Week 1 in paradise

Week 1 in paradise

I’m living in paradise here. I simply don’t know how to describe it any other way.

When we first arrived in Bali I was somewhat bewildered with just how different it was to the UK – now in the throes of arctic like grey and wet misery. I seriously wondered whether I would be okay here.  Would I ever be able to come to terms with the intense level of humidity, the weird creepy crawlies, the strange noises in the middle of the night being omitted from the nearby jungle, and the numerous stray and possibly rabies infected dogs?..

We are staying in a beautiful villa, in a rural part of Ubud amongst the rice paddies. When we chose to come to Bali we knew that we were coming at the beginning of the rainy season so we expected occasional downpours of rain but apart from our very first night so far we have had nothing but sunshine and cloudless blue skies.

Our villa is everything a good holiday accommodation should be – beautiful, comfortable, spacious and clean, and this of course is no coincidence, for when I agreed to do this travelling thing, I told Josh that on no uncertain times would I be staying in shabby accommodations and shabby this is most certainly not.

Set back amongst beautifully manicured tropical gardens, with abundant trees and fragrant flowers surrounding, is a collection of 5 private villa’s, part of an exclusive set of accommodations called Pumpkin Village. Owned by a Korean woman (South not North she assures us!) and her husband, and open for a mere 5 months, she has turned this into a tropical oasis of true peace and tranquility, surrounded by a magnificent abundance of nature.

Our villa, called Indigo, is in a traditional Balinese design, sporting a stunning sun terrace overlooking the lush gardens and water feature, with large vaulted ceilings and tiled floors. The bathroom features a huge stone, sunken bathtub and rain shower in a bathroom that brings the outside in by using all natural materials and having a partially open ceiling amongst natural greenery.

Breakfast is a small but healthy and delicious option of pancakes, natural yoghurt and various tropical fruits and eggs and other things. No meat is served for breakfast here.

At night the outside is alive with the calls of the cicada’s, dragonfly’s, frogs, bats, dogs and goodness knows what else but the most abundant creature here surely must be the caterpillars. At first I didn’t know what on earth these little brown centipede looking things were I kept on seeing. They looked safe enough – just little harmless squiggly looking things who wriggled about on the floor, but when they started entering our villa via the front door (they just crawled right underneath it), I knew that they had to go.

I am not a big fan of creepy crawlies and these were no exception. I understood that technically we were in their territory (aka the jungle), but did they really need to venture into our villa??

On the first day after complaining to the owner about our new roles as caterpillar killers (we had trod on about 10 so far that day), she provided us with some insect spray to kill them with, however though this worked on flying creatures like flies and cockroaches (thankfully we were yet to see any of those yet) and spiders, they did not work on the caterpillar’s and they just kept on coming in unhindered into our room. It was driving me crazy and made my skin crawl everytime I saw them wriggling about on our shiny white tiled floor.

I’m sure that she was quite amused by my obsession with all things creepy and crawlie however I didn’t have a problem with seeing them outside going about their business, I just did not want them crawling on my bed and over my face in the middle of the night.

The Moustache

On the second day, after having a horrifying experience in the middle of the night where Josh and I happened to look over and see a huge black moustache looking thing with literally hundreds of legs crawl right underneath our door and into our villa with a frightful amount of ease we knew that we had to do something drastic.

This beastly thing looked like a super sized centipede, either that or another bloody caterpillar. It was really big and moved so freakishly that even Josh let out an impromptu yell when he saw it and then promptly stomped on it. I do remember the thing being scared of Josh yelling at it as when he did so it stopped dead in it’s tracks (and was dead literally after the fact). After that horrible encounter Josh came up with the brilliant idea of stuffing our spare bath towell’s underneath the door to block the gap that they were coming from. After setting about blocking it with double folded towell’s and then checking it worked for the first 30 minutes I finally had a deep and peaceful sleep.

When we woke up the next morning we assessed the damage and found a few chancer caterpillars crawling around but for the most part it had worked. We had cause for celebration!

During the course of the day we found that a few managed to get through but nothing like it had been before, and the ones who did manage to get through we promptly disposed of.

