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Von Abenteuern in fremden Kulturraeumen: Artikel und Kurzgeschichten

Bali-hotspots: Charmed by Canggu

Majestic cows calmly grazing on lush green fields. Local farmers doing their daily chores with humble composure. The sound of salty ocean waves sensually caressing the rocks along endless beaches. Doesn´t really sound like a trendy hangout for hipsters, graffiti-aficionados and global citizens, does it? Think again, my friend, because you are smack in the middle of cutting-edge, vibrant Canggu, a formerly pretty sleepy village and surfing spot that has been transformed into a much sought-after mecca of intriguing culture and trendy cafes.

Let me take you for a little bike-ride through this piece of pretty darned special Indonesian island, alright? Excuse me, what did you say? You wanna know what you are getting yourself into beforehand? Alright, let me tell you that this trip will involve places where motorcycles meet art, sexy hangouts where pissed-off dogs encounter beautiful people chilling out to the latest tunes, inspiring graffiti-art waiting to be discovered in forgotten places, and the creme-de-la-creme of healthy, clean cuisine. And I´ll serve you a tiny tale of a very failed attempt to surf on the side.

Sounds good? Cool, you know what to do then: Put on that helmet and join me as we cruise through this cutting-edge neighborhood on the Southern coast of Bali.

Stop 1: Morally correct breakfast at inviting Betelnut cafe

After a short ride along emerald green rice paddies and the occasional graffiti art piece making a pleasant contrast to grey murals, its time to take that helmet off again, shake off the dust and enter Betelnut cafe, located 5 minutes away from popular Echo beach. Betelnut cafe is one of many, many hipster-hangouts dedicated to serving food that´s good for your tummy, your energy level, and your whole magnificent being. Choose between teas such as Japanese Sencha or strong, smokey Gunpowder tea from Java, opt for the obligatory green smoothie or just go for a fresh young coconut.

While munching on the ingredients of your Betelnut Bowl, a tropical fruit melange, or a Mung bean breakfast (tomato, avocado, and sprouts on your choice of bread), you´ll be able to watch digital nomads from all over the world and chilled-out locals interact in their natural habitat. Alternatively, let your gaze wander over the adjoining rice fields and dream a little dream. Don´t get too sleepy though, it´s about time that we head off to our next stop! Ready? Let´s do it!

Nothing better than sipping on a cool coconut on a tropically hot day!

2. Check out inspiring, off-the-beaten-path street art

Enjoy the feeling of freedom pulsing through your veins while riding along hip hotspots for hot-deskers and slickly designed Yoga studios alternating with pure Balinese nature-scenery until our arrival at Jalan Lkr Neyalan. See if you can spot the gorgeous, orange-colored street-art-tiger set against a deep blue background that seems to run at full speed over the adjunct rice field! Inspired by his vitality, we´ll continue on to check out the abandoned shacks at Batu Bolong Beach, where creative mavericks have come up with pretty quirky art pieces.

If you feel tempted to take a refreshing dip in the delicious ocean waves and let all the new impressions sink in, take your time, I´ll wait at groovy Old Man´s beach bar for you, no worries. You could even try your luck at surfing here, of course, if you feel adventurous!

Let me tell you, I did the same thing a few years ago and despite my best efforts at surfing managed to not just lose my favorite ring, custom made at Istanbul´s Grand Bazaar , but also my balance and a few more things… let´s leave it at that, I´ll spare you the embarrassing details. You go, girl or boy, though, try your luck cause I heard surfing can be a pretty fun thing to do!

3. Hang out at breezy beach bars and mesmerizing motorcycle-temples of hedonism

While you try your luck at catching a wave or two, I´ll be enjoying a drink and maybe a quick lunch at Old Man´s (you snooze, you lose hehe). I can´t really remember what day it was today – am in my thirties, after all. But in case it´s Wednesday, there will be some alluring party action taking place after sunset, and if it´s any other day, there´s probably gonna be live bands playing anything from reggae to rock or DJ´s showcasing their skills to an attractive crowd of locals and expats.

Chilling out on a colorful bean bag and deeply inhaling that delicious sea breeze is another great way to enjoy Old Man´s charm… and in case some barking dogs wanna join your restorative moment, just stay relaxed and let it be. Barking dogs belong to Bali like its volcanoes and transformative magic, after all. Or at least that´s how it was a few years back!

If you still feel like amping up on more inspiration after your stay at Batu Bulong Beach, finish your Canggu discovery ride at Deus Ex Machina, the self-proclaimed temple of enthusiasm and eclectic motorcycle shop. Here, you´ll be wowed by unique fine art pieces while listening to life-music and browsing through a plethora of the latest in motorcycles, surfboards, and skateboards. The unique hangout amid emerald green rice fields also offers movie nights, Pan Asian cuisine and yummy cocktails, so it might just be just the right place to finish your Canggu discovery day!

By the way, I´m open to symbolical tips in the form of tips – have you been to Canggu yet? What are neighborhoods in your area with an artsy vibe that you´d recommend to culture-and arts-lovers?

Handy information part:

Betelnut cafe –  Address: 80351, Jalan Pantai Batu Bolong No.60, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80351. Opening times: Every day from 8 AM- 10 PM

Old Man´s – Address: Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong No.117X, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80351. Opening times: Every day from 7 AM-1 AM

Deus Ex Machina – Jl. Batu Mejan No.8, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia. Opening times: Every day from 7 AM-12 AM

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Traditional Balinese dance and music performances in Ubud

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.

