Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Asia

Upgrade

Well folks it finally happened…..after years of traveling I finally got what I’ve always dreamed of….an upgrade!! I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly 4 years total and every time I turn up to the airport I make sure my blond locks are on point and my lipstick is in place in the hopes of getting an upgrade. Sadly, the most this has ever gotten me is some hardcore stares and some passive/borderline aggressive flirting. But never an upgrade. All this changed last week when I returned from my 59th country after taking a solo trip to Azerbaijan and Georgia. I’ll be blogging more on them later but both were awesome and I would highly recommend adding them to your travel list.

So originally I had booked my flights from Saudi on Qatar Air, which is a really nice airline and since ya’ll know how stressed I am about flying I like to fly with airlines that I know are very safe. Then the diplomatic row broke out between Qatar and the neighbouring Gulf countries and a week before my trip all flights with Qatar Air were canceled coming in or out of Saudi (and several other countries.) Luckily I got a refund but was left stranded trying to buy last minute tickets and now my only options were mostly budget type airlines which freaks me out. As it turned out the only real way to continue with my planned itinerary was to by 3 one way tickets so I flew Emirates to Dubai and then Fly Dubai into Baku Azerbaijan. This wasn’t an option as a return flight as the flight times didn’t line up. I then flew Azerbaijan Air from Baku to Tbilisi Georgia and then bought a really short flight connection back with Gulf Air via Bahrain with an hour layover. I had looked to buy a round trip ticket with Gulf Air but there were literally no flights the week that I was leaving. No flights, not tickets. This should’ve been a tip of what was to come…..

So anyways I flew to Dubai. While I was waiting for my connection someone from Gulf Air called me and told me my return flight in 9 days was to be delayed leaving Tbilisi and that I would miss my Riyadh connection. I was like how the heck can you possibly know that a flight will be delayed by 2 hours in 9 days time??! Sleep deprivation and irritation over all ready having to re-book this trip made me basically tell the guy that “this is unacceptable and if the flight isn’t going to be on time then just refund my ticket and I’ll fly home via Dubai.” This ladies and gentlemen will prove to be a hilarious statement later in this story. The guy ended up calling me back like 30min later and saying that the flight was back on track.

So I spent a couple nights in Azerbaijan and then on the day I was flying to Tbilisi Georgia there was a wind storm and on the way to the airport I was thinking there’s no way this flight is going to take off but it did. And because it was a short flight and I was getting in after dark I decided not to medicate because I don’t like being groggy solo in a new place once the sun has gone down. Lets just say that flight was a very religious experience for me. Me and G.O.D became one that flight and I regretted not medicating the entire hour. I spent the next week traveling in Georgia which I will tell you more about later. The days leading up to my flight back to Saudi I 100% expected to get a message saying that flight was delayed. It is a very Middle Easter thing that instead of dealing with a problem people will just tell you what you want to hear instead of having to deal with you getting angry. Anyways when I did the online check in everything was on time.

So I arrive at the airport and make my way to the check in counter to check my bag. There are like eight Gulf Air staff eagerly standing around. I walk up and they start to get very excited. The check in process starts and they tell me I am their first customer. I’m all “of the day?” And their all “no ma’am ever. This is a new route for Gulf Air.” And I’m like that’s cool and they hand me a bag with flowers and ask to take my picture and I’m immediately regretting not wearing something a little more low cut and a little more fashionable. After photo time is over I ask to make sure I have a window seat and someone makes a comment that not only am I the first customer I am the only customer that day. And I laugh because surely they must be joking. So yes I get a window seat in economy and I go sit down nearby the check in area as I wanted to text my friends at how cool it is that I’m their first customer. In the meantime some men in suits who are obviously “someone” in Gulf Air arrive. The Gulf Air staff are shaking hands and everyone is patting each other on the back. And then someone points in my direction and the men in suits come over and introduce themselves and ask can they have their picture as well. And I’m all “sure boys I don’t see why not.” And then one of the men asks me for my boarding pass and comes back a few minutes later with it and I’ve been upgraded to Business Class. I damn near hugged the guy I was so excited…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I go thru security and then wait at the gate. The flight arrives from Bahrain which is the first flight on that route as well and so there are people on the tarmac taking picture and there were two firetrucks spraying the plane as it pulled up to the gate which is apparently something they do on inaugural flights. Who knew?! So I’m waiting at the gate and there are like maybe 5 other people sitting in that area so I just assume they are also on my flight. So it’s finally time to board and they overhead page the flight. And I’m expecting these other people to get up and board but they don’t so I walk up to the desk and a man comes up and says to me “shall we go?” And escorts me on the plane. I just roll with it because I’m still not realizing what is happening. And so I get to the plane and everyone is clapping and there are more photos and I’ve literally got the entire plane to myself. They tell me I can sit wherever I like (because I’m the only passenger.) They overhead paged a flight solely for me! It’s not like it was a small plane either it was an A320 which seats probably 150 passengers. So I pick a seat in Business Class and immediately start sipping champagne as we take off. It was totally the bomb. I skipped medicating in lew of alcohol and am so glad I did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me just say that flying will never be the same if I’m not sitting in Business Class on my own private plane. The seats up there are super comfortable, the food is about a million times better and also unlimited champagne. I just sat there and smiled the entire time, and took a noteworthy amount of selfies. Then I fully relined my chair and took a cat nap (most likely on account of the champagne and wine). In hindsight I probably should’ve sat in literally every seat just to say I had. But truth be told, I kept expecting them to realize that I was a famous blogger from Saudi Arabia (not so much) and offer me free flights for life or at the very least a year! Sadly, that did not happen. But I will forever rave about Gulf Air as I do think they are pretty great! I even got a certificate saying I had taken part on an inaugural flight! For those of you who know me you would expect that I asked to see the cockpit. I was very relived when they told me I could but only when the plane was on the ground, so they kept things according to safety standards. When we landed I took a picture of the cockpit and then was asked if I wanted to sit in the captains seat and I was like “YES.” And then as if the guy knew my soul he asked if I wanted a picture in the captains seat wearing his hat. “I 100% did.” BEST DAY EVER!!!

