welcome dear visitor! The ancients bid you welcome. You are blessed indeed, as Guilin’s scenery is the finest under Heaven. Show respect and gratitude to the land and its people always. For thousands of years, this spring of poetic radiance and harmonious splendor has inspired countless artists, poets, and musicians alike. Know that their creative electricity still dwells all around you in the rivers, trees, and majestic mountains. And give thanks to both the seen and unseen sources of your vitality, the gift of your life.
Know, esteemed visitor, that here in Yangshuo, you will feel protected by the strong Qi (life force) of the mighty karst mountains. You will be washed clean off your worries and doubts by taking in the gentle beauty of the two rivers. Remember that too much fear imbalances your kidney energy, so take time to quieten your mind with the help of some ancient Chinese wisdom in the form of Tai Chi or Qi Gong. It might please your Spirit to soak in a natural hot spring in the Moon Water Cave or to strengthen your Wood energy, your inner adventurer and warrior, by practicing the art of rock climbing. Wherever your choices and your path may lead you, always remember: Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”
A knock on my door – my travel companion awaits, and our very own Yangshuo adventure is about to be born. Through which of the many doors laid out before us will we walk? Join me in practicing the virtue of patience, and find out more in the next post. As the ancients would say –
Patience is a bitter plant, but its fruit is sweet
Back to you, dear reader:What is the most inspiring location you have visited so far? And why did it inspire you? As always, I would love to hear from you:) Stay well and curious!
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You smell… deliciously enchanting. You lure me in with your seductive beauty and your one-of-a-kind magnetic force field. You are sincerely one in a billion and there could never be another that speaks to me the way you do… And even among an ocean of beautiful other creatures that sparkle in their very own magical light, it´s you who dives deep into my soul and makes me feel a resonance of a thousand lifetimes past that all lead to us merging in this sacred moment in time.
“Ready to keep walking? It´s getting late and they are gonna close soon!” My travel companion doesn´t seem to notice my special moment with the deep red colored tulip that I have just connected with in the midst of a sea of gorgeous flowers while exploring the mesmerizing beauty of the Keukenhof gardens in Lisse, Netherlands.
All these oceans of flowers exude effortless elegance and playfulness at once, is what I’m thinking while I’m trying NOT to think. Being in the moment is what the hype is all about, isn’t it? To bridge the barriers between ourselves and the object of our desire, or contemplation-admiration, to let ourselves fall fully into the magic of the unrepeatable moment. So why the f… am I still thinking?
A short sigh escapes my throat. I blame the thinking-overload on the long car ride of the past days: The Keukenhof gardens in Lisse are namely just one of quite a few stops of the road trip through the Netherlands that my travel companion and I had embarked upon five days prior. The adventure had taken us from Hamburg in Germany over lively student town Groningen in Northern Holland, picturesque beach town Wijk aan Zee, and Holland’s cosmopolitan capital Amsterdam to the world-famous tulip gardens named Keukenhof, located a mere 30 minutes from the life-affirming capital.
And we have only just arrived at Lisse, where sweet countess Jacoba Van Beieren (1401- 1436) once gathered even sweeter fruit and scrumptious veggies from the Keukenduin (kitchen dunes) for the kitchen of Teglingen castle, and in this way lay the foundation for what would become the world’s largest and most famous flower park. The longer I meander along seemingly endless rainbow-colored fields and inspirational gardens full of mesmerizing tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, and lilies, the easier it seems to get for my thoughts to dissolve into nothingness. And the more the joy in my heart and soul take center stage, allowing me to deeply absorb the rejuvenating, sparkly beauty that’s all around me.
How often do our thoughts pretend to protect us from what we are observing, while in truth just creating concrete walls between the artificial life and projections of our minds on the one hand and whichever facet of life we are interacting with on the other hand?
“The art of living and the art of being must be intertwined“, I hear a majestic yellow-golden tulip whisper as I bend down to admire her unique beauty from up close. “Is that so?“, I ask her softly and with a hint of barely withheld scepticism, carefully watching out for the nearby Asian tourist group that’s taking happy snaps all around me.
“And the art of being is what exactly? “, I dare to throw another question at the flower-queen. My journalistic zest for inquiry cannot be halted, not even by a whispering flower. She remains silent, just gently swaying her head in the soft breeze as if mocking me a little.
The art of being is maybe, so I ponder while spotting a giant pair of traditional Dutch clogs in the distance, journeying beyond thought. Journeying to that place within that is always still, always at peace, always-eternal. That place that doesn’t know anything that’s not peace. That lies deeper than all the events and worries of this life, deeper than any losses we might experience, deeper than any heartbreak or pain. A holy, wholy place that can be reached when we become still, slow our breaths, go within.
I have arrived at the pair of giant yellow Dutch wooden shoes and swiftly jump right into them, a bubbling laughter paving its way out of my throat, a little piece of me entering the world like a joyful mandala of hope and trust.
And for a moment, all else is forgotten. Everything that was weighing on me before is healed by bathing in one of life’s best medicines, spontaneous, free laughter – a colorful and healthy pill we could pop much more regularly by simply getting playful, silly, grateful, and carefree. Who told us that being serious and restrained was more important than creating enough time to just be, and enjoying ourselves and our world with an open heart? That might be another question for the mighty flower friends to answer… Because nature is and has always been one of life’s wisest and arguably quietest teachers. And quiet brings forth truth… universal truth as well as the truth of your own heart.
Back to you, dear reader: Where in the world do you most feel yourself? Which surroundings bring you back to a peaceful, content state? As always, I would love to hear from ya! Stay well and curious:)
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“Andiamo, andiamo, dai!” (“Come on, come on, let´s go“) A cacophony of sounds bombards your senses. There are roars, shrieks, human yells. The strong and sweet scent of sweat jostles you out of your floating state. All around you, you can taste, hear, and feel the essence of adrenaline, urgency, and danger – intermingled with a kinda cruel notion of fun that many in these years of Roman glory and Roman power are accustomed to. This IS the Colosseo, after all, the largest ancient amphitheater ever created, built on the blood, sweat, and tears of Roman Empire slaves between the years 72 and 80 AD.
But back to this frozen moment in time, in which you, yes you, are merging with history by becoming a part of it. All of you is prepared: from your dust-covered feet in those itchy sandals to your intimidatingly shiny silver armor, your wrapped leather and cloth strips over your arms and wrists, to your dark, tightly curled hair and your fiery eyes. You are fully aware of the fact that you could easily die here. But you would at least die for honor, and with bravery- what more could an intimidatingly strong and well-built gladiator like yourself want? Apart from, obviously, freedom and at least one decently sized and delicious “gelato”, ice-cream, at pretty-picturesque Piazza Navona in that world´s best gelateria that you had heard so much about…
The Eternal City cloaks itself in images of artistic divinity and endless stories of passion, compassion, and cruelty, just like the one you just caught glimpses of by morphing into a striking gladiator of days long past. Rome is haunted by tales of human trials and human errors, and by memories of fascinating individuals such as the many valiant gladiators, who were usually slaves brought in from outside of Italy but who stemmed from within the borders of the Roman Empire. These braver-than-brave humans fought for their lives and the amusement of the masses in the Colloseo, which remains one of the iconic symbols of Imperial Rome up to this day.
Through its many neighborhoods, its hidden alleyways, charming piazzas, and its small and big and holy churches, Rome quietly tells the tales of its myriad of former citizens whose legacy remains buried in the forgotten part of its history. And through its imposing architectural feats, like the Pantheon, the Castel Sant´Angelo, or the imposing St. Peter´s Basilica, it reminds everyone blessed enough to lay eyes on Rome´s glory of its undeniable importance in world – and art history. From legendary emperors such as Marcus Aurelius to the crème de la crème of art-defining creative mavericks such as Michelangelo, Rome is like an oasis to the Spirit of those who yearn for endless inspiration and passion.
It´s a place that immediately lures you in, a place that makes you feel alive- deeply, undeniably, passionately alive! To hear the honking of the Vespas, to feel the warm sunshine on your skin, to see and observe people who seem to have emerged straight out of Aphrodite´s drawing book of immaculate beauty adorning the streets, their gazes briefly merging with yours – to lose yourself in a maze of impossible artistic magnificence, of ethereal and eternally live-giving aesthetics unsurpassed by any other city in the world.
The eternal city truly touches visitors in a way no other place can – or at least that´s what Bella Roma did for me, when I spent a month there back in 2007 to visit friends and to take part in a fantastic two-week- Italian language course in Rome. Those weeks filled my veins with so much ispirazionemeravigliosa (marvellous inspiration) that I cannot help but turn to these memories whenever I need to recharge my in-awe-with-life-batteries. I recall contently meandering through Rome´s art-filled streets at night and almost being able to feel the presence of Venus aka Aphrodite incarnate in the air. The Roman counterpart to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who symbolizes love, passion, procreation, beauty, and pleasure, seems to be palpable wherever you find yourself in Italy´s capital.
You´ll catch a glimpse of her when strolling through impossibly charming, funky and bohemian Trastevere and admire the countless trattorias and artisan shops in the neighborhood. You´ll encounter Aphrodite by exchanging glances with the impossibly stylish Roman ragazzi e ragazze, all of whom seem to ooze sensuality and a sense of composed pride, as if they were very aware of how intricately the fabric of this exceptional place is woven into the very depth of their being.
You´ll most definitely feel touched by Aphrodite´s eternal beauty while eating yourself through heavenly dishes such as supplì, a fried rice-ball mixed with ragù and mozzarella and cooked to perfection or artichokes alla romana, braised artichokes stuffed with herbs and sprinkled with lemon. These might just be the only artichokes that know how to caress your palate and that subsequently melt in your mouth like little forbidden bites of heaven. Also, of course, try all different types of Pizza available – I promise, you´ll never want to go back to eating frozen Pizzas from your local supermarket aisle ever again!
And let me just chip in from my personal experience – I still recall the sheer mind-blowingly delicious taste of a humble Roman panini from my first visit to Rome 19 years later on! Yes, that´s how mind-boggingly exquisite Italian food in Italy is! Sigh, Sigh, Sigh.
By the way, you´ll also feel Aphrodite´s gentle a-muse-ment when taking in the sublime art and architecture of the city – from Bernini´s statue “Apollo and Daphne” in the Galleria Borghese to Michelangelo´s Moses in the Basilicia di San Pietro in Vincoli. And those are only a few of countless priceless pieces of art in this city that literally breathes and exemplifies classical art in its many forms: from paintings and sculptures to frescoes, architecture and food-art.
Wait! Aphrodite just whispered something into my ear… she has a beautiful message and announcement for you! Yes, just you! – She wants you to know that there will be another post on Rome´s delights in the future and that there is aspecial treat in the works for all the ladies who would like to reclaim their inner Goddess! What about that?
A Gypsy at Heart will be offering a 6-week- Goddess Yoga + Healing arts course for women on Saturdays starting in about a month´s time (specific date to be announced)! Feel free to let me know in the comments if you would like to participate or would like to have more information on this, ladies:)
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to Rome, and if so, what were your absolute highlights? As always, I would love to hear from you:) A presto, cari amici!
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Hello lovely readers, fellow humans, friends, 2020-survivors and future 2021-thrivers,
with Christmas around the night-corner, I felt inspired to wish you all so much love, peace, contentment, and gratitude for the festivities. While I always feel that Christmas is a very jolly thing for some and a mixed bag of bitter-sweet vibes for many others, I can´t help but feel that there is always hope on the horizon, even in 2020. There are always many things to be grateful for, lovely (Christmas)-treats to be devoured, nostalgic songs to be listened to, and beautiful memories to be remembered as well as new ones to be created.
Thank you so much for your readership, friendship, and loyalty. A new post is finally in the works: a travel post with a very Venusian take on Bella Roma:) I hope you´ll thoroughly enjoy it.
I wish you all things comforting and soul-nourishing for this Christmas, and a great start to the brand-new 2021!