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

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

Balinese dancers in Ubud, photo by Aditya Agarwal from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. Have you ever seen a traditional Balinese dance before? How did you feel about it?

Practical information:

  • 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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Ubud´s artistic hotspots

Why is it that there are places that just seem to have a certain creative and transformational power that others just don´t? Places that burst with a certain je ne sais quois, an almost magnetic force that draws visitors in like bees to honeycomb or like wild souls to seawater. Ubud in Central Bali certainly belongs to the list of seductive places that lure you in with their promise of healing and artistic delights.

It might be because Ubud is literally named after the Balinese word ubad for medicine, making reference to its function as a crucial source of medicinal plants and herbs. Or maybe Ubud´s mysterious attraction can be traced back to its founding legend which surrounds a Javanese priest by the name of Rsi Markendya. As the eighth-century legend goes, the priest chose to meditate at the confluence of two rivers in Campuan, Central Bali, which inspired him to create the Gunung Lebah Temple. Up to today, this site remains a place revered by pilgrims and seekers.

Be it as it may, there are certain places in Ubud where you can easily get a taste of its legendary creative charm yourself. Let´s start with majestic ARMA-museum, the Agung Rai Museum of Art. Founded by Balinese protector of the Arts and Culture, Agung Rai, it houses permanent exhibitions of inspiring paintings by Balinese, Indonesian and foreign creative mavericks. On top of alluring traditional and contemporary visual art by Balinese masters such as Ida Bagus Made or I Gusti Made Deblog – no, he wasn´t blogger to my knowledge, even though what a spot- on-name that would be- there´s a space dedicated to German painter Walter Spies.

Ever heard of this crafty fella? Well, don´t fret if you haven´t, his fame didn´t make it to a global level, but he did rock Bali´s world and had a major impact on the development of the arts on the island. Spies was an ethnic German born in Russia and the whole artistic package: a gifted teacher of music and painting, he also experimented with dance and excelled as a visual artist.

Spies, who lived an intense and short life, and kindred spirits Willem Hofker and Rudolf Bonnet were also real olden-day-celebrity-magnets. They came to entertain and delight global stars such as my beloved Charlie Chaplin, British Science-fiction-writer H.G. Wells or Austrian-American writer Vicki Baum, to name a few. And the foreign artistic groundbreakers also used their influence and popularity to gather the creme-de-la-creme of artists from all over to teach and train the Balinese in arts. This is actually what led to Ubud becoming the world-famous cultural center of Bali known and loved by so many today!

While you are at the ARMA- museum, don´t miss out on the magnificent tropical gardens: Let your newfound inspiration work its magic within you while wandering past orchid-lined water-ponds filled with lotus flowers. You´ll also pass by enticing traditional stone sculptures frosted in green moss and adorned with typical Balinese flower offerings. The soothing sounds of the picturesque fountains will create an irresistible auditive melange with the exotic Gamelan-music that can often be heard in these peaceful surroundings. You might even get a glimpse of children practicing their Balinese dance skills! This is due to ARMA also housing an outstanding center for performing arts which regular hosts Balinese-themed workshops, classes, and performances.

Practical Information:

  • The ARMA museum is located on Jalan Raya Pengosekan in Ubud.
  • Opening hours: Every day from 9 AM to 6 PM
  • Admission: IDR 80000, which includes a tea or coffee
  • Peckish? There is also a fabulous cafe and a restaurant on site.
  • Is there more? Yes, there is a stunning resort located on the compound, Cultural workshops to delight in, musical performances to attend…

Have you ever been to Ubud, or to any other place that for some reason really stirred your soul? Would love to hear about your experiences!

Photography: all rights reserved © A gypsy at heart

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Balinese village life: Exploring soulful Lothunduh

Bare-breasted women graciously balancing heavy goods on their heads, looking just like those on the black-and-white-film-snippets recorded by Charlie Chaplin back in 1932. Exotic looking Bali cattle, descendants of mighty buffalos, plowing the soils of vast rice fields just before the rice seeds are planted. The happy squeals of local children, splashing and playing in the waters of the river. Enchanted looking, hidden away Hindu temples, exuding the whiff of the unknown.

My time in Lothunduh introduced me to a world which was far-removed from everything I had immersed myself in before. In a way, my 5 month-stint in Bali would prove to be so significant that it would divide my life into a “before” and “after”. The intricacies of that story are destined for another post, though…

This story aims to transport you to a Balinese village just a stone-throw away from trendy Cultural hub Ubud, and yet so far removed from it in terms of its deeply-rooted connection to its traditional essence and to a slow-paced way of life lived in harmony with the seasons. Spend a day or even a few hours in Lothunduh anywhere off the main roads, and you´ll get to look through a peephole into the island´s past. Watch rice farmers donning their traditional working clothes and hats while minding the paddies, observe devoted artists and craftsmen create their unique art pieces in one of the many art shops or workshops, or marvel at the Balinese goddess-women who perform their daily offerings at the many places of worship all around.

Something about Lothunduh and its inhabitants simple, yet deeply connected and magical way of life really stirred my soul. Especially the way in which the Balinese there and on the whole island honor and give back through daily rituals which express their gratitude to the Gods they revere creates a completely different atmosphere to what we are used to in the West. To believe in something outside of oneself and to cultivate awareness for the countless gifts we are given each day of our lives is an inspiration that I hope to keep in my heart.