 

After that I boarded my flight to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where I was not upgraded and so it seems Cinderella left her glass slipper in the Business Class area on that Gulf Air flight from Tbilisi to Bahrain. In’Shallah she gets it back sometime soon. This whole thing makes that previous phone call a riot now though. Can you imagine that I told someone that it was unacceptable for that flight time to be changed not knowing that I was the only passenger booked on that flight. What a total diva. But cheers Gulf Air for making my travel dream come true and finally offering me the upgrade I’ve waited 59 countries for!

 

 

 

Sacred Places

During my time in Prague we wandered around the Old Jewish Cemetery and it got me thinking about all the sacred places I’ve visited during my travels. Places where the ugliness of humanity once carried out unimaginable horrors or mother nature intervened in tragic ways, and the different ways people pay their respects and mourn for those that died. In the West we commonly lay wreaths. Have moments of silence or hold candle light vigils. We visit grave sights and place flowers. We bow our heads. We say prayers. Wandering this Jewish cemetery many of the tombstones had rocks placed on the top, or coins, or notes. Some of the notes said “Love from Italy.” Or Florida, or France. Many of the notes were folded in a way that the messages were kept secret. Sealed messages of mourning to honour the dead. I was really moved by this tradition of leaving behind something to acknowledge that we have been there, and that the persons memory is carried on by the living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember one of my first trips abroad and visiting Hiroshima and seeing the Peace Memorial at sunset. In 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped there and some 70 000 people were instantly killed. Today the bombed out remains of one building are all that remain and I remember the building being lit up at night which made the visit very moving and that there was an eerie calmness to the site. In my memories it’s silent except for the sound of the wind thru the nearby trees. I’m sure there were other noises, but all I remember was the light and the setting sun. Since then I have visited Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve walked the beaches of Sri Lanka years after the deadly tsunami that claimed the lives of nearly 37 000 people. When I visited back in 2010 nearly 6 years later parts of the coast looked like a war zone with only the cement frames of houses that were otherwise completely washed away. It was heart wrenching to drive through these small villages and meet people who had lost family members or even their entire family, their houses, and had no choice but to continue living on the coast- in many cases living off the very ocean that took so much from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember in 2010 when I backpacked thru Syria. Crossing by land from northern Jordan and driving up to Damascus the oldest city in the world. I remember feeling very safe while traveling there- my best friend and I taking public buses to the UNESCO sites of Palmyra in the northeastern part of the country near the Iraqi border and Crac de Chevaliers just outside of Homs. Both sites have been massively damaged in the Syrian conflict not to mention the estimated 250 000 Syrians that have lost their lives. Last year when I was in the Maldives there was a massive earthquake that hit Nepal, a country I had visited the year before. I remember exploring the alleyways of Kathmandu stumbling across tiny temples and statues amongst the hustle and bustle of such a populated city. Much of it was damaged during that earthquake in April 2015.