Much love from Spain,
your Gypsy mate
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Hello dear friends and readers from around this whirlwind-globe!
How is everything in your world? Or, may I say, our world?
I feel that the private and the collective are flowing more together, are impacting each other more than ever before this year in a way. And I feel strongly that what the world needs now…. cue song…is love sweet love!
So, following a mission of contributing more wholesomeness, peaceful, and life- affirming vibes to the individual and collective, I wanted to share a few offers with you that I am currently facilitating. Please reach out to me if any of it resonates with you, I would love to hear from you.
Gypsy offering numero 1:
Want some LANGUAGE FUN in your life?
As a trilingual Cultural Scientist (M.A.) with more than seven years language teaching experience under my belt, I am stoked to be offering a limited amount of weekly language classes again – Spanish, German, and English, to be exact. My current focus is on conversational classes as well as having a FUN time together, focusing on your favorite interests, goals, and topics (think music/ art/ travel/ cooking/ or whatever else you love)! It will basically be a bit like reading a post of A Gypsy at Heart, just with loads of interaction, learning, and realtime-fun:)
–Do you feel your GERMAN needs some brushing up (might also offer introductory classes if wanted)? Let me know! I am German with a Cultural Scientist (M.A.) degree from a German university (Leuphana University Lüneburg), and plenty of German teaching experience under my belt.
–Do you love SPANISH, but need a buddy to improve your skills? Great news: I am Spanish and have had a Spanish language teaching business for years and have taught Spanish to plenty of students from 28 countries in Australia and worldwide. You can check my business and some cool testimonials out here.
—-Do you feel your ENGLISH is getting rusty? Hit me up!I´m a trained TEFL-teacher and have lived for 5 years in Asia and Australia.
I am looking forward to hearing from you. Just email me: mariaelena@agypsyatheart and we will figure something out. Feel free to share if you know anyone who could benefit from this offer.
Gypsy offering numero 2:
Some of you might know from the A Gypsy at Heart About section that I am a trained Yoga- and Wellness Teacher with 20 years of Healing studies under my belt. Yep, alright, you got me – I am a TOTAL nerd!! No kidding.
However, what´s important here is how I can be of service to YOU with all my nerdiness. I am considering offering Healing and Wellness coaching in the future – if that sounds like something you could be interested in, just send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can chat.
I have also created a GUIDED MEDITATION for you guys – you can find it here. It´s a simple, easy, and soothing way to get started on your meditation journey. I consider meditation and mindfulness to be absolutely essential to maintaining our cool in times like ours. And these tools work!
Meditations have a host of science-backed benefits, which include:
Better focus and concentration, lower levels of stress and anxiety, improved self-awareness and self-esteem, improved tolerance for pain, and much more!
I hope you´ll enjoy! Regarding the remote classes, I do just offer a limited amount of sessions, so get in touch and secure your spot 🙂
Maria Elena/ A Gypsy at Heart, email@example.com
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“Psst…I’ll tell you a secret.” He tilts his head and looks at me with an intriguing gaze. “All you see here, in all its inexplicable splendor, was once only a dream, a vision… La vida es sueño, no? (Life is a dream, right?)
Is Barcelona’s most eminent artist-architect really quoting sixteenth-century poet and writer Pedro Calderon de la Barca here, or are the sounds I hear distorted by the loud noises coming from the proud and fierce Catalan protesters nearby? “Sí sí, you heard it just right”, the middle-aged man with the dreamy yet determined look in the eyes assures me. He must be some kind of mind reader on top of being a surrealist genius! “Come on now, I‘ll take you along on a tour of my Barcelona, si vols? (If you like in Catalan)
Alas, how can I refuse? It’s my fifth time in the vibrant capital of the Spanish province of Catalonia, and I am definitely molt (very in Catalan) keen on hearing all the good stuff straight from the freaking talented horse’s mouth.
Parc Guell´s abundance of whimsical mind-adventures
The first sight we visit is one of my favorite sights in Barcelona, the infamous Parc Guell, a surrealistic art lover’s dream par excellence, where stunning viaducts, whimsical grottoes, and impossibly romantic winding staircases enchant visitors and bring them back in touch with the endless excitement and exuberance that lives within us in the form of our inner children.
Think Charlie’s chocolate factory meets Alice in Wonderland meets Mary Poppins doing a tapdance on Salvador Dali’s head and you might grasp the level of plain-fun-creativity that you will encounter at Parc Guell. “Ah el meu parc….” (Ah, my parc in Catalan), Gaudi enunciates with a mix of nostalgia, longing, and pride in his voice.
“I don’t want to brag, but some people out there would say that this is undoubtedly one of my masterpieces!Good old Eusebi Guell was indeed a loyal friend, patron, and successful entrepreneur, and I received many a commission from him. To be honest, some of them never even made it off paper… but let’s go back to my parc, shall we?”
“Sure”, I mumble curiously in reply, while taking in the myriad of multicolored ceramic fragments that decorate the snake-shaped- form bench on the parc’ s magnificent terrace.
Everyone loves an escape from time to time, and Park Guell makes Spirits and humans feel so fine
I hear the tantalizing yet calming sounds of drums emerging from the pine-tree lined park to my back, and I let my gaze wander attentively over the horizon, where the bustling Barcelona cityscape meets the Mediterranean ocean, waters glistening in the warm Spanish (or shall I say Catalonian?) sun.
“ L’ estimo tant aqui” (I love it so much here,in Catalan), Gaudi sighs while taking a puff from his pipe. Where did that pipe just come from?! Probably just manifested out of thin air. Anything is possible, right?
Gaudi continues: “I even had my own home here – the Casa Museu Gaudi in the Carrer d Olot occupies the house where I once lived. ” I sense the architect´s sadness about having to leave his house behind when moving into Spirit form and offer to get going. “Shall we explore more of your masterpieces?”, I ask him encouragingly. “Sounds good. Let’s head to La Sagrada Familia next – I don’t want to brag, but some peeps do say it’s one of my masterpieces!”
“What inspired you to create all these mind-blowingly beautiful architectural jewels?”, I ask him curiously while we admire the Nativity facade of the Sagrada Familia church. My journalistic, inquisitive mind cannot be halted, not even by Gaudi in spirit form giving me a tour deluxe of the stunning seaside city’s famous sights.
“Well, you know”, he is quick to answer while eyeing his yet-to-be-finished modernist church with some recognizable pride – andwho could blame THAT man and surrealist genius for it!
Inspired by nature: The birth of a genius
“They say you just understand live in hindsight, and as a Spirit, I can confirm that theory. As a child, I was a bit of a delicate flower, so I had to spend lots and lots of time resting at my family’s summer house in Riudoms, it must have been around 1859, 1860 or so. Mind you, that was before Social…how do you call it again?… Media and all thattook over people´s minds.
So there I was, Antoni Gaudi i Comet, inventor-to-be of a new and incomparable architectural language that defied classification..just resting away amid nature. The irony is: Having that much time to contemplate the secrets of nature filled me with an indomitable will to recover, to live, to create, to feel the rush of a life well lived in my veins, to explode in a symphony of creativity, pure life-force, and endlessly attractive manifestation of my essence...Wouldn’t you agree that Nature is the supreme mistress and crowning achievement of the Creator?“
“Sure,” I reply hesitantly.
“So, what you see here, and in my many other works like Casa Mila or Casa Battlo, is me following the very patterns of nature, honoring its laws, and tracing its course – what you see is me plus divine inspiration plus mother nature’s bountiful beauty manifested. But that´s enough chatter, let’s head insidenow …”
Where the holy and the whole meet: La Sagrada Familia
While Gaudi and I step into the UNESCO listed church, and one of Europe’s most unconventional houses of worship, located in the northern part of Barcelona, I am immediately filled with an energy of inexplicable and crystal clear peace. The kind of peace that washes away any thoughts, questions, or concerns, and lets you float effortlessly in the ease of your own being, content, safe, and nourished within every cell of your body and every inch of your soul.
“Magnificent, right?”, Gaudi whispers awe-inspired by the creation he set in motion. The Sagrada Familia holds an energy all of its own, and yet, one that’s unmistakably universal. The peace in it touches us at least as deep as the 18 spindly towers of it that are soaring above all others of Barcelona´s monuments are high.
“Spirituality, or maybe rather mysticism, and a rebellious spirit are oftentimes intricately connected“, Gaudi muses while we slowly meander through the magnificent interior of the church.
“Take my example – I was commissioned in 1883 to design my Basilica as a neo-Gothic church, that’s what the powers to be expected me to do. Instead, I followed the longing of my own spirit| being and went for it – I created a pretty cool signature example of my acclaimed surrealistic Art Nouveau architecture. How would you young people, well, alive people, call it nowadays? Ah yes- going with the flow! I went with the flow, and had no rigid ideas or plans in mind – instead, I altered to and added to the plans as work progressed. John Lennon knows best – Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans, and so it was! My egoic mind thought that the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family in Spanish) would be finished after 10 to 15 years, and here we are, 2020, pandemicky times, and still a work in progress!”
I take in the opulent and decorative details of the ceiling and admire how the colorful stained-glass windows facilitate the flow of ethereal light into the interior. Then, Gaudi lightly taps me on the shoulder and says goodbye with a twinkle in his eye. “I have to leave to discuss new project ideas with Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, the famous German architect, now, and he is REALLY into punctuality. Those Germans! But, my dear, keep this in mind – the Sagrada Familia is a work that’s in the hands of God and the will of the people – and so is the state of this amazing, confusing, and colorful world that you are blessed to live in, don’t you think? Adeu!”
Back to you, dear reader: If you could meet one artist, dead or alive, who would it be, and why? As always, would love to hear from you! Stay well, wild, and curious:)
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Hello my lovely fellow bloggers, friends, and readers,
cool news!! My fabulous friend Miriam from Out an´About – the best blog on Australian travel adventures ever – just published my first ever guest post on Western Australia´s top spots to visit. If you are itching for some virtual adventure AND a bit of amore and romance, this might just be up your alley! If you haven´t checked out Miriam´s blog yet, please do – it is inspirational, uplifting, and just a true treat for the soul!
Much love, and enjoy your weekend and week, wherever you may be 🙂
Australia has a massive and magnificent coastline. Though I’ve seen much of it, one of my dreams, when we can travel again, in 2021, is to drive the length of the West Australian coast. To leisurely take in the splendour of those red earth roads, wild gorges and big blue skies. The last time I was in WA I was only 19! Next year, when state borders re-open, my dream is to head off in our van and discover our homeland wonders from the top to the bottom.
In this post I’m delighted to welcome fellow traveller, wanderluster and gypsy at heart Maria Elena. Some of you may know her already and, if you don’t, you’re in for an absolute treat. Her writing, zest for life and adventurous spirit is infectious and will captivate and transport you.
Living in Spain, but with a part of her heart still in…
Some moments in life call for the unique archetypal power and magic of fairy tales to console us, to cloak us in their warm embrace of sparkling pixie dust and story-foam, and to replace our salty tears with sweet and tender smiles of ease and well-being.
As coincidence or fate would have it, I have just the right kind offairy tale up my Gypsy-sleeve. Wanna lean back, pour yourself your favorite type of tea, and be whisked away to a world of almost-pure imagination? Your storytime-wish is my command – los geht´s (let´s go)!
A tale of two brothers
Once upon a time, there were two brothers. One was called Jacob Ludwig Karl. The other was called Wilhelm Carl. They were pretty smart cookies and excelled in academia, cultural research, and literature. The brothers had a shared passion: they just LOVED to travel deep into the past and mine for the golden nuggets of forgotten truths. While on their their intrepid adventures, they met some astonishing storytelling-heroines like Dorothea Viehmann and poetess extraordinaire Annette von Droste-Hülshoff.