On day 3 the owner of the villa’s had come up with an even better idea – she affixed a blocker to the bottom of our door (only ours you understand as essentially we were the only ones staying in the complex which I could not understand but was certainly not complaining about!). This blocker was like small bristles that even the smallest of creatures couldn’t penetrate and since she put it on we haven’t seen any caterpillars at all! Hurrah!

We are however living with 2 gecko’s. One who we have called Gordan and another much smaller one, a baby one infact who we have affectionately named Gordan’s son. No idea whether they are even related but there you go. We are happy for them to live here for we hardly ever see them and they are taking care of the spiders and other ad hoc creatures that do somehow manage to find their way in.

Pondering on our creepy crawly killing campaign afterwards, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little bad about all of the ones we’ve killed. Afterall the Indonesian people are a people with an accute respect for nature and the creatures within it. I did wonder what they felt about having all of these Westerners essentially come into their environment and kill what was there before them.

Did I feel a little guilty for that? Sure I did, but I maintain that I can appreciate the abundance and variety of the creatures that live here, and even be in awe of them but what I most certainly cannot deal with is caterpillar’s crawling around my abode. This is my refuge and I cannot be bombarded with creepy crawlie horrors. I am infact repulsed by the very thought of them. So for that reason alone I felt that we had no choice but to dispose of them until we found a better way of dealing with the issue. And thankfully now we had.

We are getting about by scooter here as this is the most effective and popular mode of transport in Bali. There is a little issue of poor street lights, insane traffic, no road safety (like traffic lights or street signs), and stray dogs waltzing into your path but other than that it’s fine. At least it’s faster then taking a car due to the very small roads and congestion, and you can park pretty much anywhere.

We have found lots of great places to eat and coffee shops from which to work from – and there are two places we’ve been particularly impressed with: Clear Cafe and Folk Pool and Gardens.

Clear Cafe was recommended to us by the owner of our villa. Josh and I have been vegetarian for 2 months so we were on the look out for the best places in Bali for vegetarian food and she told us that the food there, a mixture of vegetarian and fish dishes, was good but more than that she said that she thought that we would appreciate the decor. Since she herself obviously has an eye for interior design and ambience based on the high standards of our accommodation, we knew that we could rely on her to give us good advice and so one afternoon we went there to check it out.

When we arrived we entered via an intricately carved round wooden door in the middle of a busy side road.

Greeted by flowers at our feet and a strong scent of incense permeating the air, we were met by a smiling Balinese girl in elaborate traditional dress who after welcoming us in promptly asked us to remove our shoes. There were to be no shoes worn by anyone in this establishment! Even the staff were barefooted. For some reason I was really excited by the thought of walking around barefooted in a restaurant!

We padded through, taking in the beautifully decorated open air restaurant with it’s ambient and lighting, scented with a sensual floral-woody fragrance, a small bridge over which we crossed with carpe swimming underneath, past the tropical, green plant walls and up the stairs with flower blooms scattered all over them. When we made it up with the stairs as I was loving every moment of walking around barefooted and having all of my senses stimulated, I was getting increasingly excited about eating here – especially since they were ethical enough to only be offering vegetarian food.

I had already decided I loved it here and that was before I knew about the in-house spa! Not content with just providing tasty vegetarian food in a laid back and ambient environment, these people had gone one step further and opened up a bloody spa in the restaurant. So one minute you could be eating a vegetarian nasi goreng and the next getting a deep tissue massage and facial in one of the back rooms by one of the resident masseuses. Unbelievable!! I was in awe of this place – what an amazing idea to combine a spa and restaurant, and you simply wouldn’t believe how cheap it was either. Criminally cheap!

Unfortunately, on this occasion we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the delights of Clear and their clean cuisine and luxury spa treatments as they didn’t take cards (just cash) and since we had run out of cash we were unable to eat there but rest assured – we will absolutely be going back and will update you accordingly. Infact Aunty Jac is coming to Ubud in a few days, as she’s here for an extended holiday with my Uncle Dennis so I have decided that we will take them there for lunch!