You will be able to witness the deeply spiritual life of the Balinese just by keeping your eyes and hearts open while wandering along the roads of the farming village. Here are some more places to visit in order to get an authentic feel for what I am trying yet might fall short to transmit with my lines (there is only so much that words can convey, after all):

  • For beautiful artwork: You´ll be absolutely spoilt for choice here, you lucky girl/guy! As a good starting point for your exploration, head to gallery Semar Kuning on Jalan A.A.Gede Rai 8. Here, two Buddha figures and a big Ganesha-Elephant- statue greet you upon arrival and intriguing contemporary paintings depicting traditional Balinese motives await your visit. Keep wandering around Lothunduh-village and you´ll come across more galleries and workshops, as Central Bali is not only a place filled with rituals, myths, and magic but also home to countless skilled artists and craftsmen. Many Balinese wholeheartedly devote their time to honor their Hindu faith through their visual arts, woodcarving, dance, and other art forms.
  • For interesting Hindu temples: Even though you generally won´t be allowed to visit these places of worship, it´s still a beautiful experience to take in their charm and interesting appearance while strolling around. Head to Pura Desa Lothunduh or Pura Hyang Api, for instance.
  • For authentic Indonesian food: Check out Blue Bliss Warung and indulge in specialties such as Nasi Campur or Nasi Goreng, delicious rice (Nasi) based dishes.
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Meeting Dalí: Surrealist sculptures in Marbella

Salvador Dalí must be the epitome of the eccentric artist-genius if there ever was one. And eccentric, mind you, in a good, no, freaking brilliant way. The Catalan artist melted hearts and stirred the art world´s pot with his unconventional, surrealist ways. I was fortunate enough to visit his thought-provoking “Casa Museu Dalí” in Figueres, close to the French border, a while ago – a place where giant eggs sit enthroned on the claret colored rooftop and sultry lips as well as a nose act as surprising pieces of furniture and decor. It is an inspiring place, to say the least! 

Dalí´s work traveled far and wide, and a part of it somehow ended up in a place the celebrated artist didn´t really have that much to do with during his lifetime – in Marbella, Southern Spain.  While the creative genius spent most of his life between cities such as Barcelona, Madrid or Paris with a longer stay in New York, some of his outlandish sculptures have found a home in the beautiful, notorious coastal city 45 minutes from Malaga. 

There are two places in Marbella where you can soak up the Mediterranean sun and marvel at the famous painter, artist and sculptor´s
work at once. One is located at Puerto Banus, playground of the super-wealthy, where even Arabia´s billionaires leave their yachts in the port and come out to mingle. Located on the Cristamar roundabout at the end of Avenida Naciones Unidas, a several tonne heavy rhinoceros dressed in lace greets its onlookers with a detached (or is it cheeky?) demeanor.  

Rhinoceros sculpture Dali Marbella
This well-dressed rhinoceros was created by Dali after he made a crazy movie called “The Prodigious Adventure of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros” in 1956. Photo by Manuel 
González Olaechea y Franco/ Wikimedia Commons.

For a wider array of artwork, head to Marbella Boulevard, to so-called Avenida del Mar, which is located right in the pulsing heart of the city, between the endlessly charming old town with its flower-patios and narrow winding, white-washed streets, and the gorgeous embankments along the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean ocean. 

Here, where a salty sea breeze fills the air and the sun warms every pore of your skin, five quirky sculptures await your interpretation. The first one depicts Greek mythological man and hero Perseus, caught in the act while cutting lady Medusa´s head off. Remember Medusa? Yep, it´s that feisty female with snakes instead of hair and a pretty chilly gaze – so chilly, in fact, that any man gazing upon her would turn to stone. It seems somehow understandable, then, that Perseus would do such a drastic move. But wait, isn´t he already cast in stone? This is kinda confusing. I mean, what´s the point? Anyway, moving on.

Apart from Perseus, there are two sculptures that showcase a more direct connection to Dali’s life: One of them is named “Gala Gradiva” after the artist´s wife, the other is a depiction of her looking out a window. As you can gather from these sculptures, this enigmatic, Russian-born woman played a central role in Dali´s art and life. He adored her with as much heart and soul as only artists can adore their creative-life-giving muses. As a testimony to this and to the powerful effect of love on art, let me close this post with a quote by Dali himself, revealing his neverending affection for Gala as well as the overall quirkiness of his character:


“I name my wife: Gala, Galushka, Gradiva; Oliva, for the oval shape of her face and the color of her skin; Oliveta, diminutive for Olive; and its delirious derivatives Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Suliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. I also call her Lionette, because when she gets angry she roars like the  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion”

 

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China for beginners: Hainan

Excitement doesn’t even begin to cover what I feel when boarding Air-not-Africa in direction Hainan, China’s only subtropical island paradise. I wonder whether I am slightly high – no wonder, after a very restless night wandering the corridors of Singapore’s Changi Airport I am on a 24-hour sleep deprivation that’s just about to go weird.

Meeting Isabella from Haikou

Fortunately, there’s my new friend Isabella: a very dreamy girl from Haikou, Hainan’s capital city, who smiles non-stop and asks me straight-up whether I am up for a chat. Over the next two or three hours, Isabella shares fascinating insights with me that reveal a lot about some of the challenges that contemporary China and Chinese youngsters specifically are currently facing.