Palmyra in Syria

Crac de Chevaliers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years back I visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia where over 1 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. 1 million. In my lifetime. I remember wandering the memorial site and crying. What took place there was horrific and barbaric. Processing it made the air feel thick and my chest feel heavy. It’s unimaginable. And yet it happened. In recent years it has become a tradition to leave a bracelet to remember the dead at the site of one of the mass graves. Rocks in Jewish cemeteries, bracelets in Cambodia. Different acts and yet the same meaning- to bare witness. To mourn for humanities evil. All of these sites have the same things in common. They are sacred. They instill the visitor with a sense of disbelief and an overwhelming feeling of despair. Apart from my reference to Sri Lanka and Nepal all these events are man made. The darkest parts of humanity did this. And it continues to happen today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post wasn’t meant to be depressing but rather to acknowledge the different ways around the world people pay their respects and remember the dead on the actual soil where nature and man has claimed so many lives. I also hope that it motivates you to learn about these dark periods of history and compare them to current events. To bear witness to what is happening around the world today. Lest we not repeat humanities mistakes. That we realize that a life no matter how far away or how different from our own is still a precious life. That it inspires you to get out there and see the world, as the world and climate are always changing and natural events can forever change the face of a place.

Solo Travel

I’ve just returned from a solo 11 day trip to Italy. It was awesome and I loved every minute of it. There’s no other way to describe how solo travel feels,  other than to say I felt free. And empowered. And brave at times. Each day was mine to do with it what I want. No one else to consider, only what I felt like doing, or eating, or whom I felt like interacting with. I was out there drifting in the world with only myself to answer to. Free and open to a world of possibilities.

While I’ve traveled quite a bit, most of my travels have included a travel partner.  I have traveled alone before though. To Portugal. To an ashram in India. To Malaysia and a yoga retreat in Bali. To Frankfurt to see the Christmas markets. These are some of my favourite travel memories. And truth be told I met some of the nicest and dearest people on these trips. A kind and funny Czech guy who I hope I cross paths with again soon. A quirky British girl who matches my inappropriate sense of humor and schemed with me on how to smuggle alcohol into our ashram.  A Spanish guy who just thinking about him makes me shake my head and laugh. A lovely woman from Montreal whom I know I’ll meet out in the world again. And most recently on this trip, I met the kindest family who adopted me in Rome and made sure I didn’t have to eat dinner alone and then also a couple from Texas whom I shared many laughs with. So even when I’m traveling solo I have found that I’m never really alone for very long if I don’t want to be.

Portugal- my 1st solo trip

With my lovely Ashram friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often when I’m traveling alone I meet people who tell me how brave they think it is, and then immediately say “but I could never do it.” And I always respond by saying “I reckon you could.” Because I firmly believe that if I can do it, then anyone can. I also think it’s especially important for a woman to see the world on her own. There is something so empowering about standing on your own 2 feet, and trusting in yourself, your smarts and your intuition.

Don’t get me wrong- it won’t always be easy, but I’m pretty sure it will be worth it. I’m a terrible researcher. I like to have an accommodation booked, but I’ve gotten really lazy about actually researching things. I cracked open my Lonely Planet guide maybe 2 days before I left for this trip. So sometimes that means I’m not as prepared as I wish I was. Hand in hand with this is the fact that I don’t speak a lick of Italian. Well besides Bonjourno, and Spaghetti, and Ciao. But as with most places almost everyone speaks English so you can get by just fine. Often when I travel with others I leave the navigating to them. I never hold the map, I never look up directions. I’m hopelessly directionally challenged . And yet when I travel solo I make it work. Sure sometimes (a lot of the time) I get lost. But I have found that people are for the most part helpful, and I never stay lost for very long. Every now and then I still make rookie travel mistakes like ordering something without checking to see how much it costs- apparently directly across the street from the Vatican Diet Coke costs 8 euros. For a can. Of Diet Coke. Facepalm. The one downside of solo travel is that if you plan on documenting your travels you need to get very good at taking selfies (or buy a dreaded selfie stick) or speak up and ask others to take photos with you. So often I have fewer photos of myself on solo trips than I would if I was traveling with a partner.

Getting the “selfie” down

Or just ask a fellow traveler to snap a pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the thought of traveling alone abroad still seems too scary why not try a weekend away in a city you’ve always wanted to visit in your own country. Sign up for a yoga or meditation retreat- something that encourages being alone while still being around others. Or book into a group tour where you’ll be sure to meet others. I have found that when I’m alone I’m more open to meeting others, and it’s easier for others to approach me. So unless you are going to some truly isolating location, you will cross paths with other travelers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should make solo travel a priority. I think it’s essential for your growth and development. You will never learn more about your strengths than you will when you are exploring a foreign city solo. You will most likely feel more independent than you have in your entire life. You will learn to listen to your intuition. You will learn to put your wants and needs and desires first. You will make travel memories that you will be proud of because they will be yours, and yours alone. You made them happen. You trusted yourself enough to go and know that you would just figure it out. So do yourself a huge favor and go.