These heroines shared age-old wisdom in story-form with the German brothers from Hanau, and the brothers Grimm (yes, that was their full name) passionate storytelling-fire led them to set the stories in stone aka on paper and gift us with the Grimm´s fairytales, originally known as Children´s and household tales, first published in December 1812 and containing 210 unique fairytales. Oh, curious side-info: The Grimm´s were also fab enough to found the immensely valuable fairytale science (“Märchenkunde als Wissenschaft” in German).
Venturing into charming Red-Riding-Hood-country
Germany´s magnificent forests and charming towns and villages build a lot of the backdrops of Grimm´s fairytales – and, like magic wands/ wants it… drumroll, German yodel song, drumroll: the brothers did invite us back to where they used to live and where they frequently felt the gentle caress of their muse. This place is, up until today, known as “Red-Riding-Hood-country“, located all around Kassel and Marburg in Hessen, right in the heart of Germany. Pretty cool to go on an outing with such outstanding personalities of German and European Cultural history, right?
“Bist du bereit?” Rotkäppchen wartet schon auf uns!” (“Are you ready? Little-Red-Riding-Hood is already waiting for us!“), Carl Grimm enunciates excitedly in his Hessian accent while greeting us at one of the entry-points of the famous “Knüllwald“, the Knüll-forest in the densely wooded region of the Knüllgebirge (Knüll hills).
The magical forests of Knüll
“Klar, los gehts!” (of course, let´s go!), I reply, dragging you along:P. All around us – majestically towering larch trees, rich green leaves rustling in the light breeze, and picturesque quiet valleys that seem untouched from any notion of acceleration, just at ease being left to their own being.
After a short hike in the rural area of Knüll (darn, Wilhelm Grimm forgot to tell us to bring proper hiking shoes! These lofty scholars again with their heads in the clouds), we reach the Wildpark Knüll wildlife park.
“There! Little Red Riding Hood! Can you see her?”, asks Carl Grimm with a pleased look upon his face. “Nah, all I see are horses!“, I reply enthusiastically.
Or do I glimpse a little girl in a cute red cape vanishing into the woods in the distance? No time to figure this one out – Wilhelm Grimm is impatiently tugging me by my sleeve. “There he is, the rascal! Up to no good, as usual!”
What the wolf doesn´t tell
A gorgeous wolf appears in front of us, his silvery-grey fur almost sparkling a little in the gentle sunshine. For a moment, I wonder – did the brothers Grimm not mix something up here, and mistake this gorgeous, wild, and honorable creature for an off-track human? Why would a wolf be after a little girl in a red cape? Do wolfs not usually go for prey like deer, elk, bison, and moose, or beavers?
Mmm, something to ponder indeed. I decide to keep my admiration for the wolf to myself, though. By the way, check out the fantastic book “Wild Harmonies: A Life of Music and Wolves” by acclaimed French pianist Helene Grimaud – she literally lives with and around wolves, when not playing on the stages of this world, and has astonishing things to say about the true nature of these intriguing animals.
Checking out Sleeping Beauty´s enchanted abode
“Oh, ich hab langsam Hunger!” (Oh, I am slowly getting hungry!) Let´s head over to Sleeping beauty´s place – she is probably out like a light, but her place ist really erste Sahne (first class, literally: first cream)“, comments Wilhelm Grimm.
Half an hour later, and we find ourselves at Sleeping Beauty´s cozy abode in Homberg/Efze, a sleepy (obviously) and charming little town not far from the enchanted forests we had just visited. Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty must have fallen asleep somewhere else as she is nowhere to be seen. And I so wanted to quiz her on how to sleep like REALLY well! Ah, next time. The brothers Grimm show us around and also share a little gossip on the town of Homberg, which is just one of many, many stops along the 600 km long German fairy tale route that reaches from Bremen in Northern Germany to Hanau in Central Germany, not far from where we find ourselves now.
A lot more happens that magical day in Central Germany, and if there is one thing I would love for you to take away from this, it´s that miracles and magic are real and do happen… never lose faith, be prepared for good things to come to you, and keep your heart and mind wide open!
Back to you, dear reader: What is your favorite ever fairy tale? And: Do you believe in magic, and that there is more to life than what we can see? Or are you a die-hard realist? As always, I would love to hear from you:)
On a different note: I am considering offering a limited amount of fun German and Spanish language and culture classes again! In case you want to find out more, just get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org Bis bald:)
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Aloha amigos, amigas, readers, tired of BS- ones, Zen-ones and people of the internet!
How are you all holding up? If you find this year´s collective happenings just a teeny tiny bit tedious, hey, you are not alone. But fear not – a fun distraction is here. What would you say if I invited you to come along on a very non-tedious, light, insightful, and hopefully entertaining time-travel-ride? No, we are not going back to 8000 BC Egypt, and neither to the light and fluffy Middle Ages. We are traveling right back to February 2020, to a time that´s a measly six months ago, and yet feels like a completely different lifetime in many ways. Do you feel me?
Anyways, back to the time-travel-journey at hand. Drumroll… please say hello to A) A Gypsy-at-Heart´s first-ever video interview and B) The fantastic Andrea Hogan, an all-around marvelous traveler, serial ex-pat, and dear friend who hails from Mexico and has lived in such fantastic places as Southern France, Switzerland, Germany, as well as Queensland and Western Australia.
Throughout our interview, you´ll get to hear fabulous insider-tips on the best travel experiences from around the world and you´ll find out what hilarious stuff can happen to you if you tour France while sleeping in a 400 Euro-car. You ll also find out how to save money while traveling, how to spice up your daily life with a travel-mindset, and many, many more insightful and fun bits of first-hand-travel-wisdom.
Back to you, dear reader: Do you prefer to watch videos, read posts, or listen to podcasts? What did you enjoy most about this video? And which is your Number-one- travel-destination you would love to explore? As always, I would love to hear from you.
If you enjoyed the video, please subscribe to the A Gypsy at Heart- You-Tube-channel and gift me a little like. Arrigato and cheers, mates 🙂
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Be fluid. Be adaptable. Flow around obstacles, ever so gently. Yet remember that you also have all the might of the stormy oceans within you, a strength that can swallow ships whole, a power that just needs to be acknowledged and, if necessary, liberated. The power to break-a-way, to follow your very own path, be it without, or indeed, within.
The storm from the night before is still casting its shadows, the waves on crystal-clear Lake Geneva are testimony to this. I feel the strong winds whipping against my face and almost blowing my purple beanie away. I hold on tighter to my beanie and myself, standing strong like a tree amidst the currents that swirl all around me, my gaze fixated on the crescent-shaped lake. It´s still so tumultuous out there that even the famous Jet D´Eau fountain, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, does not grace onlookers with its spectacle.
Morning musings in diplomatic surroundings
Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Léman, offers a pure pleasure paradise view: the majestic lake shared between France and Switzerland lures my thoughts away from the mundane and towards the transcendent with its unbelievably pristine waters and the Alps visible in the distance. The diplomatic hub Geneva´s watery playground gives me a tiny glimpse of the magnificence that I´ll be privileged to witness later in the day.
This day would be all about the holiest of live´s building blocks, the component that makes up up to 60 per cent of our bodies, the essence of life that nourishes us, cleanses us, and beckons us to immerse ourselves in it to refresh and purify ourselves and start afresh…
After admiring Lake Geneva and soaking up the interesting, kinda stern atmosphere of the diplomatic hub´s city center and the cobbled old town (I somehow can´t help but feel a vibe of “Don´t mess with me or I´ll haunt you with a massive paper trail”), it´s time for a stroll and a quick lunch. Fortunately, we stumble upon a perfect little eatery with healthy and delicious meals called Qibi which provides us with more than enough fuel to do a little window shopping and marvel at some sights.
Heading to a place of French watery magic
We had also eyed off visiting major sights like the Temple de St-Pierre (cathedral of St. Pierre) or the Palais de Nations (United Nations headquarters, a center of world diplomacy). Somehow, though, we feel a stronger pull towards our new destination – I had just recently learned about Annecy in a travel guide book on France, and the sound of it had sounded too darn magnifique to be true! While the mesmerizing Swiss-French landscapes with their imposing mountains irradiated an undeniable power that could be witnessed through the car window, my thoughts seemed to merge with the promise of the upcoming travel chapter. Again and again, some long-ago read quotes on the magic of water crossed my mind:
“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.” — Kahlil Gibran
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” — Isak Dinesen
“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” — Lao Tzu
Why is it that we tend to long so passionately for the ocean, the lakes, the rivers of the world? Is it because it´s where we can reunite with the essence of our true home, where we can wash off the density and stagnation of the world and become one again with our innocent, radiant, and eternal selves? Might places of water offer us ways to make our light shine again and sparkle with a renewed hope of trust and faith?
Falling in awe in Annecy
Be it as it may, Annecy would, in any case, bring me closer to the awe and reverence towards life that radiant natural settings ignite. After dropping our luggage at the hotel and having a little nap, we made our way down towards the primordial reason for our detour. So there we were, unsuspectingly driving through a cute French city and suddenly… an INCREDIBLE panoramic view appeared on the horizon. Was I excited? You bet I was – I was freaking spell-bound!! Completely enthralled, just like in-the-first-throes-of-romantic-love, or when just about to open your favorite package of snacks. I mean, snacks!!
Anyways, back to the bluer-than-blue, any-painter-would-die-to-stand-in- front- of- this- view. Picture the Caribbean ocean, just casually set in the middle of a French town, and surrounded by the commanding Alps. Pretty darn cool, hey? By the way, Annecy is just a one-hour drive away from Montblanc, at 4810 meters the second-highest mountain in the whole of gorgeous Europe. So yeah, that type of Class A mountain excellence was dotted all around Lac Annecy, creating a sublime contrast of rock and strength to the clear waters of le lac (the lake).
Exploring le lac: From urban beaches to aviaries
Once we had arrived at our destination, we started leisurely meandering along its shore and taking in the indescribable beauty of the place. Lake Annecy, which for any curious geography-nerds out there, is located in the Haute-Savoie region of France, is fed by mountain springs and known for its clean water, which we got to marvel at for hours. After a while, our stomachs started to object to endless walks with no French food supply. There seemed to be something of a French siesta thing going on, though, as all the restaurants we headed to were closed for the early afternoon. What´s a hungry girl to do? Raid the nearest supermarket, of course!
So off we went to a charming little supermarche where we got to indulge in buying some excellent local produce and more. Did I mention that in France, EVERYTHING tastes delightful, bursts with flavors, and feels like a soft embrace of your tastebuds? Yes, every single item we tasted soon afterward on our impromptu-picnic tasted “formidable” (fantastic), and that included packaged supermarket-salads! Go figure. French Savoir Vivre in action, right?
Btw, there are a few cute urban beaches and many more things to discover around the lake, such as lovely pleasure boat rides in summer. Inviting waterfront restaurants and wine bars offer lake views, the scent of fresh mountain spring water, and relaxed dining. At its north end, Annecy has a cute medieval old town with canals and bridges called “Annecy-Le-Vieux” – the perfect spot to end our excursion for the day.
Lovely people, stay tuned for my next post, which will be VERY different to anything shared so far on A Gypsy at Heart. I am super-excited to be kicking off a whole new side to sharing for you – think fun, excitement, guests, and more! Will you join me?
Back to you, dear reader: What is your favorite watery destination and why? How exactly does that place make you feel? As always, I would love to hear from you:) Stay well, wild, and curious.
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It´s long. It´s colorful. It´s kinda exotic. It´s just lying there, big, bold, and beautiful, lazing around in the light summery rain.
Is it a giant tree trunk gone bonkers? Is it a vehicle coming straight out of a South-East-Asian fairytale? It might be the latter, but then again, how would I know – this is my very first time in incredible, majestic Thailand after all!! I do know one thing, though: I have been here all of five minutes, and I am already in love. Maybe even head over heels in love!