As opposed to most Western young adults, Chinese youth are heavily influenced and formed by their strict parents’ expectations and demands. Isabella, a name the 23-year-old chose for herself to facilitate interactions with foreigners who might struggle with pronouncing the Mandarin name, is no exception. Following her parents’ wishes, she is studying tourism in Singapore despite feeling utterly bored by it. She also hasn’t been able to catch up with her boyfriend in eleven long month due to her parents’ disapproval.

Isabella keeps telling me how hard it still is in modern day China to stand up to your ancestors and to choose the life you really want to live against all protests and odds. We end our surprisingly direct conversation by exchanging addresses and hugging each other goodbye. My first impression of Chinese people in China is definitely a great one! Let´s see if these positive impressions keep coming –  it’s time to set foot on the land of the rising sun.

The land of the rising sun

The people’ s Republic of China is home to over a whopping 1,37 billion people. The little island to the South is subtropical Hainan, one of China’s premier holiday destinations.

Passing the Chinese border control

Ah well, it´s ALMOST time to set foot on the land of the rising sun. First, a border patrol lady is questioning my motives of entering the holy land of consumer product creation. “Are you here for business?”, she asks me in a strict tone of voice. “No, visiting a relative.” , I answer slightly intimidated. “What is your relative doing in China?” At this point, I am inclined to answer with “He is an American spy. ”

I choose not to, however, flying back to Australia without even tasting some authentic dumplings does not sound like the wisest plan. The border patrol lady seems satisfied with the answer I actually give, and so I triumphantly leave the security area, pick up my bags and meet my relative at the exit. Fortunately, he is fluent in Chinese – seeing as out of nowhere, about five over-diligent cab drivers surround us and get a little too close for my liking. Hey, I am used to plenty of space now, living in WA and all! After discussing loudly in screamy Chinese, we get into a cab and drive to the hostel. There´s good and bad news awaiting me there.

haikou taxi

Haikou and a cab. I know it´s not the airport.

First impressions of the Haikou hostel

The good news: an in-house menu with delicious dumplings that I actually manage to eat with chopsticks! The bad news: the toilet is a hole in the ground… Then I remember that this is quite a common thing in Asia, and tell myself to be less biased, for f… sake. Flexibility is key regarding authentic travel experiences, and I plan on sticking to that mantra! The next two days in Haikou are spent discovering some intriguing sights, tasting authentic treats and ….almost eating a brain. Stay tuned for more details on my Haikou adventures! Have you been to China yet? What were your first impressions?

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Fiery food and fancy clubs in spectacular Singapore

My first trip to Singapore was a game changer – I was in Asia for the first time, after all! And I was ready for absolutely anything. Before even setting foot on the Lion’s city’s soil, I made sure to cover every last inch of my skin in pungent, poisonous DEET-Spray to keep any possible malaria-threat at bay.  In my mind, it was quite obvious that bloodthirsty anopheles-mosquitoes were patiently waiting around every corner just to get hold of my irresistibly delicious blood. My first Singaporean encounter was, however, not an out-of-control mosquito, but a lovely Indian guy working at the airport. Much to my amazement, he was quite delighted when he found out that I had just arrived from Germany. He gifted me a broad, beautiful smile and performed a little jump, mimicking a soccer-move in the air and enthusiastically exclaiming: ”Ah, Germany! Soccer!”

Singers Skyline

Admiring the Lion´s city skyline on a hazy afternoon

Stepping out of Changi Airport, voted the best airport in the world for the last five consecutive years, something quite distinct caught my attention. A bunch of mostly tiny white-haired ladies and gentlemen,  all in their seventies or eighties, were walking around full of determination and busy like bumblebees. Their sole task consisted in making sure that the taxis would swiftly drive up to their designated spot and that customers would be on their way right away, without any hassle or any tedious waiting in line. All in all, it took about two minutes until we were safely seated in the taxi. Quite efficient, right? On the way into town, I longingly pressed my nose against the tainted window, fully in awe of the amazingly lush, abundant tropical vegetation that lined the impeccably maintained streets. Gorgeous Banyan trees, palm trees, and orchids gave us a quick first impression of Singapore’s staggering 2200 native plant species.

Eat, eat, eat some more: Welcome to food heaven

Our cute hotel, Hangout@Mount Emily, was located only 3 km away from Chinatown, and we decided to make the most of the balmy, tropical night and take a look around. Luckily for us, the shopping malls, one of Singapore’s definite go-to-places and (almost) national treasures, were still open at 10 pm, allowing us to explore their amazing food stalls. With their array of colorful, mouth-watering specialties, Singapore’s hawker centers and markets are undoubtedly a piece of pure paradise for food-lovers.

 

singapore shopping mall

Enjoying one of Singapore´s countless shopping malls

One of Singapores´s many foodstalls

A busy food stall at Lau Pa Sat food market

Want some inspiration? If you love it hot and spicy, you should definitely give Singapore’s specialty dish Laksa a try. Laksa is a spicy noodle soup from the Peranakan/ Nyonya cuisine,  created by descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore, and Indonesia inter-marrying with local Malays. It consists of rice noodles with chicken, prawn or fish, offered in spicy soup and often times based on rich and spicy curry coconut milk. When I tried Laksa for the first time at fancy Lau Pa Sat Food market, I desperately attempted to eat a quarter of the normal sized portion for an eternally long seeming half an hour, skeptically ogled by the Singaporean soup Saleslady. I did not do so well, to say the least, despite basically turning into a fire-spitting ball of determination. So yeah, you better love your meals real hot!