My Top 10 from 2015

2015 was a pretty epic year of traveling for me. I’ve just switched over to my new 2016 calendar and I counted all the days I was out of Saudi traveling last year. It was 109. 109!!!! How is that even possible? Since the last time I checked I work a full-time gig as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia. But apparently I was on the go a lot. I visited 16 countries over the last year, 11 of them new for me, and I thought I would share my top 10 favourite memories from the last year. Enjoy!!

1. Cyprus

Way back in February I took a trip to Cyprus and my kiwi sidekick and I rented a car and drove around the quaint island. I have 2 favourite memories from this trip. The first was the a day we spend driving in the hills between Limassol and Paphos. The  day was cold and dreary and we visited a local winery and then made our way to a small village that was devastated and deserted by an earthquake in 1969. As we arrived in the village a torrential downpour started which only added to the creepiness of our visit, and we got soaked walking around taking photos. The village is on the way to a town called Lemona. The other great memory I have from that trip was the time a stranger gave us his BMW to drive for an afternoon. You can read about that travel tale here.

Creepy right?!

2. Norway

Two words. Lofoten Islands. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. They are picturesque and have this kinda of awestruck beauty that isolated and desolate places have. Every which way you turn your head was a postcard perfect view. The gagged snow covered peaks drop dramatically into the arctic sea and I would go back in a second. I think an Atheist would have a hard time believing there isn’t a higher power of some sort after visiting this island chain. See for yourself…..

3. Sweden

The whole of Scandinavia is awesome, and travel there is pretty easy. It would be a real shame if you went to Sweden and didn’t visit the Ice Hotel, even if only for the day! The Ice Hotel is an artistic marvel in that every year the design and decor is completely different. Different artists take part every year so the theme rooms change, which you have to admit is pretty cool. It is pricey, but well worth the stay. You can sleep in one of the actual ice rooms, or stay in a heated cabin like we did. Oh, and if you go make sure to do the tasting menu at the restaurant there- it is phenomenal. Maybe you’ll luck out and the Northern Lights will come out like they did for us!!

4. Finland

Dog sledding in Lapland has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was bloody cold, but so worth it.

5. Maldives

This view……I dream about it often. This is one of the most relaxed vacations I have ever had. Ever. It was hard to decide between spa, pool, eat, nap, read, repeat. This is also the place where I attempted to overcome my fear of the water and tried scuba diving.

6. Bahrain

So VIP culture is huge in the Middles East. You rarely see anything VIP in North America unless it’s in a mocking nature, but over in these parts everything is VIP. VIP movie theaters, hospitals, parking spots, entrances. It’s all a little over the top. That is until you catch a ride over the causeway to Bahrain in a vehicle with diplomatic plates and get to cross via the VIP lanes. Yep. And funfact….they have tea boys who come right up to you car to serve you tea, while you wait in line to cross the border.

7. Morocco

I blogged at great length about how difficult it was traveling in Morocco, but one the best things we did while there was take a cooking class thru Souk Cuisine. This class included a shopping trip to buy the needed ingredients in the Medina and was a great way to learn about local ingredients whilst mixing with the locals. Even though Morocco was sometimes very challenging the food was ALWAYS delicious. I would pretty much recommend doing a cooking class or food tour whenever you travel. I’m doing one later this month in Spain and can’t wait!!

8. Bali Indonesia

At the end of August I took part in a retreat on the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali with 17 other ladies from all over the world. My time there was so needed and really came at a time when I needed to slow down and work through some things on my own. The location was beautiful, as were the many lovely ladies I met. This was a time of much needed R&R and reflection, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful friendships that were formed from my time in Bali.

9. Oktoberfest Germany

Even though I ended up with a GI bug from hell, Oktoberfest was a seriously fun time (while it lasted.) I mean what’s not to love about a group of traditionally costumed and hugely intoxicated people smashing beer steins together while singing traditional German songs at the top of ones lungs. It was a good time, and YOLO you really only do live once so you should go.

10. Sparkling Hills Spa in British Columbia Canada

Last month I took my mom to this spa about an hour from where she lives. This is a place people have been raving about since it opened a few years back and I was keen to see what all the hype was about! The hotel is pretty much the luxury accommodations in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and known for its spa, saunas and heated outdoor infinity pools. The views from the rooms are amazing, as are the 7 saunas and the indoor floating pool with classical music playing under the water. Well worth the visit, and it was a great mother-daughter retreat.