Folk was a place we stumbled upon when we were looking for somewhere to have a coffee and do some work. Josh is working on his Amazon business and I’m helping with it aswell as doing some writing and taking the opportunity to work on my website etc whilst I’m away.

While we were there we ordered a prawn and lemongrass curry which we were pretty sure would be average but average it was not!

The decor at Folk was cool- wooden, shabby chic, nothing much to rave about but this prawn curry really was something else! Bursting with flavour, languishing in a homemade sauce of indescribable deliciousness, this prawn curry was undoubtedly the best either of us had ever tasted. I could see a sign telling us that they also had a pool and garden but it was far too humid to work for long in the air conditioned building let alone be out in the mid day sun so we didn’t bother checking it out however on one of our nights in town looking for somewhere to go for dinner we happened to pop into Folk again as Josh was going to leave me there for a short while while he went and collected the bike and brought it closer. We were on Monkey Forest Road which was indeed where the monkeys had their forest, and when we had walked past them they had been jumping through the trees and squawking loud enough for me to not want to walk past there again, not to mention the numerous stray dogs that we had to pass on the way down. But before I could even sit down to read the drinks menu a member of staff came up to Josh and I, and told us to follow him – the gardens out back were much nicer for dinner at night he told us. I didn’t know why he singled us out particularly as I could see plenty of other couples sitting in there but I wasn’t going to argue. If he was taking me to a better area then I was all for it!

Well, I can tell you it was a MUCH better area. The ambience alone was well worth it. Tables and chairs had been placed around a huge pool, with day beds on one side and tables with umbrellas on the other side, a large circular bar area and outdoor restaurant seating area with a huge floral display on show and there were deck chairs on a large patch of grass at the back and lounge tables underneath the trees complete with fairy lights and some seriously good music (I even shazamed some it was that good).

The place felt casually magical and the food was on par with what we’d experienced when we had eaten here before. I was really happy and relaxed there. Apparently you could book one of the day beds or the beds beside the pool and the restaurant had different themes each night. We’ll be back!

Back at our villa we were being treated like a king and queen to the point that sometimes it did feel a little uncomfortable. We were staying in a boutique hotel which by their very nature are always more personal and attentive, but we were also in low season and were staying for a whole month which meant we got the whole team of staff looking after us aswell as the use of the facilities to ourselves. We didn’t even see anyone else!

The Timotei Effect

I feel like I’m living in a live ad of Timotei or Herbal Essences shampoo. It’s so beautiful and peaceful here that it is hard to believe that we are not amongst paradise itself. The plants and trees are so abundant and so green, the flowers so vibrant and fragrant, and the sounds of the birds and cicada’s relaxing. Even the birds and butterflies here are superior – fluttering about in a dreamy like motion, and as for the fruits! – well, the mangos, banana’s and pineapple are some of the best I’ve tasted.

The best part of our accommodations aside from the setting itself is definitely our sunken bath. We have had a luxury bath almost every night complete with Rituals Bath Oil curtesy of my sister and citronella candles to keep the beasts away and I can tell you it has been glorious!! I also brought some Rose scented Bath Bombs from Lush with me from England and I am very much looking forward to using them at some point in our time out here. In addition to this we have rainbows in our shower. No, I’m not making it up! – we actually have rainbows. The combination of the sunlight, water and mirrors creates a rainbow every time we shower. It’s beautiful! Now do you believe me when I say we’re living in paradise?

Since there has been alot of development from Westerners, mostly the Aussie’s who are a short plane ride away from Bali, there are lots of notable retail shops, restaurants, yoga establishments and hotels popping up everywhere,and they all make the most of the Balinese sense of nature, beauty and spirituality. We have also had the pleasure of witnessing not 1, not 2, but 3 seperate blessing ceremony’s in the short time that we have been here. They are very religious here (but not in the militant Christianity or Islamic sense of the word). Their religiosity is more an appreciation of nature and the continuation of life which I can respect.

Our villa has already been blessed twice since we have been here – and I’m not talking about the daily housekeeping and impeccable service which has been faultless so far, but literally blessed with the whole staff team coming around with scented incense, flowers and offerings to leave on and around our villa. It both smells and looks beautiful.