Other delicious food-ideas to sample in Singapore pose less risk to spice-adverse stomachs and include delicious pink dragon fruit, Kaya toast and Milo for breakfast. Or tender satay, grilled meat served with rice cake, peanut sauce and cucumber-chili relish, for a light lunch. Singapore’s food is generally speaking as diverse and eclectic as its population, a fascinating blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Western influences.

 

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Pretty in pink: Dragon fruit, or Pitya, is grown and exported from several South East Asian countries. Its mommy is a pretty cactus!

Spice it up, non-food-wise: A wedding celebration and tropical nightlife wonders

My first stay in Singapore, a country that consistently scores top spots in the ”Best countries to live in” – rankings, obviously did not just (exclusively) consist of food indulgences. One of the undeniable highlights was attending a friend’s incredibly memorable wedding-celebration at luxurious Marina Bay Sands, an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay in Singapore. After a touching church ceremony downtown, the celebration took place in one of the many Skyscrapers overlooking the Singaporean Marina. And what a celebration it was! A delicious five-course-meal and two dress changes and appearances of the newlyweds, dramatically set in scene by a red carpet, Titanic-movie-style-music, as well as smoke from an authentic smoke machine (for real!), turned the party into an almost out-of-body experience.

Singapore

Stunning Singapore at night

After a mix of tear-jerking speeches and light entertainment, it was finally time to hit da dance floor. Singapore has quite a reputation for its great club-scene, including but not limited to the areas of Clarke Quay, Chinatown’s Club street and Holland village. For fans of nostalgic momentum: Check out legendary Raffles hotel and drink up that notorious Singapore Sling, though your purse might not thank you for it. However, your travel memory collection certainly will. Choices! In our case, we opted for something different that young and alluring night and decided to party on in one of Singapore’s stunning clubs with a view, CE LA VI, and to, later on, hit the clubs on gorgeous Sentosa Island. Hugely popular Sentosa Island is a true treasure chest, even though it’s not entirely what it seems to be… Do you have any handy, absurd, or exciting travel tips for Singapore to share? Feel free to comment below, and thanks for your time, fellow travel lovers!

 

 


Handy information part: 

Hungry at 4 AM? Go to: Lau Pa Sat Foodmarket, 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582. You can eat around the clock here, so better bring those generously sized pants, mates. And they better be decent looking, financial district location and all. Just sayin’…

All jittery? Dance it off at: CÉ LA VI, 1 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018971 

Tired much? Sleep at: Hangout@Mount Emily, 10A Upper Wilkie Rd, Singapore 228119. Phone: +65 6438 5588

Having an airport-crush? Spend the day prior to your arrival or departure in Chiangi-Airport, Airport Blvd, Singapore. Why? There’s enchanted gardens, butterfly sanctuaries, art installations, a multimedia entertainment center and even a movie theatre to keep you in non-stop-marvelling-mood.

 

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Bali Beach turtle rescue

It is late afternoon in Bali. World-famous Kuta beach resembles an overcrowded anthill: a messy mix of surfers, retired Australians with big bellies enjoying their Bintang beers on plastic chairs, partying youngsters and Balinese either socializing in the sand or selling all imaginable types of products. Some also offer up drinks from improvised mini beach bars as well as mobile Rasta style hair braiding services or massages.

The muggy and stifling heat of an average tropical day at the end of the dry season is finally easing up. Palm trees along the narrow beach promenade mercifully stretch out their long leaves to shelter the gathering onlookers who await the dramatic sunsets of Bali’s Southern Coast.

The Balinese Sea Turtle Initiative

In between all the hustle and bustle, a giant turtle raises its head and commands attention. It belongs to the Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Center, an initiative created by Balinese Mr. Agung and his wife Wayan in 2001 as a safe haven for sea turtle eggs, which are being laid on Kuta beach by the thousands each year. The programm’s goal lies in protecting the tortoises’ eggs from threats in their original nesting locations such as high tide, tourist traffic, feral dogs or irresponsible human behavior. In a safe and sheltered environment, hatching rates are increased.

It’s the first time for me to help in a Sea turtle program, and even though I have worked with animals of a much bigger size before, I feel quite excited and a tiny bit nervous. More than forty or even fifty people linger around the oval, sand filled open-air container that harbors the now hatched eggs and the incredibly cute baby sea turtles that left their shells just the night before and crawl around for the first time in their short lives. Agitated and expectant sounding fragments of Malaysian, Indonesian, English, French and Italian around me fuse into a motley hotchpotch while we wait for Mr. Agung to give us instructions. Meanwhile, some trained volunteers carefully transport the sea turtles from their container to the point of the first encounter between the baby sea turtles and us international volunteer – bundles of excitement.

Mr. Agung is, even at first sight and before commencing his speech, a joyous force to be reckoned with. Bursting with energy, the founder of the Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Program addresses the curious multicultural crowd with an incredibly infectious enthusiasm that makes you feel in your bones how deeply he cares about the cause. While connecting with us volunteers for the day with a smile that seems as warm as an honest embrace, he tells us all about releasing the baby sea turtles back into the ocean and reveals some insightful facts about the conservation project.