So really that wraps up 2015. It was a pretty great year. I’m really excited to see what is in store for 2016. I’m excited for the new faces I will meet, the new sights I will see, and the changes that will take place inside of me.  I found this quote that sums up my thoughts about the upcoming year perfectly, and my hopes for both you and I…..

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, for all of us, and my wish for myself.

Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.

Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t prefect, whatever it is; art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman

Misunderstanding…..

The first and only time I almost beat an Asian man’s ass was just across the border of Thailand in Cambodia, in the back of a taxi on route to Siem Reap. It was late at night, pissing down rain and visibility was maybe half a car length ahead of the taxi’s front bumper as the driver sped down the road dodging carts and motorcycles. Naturally, he was on his mobile phone  speaking Cambodian and telling someone the name of our hotel. Golden Mango Inn. He then slowly started to pull the car over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch darkness. We had read horrible reports of the safety issues with crossing via land from Thailand into Cambodia via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing. Scams, robbings, and warnings NOT to cross after dark. And here we were crossing after dark. And in a car with a dodgy driver.

In my overly dramatic and active imagination this was the moment. The moment when all my awesome travel tales would come to an abrupt end. The moment where we would get robbed at gun point or murdered. Our bodies left in the dark night along a desolate road in the Cambodian countryside. The driver pulled the car to a stop and got out of the car without saying a word and went around to the trunk. He’s getting a gun I thought to myself, although I’m pretty sure I said this out loud to my travel partner who was also a little unsettled by the situation, but not nearly as crazy as me. All I knew was that if he were going to get a gun from the trunk there was no way I was staying in the back of the car like a sitting duck. It’s unclear to me why I thought that if he did have a gun the most logical place for him to keep it was in the trunk. But really, that’s besides the point. Everything from this point happened very fast. He got out of the drivers side, came past my door and headed for the trunk. Shit he’s getting a gun. I threw the door open and went around at him. He opened the trunk and because it was dark he didn’t see me at first. I lunged towards him as he reached into the trunk. He startled and said something in Cambodian. He then pulled out a…….towel. He pulled out a towel. He then mimed wiping the dirt and mud off the headlights. Shit got real. Real fast. He then shook his head, walked around me and proceeded to clean the headlights. I got back into the car and told my travel mate how I had bravely saved both our lives.

So several lessons were learned that night on the side of an unlit Cambodian road. I learned that even though I think it’s a good idea to head safety warnings and listen to advice from other travelers, you should also keep a clear mind. I learned that even though my instincts (and imagination) were clearly off I’m likely not going down without a fight. I also learned that I may have watched the Jason Bourne series more than maybe any one person should, but that my reflexes are none the less cat like fast. Our Cambodian driver I think learned the lesson to not pull over in the middle of the night on a back road without first indicating to your female passengers what it is you’re doing. He also might have learned that I was a bit crazy. But that’s a lesson I’ve taught more than just him over the years. Travel safely my dear readers!!

Have you ever WAY over reacted to a situation while traveling like I did? I’d love to hear about it so I feel a little less cray cray.