Moonson musings and first impressions
It´s the middle of October and the rains, as I will learn during the next weeks, are a reliable force to be reckoned with throughout these monsoon months… Sometimes they appear as a welcome friend that ever so lightly taps on your shoulder and caresses your sun-kissed cheeks, sometimes they like to make a dramatic entrance and throw a thunder-clothed tantrum as if they, and only they, own the place. Which they kinda do, when they turn into torrential downpours that sweep away almost anything that dares to defy them, which is not a rare occurrence during the rainy season, that typically lasts from July to October.
Besides rains, there are dazzling beaches here on Thailand´s largest and most developed island jewel Phuket. Glorious, long, sandy, dreamy, inviting beaches like Kata Beach, Freedom Beach, Katai Noi Beach, or Karon Beach, some of them with the typical longboats (yes, the tree trunks aka fairytale thingies!!) dotted around, and smiling Thai fishermen working around them.
Running into the Andaman sea while the rain is in its friendly light appearance-mode is a particular pleasure: The sea waters are warm and all-encompassing, while the light rain pattering onto your head and face feels refreshing and invigorating at the same time. Add the visual deliciousness of the pure green-blue waters and an incomparable view to the experience, and you might begin to feel in your deepest core what makes Thailand´s islands so irresistibly alluring.
Burmese Beach encounters and Buddhist notions of peace
My two weeks in Phuket are an excursion into a wonder-full world of kind, gentle people, fantastic, albeit at times hair-raisingly spicy meals like Tom Yum Kung (a soup dish with a fried chili and chili base, ay ay ay!), to-die-for-massages (try a Thai massage at Sweet Lemongrass Massage in Patong – ay ay ay!) , and raunchy nightlife (head to Soi Bangla Road for the authentic, loud, obnoxious to outragingly fun version of Thai nightlife pleasures). There are also humbling temple visits, seasoned with an abundance of exquisite nature settings- lush tropical vegetation and picture-perfect beaches.
Our hotel is located a five-minute walk from Patong beach, and so I often meander along massage-parlors with petite and very pretty Thai ladies offering their services, flashy souvenir-shops, and restaurants, till I reach the shores of the Andaman sea.
I love chatting with the young guy whose name I have forgotten, a refugee from Myanmar who, like the around 130.000 others who share his fate, fled eastern Myanmar due to persecution by the Myanmar army since the beginning of 1988 and found a new home in Thailand. Many of them still reside in nine refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border. The young man working as a watersport-instructor at Patong beach, probably the liveliest and most activity-packed beach in all of Phuket (think Jetskiing, banana boat rides and the like) has been lucky in that regard, even though his friendly, charming demeanor might belie the pains he must have experienced.
“Smile to it” must be the motto of the Thai people in general anyways – a motto which is inextricably linked to their TheravadaBuddhist faith, which is practiced by 95% of the population. Buddhism is not just an abstract concept here like it is for so many people in the West. It´s strongly anchored in daily life, which is clearly made visible through the many shrines and temples all around. Meditation is a key aspect of Buddhist practice – and guided meditations are often a great starting point in learning to meditate!
For me, the distinct mentality of the Thai people, their gentleness, kindness, and caring ways are definitely a distinct feature of this culture. Buddhism and beaches – two undeniable highlights of the Southern Thailand island experience!
Sensual serenity at the beach and tantalizing time-travel at the temple
It´s a marvelous and rejuvenating gift to your own soul to explore some of Phuket´s divine beaches such as Laem Singh beach, a tropical, hidden paradise with thick, green bush, and large rock boulders, where you can rent a bodyboard or snorkeling kit from the nearby restaurants, and enjoy Phuket´s colorful underwater world of wonders. Just out of this world!! Well, really, in it! So, lucky us!!
To amp up your inner tranquility and peace, there´s nothing better than heading to one of Phuket´s 29 temples, such as Wat Phra Thong or Wat Chalong. My own visit to Wat Chalong was simply awe-inspiring. The atmosphere of peace and serenity as well as equanimity that the temple itself, as well as the present monks irradiated, was palpable, the many golden Buddha statues, opulent flowers and intricate temple architecture a feast for the eyes and soul.
Walls and ceilings were beautifully decorated with vivid paintings illustrating the life of Buddha. I vividly remember being somehow completely mesmerized by a painting depicting a monk, clad in bright orange robes. I must have stood there for twenty minutes or so, just taking in all the details of the picture and feeling completely at ease and peace…
Wat Chalong is generally frequented by a myriad of locals and tourists alike who come to pray and pay respects to several revered monks. These were the founders of the temple, Luang Pho Cham and Luang Pho Chuang, who led the citizens of Chalong Sub-district in a fight against the Chinese rebellion in 1876 and assisted the injured with their knowledge of herbal medicine. If you do visit (entrance is free, yay), just be mindful of the required dress code and behavior to be observed in any Thai temple.
To enjoy a guided meditation, a Yoga class, as well as an e-book with my best kept relaxation secrets, drawing from my background as a trained Yoga teacher, Wellness trainer and Healing-Arts-student with 20 years of experience, just join the waiting list here. You might very well get to sleep better and lengthen your attention span by starting on your meditation journey!
Where is Leonardo hiding? Searching via Speed-boat from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi
To finish off our Phuket-adventure, let me give you a quick description of an outrageous excursion to dreamy Ko Phi Phi island on a leaky speedboat, guided by a flamboyant ladyboy. Imagine this: You are stepping aboard a speedboat that, clearly, has seen better days, but of course, that´s just an uninformed guess. You are too caught up in checking out your fellow passengers, a bunch of cool cat-Russians, three cheeky Australians, and about a dozen more voyagers from different cultural backgrounds, to observe the boat more in detail.
Also, there´s a charming Thai ladyboy explaining all kinds of things in a nonchalant and relaxed manner, so how could there be anything to worry about? A few minutes in, and you start to understand why: While the rains have started to pour down from above, the ocean water seems to leak through the bottom of the speedboat. You are completely soaked in a matter of seconds, while determinedly holding on to your speedboat-seats. Halleluja, what a ride! Is it from heaven, is it from hell? Who knows, really.
Fortunately, there are some beautiful stops to be had before anchoring off the coast of Ko Phi Phi for the day. First off, it´s time to get the snorkeling gear out and jump into the deliciously warm waters – a date with colorful fish is on the cards. Who doesn´t love the heavenly quit under the water´s surface and a sneak peek at the world under the sea? I surely loved every minute of it! Next off, our group gets to hang out just off the beach of an island inhabited by crazy monkeys.
We get to feed them, always mindful of them not getting too cheeky and stealing our valuables. Last, but not least, it´s time to explore the island that the famous movie The Beach made so famous: Ko Phi Phi. Truth be told, the beach and view were stunning AND also – freaking overcrowded with tourists! But – it might be a different experience if you choose to stay there longer and get to explore the island more in-depth… On a different note, Leonardo was nowhere to be found. Ah well, nothing beats swimming with colorful fish anyways! Sorry, Leo 😛
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to Southern Thailand? If so, what were your impressions, and what did you like best? Also, what is your dream island to visit in the future? As always, I would love to hear from you! Thank you, and stay well, wild, and curious:)
Images: This time, all images (minus one haha) are from Pixabay and Pexels, as my Southern Thailand photos went missing. They probably preferred to stay on the island, is my guess… can´t blame them!
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Aloha there in front of the screens, how are ya? Ready again to revel in some soothing and inspiring travel-dreams after our travel movie inspiration post part 1? Well, allrighty then, your wish is my command! Read on for part two of the best ever travel movies 🙂
Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Spain
First things first, this is a Woody Allen movie. But – it´s nothing like Annie Hall or some of his other works. Well, it might have some similarities with his enchanting cinematic creation “Midnight in Paris” in which the glorious Paris of the “années folles” (“crazy years”) the 1920´s, comes alive. Anyways, back to bountiful Barcelona, the location of Allen´s playful tale “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” about, that´s right, Vicky and Christina (played by Scarlett Johansson) in Barcelona.
The protagonists are American girls in their twenties who spend a wild, inspirational, kinda loco (crazy) summer in Catalonia´s capital. This includes but is not limited to plenty of creative endeavors, a dalliance with a somber yet sexy Spanish artist (played by Javier Bardem), AND his eccentric ex-wife (stunning Penelope Cruz), and delightful explorations of the Barcelona-cityscape.
Australia – Antarctica (lol, got ya). Down Under.
Australia – this is the continent of incomparable natural beauty and power, of endless red outback deserts and countless pristine beaches, of a paradisiacal variety of animals, as well as of the world´s oldest Spiritual wisdom tradition. The epic movie bearing the same name does this treasure chest of a continent justice – Baz Luhrmann´s cinematic masterpiece was filmed in the wild and rugged Kimberley- region of Western Australia. It tells the story of a woman (played by divine Nicole Kidman) who travels to Australia to save the cattle ranch she inherited. In the process of doing so, she befriends a local called Drover (Hugh Jackmann hottie-alert) who then helps her accomplish her mission.
When you think of Australia the movie, think mind-boggling cinematography that captures the passionately intense colors of the Australian landscapes- Think fascinating time-travel to the chaotic times of the Second World War. And think adventure, drama, passion, romance, and epic rivalries. You will also learn more about Indigenous Australians, the world´s oldest living people, and about true resilience that defies all the odds. What´s not to love?
The beach – Thailand
Sawadee khaaa! My trip to Phuket in Southern Thailand took place almost a decade ago, and yet the images of its soul-soothing beaches remain as fresh as when I first set foot on the blessed soil of this gorgeous island jewel.
“The Beach” storyline plays out not far from there – the movie was filmed at Maya bay on Ko Phi Phi. (I might write a post on my crazy speedboat-ride-experience from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi in the future, would you be interested to read about it? Let me know in the comments– Kop khun kha – thank you!).
The Beach tells the story of Richard, a young American played by Leonardo di Caprio, who is very keen on his very own treasure hunt. Aka he suddenly finds himself in possession of an odd map that is supposedly gonna lead him to a secret island paradise!
Richard convinces a French couple to join him in his quest for more happiness and adventure, and so the story of stunning images out of Thailand in the year 2000 begins. “The Beach” lures viewers in thanks to its youthful fervor, beautiful tropical settings, and a deeply felt sense of adventure that oscillates between invigorating and unsettling throughout the movie.
Kon-Tiki – South Pacific
If you are in the mood for the real deal in ADVENTURE movies (in capital letters!!), then look no further than Kon-Tiki. An epic tale inspired by real events, Kon-Tiki tells the story of Norwegian adventurer´s Thor Heyerdahl´s incredible bravery and pioneering spirit. In the 1940s, Heyerdahl (played by Pål Sverre Hagen) suspected that the South Sea islands were originally colonized by South Americans, which contradicted the widely accepted paradigm of the time.
Imagine this: In 1947 Heyerdahl decided to prove his theory, and, accompanied by five brave friends, set sail from Peru. Heyerdahl did this despite his strong fear of water (!!) as well as his inability to swim (!!!)
Can you believe that?! Told ya, ADVENTURE in capital letters!:P The courageous men embarked on a balsa-wooden raft (!!!) which was, you know, pretty basic – the only modern equipment aboard was a radio. Probably because the importance of great music can never be underestimated, right?
The crew, therefore, needed to navigate just like they used to in the very, very olden days – using the stars as well as ocean currents. It took them three incredibly tedious and exciting months at sea before reaching their destination. And boy, were those three months packed to the brim with exciting encounters and moments! But, see and watch for yourself. It´s truly gripping stuff!
TheBest Exotic Marigold Hotel – India
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a charming tale of a bunch of open-minded British retirees who decide to explore new horizons by “outsourcing” their retirement to more affordable and exotic India. The hotel that gives the movie its name looks fabulously enticing on paper. However, when the retirees, played by the creme de la creme of British actors such as Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith arrive at their destination in Jaipur, the hotel turns out to be a mere shell of its advertised self. Despite their initial disappointment, the protagonists wholeheartedly embrace their new life adventure and their charming host, played by gorgeous Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire).