I can’t say whether or not I feel that we have been blessed, but thus far, being here has indeed been a blessing.

I’ve made a boo-boo!

I’ve made a boo-boo!

 

So, last week we booked our holiday to Sri Lanka. Originally we had planned to go to Thailand for Ian’s birthday in December, Christmas and New Years Eve but in light of the recent terror attacks in Bangkok we decided to put it on hold as neither of us wished to get blown up on holiday. It seems as though the situation in Thailand is quite unstable at the moment and nobody really seems to knows who the terrorists are actually targeting (or indeed who they even are).

We thought that Sri Lanka would be a good choice not only because of it’s relatively stable political situation but as it’s located in the Indian Ocean the beaches were beautiful and reasonably unspoilt. Also, Sri Lanka has a number of national parks, Buddhist temples, rainforests and an abundance of coral reefs, rare wildlife, safari’s and perfect conditions for water sports and whale and dolphin spotting. Not all destinations in the world offer this much beauty and diversity so it was with much excitement and anticipation that we began planning our holidays there.

Even though Sri Lanka is a small country it still manages to pack quite a lot into it so it was really hard to choose where on the island to go. We had decided that it was very important to us to be on one of the best beaches – one where the sea had perfect swimming and scuba diving conditions, where it wasn’t too rocky and where the sand was soft and bleached white. Eventually we found such a place on the north east side of the island in Nilaveli. The boutique hotel looked amazing and it was located on one of the best and most secluded parts of the beach though it was quite a way away from the only airport on the island Columbo (a 5 hour drive). Nontheless I was willing to make the trip in order to stay there, so we booked a 16 night break there and began researching what we’d do once we got there.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to find out that there was a potential nightmare on the horizon..

The north east of Sri Lanka (in contrast to the south of the island) are in there monsoon season in December through to February and it was more then likely that it would be raining everyday there aswell as being very windy and downright miserable. There was no way that we could stomach the idea of escaping England which is mostly always raining and cold to go to a country with rain and flash floods. No Chance.

But our booking once we checked it said in no uncertain terms that they did not allow any cancellations, amendments or refunds.

We had been done up like a kipper. 

The level to my anger with myself mainly (for I did not check the monsoon schedule in Sri Lanka before I’d booked), and the frustration that there was absolutely nothing we could do about it now was intense. I felt as though I could scream. I really could not believe something as basic as weather (which was the main reason that we escape London so frequently) had not  been researched properly before we’d booked and I started having visions of us sitting in our fineries at an elaborate meal put on for us by the hotel in Sri Lanka on New Years Eve with dark skies, the wind howling and torrential rain pouring down our faces. I was so disturbed by these images that I had nightmares that night.

Alas, I refused to be beat.

Though it was made abundantly clear by Expedia (who we booked the holiday through), that there would be absolutely no cancellations or amendments to the booking I knew that I just had to try and persuade them to reconsider.  I considered all of the excuses that I might come up with to plead my case but I decided that my first port of call would be the hotel in Sri Lanka. I figured I’d call them directly and confirm the weather conditions for that part of the island, for if the many articles I’d read online was to be believed it would be raining for the majority of the time we were there. The receptionist confirmed my worst fears without hesitation. Apparently in India (there closest neighbours), and Sri Lanka too I am sure the monsoon season was a thing to be celebrated. Due to the stifling tropical heat of the rest of the year and the suffering of animals and crops because of the draught the monsoon was welcomed with open arms. This was not a concept I was familiar with as I was constantly trying to escape wind and rain in England. Constantly. I did not like wind and rain and I most certainly did not take kindly to cold wind and rain and what was the point of going on a beach holiday when it was raining?