Ubud Bali

After my blissed out week at a retreat in the northern beach town of Bondalem Bali I headed inland to Ubud, the island’s artistic hot spot. I had visited Ubud back in 2008 the first time I was in Bali, and let me just say I was unprepared for how much it had grown. Ubud was jarring coming out of the tranquility of the meditation retreat I had been at. So much traffic, so much noise, so many tourists. It was a total assault on the senses, and that first day was really overwhelming. Thankfully, my first 2 nights I had booked to stay in the rice fields just outside of Ubud, which was much calmer. Well relatively calmer. That first night I was awoken at 4am thinking someone was in my room and violently shaking my bed, and then in my disorientation it also sounded like someone was trying to get in the room by shaking the door in its frame. Turns out there was a 5.3 earthquake off the coast. Once I determined that a) I was not crazy b) it was unlikely the room was haunted and that c) this was very likely an earthquake, I did what any savvy person would do……I googled “what to do in an earthquake” so I would be prepared if there was another one, and checked social media. Come on. I know that’s what you all would do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After 2 nights in the rice fields I moved to Ubud proper. For 5 nights which extended into 6 when I rescheduled my flight to stay an extra night. I had initially booked at a cheaper hotel, but after some issues there I moved to the hotel next door which turned out to be the nicest place I’ve ever stayed. In my life. Nicer than the Maldives. And that’s pretty hard to do. To be fair I didn’t really know what I was booking. I basically called to ask if they had a room available, a pool, and wifi. They said yes and I showed up. The lobby was beautiful. During check-in I asked is there AC? And the lady was like yes. In each room. And in my head I was like- of course it would be in each room lady. Then she took me to the room. On the way she referred to it as the “Canopy Suite.” My eyes almost burst out of my head. It was bigger than my apartment in Saudi. It had separate rooms- with an AC in each room. Then there was the infinity pool. And the amazing breakfast. And the tub in the bathroom was like bathing in a barrel. Ok. It was actually bathing in a barrel. And they pulled my covers back every night and left me cookies. So now you see my dilemma about having to stay another night. If you go to Ubud you should look into staying at Bisma Eight. Well worth over extending my budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ubud is full of shops, restaurants, museums and galleries. I spent my time there catching up with my other retreat-sisters, and walking around town. There are many great restaurant choices. One that was at the top of my list was Locavore. They have a very well reviewed tasting menu but they book out a month in advance and I wasn’t able to get a reservation. By chance I stopped in there for lunch one day. Table for one? And they seated me overlooking the kitchen. It’s not cheap by Bali standards, but by western standards it’s a steal. I had a 7 course meal with a couple glasses of wine and it was culinary heaven. Half of it I wasn’t exactly sure what I was eating- what exactly are fish lips anyways?  But it was all so good. If you are in Ubud make a reservation and go. I’ll be thinking of this meal for months to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the days I did a day trip with my French Canadian retreat-sister. We had an energetic Balinese guide named Gusti who took us to 3 temples in the southern part of the island while telling us of Bali culture and the practices related to Balinese Hinduism. It was such a great day. We visited Taman Ayun Temple mid morning and we basically had the temple to ourselves. This temple is from 1634 and was once the royal temple. It has beautiful gardens with the traditional tiered Balinese pagoda roofs and many ornate stone carvings. The temple is surrounded by a moat which used to hold alligators. The sky was very moody when we visited which made for great photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From here we dove about an hour to Tanah Lot Temple which as legend has it has snakes that guard the entrance to the caves below the temple. This temple is situated alongside the sea on a rocky cliff and it is nothing short of spectacular. The waves were large and frothy as they crashed to shore. This complex was quite large with a smaller temple off to the right and then the main sea temple to the left. By sea temple, I literally mean in the sea. Depending on the tide you may or may not be able to visit. Tide was in when we were there so we couldn’t go but it is beautiful nonetheless. You should be very careful of the cliffs though- our guide had seen tourists fall over the cliffs and get swept away so he kept us well away from the roped barriers. As we were getting ready to leave we randomly ran into 2 of our other retreat-sisters. Bali was full of of many such encounters. It was amazing that we all ended up in the same spot of land at exactly the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then got back in the car and drove another 90 min to Uluwatu temple. Bali is not at all equipped to handle traffic. Most roads are 2-laned roads with little room to pull over or passing lanes. And then of course they are filled with cars, trucks and loads and loads of motorcycles. When we arrived at the temple we were greeted by signs and loud recorded warnings about the bulglarizing monkeys. As I’ve previously mentioned. I’m not a huge fan of monkeys. Or rabies. I was mildly terrified which caused Gusti our guide great enjoyment as he bravely tried to protect me. We did see monkeys, but they kept their distance. This temple is also alongside a steep cliff. In fact we could see Uluwatu temple from Tanah Lot temple. I read somewhere that the temples along the sea were built as a chain so you could see one from the other. There are 2 parts to this temple and I would highly advise wearing good shoes and bringing plenty of water. I would also recommend a hat, but can’t guarantee it won’t get pulled off your head by a cheeky monkey. This temple also had mesmerizing ocean views. I basically kept taking the same photo over. And over. And over.

While Bali is full of tourists it’s still good to dress and act respectfully. Most temples won’t let you in if you’re dressed inappropriately anyways, but here’s an idea of what you should wear. Buy a sarong- you’ll need to be wearing one to enter a temple, and they double as a towel or beach cover. You will also need a sash to tie around your waist but many temples provide these, or do what I did and just use a scarf. Make sure your shoulder are covered- a simple t-shirt will do. Don’t try to enter a temple in a swimsuit top and hot pants. It seems pretty logical but you know there are people who try this. Also as with any temples/religious sites the world over- ladies if it’s that time of the month you’re not supposed to enter. One of my retreat sisters told me how her guide made her read the list of rules before entering a temple and she basically had to give him the “all clear” to tell him she was safe to go in. Also most temples have donation boxes- your call on how you feel about donating. I usually opt to.

So that wraps up my time in Ubud Bali. As I write this I can’t believe it was almost a month ago. I’m going to Munich for Oktoberfest this weekend for 5 nights and then I don’t have any major travel plans until I go home for a visit the end of November and first bit of December. I’ll be spending Christmas in Dubai which I’m super pumped for. Seeing as I’ve decided to stay in Saudi another year I’ve just requested a bunch more vacation time in the new year, with many ideas but nothing concrete as of yet.