While exploring their new hood, the protagonists learn lots of valuable lessons about themselves and life – and there might even be a sizzling love story or two on the cards! The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a real feel-good movie that celebrates India´s warmth, soulfulness, and colorfulness, as well as joyously affirms that a brand new promising start is always possible with the right attitude.
Under the Tuscan Sun – Italy
What can a girl do after a draining divorce? As we have already learned from Liz in” Eat, Pray, Love” , the answer is (or can be): The girl can leave town and embark on a travel adventure to the country of Beauty incarnated, Bella Italia! Or in this case, she can even start a whole new lifein the homeland of exquisite food, awe-inspiring architecture, and dreamy landscapes.
The memoir adaptation movie stars Diane Lane as Frances Mayes, who starts her love-affair with Italy via a tour of Tuscany. Enchanted by the sight of an old, run-down house, Frances takes the spur-of-the-moment decision to buy it and make a new life in the Tuscan countryside, where she encounters fascinating people and becomes a major fixer-upper-boss-lady.
Lost in Translation – Japan
Which countries and cultures are on the top of your dream places to explore? In my case, Japan is a culture that I find incredibly intriguing. From its rich and multi-layered culture and wisdom traditions, to its incredibly futuristic seeming big cities or its mouthwatering food – Japan is certainly a location that must expand one´s horizons by leaps and bounds. Or so I was told by Bob Harris. Bob who, you might ask? Bob Harris, who happens to be the protagonist of the iconic movie “Lost in Translation”!
Harris, played in a charmingly disgruntled way by Bill Murray, is an older American film actor who visits Tokyo to star in some commercials. There, he encounters Charlotte (Scarlett Johannson), the young spouse of a visiting photographer. Both feel kinda stuck in their current life situations, and share some meaningful and culture-shock-informed experiences in the Japanese metropolis. And they might even get too pretty darn close to each other…or don´t they? You better watch the movie to find out 🙂
Back to you dear reader: Which are ways in which you love to travel while our usual ways of traveling are restricted? And which are some of your favorite ways to relax, to dream yourself away from everything for a little while? As always, I would love to hear from you:)
Do youneed some assistance in order to learn to relax more in these intense times? I am currently creating a relaxation-and-wellbeing-package, based on my 20 years experience studying relaxation methods and Healing Arts. My qualifications include a 270hrs – Yoga-teacher-training, a 200 hours plus Wellness-and-Health-coach training, as well as in-depth studies in further areas such as Qi Gong and Astrology with teachers and healers from around the globe. You can register your interest in this offering here.
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The year is 2020. It´s the year of our reality seemingly morphing into one giant, and may I say, extra-long and at times kinda apocalyptic science-fiction movie. Or a thriller. Or a drama. Anyways, what could be more appropriate than balancing out one movie, especially one as intense and adrenaline-inducing as the one we have been witnessing over the last months, with another? A lighter, more joyous and life-affirming one, of course!:)
Which inner movie is playing on your mind?
Let me backtrack a bit, before continuing along the afore-mentioned train of thought. The mind is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant, as leadership expert and writer Robin S. Sharma says – a statement that never seemed to ring more true than now. Rarely are things as bad as the unmitigated mind wants us to believe, rarely is the reality of the world as one-sided as it is being portrayed by the mass media.
The fact cannot be denied that suffering is part of life, of course, but a mind left to its own devices usually adds insult to injury with its negative shenanigans.
So questioning our beliefs and thoughts on a regular or daily basis might just be what the inner doctor ordered, to arrive at the calm which lies at the center of every collective and individual storm. This has validity in general in my perception but is especially important in times of such imbalance within the collective consciousness as has been manifesting over the last months.
To assist you in accessing your inner place of calm, I am currently working on creating a fabulous online relax package consisting of an e-book, a guided meditation, a Yoga-and-movement-video, and… a secret surprise bonus!
I am a trained Yoga teacher with 20 years of my own Yoga practice and many further Healing Arts studies under my belt, and I am more than happy to share some of my best-kept secrets with you, if this resonates with you, dear reader. If you do feel called to do so, please register your interest here.
Put a smile on your dial: Keep exploring life´s beauty
Fortunately, life is not all inner and outer work, though, and travel has always been an amazing way to just have some good ol fun, expand one´s horizons and broaden one´s perspectives. Travel can happen outwardly, but fortunately for us, it can happen inwardly as well. Inward ways of exploring which you might love or grow to love can include listening to world music, reading inspiring books about foreign cultures, cooking yummy recipes from other cultures, or watching fantastic travel movies!
Do you love movies as much as I do? I must admit that I am an absolute movie-buff who even studied cinema at university as part of my Masters in Cultural Studies and communication. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to my top 10 travel movie choices. Find the first three recommendations in this post, accompanied by some pictures of my previous travels/ stays at the respective movie location- countries or cities.
Eat, Pray, Love – Italy, India, Indonesia/ Bali
You might have heard of this one before, lol. This 2010 movie based on Elizabeth Gilbert´s adventurous experiences while traveling around the world to find herself after a tricky divorce was a massive box-office-hit. It entices its viewers with an easily digestible storyline, gorgeous cinematography which captures images from Rome/ Italy, Liz/ Elizabeth´s first station, India, as well as Bali and brings them straight to your armchair/ sofa/bed/ or wherever else you love to hang out these days. It has it all: Hunky and talented actors and beautiful and equally gifted actresses (I mean, Julia Roberts!! James Franco!! Javier Bardem!! Enough said), a focus on delicious food, as well as adventure, romance, and a dash of humor.
It might not be a movie a la Citizen Kane, but it surely offers a marvelous respite and a way to travel to awe-inspiring locations around the world from the comfort and safety (a much-beloved word nowadays) of your home. I leave you with some photos of my own one-month-stay in Italy/Rome from 2007. To travel a bit deeper and read about my own experiences while living in Bali, just embark here. Italy and Bali are up to this day two of my favorite ever travel destinations which we hopefully will be able to enjoy again very soon. Until then, let’s make the most of our virtual travel time together!
The hundred-foot-journey – France
Welcome to la Belle France… enchanting, freedom-loving (usually anyways) country of exquisite cuisine, of free-spirited thinkers and artists, and superb scenery as well as alluring cities and quaint little country towns. There are countless beautiful movies set in this spectacular country, but one of my all-time- favorites must be “The Hundred-Foot-Journey”-
It tells the tale of a lovable Indian family that moves to a sweet yet conservative country-town in France and sets up a restaurant opposite a well-established French haute cuisine establishment. Et alors, and then? Ah bon, there is lots of fire happening! Metaphorically, and literally speaking- the fires of rivalry, of passionate love, and exquisite culinary creations create an elaborate dance of joy and entertainment, brought to life by marvelous actors including goddess Dame Helen Mirren and directed by Lasse Hallström. Mon dieu, c´est magnifique!
Soul kitchen – Germany
Ah, Soul kitchen. I mean, what a title! It points to the key ingredients of this irresistibly fun and kinda unconventional, very non-mainstream movie by iconic German-Turkish director Fatih Akin. The plot centers around lively protagonist Zinos, a German of Greek descent who owns Soul Kitchen, a shabby, run-down restaurant providing working-class food in the Hamburg area.
Zinos is out of money due to, among other things, a punk-rock-band that occasionally uses the restaurant as practice space, but never remembers to pay rent, and old sailor Sokrates, who kinda lives on his boat at the warehouse-space owned by Zinos for free. Everything changes, though, when Zinos decides to follow the girl he loves to Shanghai and leaves his beloved diner to his criminally inclined brother Ilias (famous German actor Moritz Bleibtreu) …
As a Hamburg Native, I must admit I absolutely love this gem of a movie. It showcases many neighborhoods and locations that I know “wie aus meiner Westentasche“/ like the back of my hand, plus it simply bursts with creativity, fun, and cool music. Viel Spass beim Anschauen, Leute – Have fun watching it, peeps! Also: You can listen to the movie´s soundtrack here.
Back to you, dear reader:What is your favorite ever travel-movie? And where would you travel now, if a fairy godmother suddenly landed on your windowsill and granted you a hassle-free trip somewhere in this beautiful world?As always, I would love to hear from you!
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Hola amigos, amigas, friends, freaking-out ones, calm ones, and storm-weatherers!
Wanted to post a little something while I am working on my next longer post- some beautiful photos and cultural input from Spain to showcase its beauty, zest for life, and abundance. I had my birthday here in Southern Spain, where I am currently based, some days ago and wanted to create some positive vibes and images centered around one of my two countries of origin… counterbalancing the mass-media´s approach to everything and the current mainstream- mind-focus, on a teeny tiny scale.
I have been a bit more absent from blogging than usual due to these weird occurrences that we all have been witnessing, but am stoked about everyone who continues to share positive stories, travel posts, haikous, poems, Street-Art… refreshing and much needed!! Basically, speaking for me personally, I am currently attracted to reading and interacting with anything that doesn´t mention the C-word (haha, you know which word I mean!!), or expand on private issues (because we all are going through something at the moment, and vibes are contagious…), but that focuses on creating restoring, healing, positive, and uplifting vibes. Maybe you can feel me on that one? 🙂
Without further ado, some good vibes from gorgeous Spain!
Dear reader, hope you enjoyed this little post! Are there any positive news or insights you wish to share? Maybe a beautiful image, song, or interesting fact about your country? As always, would love to hear from you! Let´s keep this a place of inspiration, upliftment, and joy, and give ourselves a break. Media CAN heal! 🙂 Much love.
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We are in the midst of a storming sea of crashing sounds, water thundering down, endless cascades of nature´s glorious fury surrounding us and giving us a taste of a might that´s usually forgotten.
Do you really wanna keep driving like this?!, I ask my travel companion slightly stressed out and pretty freaking flabbergasted. I need to ask twice, almost screaming my question the second time around, as he can barely hear me through the thick sound wall of relentless heavy raindrops that are crashing onto the roof of our tiny car. Were cars built for this type of storm at all? We can barely see the highway leading us from Baden-Baden in Germany to Basel in Switzerland in front of us anymore. I need some of that Swiss stoic demeanor now, presto/quickly! And a piece of Swiss chocolate wouldn´t be a bad idea, either.
Road ruminations, Basel bound
One hour later, and the black and heavy layers of thick, electric clouds are still weighing the atmosphere down. Which is not always a bad thing- a concentration of dense and heavy matter can beckon one to re-center, become still, and look into the depths of one´s own being/ soul again, to re-encounter yourself in a world that constantly tries to pull you away from your very own essence and truth.
Is that what I did? Probably not. Rather, I pressed my nose against the cool window-pane to my right, watching the ephemeral traces of rainy water-circles build and dissipate again, observing in awe as the storm washed over the huge ash trees which were dancing wild and carefree in the heavy winds.
The storm was still with us when we finally arrived in Basel for a late night stop-over. The rain was pouring down as if heaven was on water-fire, so we decided to seek shelter in a dimly lit, sweet little Swiss restaurant in the heart of the northwestern Swiss city.
Swiss cuisine and savory exhalations
My meal of choice was a traditional Swiss Rösti, a dish made of potatoes in the style of a fritter. Seriously good stuff, by the way! Originally conceived as a breakfast dish, it was commonly eaten by farmers in the canton of Bern, but is now enjoyed all over Switzerland and around the world. Sometimes breaks can really be the most important part of any journey, right ? Just as we cannot just breathe in all the time without breathing out, so is traveling best enjoyed with a generous dash of rejuvenating time-outs, adapted to your individual nature, preferences, and needs.
Along those lines, the hours we spent in Basel enjoying the local cuisine and meandering through its inviting streets afterwards were a much needed break after the previous five hours of storm-driving. A short yet warmly embraced out breath after the exciting hours on the road!