How to be a Turtle Ranger aka almost a Ninja Turtle

The work of the long-term volunteers consists in morphing into heroic Turtle Rangers who patrol the beach all night long on the lookout for mother sea turtles that come out of the ocean to lay their eggs. They then go on to protect the mother turtle during the nesting process. Once she is finished laying the eggs and safely back in the ocean, the task concludes with the eggs’ relocation from the beach to the hatchery at Kuta. Subsequently it’s time to wait 45 to 60 days for the baby sea turtles to develop and hatch. Once they come out,  it’s all about being quick, as the sea turtles should be returned to their natural habitat as soon as possible, ergo the day after their nightly hatching.

Mr. Agung tells us that their survival rate without help, with the eggs remaining at often chaotic Kuta beach, would be just 1 in 3000- not very convincing odds and a huge driving force for the Sea Turtle program to work relentlessly towards bettering the baby sea turtles chances. General survival rates for hatchlings, baby sea turtles venturing to the ocean for the first time, are just 1 in 1000. After getting instructed in how to release the turtle into the Indian Ocean and encouraged to give “our” little tortoise a name, the excitement continues.

Tending to turtles or to let go and trust the flow

My little turtle friend is handed to me in a small plastic container with a bit of water, and I need to keep a hand on top so it does not escape. I try to keep steady as I don’t want baby Grace to feel like in a rollercoaster and get motion-sick. I am hoping a name like the one I chose could slightly increase her chances to make it in the unpredictable environment of the gigantic Indian Ocean.

Once the huge crowd of volunteers is safely at the shoreline, Mr. Agung gives us the sign: “Lower them down now!”, he shouts out excitedly and in a voice of determination against the backdrop of the crushing waves. I gently lower the plastic container and let Grace courageously crawl onto the beach. She seems a little unsure at first, but then her instincts lead her into the wide open waters of the Ocean. We all cheer the baby turtles on with everything we got and watch them getting closer and closer to the sea, incredibly tiny against the vastness of it all, until they are absorbed by the waters, bravely defying the huge waves.

It might not be the final goodbye I fear it to be, as astonishingly the sea turtles that make it tend to return to the exact same beach where they were born, guided by the Earth’s magnetic field. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, most female turtles come back faithfully to the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Not only do they appear on the same beach, they often emerge within a few hundred yards of where they last nested. Grace, I don’t know to 100% if you are female, but I certainly hope so…Catch you later, sweet turtle friend, may we meet again, I whisper with an almost mother like feeling as I watch the sun set in all its splendor over Kuta beach.

Practical information:

  • Facts concerning the Balinese Sea Turtle release: Between 2012 and 2013 there were more than 50,000 eggs safely relocated to the hatchery, and around 80% of these were successfully hatched and released to the ocean.
  • Sea Turtle nesting season on Kuta Beach is from March to September each year.
  • Sea turtle hatching season is from April to October each year.
  • Nesting dates are an estimation only and the baby turtles will hatch naturally when they are ready.Early and late in the season the frequency of baby sea turtle release will vary.

For more information on the Balinese initiative and to contact the centre directly:

For more information on Sea turtles and their protection in general:

What can YOU do to help and protect sea turtles?

Check out defenders.org suggestions:

5thingstosaveseaturtles

Categories: Posts in English, Reiselust- Hungry for travel, Reisen | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A monkey kind of day in Gibraltar

It must be a special kind of place if over 30.000 people of many different religions live around and on a massive Rock that once upon a time, in antiquity and Greek mythology, was thought off as the End of the World and the Portal to Hades, the underworld.

We know better nowadays than to mistake this intriguing melting pot at the tip of the Spanish peninsula and just 14km off the Moroccan coast for the last inhabited place of mankind. Instead, and despite its rather tiny size of 6.7 km2 (2.6 sq mi) it is nowadays known for being a great tourist destination, one of the most densely populated territories in the world and a much fought over geographical hot spot, claimed by Britain as well as Spain.

For me as a half Spaniard, it was a very unusual experience to “travel” the few metres that separate the British Overseas territory from the Spanish town la Linea de la Concepcion, passing a border control with slightly angry seeming Spanish frontier policemen and suddenly being emerged in a completely different world.

A journey to a distinct world of its own – British and then some

I didn’t expect it but Gibraltar truly turned out to be an absolutely contrasting place to Andalusia, the Southern Spanish autonomous community surrounding it. A town with its own character, architecture, a very unique vibe and interesting population. I also got to experience the worst food  and the best macaque shot I ever had…more on that later! Our adventure started with my friends and me hopping on the bus that conveniently stopped just off the entry point and brought us to the City Centre. Wherever I gazed upon: everything was suddenly labelled in English, and even the postboxes, yellow in Spain, denoted their British and in this case red identity.

When we got off the bus we were greeted by some canons pointing at us – well, not directly at us of course, but they were definitely showing off! Canons and other war memorabilia turned out to be an inherent part of the Gibraltarean cityscape – no wonder considering the role wars played in Gibraltar’s history.

Just to get a tiny insight: The origins of Gibraltar as we know it today lead back to 1704, when an Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession (little side – note for the History geeks: this happened on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne). The Spaniards did not realize in time how crucial Gibraltar’s extremely well positioned geographical location was to their interests and subsequently ceded Gibraltar to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Furthermore, it served as an important base for the Royal Navy during World War II. Got it? Awesome, let’s continue our little tale then.