Where are your upcoming travel plans taking you?

Blissed out in Bali

I normally have a strong dislike of the word “bliss” or phrases like “finding your bliss” and equally so of the phrase #blessed, but I’m at a complete loss of words to describe my time in Bali. The only word I keep coming back to is bliss. It really was bliss. So even though the word is kinda new-agey, and used to make me gag, it will be my word of choice for this post.

My time in Bali was split between a retreat I had wanted to do since earlier this year in the northern part of the island, and Ubud, the island’s artistic and cultural hub. Bali is an island in the Indian Ocean, one of an estimated 17500 islands that make up Indonesia, or “Indo” as hipsters refer to it. Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, but the island of Bali is the exception. Here over 80% of the population practices Balinese Hinduism which governs every aspect of local life. There are religious calendars that are followed to dictate when birth, puberty, tooth filling, marriage and cremation ceremonies should take place. It’s a very colourful and spiritual place. There are temples both large and small and shrines seemingly everywhere, garnished with daily offerings.

I flew from Kuala Lumpur via AirAsia and let me say it was in stark contrast to my previous flight with Etihad airways- but thankfully we made it. I spent one night in the touristy beach town of Seminyak as a meeting point for the retreat I was attending. Here I met up with the other 17 ladies who would also be attending the retreat organized by Sarah of Sarah Somewhere. The retreat’s theme was “Return to Wholeness” and I went into it with a pretty open mind. In fact I didn’t even really learn the name of the place where the retreat was until after the retreat was over. (Thanks Google.) Nor did I learn that we were on the northern part of the island. I literally didn’t have a care in the world and just rolled with it. Turns out that was a great way to be, as this week long retreat would prove better for my soul than I ever could’ve guessed.

The ladies of the retreat were a diverse group ranging in age from 25-71ish. We came from the Philippines, Singapore, Canada, the U.S., Australia and Mexico (sorry if I’ve left anyone out!) Some people knew each other previous to the retreat, but many like me, were strangers. We would leave friends. Friends who had the privilege to see each woman’s core. To see each other stripped away from the roles we play in our every day life and just be seen as we are. We all came running towards or away from a multitude of things but with the same shared goal of becoming whole.

The retreat took place in a small resort called the Bali Mandala Resort over looking the ocean. It was total bliss. The huts were out of an island romance scene, the pool was lovely, and the food was amazing. I’m notorious for getting sick on every single trip I take. But not this one. Not even once. There was a spa on the resort where I had some of the best massages of my life. I spent the days eating, going to a morning and afternoon meditation class, dipping in the pool or ocean, or reading and journaling listening to the ocean waves lap against the rocky shore. Even as I think about it now my breathing becomes more relaxed and a calmness washes over me. It really was bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During that week we did an early morning sunrise dolphin tour with a local fisherman. Right before going one of the ladies I’d gotten close to asked “are you going to take something for seasickness?” And I was like “no. It’ll be fine.” Famous last words. The fisherman laughed at me as I repeatedly vomited over the side and then handed me a Balinese pastry and an orange to settle my stomach. We visited the nearby school that is funded by the resort, and spend some time signing and dancing with the kids. We visited a local hilltop temple and received blessings from a Balinese High Priest. We witnessed sunrises and sunsets that left me speechless. We had a day of noble silence in which we weren’t supposed to talk with one anther, but encouraged to just be with our thoughts. We were entertained by local Balinese dancers on our last evening and spent the night of the full moon dancing as if no one was watching. After the impromptu dance party we changed into our swimsuits and guided by the bright moonlit sky swam in the pool, and did a “whirlpool.” This night I will likely remember for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most importantly we formed friendships- many who’s paths will likely intersect in the future. I felt whole. Like all the parts of me that were scattered miraculously found their way back to one another. I let myself be seen in my most bare form. I looked into the eyes of those 17 other ladies and saw them in their most bare forms, and loved every bit of them. I meditated and got some needed clarity on where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. I felt blessed. Blessed for the opportunity to travel to Bali for the sole purpose of finding inner peace. Blessed to disconnect. Blessed to meet these amazing ladies. Oh, and I felt pure bliss like I’ve never known before. Deep rooted joy that I hope I can channel into daily life.

What experiences have brought you bliss or made you feel blessed?

 

 

Kuala Lumpur and Batu Caves

Last week I returned from a 3 week solo trip to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and Bali Indonesia. It was such a great trip that I actually forgot I had a job. Like 2 weeks into the trip I saw photos of a work potluck on Facebook and my brain clicked in and was like “oh right. You do actually have a job.” Part of my time in Bali was spent at a yoga/meditation retreat (which I’ll tell you about soon) and my work-related amnesia must have been due to some massive uncluttering of my brain. Either that, or I have early onset dementia. Hard to say.