Crazy enough (in hindsight :P), we decided to venture on that same night. The storm had lost most of its ardent flavor, and the rain was glistening in wet and slippery ways on Basel´s broad roads.
Following Carl Gustav Jung´s thought-trains to Geneva
The next four hours gave me a taste of how Switzerland´s kinesthetic essence, of how the land of wild mountains, calm and composed people, and mind- fortresses of neutrality and containment felt in the dark. It felt dangerous, a bit nauseating and pretty darn dizzying, if you allow me to be frank with you. Quite the opposite to the picture-perfect daylight vistas of the picturesque Swiss mountains. Thinking back of these impressions, two quotes by Swiss genius and founder of analytical psychology Carl Gustav Jung spring to mind:
“I´d rather be whole than good”
“Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.”
Jung points to wholeness as a more whole-some thing to aspire to, or rather, reconnect back to, than to try and live up to the always-out-of-reach concept of the consistently “good girl” or “good boy”, of living up to external expectations instead of connecting to our own truths. And wholeness does include our light parts, and our shadow parts – which might, ultimately, also just be disguises for more light, beckoning us to embrace all of ourselves, all of our flawed-yet-perfect humanness on our journey through life.
Oopsie, drifting of! Well, that´s what the land that marked Jung, Einstein, and Hermann Hesse, one of my favorite German-speaking writers, can do to you.
Geneva night impressions and Mary Poppins soundscapes
240 minutes of dizzying mind-roulette and dark mountain-silhouettes later, and we found ourselves in Geneva, the second-most populous city in Switzerland. The pointers of the Swiss clock at the nearby train station showed exactly 3:30 AM in the morning. The streets of central Geneva were eeriliy quiet.
Just a few dubious looking men were roaming the streets looking for solace. Or maybe something else starting with S. To sum things up, I was more than happy to reach our hostel for the night: A teeny tiny itsy-bitsy apartment on the fifth floor with a view over the rooftops of Geneva. The quaint views reminded me strongly of the chimney-sweeper-dance in beloved movie “Mary Poppins“, and so I fell into a short yet deep slumber with sounds of Chim-Chimney resounding sweetly in my mind and soul…
…Until the Swiss alarm-clock shrilled me out of my dreams in a rather strict “Common, be-a-good-grown-up-now–just-like-the-Swiss“- manner.
We checked out of our teeny-tiny place (I knoooow, damn short stay!!) and went off to explore Geneva, known as worldwide center for diplomacy and host of the globally highest number of international organizations.
Find out why Lake Geneva seemed to have a Caribbean flavor to it, how I ended up in the middle of the French Alps with no clue as to where I was during a looong night, and which French town is a well-kept secret paradise that wows like no other in the next post 🙂
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to Switzerland and if so, what were the highlights of your visit? If you haven´t been – what´s the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking of this country? Random answers are more than welcome, too 😉 As always, I would love to hear from you!
Healing tip: I officially declare this a healing and inspirational zone. Let´s focus on topics that feed the soul. From now on, I encourage lovely beings who wanna keep mentioning CV to reframe the very charged word into carrot cake 😛 Thank you!
Also: Check out this GORGEOUS meditation by Self-compassion guru Dr. Kristin Neff to increase self-compassion and compassion. A wonderful tool:)
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The ocean is so clear and its waters unbelievably pristine, the turquoise sky seems to merge with your notions of awe and wonder. You feel transported to a blissful cloud, feeling incredibly alive and vibrant, yet relaxed at the same time. You are also feeling increasingly curious as to what´s about to come while strolling along Coral Bay Beach towards your destination. You love the sensation of the grains of sand cheekily tickling your toes and the warm rays of sunshine recharging you gently and lovingly.
Suddenly, something very unusual catches your attention and beckons you to step into the transparent waters. You rub your eyes incredulously, as the scenes unfolding in front of you seem to emerge right from a vision of peace. Walking closer through the refreshingly cool ocean waters, you deeply inhale the deliciously salty sea air and soon find yourself amid a swarm of huge, wild salmon!
Coral Bay Beach: Salmon sensations on sandy grounds
Their skin glistens in the sun-lights reflection, their large bodies glide elegantly through the translucent waters. Your jaw drops in awe as you become aware that there are dozens of these marvelous creatures all around you. Are you in a freaking David Attenborough-documentary? Most likely. Ok, so where IS David Attenborough then? You really want to meet him! Or was that me? Oops sorry, got confused. Anyways, back to that stellar salmon-meet-and-greet.
You feel the cool skin of multiple salmon against your legs while your toes slowly sink into the sand, and while you enjoy the refreshing waters gently embracing your thighs, a thought crosses your mind. Didn´t you book that ocean-kayaking-tour in for today? Yep, you most certainly did, and it was about high tide (dad-joke-pun intended) to get yourself there on time!
Venturing onto the Indian Ocean: Honoring dreams of Indiana Jones
Twenty minutes later, and it´s time to join a group of excited looking fellow explorers right on a quiet corner of Coral Bay Beach. Most importantly, there is also a marine biologist who who will be your guide on the pending journey. He emanates a certain effortless Australian surfer-cool: With his long blond wavy hair, steel-blue eyes and his welcoming and relaxed body language, he seems to have sprung straight out of a picture-book about Australia or alternatively an ad from Down Under´s tourism office. He explains the basic premises and instructions of our journey onto and into the Indian Ocean in a mellow, gentle, yet self-assured and confident tone of voice that resembles the waves he loves to immerse himself in.
Another ten minutes later, and you are all dressed up in your tight fitting black wetsuit and ready to get into the bright yellow kayak that is waiting for you on the shoreline. You feel pretty confident even though you were like five years young the last time you were in a kayak. Can´t be that hard, right? You smile to yourself while trying to paddle this kayak-thing AND hold the fancy GoPro camera at the same time that the relaxed marine biologist-dude just handed out.
Piece of cake! This seems to be working just right, you say to yourself – paddle left…paddle right…let´s give this Go Pro a go and try to capture this adventure, you think to yourself. Paddle on…Oh F/ Funnyions!! The kayak is suddenly resisting your boss-like ways of steering it onto the dark blue waters that are enchantingly glistening in the sun.
Indian Ocean Kayak shenanigans: Daring to dive in
The kayak does seem to get all hot and bothered with you and just decides to throw a full-blown tantrum which translates into you being thrown into the icy cold waters. Thank God for the wetsuit is your last thought before hitting the water´s surface. Eek! You let out a panic-stricken shriek as the realization hits you that – this wetsuit is pretty bloody crap. Pardon my French, ahem, Aussie English.
Freezing cold water quickly engulfs you and makes you shiver, but you are determined to brave the amused laughter of the group and get the kayak situation sorted. With your strength of will, you manage to get yourself “back in the saddle” in a heartbeat. As the group and you paddle further out onto the Indian Ocean, the marine biologist casually informs you about the different species of sharks roaming these watery regions. Oops, you could have done your research!
You gaze towards the very relaxed looking marine biologist and assess that you are in safe and capable hands. Your own, that is! So when this Australian dreamy ocean guide encourages you to hop into the sea, you dare to just do it. You dive under the surface and take some deep breaths through your pretty pink snorkel gear (open up your possibilities guys, pink looks pretty on you, too!). Soon you start to feel bloody cold mate, but you also start loving that feeling of profound stillness all around you. It´s all so very deep, calm, and peaceful. Like a church visit with no one else around, or a solitary walk under a star-lit night sky.
Indian Ocean: Under the sea, it´s bloody better, down where it´s wetter, take it from me
Swarms of colorful fish pass you by, generously accepting you as a visitor in their coral home. Suddenly, a giant brownish colored fish, really basically the size of a smart car, appears in your field of vision. Your jaw wants to drop, but you, fortunately, remember that you are right in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Ok, a little icy seawater gets into your mouth. Ah well, nobody´s perfect. Back to that enormous fish – it still hangs out in your vicinity for a while, its skin glistening fascinatingly in different hues of brown and grey and shining a bit of sparkly light into the dark blue ocean waters.
What a sight to behold! Through your underwater-goggles, you keep taking in every last detail of that deep-blue-water-bliss-experience, until the marine biologist signals that there are gummy sharks nearby. Do you swim closer? A little! Do you get to see the shark? Yes, you do. And you still have all your limbs! Definite win-win. Also, is it a Jaws- type- shark? No! Those Jaws-type- sharks are, for the most part, mere figments of your imagination. Sharkys do deserve our respect, and they can be very sweet and gentle. Don´t believe the narrator of this story? Please check out this video and prepare to be dazzled!
Coral Bay does have even more amazingness in-store, by the way. Just have a look at THAT scenery. I took these pictures for my former Yoga business by the way… no I don´t go everywhere Yoga-posing 😛 Would be a bit annoying right? 😛
Back to you, dear reader:
Have you ever had a memorable underwater-adventure of your own? Feel free to answer in the comment section – I would love to hear from you! Stay wild, well, and curious my friends!
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The wisdom is already there. It always was. It´s only been buried deep within, hidden in plain sight by avalanches of information, opinions, and thought-streams… I must have dozed off, and met Yoda in my dreams. Or, maybe, the words belong to Capes, whom I am gonna meet later? In any case, a glance on the mobile phone is indicating that getting a move on is the adequate thing to do now. Siesta nap time officially over, Indigenous Australian adventures are a go!
After a short van-ride from our hostel, we arrive at our destination. Through the window, I catch a first glimpse of who would be our guide for the next hours. Can you recognize charisma from afar? I don´t know the answer to that question, but what I do know is that Darren “Capes” Capeswell is a pretty charismatic fella.
Tales by Capes: Enchanted by Indigenous Australian traditions
A big, broad smile, a strong, yet not brutally domineering handshake, and an unmistakable aura of undeniable authority surrounding him make me feel excited and intrigued as to what´s about to come. Mentioned in the Lonely Planet Australia travel guide book as well as other notable travel publications, Capes from Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Cultural Adventures surely knows how to draw you in. The time we spend learning from him about all kinds of local “bushtucker” while taking a walk through the dunes close to the Indian Ocean is truly time well spent.
What the hell is bushtucker, you might ask? Sounds kinda weird. Well, the Aussies have a penchant for unusual/ cute/ very specific terms, and bushtucker is just one of them. Bushtucker is…. drumroll, kangaroos jumping out of a hat, sharks waving goodbye to sexy surfers, sounds of Waltzing Matilda emerging from nowhere… (did I get every Aussie cliche right here? Feel free to add some in the comments :P) …
Back to the question at hand: Bushtucker is bushfood, so any food native to Australia and originally used by Indigenous Australians. It can serve culinary as well as medicinal purposes, as Capes explains to us while we explore the bushland close to Little Lagoon and Monkey Mia. He then continues on to lead us to a stunning location – a tranquil setting by the beach, where everything is set up for a campfire.
An evening by the bay: Aboriginal sound-magic for him and her
Is it romantic? You bet it is! The sun is setting over the Indian Ocean, painting the sky in all hues of rose, dark orange and purple, while our group of six gathers around the fireplace, ready for some more fascinating insights into the original Indigenous Australian way of life. One of the many intriguing things we learn from Capes is that…hold on to your horses, ahem koalas…that the world-famous musical instrument didgeridoo is actually not supposed to be played by women! They play huge shells instead.
Huge, maybe even basketball sized shells? Thats right. It´s quite a distinct experience to give this a shot – feeling the cool yet sharp features of the shell against your lips, while the fresh night-air is caressing your skin. And – it´s at least as bloody hard to get a sound out of that mysterious shell than it is to entice the didge to let loose and play along to your own intended song. But – don´t take my word for it, give it a crack yourself next time you come across a massive shell!
Welcome to Gutharraguda-ways
We spend some more time in Capes charming company, whose cultural heritage is partly Malgana, partly Nhanda, and learn some Indigenous Australian vocabulary specific to the original landowners of Shark Bay. Did you know that Shark Bay is called Gutharraguda, meaning “two bays” in Malgana? Malgana is in fact only one of the three Aboriginal language groups spoken in Shark Bark, the traditional country of the three Aboriginal language groups Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta.