The potato crime or what happened to glorious backed potatoes

Once we had walked around the picturesque historic centre of Gibraltar, admiring its unique architecture, statues and variety of churches – you can find everything from the Church of Scotland to Synagoges and mosques there- , we figured it would be interesting to try out some Gibraltarean food. It stands to reason that therefore we chose to eat in a British Pub close to the main square. Oh boy…I can just say these words: not -so – yum-at-freaking-all! Not knowing what a typical Gibraltarean food experience would be like, I helplessly ended up ordering a jacked potato. Little did I know then that it would be the completely massacred, tortured and unrecognizable potato cousin from hell, basically the black sheep sibling of my beloved good old yummy potato deliciousness! I actually still don’t know what that poor potato had done to deserve such a ferocious treatment. Managing to stuff a part of it in my mouth and to almost mask my absolute terror we then decided to flee the place of kitchen crime and find some solace in Gibraltar’s absolutely stunning Botanical Gardens. The beauty of its myriad of plants, cacti, and subtropical flowers flourishing in Gibraltar’s warm mediterranean climate immediately softened the potato blow.

The Rock of Gibraltar

To the back of the Gardens, the majestic Rock of Gibraltar overlooks the Mediterranean ocean and beckoned us insistently to find out its secrets. Luckily we found a smokey voiced earth mother – taxi driver willing to show us what was still accessible of the Rock on a Friday at almost sunset – and so the adventure mix of nearly peeing my pants on the one hand and sheer fascination and awe on the other hand began.

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The famous Rock of Gibraltar

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Pillars of Hercules, Rock of Gibraltar

While the long haired, intimitadingly assertive Gibraltarean women told us all about her hometown with her gin coloured Jazz voice, she drove in a slightly disconcerting speed up the Rock, with its narrow, naw rather super extremely narrow roads, and absolutely no freaking gate to protect a possible slight swerve ! I did not know what to focus on: the awe-inspiring beauty of the mediterranean ship and the closeness of Morocco, which seemed to challenge me  to take a dip and swim across, as the Mediterranean sea is only 13 kilometres/ eight miles wide at this point.  Or the at least in my mind very realistic option of an untimely death in this Gibraltarean’s possibly chain smoker’s car…At two points though we could luckily catch a break. At first, we stopped at the ‘Pilares de Hercules’, Pillars of Hercules, a monument describing how the Strait of Gibraltar was seen and called in antiquity. From there you can enjoy a mind-blowing panorama view of the narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Europe from Africa. There is no other place where the two continents are that close! Even swimming the 14 km might be an option for some, or alternatively crossing over by pedaling on a giant manmade sea bike, such as Australian comedians Hamish Blake and Andy Lee attempted.

Hanging out with Europe’s only wild monkey population

We decided not to venture on to Africa this time, but to continue in our speedy taxi and visit the world famous Gibraltarean macaques, one of Gibraltar’s strongest allures, as it is home to the last free-range population of monkeys in Europe! Lucky for us, we had the top of the Rock, located in the protected Upper Nature Reserve, where the monkeys usually hang out, almost exclusively to ourselves.

The monkeys around us were very curious and absolutely unapologetic: they climbed on our taxi, jumped up and down and did all the things monkeys love to do, aka monkey mischief was the go! However, we did also find a very thoughtful seeming monkey doing its evening meditation overlooking the ocean…so no prejudices! Our guide managed to get an absolutely brilliant shot with one of these macaques:

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No, the Barbary macaque did not take a Selfie with its foot for Facebook. Otherwise she/ he would probably have smiled more.

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One of about 230 Barbery macaques that call the Rock of Gibraltar their home. This one was quite pensive- probably doing her/ his sunset meditation.

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Cheeky monkey checking out our taxi.

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Actor Jason Biggs did probably not read this.

Afterwards, she introduced us a bit more to them: there are approximately about 230 Barbary macaques on the rock, and they hold quite the significance for the place. As the legend goes, Gibraltar stays British as long as there are macaques on the Rock! When numbers seemed to diminish during World War II, Winston Churchill grew so concerned with the legend that he even imported more of the monkeys from the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Powerful little ones! So show some respect when you visit them- also as bites do happen. I mean, how would you react if your home got invaded daily by a hord of unknown nosy guests? Read more on how a Tampon could cause an attack by the monkeys on American Pie actor Jason Biggs ( common, it wasn’t even an apple pie!) or how the guitarist of the Rolling Stones tried to bond with the Barbary macaques over some LSD in the olden days and ended up in tears and completely distraught by their disapproval in the Guardian’s article on Gibraltar.

Just while the sun was setting it was time for us to leave the Rock and Gibraltar, including its peculiar airport strip, one of the most dangerous in the world, its peacefully co habiting mix of Christians, Moslems, Jews, and believers of other faiths, its distincly British and then some identity and its many more surprises to be discovered. We will be back though, you amazing Rock City!

What about you, have you ever been to Gibraltar? What are your favourite things to experience there? Share below if you like and thanks for reading!

 

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Seville’s sensual celebration – La Feria de Abril

The steady, well-balanced trot of a powerful hoof approaches, raising dust in a proud, unrelenting way, only drowned out by the spontaneous and wholehearted singing of his rider, conjuring up the splendor of the moment and of his city.