I flew from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi and then on to Kuala Lumpur via Emirates Air. Never having flown with them before I was super impressed, even more so after flying cargo class with Air Asia to Bali. I spent 2 nights in Kuala Lumpur before going to Bali and 3 nights there on the tail end. It’s no surprise that I liked Kuala Lumpur. I love bustling international cities. I love having great international cuisine and anywhere that has an abundance of bars. The first 2 nights I stayed in Bukit Bintang which is known as the shopping/entertainment district of KL. It’s very walkable, and I felt safe walking around as a single woman. On my return I stayed in KLCC which is where the Petronas Towers are and Suria KLCC a great shopping mall.

Biktu Bingtang

Bukit Bingtang

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent my time in Kuala Lumpur eating some amazing food, and getting to pair it with wine or beer. This is one of the major things I miss while living in Saudi- I love to go out for nice food and have a nice glass/bottle of an adult beverage to go with it. I think I ate sushi like 3 or 4 times. I ate some delicious Chinese dim-sum. I went up the Petronas towers and checked out the aquarium nearby. I shopped and lost myself in a huge English bookstore. I saw a movie, which was great because by North American standards it was super cheap. They oddly played what I’m assuming is the Malaysian national anthem prior to the movie and everyone in the audience stood up from their seats until the song was over. That was a first for me. Mostly I spent my time doing normal everyday things that I would do if I weren’t living in Saudi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One morning I took a taxi to Batu Caves which are about 20-25min from the city center depending on traffic. You can reach the caves by train, but I was feeling super lazy and had lost my travel mojo at this point so I opted for a taxi. Batu Caves is a hugely popular Hindu shrine built into the side of a limestone hill. It’s a pilgrimage site for Hindu’s worldwide. I’d seen pictures of the towering statue of Murugan with the staircase leading into the caves and it was at the top of my list of things to see while visiting Kuala Lumpur. The caves have served as a temple since the late 1800’s.

There are some 270 steps leading upwards into the cave. When I visited there were a pretty even mix of tourists and Hindu worshipers. There were also numerous menacing thieving monkeys lining the railings leading into the cave. I really don’t like monkeys so I kept a close eye on them, and kept my things out of reach. Other visitors weren’t so lucky. I witnessed the monkeys steal bottles from babies. Seriously. 2 separate incidents of bottles full of milk were taken out of the innocent hands of babes. Others lost bags of fruit and hats. Pretty much anything a monkey could get their hands on. Don’t get me wrong- they’re super cute from a distance, but that’s where they can stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So up the steps you climb, and it’s really humid, so you’re sweating from pretty much everywhere. Coming up from the bottom the steps appear to just disappear into the darkness of the cave. It’s a very impressive view. Once you get into the main cave there is a temple off to the left and there are several statues of various Hindu gods tucked around the walls of the cave. You then climb another smaller set of stairs which takes you into a smaller cave with another temple where Hindu worshipers were lined up to get Puja which involves making an offering and then getting a purification blessing from the priest. It was pretty surreal watching all the goings-on from the inside of a massive cave. Also the priests were all sporting 70’s style mustaches which are always a hit for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the drive back into the city I had a unexpected chat about world religions with the taxi driver. Malaysia is over 50% Muslim, almost 20% Buddhist, and then the remainder split between Hinduism, Christianity, and the various other Chinese religions. He asked me where I lived and I told him I was a Canadian, but that I lived in Saudi Arabia. He then asked if I was Muslim, I said no, and then asked him if he was. He replied “I like all religions but am none. All are the same.” I told him that back home we described this as being “spiritual but not religious.” He liked that phrase a lot. Chatting with him was  one of those random and unexpected things that happens when you open yourself up to meeting people who you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s one of the things I love the most about traveling. We all come from different backgrounds and places, but essentially we are all the same. Chatting with him  reminded me of a song from one of my favourite artists Ingrid Michaelson called Blood Brothers. I’ll end this post with the lyrics from the chorus…..

What you need, what you need I need too
What you are, what you are I am too
’cause we’re all the same under a different name
We’re all blood, we’re all blood, blood brothers
We’re all blood, we’re all blood, blood brothers

Lastly, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Expat Blog for featuring me as their Blog of the Month, and a Hello to my new readers, some of whom have sent me lovely messages. So thanks for reading. And don’t forget you can subscribe to get new blog posts in your email to the right-hand side of this post. Or you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

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