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Von Abenteuern in fremden Kulturraeumen: Artikel und Kurzgeschichten

Trier – the beauty of German-Roman ruins

Imagine yourself around 2000 years back. You are dressed in a traditional Roman tunic and when looking down, you realize you are wearing the type of sandals you vaguely remember from the movie “Gladiator”. Therefore, you are quick to tell yourself that you could very well be in Rome, the epitome of power, wealth and glory in those long-lost days. Clearly, you arent, though – the chill on your skin indicates that you gotta be in a quite different location, a location which bears the rare honor of being named after the Roman emperor and which could definitely use some warmer temperatures, dammit!

2000 years back, you would have found yourself in Augusta Treverorum, a city which nowadays is better known as Trier and lays claim to be the oldest city in good old Germany. Augusta Treverorum might have been more of a hotspot for budding Roman signorinos and stylish Roman signorinas in their sexy tunics. But fear not, Trier is still a place more than worthy of your time and attention! Points in favor? No worries, let me take you along to my top 3 experience-Trier spots, places I was fortunate enough to experience on a whirlwind road trip from Germany to Spain a while ago:

Travel back in time – visit the Porta Nigra

Don´t you just love those very special places that conjure up images and feelings of long-lost tales of hope, promise, challenge, and endeavor? Places that almost effortlessly transport you out of yourself and right into a totally different world. Well, to me, the Porta Nigra in Trier is definitely one of those magical hotspots! Built in grey sandstone just before the year 2000, it is formally known as the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps.

Informally, it simply rocks to explore the several stories- high building and its distinct vibe – who knows, maybe that´s the presence of the ghost of greek monk Simeon, who lived as a hermit in the Porta Nigra after 1028 (up to his death in 1035) and very rarely descended from his contemplation-spot. Or it might just be the ancient sandstones whispering tales into your ear about those long-lost days when the northern entry gate to the Roman city got turned into a church…

Recharge and reboot – experience calm at Trier cathedral

For lovers of calm, Christianity and churches, head to Trier Cathedral, the oldest bishop’s church in Germany, built smack in the middle of Trier’s city center. Take a tour and check out the remains of the first Early Christian assembly room north of the Alps from the late 3rd century. Alternatively, explore more pieces of ancient Rome in Trier by visiting the Roman central section with the original walls rising up to a height of 26 meters. Art worshippers will be delighted by the variety of artwork and architecture from more than 1650 years that can be found within the impressive building.

Disconnect and reconnect – take a stroll along the Moselle river or the city center

Trier is an astoundingly picturesque city, to say the least: located in the beautiful Moselle wine region, not far from the border to Luxembourg, it offers an enticing melange of well-kept Roman remains, beautiful architecture and stunning surrounding scenery. If you are as much into reconnecting with mother nature as I am, head to Moselle river and listen to the soothing sounds of the water stream, soak up the soft green of the rolling hills and enjoy an invigorating walk. If you prefer the hustle and bustle of the city center, head to Trier marketplace (Marktplatz in German) and check out the many eateries, shops and gorgeous houses all around. Or, carpe diem to the max and just enjoy both, nature as well as city life!

What´s your preference, dear readers – nature or cityscapes? And why? Read you soon!

Handy information part:

  • So, what´s the gist regarding Porta Nigra? – It probably won´t have moved anywhere so far, so head to
    Porta-Nigra-Platz, 54290 Trier, and you´ll find it there 🙂 Opening times are –
    April – September: daily 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
    October and March: daily 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
    November – February: daily 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Admission is 4 Euros per adult, 2 Euros for kids.
  • And what about Trier cathedral? You´ll find it at
    Liebfrauenstraße 12, 54290 Trier! Opening times are –
    April – October: daily 6:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
    November – March: daily 6:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m Admission is 6 Euros per adult

Photography: All rights reserved @A gypsy at heart

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China for beginners II: Haikou Hotspots

Exploring Haikou, Hainan´s capital equals coming face to face with a pretty authentic Chinese city-experience. This true Chinese feel seems to be able to emerge thanks to the relatively low number of foreign tourists, thanks to intriguing temples and old town streets contrasting with massive modern shopping malls as well as the allure of exotic cuisine that can be experienced in the myriad of restaurants all around.

Wandering through the port city´s streets, you´ll discover majestic trees to lean on, red lampions to marvel at, and street vendors loudly praising their products. A very popular snack indeed is the humble potato: its sweet variant is served steaming hot on many a street corners and warms and delights at once with its delicious simplicity.

Haikou would only be the first stop of a two-week-long Southern Chinese adventure which would lead me, amongst other outstanding experiences, to (very reluctantly) trying snails in Guangzhou, (delightedly) witnessing a professor from Beijing reciting a handwritten calligraphy- poem, (excitedly) trying Bamboo-Rafting on the Li- River, and (enthusiastically) partying the night through with some Brazilian expats and party-experts in Shenzen.

Haikou was, however, my first point of encounter with quintessential China, which was quite different from the watered-down, stereotyped version of China we can see portrayed in the mainstream media. Some of the highlights of my Haikou- experience included the following:

Exploring the Temple of the Five Lords

The Temple of the Five Lords, also known as the “Temple of the Five Officials” (Haifu Rd, Qiongshan Qu, Haikou Shi, Hainan Sheng, China, 571100) is a memorial shrine to five exiled officials from the Tang and Song dynasties that you´ll find in the southeast of the city. Think gorgeous subtropical vegetation and soft green bamboo plants surrounding bright red Confucian temple structures, intriguing animal figures guarding the roof of picturesque shrines, and marvelous altars cloaked in the smell of incense.

Strolling through the Old town´s quarter

Head to Haikou´s historic neighborhood, one of Hainan´s many “qilou” districts – well-preserved areas that date back through the dynasties to the 13th century. Haikou´s old town quarter features an enticing mix of Chinese and colonial European architecture – wander down the street and you´ll be transported to a completely different world that´s rarely visited by westerners.

Breathe in the strong scent of Chinese medicine being brewed in one of the many arcade shops while marveling at the interesting architecture or watching a painter intently creating a portrait of Mao Tse-Dong. You do know Mao, right – yep, the namesake of the outstanding movie “Mao´s last dancer”. Here, in Hainan´s Zhongshan Road (Zhongshan Road, Qiongshan District, Haikou 570101) you´ll really get a taste for the unique charm of olden-day China!

Living on the wild side: Exploring Haikou´s cuisine

No post about a trip to China could be complete without mentioning its sometimes fabulous, sometimes scary cuisine! Scary why you ask? Well, that once upon a time (or what it nowadays?) monkey´s brains were/ are consumed as a delicacy in the land of the red dragon might just be a rumor.

Truth is, though, that there is a certain traditional dish that I was determined to try when in Hainan, which turned out to be… a chicken´s brain. Like, they literally served me a whole skull including the brain. Which I did not see coming. Like, at all! All the while, I witnessed a rat doing a joyful run and jump through the restaurant. Did I eat that brain? Did I make friends with the rat? No to both. And I am proud to say, I have been a non-meat-eater ever since.

On the plus side, there are some exquisite dishes to be tasted while in Haikou- try Wenchang chicken (free of brain, I think), Jiaji duck or Hele crab at Fule Chicken Restaurant Hainan or – go vegetarian (climate change is real! Just saying) and try some delicious vegetarian dishes of the Szechuan cuisine.

That´s it for now regarding my Chinese travel-tales! What about you? Have you ever been to China? What was your favorite experience or dish while there?


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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?

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

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.

 

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

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

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