There are about 130 registered Aboriginal heritage sites in the Shark Bay area alone, so make sure to explore and honor the powerful roots of this ancient and very special part of Down Under so that you may get to experience the enchantment that only members of the world´s oldest living civilization can transmit. After all that quality Aboriginal-and-nature-exploration, it is time to let the myriad of new impressions sink in and head hostel-home. The next morning would lead us to an up north paradise, after all!
Wild Wild Western ways: Cranky kookaburras, cool kangaroos, and chilled-out cows
Fast forward around 10 hours and 556 kilometres on the road, including an interesting stop at a subtropical banana plantation in Carnavaron, the so-called fruit bowl of Western Australia, and we arrive at our final road trip destination on Australia´s stunning Coral Coast. On this last leg of our road trip adventure, we have witnessed the distances between towns getting bigger and bigger and we have listened to the shrieking sounds of Kookaburra-birds and parrots. We have also been witness to more and more roos (kangaroos) as well as cows greeting us with their stoic demeanour, and sometimes taking their sweet time while crossing our road-path, gifting us with some moments to take it all in and adapt to a natural, slower pace of life.
It´s also been intriguing to observe the land around us slowly but surely reflecting the transformation from a mediterranean to a tropical climate zone with all the changes in vegetation that that entails. Endless seeming roads have led us past tiny towns, and past the vast, rough red outback to our right, and the equally immense and powerful Indian Ocean to our left.
Arriving at our final destination: Camping allures in Coral Bay
But that´s all done and dusted now, as I whisper G´day, Ningaloo Marine Park, while stepping out of the van, already feeling like a part-time-Aussie. We are not alone anymore, as camper vans upon camper vans stretching out in front of us indicate. You could almost say that Coral Bay is a unique melange of camper-van-village meets ocean paradise!
Camping sites in Coral Bay are so popular that they are often booked out for months in advance. For the most part, they are populated by massive camper vans, or rather full-on camper castles. Many of them are inhabited by incredibly lucky pensioners, who get to meander along pure-piece-of-paradise-Coral-Bay-beach every day, saying hello to wild salmon and sea turtles passing them by and immersing themselves in a piece of barely touched nature-heaven.
If your definition of paradise includes wild and friendly animals approaching you of their own accord, pristine air, crystal clear ocean waters, unbelievably fine white sand, and loads of that gorgeousness all to yourself – then Coral Bay is gonna make you think you have passed on and have arrived right in heaven city.
Could that paradise include sharks? And fish the size of a small car? And a myriad of adventures yet to be told? Yes, yes, and yes. Come join me another time, when we get to venture out onto, and yep, right into the ocean with a very chilled marine biologist, and get to discover what exactly makes Ningaloo Marine Park and Coral Bay so out-of-this-world-mindblowing. You won´t regret it. Pinky promise!
Healing tip: To protect our amazing oceans and help reduce our plastic waste, here are two action-steps you can take to reduce plastic in your life:
1. Get your groceries from farmers markets or farmers nearby, which means no plastic packaging, and usually way healthier food for you, so it´s a win-win.
2. Buy as little plastic-products as possible – it´s a challenge, but what a great challenge to take! You might feel inspired by the Zero Waste Lifestyle. Great first steps to take are bringing a reusable cup to coffee-shops and bringing your own bags to do shopping.
Back to you, dear reader: Are there any hidden beach-gems in your country that you could share with us? And who are your country´s Indigenous people/ tribes? As always, would love to hear from you! Also, feel free to get a copy of my latest e-book “How to feel at home while traveling” here, if you haven´t already. It might just make your next trip that little bit sweeter/ more sensual and relaxed 🙂
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Hola dear amigas and amigos and acquaintances and anonymous readers,
as our trip up the Western Australian coast, from Perth to Kalbarri, and Kalbarri to Shark Bay so far, has been rather eventful, I thought it might be wise to take some time out in creative artist-magnet-haven Fremantle this week. Here, you´ll be able to take in some cool Street Art and soak up the atmosphere of a fantastic Australian coastal town and one of my favorite places on the planet.
To join me in fun and vivacious Fremantle – no need to RSVP, just head to this virtual meet-up-place, ahem post.
Relax, stretch your legs, and enjoy a nice Freo-brewed coffee or a yummy smoothie with me, before we head back on the road in our next post (in one or two weeks) to finish our adventurous journey through the Australian Wild Wild West in an incredible up north paradise. Which includes immersing yourself in shark-inhabited waters, exploring pristine beaches, and having several pretty out there once-in-a-lifetime experiences…
Gypsy News: “How to feel at home while traveling” is born
Also, I wanted to let you lovely people know that I have just finished my first travel-related e-book! It´s called “How to feel at home while traveling”. It´s a practical little thing compiling lots of my handy and personally tried-out tips and tricks to make traveling more comfortable and relaxing – and it´s currently completely free/ on the Gypsy-house🙂
As you guys might know, I´ve been been a quite avid traveler and, to be honest, I did travel in pretty intense and partly frantic ways in the past. You could say Speedy Gonzalez was my idol as I wanted to visit every country in the world and be like everywhere at once. Truth be told, that approach to traveling resulted in lots of fantastic experiences, but also a few pretty intense ones, and it was certainly not the most relaxing way to enjoy my deeply embedded love for travel and foreign cultures. So, I tried and tested new ways of traveling and practices and tools to feel more relaxed and at ease while on the road – that´s how “How to feel at home while traveling” came to life!
Do you wanna feel empowered while traveling? Do you long to feel more relaxed while out and about? Do you want to cultivate a sensual approach to your travel experiences? Then this book will help.
To access your very own copy, just head to this page to download your ebook. I would love to hear your feedback on it or any further wishes/ ideas/ thoughts you might have on the content, as I am planning on creating a more in-depth package centered around empowering oneself to feel relaxed and at ease while out and about in the near future. Thank you so much for your interest and support! It´s so much appreciated🙂
That´s all for today- I´ll see you in Freo, as Fremantle is dubbed by the locals! Until next time,
Your Gypsy mate
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“What are we gonna do about tonight?”, I ask my travel companion as I´m heading back to the van after a long day out at Kalbarri National Park. The cold is starting to creep up on me as the last rays of daylight are fading. Practical matters are suddenly taking center stage after a full day in non-stop-marveling-mood. “No idea“, he answers in a nonchalant way while scratching his beard. “What about checking into a hostel in town?”, I suggest. “Let´s give it a crack. She´ll be right“, he agrees wearily. Ah well, the German part of me will never get used to the Aussie spontaneity and utterly carefree attitude – but the Spanish part within just freaking loves it!
Kalbarri: Meeting persistent lovers of the law
A point in favor of German conscientiousness and over-planning: That spur-of-the-moment idea really did not work out. Like at all! All hotels, and hostels, and even camping spots, are booked out. On to the next idea! My travel-companion still doesn´t seem fazed one bit, as I suggest to just park our van in a quiet street and snooze right there.
Barely thirty minutes in, and an overeager Kalbarrian (Is that how you call an inhabitant of Kalbarri?) zestfully knocks on the driver side´s window. We get politely, yet very diligently told to f…venture off. It´s about 1 AM in the morning, so we decide to wing it and drive back to Kalbarri National Park, where theoretically, any kind of camping is kinda forbidden. And probably, practically as well.
“She´ll be right“, I mumble wearily to myself. After over a year of living in Australia I know this idiom by heart now – whatever is wrong will right itself with time. After a short deliberation, I head to the back of the van and bundle myself up in my jacket and a rather scratchy blanket. Two hours later, and I wake up pretty bloody almost-frozen. A diligent ranger proves that even at 3 AM on a weekday, you shouldn´t mess with the Australian love for safety, rules, and regulations – and off we go again.
Kalbarri to Shark Bay: Dramatic sunsets and darn old Stromatolites
In the end, there´s not much sleep to be had that night – but on the upside, a pretty perfect sunset greets us while we make our way up towards the infamous Shark Bay World Heritage Area. My mates, in case you didn´t know: Western Australian sunsets are basically the VIP´s of sunset phenomena – they warrant an extra dosage of attention for their drama and the multilayered explosions of color they bring to the table.
After driving for around 4,5 hours along the North West Coastal Highway, humming along to some relaxed tunes, we reach Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Our first stop is Hamelin Pool, a protected Marine Nature Reserve. It feels amazing to say cheerio to the van, and take in some new, thought-provoking sights and sensations. If you`ve ever felt as if you are getting old – which in our warped culture can probably already happen when you are like 12 – , there is no better place to hang out than Hamelin Pool. Why?
Well, you´ll be able to visit the insanely old Stromatolites aka the oldest life forms on earth – living representatives of life over 3500 million years ago, when there was no other complex life on Earth. That´s right, even if you are currently 105 years of age, you´ll still be like a toddler compared to these so-called living fossils! How´s that for a win-win?
If you feel overwhelmed by today´s round-the-clock-availability, stop by at the Old Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station. Built in 1884 as part of the communication line between Perth and Roebourne, it will make you feel as if you just beamed yourself back to a time where communicating through the distance was quite a feat. Also, the original building is now a museum housing many curious artifacts which definitely do not overwhelm the senses.
Shark Bay World Heritage Area: Shell beach, a pristine piece of paradise all to yourself
Our next stop isn´t far away at all – 44 km away from Denham and just a short drive from Hamelin Pool, Shell Beach awaits us with millions of tiny automobiles. No, of course not, just checking you´re still with us 😛 Located within Francois Peron National Park, Shell Beach is a true gem of a beach made up off trillions of tiny cockle shells. There are even shell deposits around that are 10 meters deep in places!
Stepping out of the van, I am immediately engulfed with a sense of deep peace – it´s almost eerily quiet, and as is so often the case in Western Australia, we have the beach all to ourselves. A glorious and enlivening feeling! Playing around with the shells, admiring the deep, still, shallow waters and breathing the incredibly pure air is more than enough to get me feeling vibrant and alive after the long car ride from Kalbarri.
Shell Beach´s second characteristic besides its abundance of shells is the water´s hypersalinity, which means that the water here is twice as salty as the sea. Better not drink that stuff! Not that I usually go to the ocean to drink. Anyways, moving on. Despite feeling pretty damn alive after our visit to Shell beach, my travel mate and I decide that it´s time to head to Denham and check into our hostel for the next two nights. There are some pretty special beings to be met early the next morning, after all! And we definitely do not feel up for another frozen van night.
Monkey Mia: A different kind of beach date
Early the next morning, we get ready for a very special date. This date is a tiny bit different to other ones, though- we are about to meet a very wild, extraordinarily enchanting, highly intelligent, always optimistic, eternally kind and helpful fella after all! It´s basically the kind of rendezvous with the kind of being you get once every ten years – if you´re lucky. And boy, are we lucky indeed. Once we arrive on the agreed-upon location, the pristine and picture-perfect beach at Monkey Mia Reserve, we get to hang out around other admirers from all over the world, until our date´s PR-entourage announces his imminent arrival.
We are extremely fortunate – not only because meeting beings like him in their natural habitat and in a pre-agreed manner is a rare occurrence. But also because this being, voted the cutest mammal alive by Animal magazine for 100 years straight, does have the decency to bring all his extremely adorable friends along! As we learn through their well-briefed PR-peeps, their stunning home, the waters of Shark Bay Marine Park, host a gorgeously diverse population of animal species, from mellow dugongs to cheeky loggerhead turtles.
Keep your cool: Meeting dolphin-royalty
But it’s -obviously- the irresistibly playful Indo-Pacific bottlenose-dolphins that visit Monkey Mia nearly every morning which bring home the bacon: they draw more than 100,000 admirers to the beach each year. Some wild dolphins have been known to visit Monkey Mia since well before 1982 to be hand-fed by friendly humans – which led to a big scientific investigation of all things dolphin. Find out more about this fascinating story here.