Well when I explained our situation to the hotel they were surprisingly good about it. They understood why I didn’t want to go on holiday to a monsoon destination and they told me they were happy for us to cancel as we were giving them so much advance notice. They told me that if Expedia had any issues with cancelling it they could give them a call and they would confirm this. I was elated. When I called Expedia they spoke directly with the hotel and then cancelled our booking. We didn’t incur any charges. But we had made a package booking and our flights to Sri Lanka did have a penalty of £150 pp. This was insignificant in comparison to the amount of money we would have thrown down the drain had we have been forced to go through with the monsoon holiday from hell as undoubtedly we would have been unable to stay on that side of the island so we’d have to pay for another hotel and transportation to take us there. The cancellation was a flat fee so we could essentially cancel it at any time so we decided to look and see if we could find suitable accommodation on another part of the island using the money we had been refunded by Expedia or if not then paying the £300 cancellation fee and cancelling the whole thing. It soon became clear that the flights were the majority of the budget particularly since we’d upgraded to direct flights. We just couldn’t find any suitable accommodation at this price range.

So we gave up. And decided to go back to Thailand!

Watch this space. And if we do indeed get blown up, blame it on the Sri Lankan monsoon!

 

 

 

RELUCTANTLY I have returned

RELUCTANTLY I have returned

I will not pretend to be particularly happy about the fact that I am no longer being pampered on board a beautiful, elegant cruise ship that catered to all of my wants and needs, and I won’t attempt to insult your intelligence by lying to you either:
I have just returned from a memorable, beautiful, wonderful holiday as adventurous as it was relaxing and I absolutely loved every moment of it!
My boyfriend and I, after our disastrous journey to Mexico last year was given complimentary return tickets to any Virgin Atlantic destination and after at first trying to book to go to South Africa (but couldn’t match the flights), we decided to do something else that we’d never done before: Go on a cruise. And not just any old cruise to the med, but a Caribbean cruise. Caribbean holidays are my favourite kind, and my boyfriends too as there’s just nothing quite like swimming in the warm and crystal clear blue Caribbean sea with the sun kissing you all over. Nothing quite like it at all. I’d so far been to 4 Caribbean islands, including Mexico, Trinidad, Tobago and Jamaica. My boyfriend has been to a few more then me including Antigua and Barbados but neither of us had been to St Kitts, Dominica, St Thomas or St Maarten, and I had never been to Barbados! so when we saw a cruise going to those destinations from Fort Lauderdale, Florida we naturally jumped at the chance!
We didn’t really know what to expect of the whole cruise thing but I tried to go for the best cruise line for the kind of experience we wanted to have which was basically “modern luxury minus any children or drunken louts” so when I came across a cruise line called Celebrity I was pretty much decided that we would sail with them. They had a fleet of beautifully designed and almost completely brand spanking new ships but the ship that fit our itinerary was called the Equinox. Ironically enough Celebrity’s motto was indeed “Modern Luxury” and though they weren’t technically an “Adults only” ship they didn’t have any discernible facilities for children so we knew that we were onto a winner.

When we boarded the ship we were indeed extremely impressed with the look of it, the sheer SIZE of it – for it was truly gigantic, and we were impressed with all of the available facilities on board. Unfortunately, as we had chosen “grown up” facilities however, it had attracted very grown up passengers, i.e GRANNY’s. At first it bothered us a little as being only 31, and my boyfriend 40, we weren’t particularly overwhelmed with the prospect of spending 10 days on the high sea’s with thousands of old age pensioners but as the cruise progressed I found I didn’t really mind it much at all. At least they were polite, friendly and mostly sober – not yelling and falling over like drunken louts. The ship itself had a lot to offer, providing a variety of facilities and activities including a basketball court, ping pong table, a night club, spa, gym, 2 theatres and various swimming pools and even a glass blowing show, all aboard this magnificent floating vessel. Just sitting outside on our balcony watching the ocean was a joy, and of course dining at all of the amazing restaurants on the ship but really nothing compared to the experience of going to all of the different islands, sightseeing, going on excursions and visiting the beautiful beaches. So, if you haven’t done a cruise before, I highly recommend it. There are different types of ships, going to different destinations all over the world and offering different experiences and facilities, and I can honestly say that holidaying in this way is the most enjoyable and varied way of holidaying. You get to see and experience so much more. I had an amazing time and I was truly sad to leave and to have to return to this cold and grey country (sorry England, London in particular), but it’s true!