Where else could you be now but in one of Spain’s most glorious, most lively and most unique places – Sevilla!

If you find yourself in the capital of Andalusia, the Southernmost Spanish autonomous community, in the middle of April chances are you will be able to witness one of Spain’s most colorful, most vibrant and joyful celebrations, the Feria de Abril/ Seville Fair.

Seville Fair- Background and traditions

Founded in 1847 as a livestock fair by two councillors born in Northern Spain, Basque José María Ybarra and Catalonian Narciso Bonaplata, the fair transformed over the years more and more into a celebration of Andalucia’s customs, art and lifestyle. Just like the attendees in the 1920’s, when the fair reached its peak, you will be nothing short of mesmerized by the intriguing melange presented to you: Spanish ladies dancing Sevillanas, the typical Flamenco inspired dance, in their  Trajes de flamenca, or flamenco-style dresses, Andalucian men wearing their Cordobeses, typical hats, and best suits. Horses and horse carriages belong as much to the picture as the Casetas, individually decorated marquee tents which are exclusively built on the fairground for the Feria.

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Andalusian horses- Andalusian equestrian arts are worldfamous and horse parades are therefore an essential part of the Feria de Abril

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Seville Feria de Abril fairground with its Casetas at night

The Casetas are usually owned by prominent families of Seville, clubs, trade associations, political parties or even groups of friends, who gather there to celebrate all the best that Andalusia’s lifestyle has to offer: lightness of being, laughter, delicious Tapas,  great drinks, music and dance.

To understand the importance of the Feria de Abril for Sevilla, just consider these mind blowing numbers: in the six days that the fair takes place, starting on midnight on the Monday two weeks after Semana Santa or holy week, another important Spanish celebration , around 5 Million people visit the fairground with its over 1000 casetas!

Tourists from all over the world mingle with the Sevilla natives, women displaying an array of the most colorful flamenco dresses, wearing flowers in their hair, showing of big earrings as well as often the typical Manton de Manila, and men honing their masculinity in their suits or sometimes even the traditional trajes cortos, the probably bullfighter clothing inspired short jacket, tight trousers and boots.

Sevilla during the Feria seems to be a place where the feminine and masculine are still clearly distinctive, creating sizzling chemistry and a flirtatious mood while spring awakens with all its might. Blooming orange trees lure you in with their luscious scent, Jasmin flowers exude their sweet and beguiling perfume, an abundance of Bougainvillea caressing the walls of stunning white houses show of their perfect vibrant shades of pink.

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Bougainvillea blooming in the centre of Seville

 

No wonder then that the celebrations during the Feria tend to go all night, from around nine in the evening till six or seven in the following morning, in the streets as well as in the casetas, where joyous crowds enjoy Sherry, the typical Manzanilla and Rebujito drinks and eat Tapas while songs, laughter and music fill the air.

So, do by any means take a Granny nap in the afternoon if you must, hence you don’t miss out on any of it! However if you really can’t keep up with the Sevillian Party animals, you could still check out the daily parade of carriages and riders, transporting Seville’s leading citizens to the bullring, La maestranza, where the bullfighters and breeders meet. The parades take place daily around noon.

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bullfighting, a controversial Spanish tradition

Either way, whether by day or by night: the experiencing of the Feria is a feast for the senses and an explosion of joy not to be missed.

Seville fair tips for a top-notch experience:

If this article has sparked your interest in this magnificent festivity, brilliant! Here is how you will enjoy it most:

  • Food: to get the most authentic experience possible, try some typical Tapas like Patatas Bravas, potatoes in a spicy sauce, Flamenquines, a meat dish, or Huevos a la Flamenca, a healthy egg and vegetable dish. Find the latter recipe in my book “Speak in Spanish- Fun and motivation on your learning journey”.
  • Drink: the best and most typical drinks to order are Sherry, Manzanilla wine, a variety of fino sherry made around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, in the province of Cádiz or the Rebujito, a mix of Sherry and soft drinks.
  • Preparation: Most of the Casetas are private, but there are some public Casetas you can access. To get the most original experience, you could of course try to make friends with some locals who might invite you to their Casetas! In order to do so, why don’t you pick up  some Spanish for your Feria experience?  If you want to book some Spanish classes with me, simply get in touch. I have also just released the book “Speak in Spanish – Fun and motivation on your learning journey” which will assist you in your learning process.
  • You might also wanna do a Sevillanas dance crash course or at least check out Sevillanas Feria de Abril 2015, de Puente Siete/ YouTube to know what you are in for.
  • Parking: If you do choose to go by car, there is a possibility to pre-book your own spot in a parking house, which is highly recommended. One of the closest parking spaces you can reserve is located at Plaza de Cuba, 5 minutes walk away from the Portada, the entry gate to the fairground.
  •  Accommodation: as you read before, the Feria is incredibly popular, so please make sure to book in advance. It might be a good idea to try out Air BNB or to even consider staying slightly out-of-town to get better rates, as there are extra buses and other forms of public transport to the Feria.
  • Save the date- Feria de Abril in the following years: 1-7 of May 2017, 23-29 April 2018.

Portada de la Feria, Entry gate for the Feria de Abril

The traje de gitana/ Flamenco style dress is the most authentic outfit in which to visit the fair. In the background you can also see the portada/ entry gate to the fairground in all its sparkly splendor.

Categories: Posts in English, Reisen | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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