Back to our very own dolphin-date, though: The volunteers pick a few especially hysterical, sorry, especially enthusiastic admirers each morning to feed some members of the dolphin royalty clan their favorite brand of tasty caviar, no, sorry, fish it was. Maybe my forceful, dare I say fan-girl-inspired attempt to hypnotize the dolphin-volunteer into picking me worked somehow (I swear, there was no bribery involved – they have bodyguards for that stuff) – because in the end, I have the honor of feeding a gorgeous wild dolphin. And I am positive – he winked at me! At least he smiled the whole two minutes through. And I get a tad emotional as I sense the expansive joy and profound gentleness that this exceptional wild creature irradiates through his sweet eyes, smile, and whole being.
Stay tuned for our next post, when we´ll learn more about the incredible wonders of Shark Bay, including a meeting with a highly charismatic Indigenous Australian leader and tour guide, who shares some of his ancestors secrets with us (sorry guys, just the parts that are allowed obviously!). We will also head to a far-off paradise. I swear, I am not exaggerating here! You´ll see…
Back to you, dear reader: What´s your cheekiest travel-adventure? And: Have you ever been on a road trip, and if so, where did you explore?Thanks for reading, and as always, would love to hear from you!
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Copyright: You can feel that one in your bones probably. Yes. Again, the rights to written words and pictures belong to meee/ A gypsy at heart. Because: You did not endure that bloody cold night in the van.
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How does wide open space feel? Like floating. Like being brought to your knees. Like tasting humility, the limitations of being human, and the might of something much vaster than yourself. It does not feel like Europe one bit, I can tell you that much. At least not the Europe I know, the Europe of the mind, of questioning everything a thousand times before putting it into reality, of letting mind and reason reign over the impulses of your heart, your gut, your most essential self.
This is Western Australia, the land of wild untouched dirt, of colors so intense they make you gasp for air and beg for mercy, as such natural beauty is rarely to be found in places where civilization and man-made card houses of self-importance hold the dice on the playing field of life.
Driving through the Wild Wild West: Aboriginal Dreams-time in Geraldton
The red dirt to my right, the stark bluest blue you´ll ever see a sky painted in above, the many shades of blue/ turquoise/ greens/ dark emeralds of the mighty Indian Ocean to my left… that is the colorful ground tenor to the symphony of this road trip-adventure. It´s my first going the whole way from Western Australia´s laid-back capital Perth up to Coral Bay aka my latest definition of paradise.
Our first bigger stop is Geraldton, 424 kilometres north of the state capital, Perth. With its around 38.000 inhabitants, it´s a big town in Western Australia – a small one by European standards, though, where people can often be found anywhere you look/walk/sit/breathe. Once our van arrives safely in Geraldton, we do the things we as humans need to do – eat, move, again, breathe. And we do things humans have the privilege of doing, like marveling at art.
Geraldton Art Gallery: Journeying back in Aboriginal time
As I spot the advertisement for an Aboriginal art exhibition at the local art gallery, I suddenly feel as if I´m thrown back in time. I had always felt deeply drawn to Indigenous Australian´s spirituality, wisdom, and art – so much so that back in 2002 I had basically copied every word of a book on the topic into my diary. And that was long before I even knew that I would end up living Down Under for quite a while…
The book had whispered some of the secrets of true magic to me – not the magic that is used nowadays at every turn to market and sell, no, the magic that is as or more real than the lines you are reading right now. The magic of living in unison with all of creation, and of dancing, singing, and sensing your way through the many circles of life. The magic of things unspoken, of veils unbroken, and bonds forged in the forgotten realms of an ethereal home.
Ancient art in modern spaces
Following the longings of my heart, I step into the Geraldton Regional Art Gallery and bathe myself in the imagery. The Aboriginal paintings invite me to travel back in time, more specifically around 75.000 years in time, when the first Aboriginal Australians, descendants of the first people ever to leave Africa (here´s to bravery!) arrived in Australia. Granted, the paintings were not THAT bloody old, of course!
For artistic evidence dating back tens of thousands of years, there´s no better way than to check out some original Rock art like the one I had been able to admire on a trip to the Pilbara region of Western Australia. But that´s a story for another time and post, my mates.
The paintings which were on display in Geraldton, meanwhile, did open a window into the Indigenous Australian culture for me through their brilliant storytelling clothed in symbols/ icons, a chronical used to transmit knowledge of the land, events, and beliefs of the Aboriginal people.
The first painting posted above might look deceivingly simple to the uninformed onlooker – who most likely won´t know about a very intriguing and kinda secret characteristic of Indigenous Australian Art. According to the Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery in Kununurra, Aboriginal artists will denote the “outside” story which they prepare for their non-indigenous audience whilst the full “inside” story can be understood only to those with the appropriate level of knowledge. Pretty fascinating, right?
The second artwork showcases a common motive in Aboriginal art. Many Indigenous Aussie paintings consist of thousands of meticulously created “dots”. More specifically, it´s Western Desert art which is given its unique character through the use of dots. Executed the traditional way, it takes the artist hundreds of hours of precision and committed attentiveness just to create the background.
So, what do those dots actually stand for, you might ask? Well, they symbolize stars, sparks, burnt ground and the likes as the base of an Aboriginal painting is the organisation of the earth and the ancestral connection with it. Country, respect for country/ earth as well as Dreamtime are important pillars of Aboriginal culture and identity, after all.
The world´s oldest living culture definitely has a lot to teach us “young ones”, and I hope to learn much more about their wisdom and powerful ways of relating to all that is in the future. But ahem, losing track of time here…let´s get back to our roadtrip-adventure!
Kalbarri explorations: From bloody old to bloody impressive
After a healthy lunch (or was it? Mmh…) overlooking the gorgeous myriad of shades of blue tainted waves of the imposing Indian Ocean, it was time to continue the journey to Kalbarri, more specifically the Kalbarri National Park, boasting impressive inland river gorges with really bloody old rock formations that are definitely older than your grandma. Or your great-grandma. Or your motherland, maybe. Depends where you live.
The relatively secluded National Park, 485 km north of Perth in the Midwest region of WA, entices adventurous visitors with its 400 million-year-old gorges as well as towering ocean cliffs. The Murchison river gorge runs for almost 80 km on the lower reaches of the Murchison River, but before you zone out because Murchison River who – take a look at the colorful power-presence that is Western Australia´s natural forces. You might have never seen a blue that deeply blue and a red that passionately alive red anywhere before!
The circle of life: The treasures of Kalbarri National Park
When out and about exploring the wonders of Kalbarri National Park, I couldn´t help myself and did a little Yoga and mindfulness practice on the incredible ancient lands, feeling her more deeply, letting her overtake my mind and being and dissolving into her magnificence.
Witnessing her entirely meant bowing to her powerful presence while taking in the sensations of warm rays of sunshine on my skin, a rush of chilly wind messing with my hair and cooling down my neck, and the panoramic views of seemingly endless wild nature all around me.
This might be a bit random, but bare with me – did you ever watch the movie “The Lion King” and remember the scene where little Simba was being held up to the sky and introduced to its fellow animal-friends? Not that I felt like a lion-cub (even though I might have let out a tiny roar when gazing upon those views), but the similarities between the scenery were pretty damn striking…:P
We ended up spending a good day exploring Kalbarri National Park – and ended up passing the night in a rather unexpected place while disturbing more than a few orderly citizens in the process. Read all about that cheeky adventure as well as my explorations of the incredible Shark Bay World Heritage Area next time!
Today´s healing action: Seeing that this post is all about stunning Australia, a place that is seriously hurting at the moment, I wanted to share a few links where you can donate to help:
If you believe in the power of prayer, that´s another way to help .
Last but not least, it´s a wonderful act of care forour planet to reduce our impact by reducing or eliminating meat consumption, offsetting emissions, and more. Also, check out this helpful article on ways to travel in a more eco-conscious way.
Back to you, dear reader: What´s your favorite National Park, and what do you love most about spending time there? As always, would love to hear from you!
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Hola y buenasdear friends, readers, fellow bloggers, people of the Internet!
What a year, what a ride around the sun hey? I remember starting this year of 2019 with the desire and intent to come more out of my shell and let my light shine, or to put into practice what much beloved teacher and writer Dr. Wayne Dyer used to say “Don´t die with your music still in you”.
Let´s reframe this into “Live and share your own songs, your own truth, your own way of perceiving the world” – I am always amazed as to the realization that no other being ever was, or ever will be, like another! Or, in the words of Dr. Suess “ Today, you are you. That is true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you.”
Every human being is so incredibly unique, irreplaceable, and valuable. You, my dear fellow blogger-mates, friends, and readers, are certainly special to me as I consider it a unique gift to be blessed with your time and connections. As a little thank you, I have come up with a melange of songs, and photos to gift you with a pinch of Christmas- joy (for those of you who celebrate) or just joy in general (there can never be enough of that).
The songs are connected to some of my background/ lifestory- cultures, cultures I´ll always feel deeply bonded to, and I would love to transmit some of their unique beauty to you, momentarily bridging the distance between us with music.
Spain- The Spanish song is a surprise – as I am singing it for ya. That´s pretty out there for me but I sure hope you´ll like it! The song is called “Jueves” (Thursday) from Spanish Band “La oreja de Van Gogh” (yep, that would be “Van Gogh´s ear” in English haha). It´s a sweet song about a love that could be, or a love that´s just starting to blossom.
You can listen to it here:
Germany – The German song I picked for you is called “Wunder geschehen” (Miracles happen) and is performed by a fabulous legend of a singer called Nena. The lyrics are especially uplifting and the whole song is just a treat!
Australia – The song I chose to represent the Aussie connection is a beautiful ode to those of our loved ones who aren´t physically present in our lives anymore – we surely do remember and miss them lots around these dates! The song is called “Choir” and is brought to life by epic Australian singer Guy Sebastian. It´s a hopeful tune, celebrating our loved ones lives´ and how fortunate we are to have spent time with them.
A gypsy at heart will be back with weekly travel posts and audio stories (and something else….but that´s still in the creation-phase:)) in the first week of January 2020. I wish you a peaceful Christmas celebration – with lots of kindness (and if there is no one else, or no one kind enough, around – just choose to be kind to yourself:)), joy (in whichever way you can connect to it easiest) , hope, and Wunder/ miracles! Because they sure do happen:)
Back do you dear reader: How do you let your own light shine? What could you do to let your beautiful light shine more in the upcoming year of 2020? And: Would you feel up for sharing one of your favorite, uplifting songs from your culture in the comment section? Thanks so much and as always, would love to hear from you!
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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.
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:)
Copyright – All rights for photography and text reserved @A gypsy at heart. Because. I believe in your own talent to create.
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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.
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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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.
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 BarongDance 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.
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 thingthough: 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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Dear readers, hope you are all well! This is a little off-topic, but I just felt in my heart that I wanted to thank the amazing artist and friend Aruna Sharma from roseyeveningaruna3wordpress for her incredible art. Aruna is an absolutely incredible being from India, who has the biggest heart ever and shares beautiful poems, drawings, as well as really cool music and other cultural input from her native India on her page! So do check her page out if it resonates 🙂 If you want a really kind human in your life and to support her art, this is the place to go! Wishing everyone a beautiful and restful weekend! Much love
Traveler, Writer, Artist, Journalist, Language and Yoga teacher, Cultural Scientist. The author of "Speak in Spanish- Fun and motivation on your learning journey" as well as the multicultural novel "Von Fischbrötchen, Sangrianächten und Chaoswelten". Love animals, the arts, laughter, traveling through inner and outer worlds, the healing arts.
Weltenbummlerin. Reisende in inneren wie in äusseren Welten – in Gedanken, Büchern, Filmen, Meditationen, im Schreiben – sowie in fremden Ländern und Kulturen.