My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 3: Gili Trawangan

Hello Wanderers!

The Gili Islands are a little archipelago of three tiny islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno) near the coast of Lombok. They are a lovely and easy getaway from Bali if you want to experience island life: white sand, coral reef, awesome ocean fauna, palm trees, no cars or motorbikes at all… I had decided that after my first days in Kuta and Seminyak and after exploring nature in Ubud I wanted to have a few relaxing days on Gili Trawangan, slowing down the pace and enjoying the little things, before returning to my hustle and bustle London life!

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How to get to Gili Trawangan

From Bali there’s a fastboat or a slowboat service operated by various companies departing from the pier of Padang Bay. Fastboat is what I recommend, it takes far less time, but be sure that you pack some seasickness pills if you suffer motion sickness because the sea can be a bit choppy. I’ve booked a return ticket with the company Eka Jaya, which is one of the most famous and reliable ones: the price is reasonable and they have a pick-up and drop-off service from most of the main areas of Bali (Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, Uluwatu…) for no additional cost, which is great because you don’t have to go all the way to Padang Bay on your own! The pick-up/drop-off locations can even be different, you can arrange it with the company (there’s a live chat option on their website to discuss all your needs). It takes roughly one hour and a half to reach Gili Trawangan from Padang Bay. One important tip I want to give you: keep a rain poncho or a big umbrella handy! This is because the pier in Padang Bay has a long piece platform that is not covered and during the operations of unloading of luggage you will have to wait a few minutes before getting your suitcase… and if it rains (which often happens in Bali, sometimes without any notice!) you will get wet. Or completely drenched, like it happened to me. So yes, rain poncho is your best friend.

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The island

Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most developed of the Gili Islands, but still so small that you will be able to do one lap of the whole island by bike in less than an hour! Bikes are the most used vehicle on Gili T (I will call it Gili T from now on, it sounds so cool), you will not find cars, taxis or motorbikes… this means that on your arrival you will have to carry your luggage to your hotel, so make sure the wheels are in good conditions! Alternatively you can use the horse-drawn carriages you find along the pier area, but I usually discourage the use of these kind of transportation, because those animals are surely not living their best life.

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Gili T can be divided in two halves: the “sunset half” with chillout bars, peaceful beach spots, goats roaming free (!), and the “busy half” with a more buzzing nightlife, street food and cheap drinks. If you look at the map of Gili T you will see that towards the top there’s one main street that cuts the island horizontally, allowing you to go from one half to the other, and more or less in the middle of that road was the fabulous place I stayed at!

Gili Khayangan Villas

Gili Khayangan Villas was another wonderful find of this whole holiday! A hotel with 8 rooms and private villas, immersed in nature but with a modern, slick and clean decor, operated by a super smiley and efficient staff. The rooms are spacious, bright and decorated with pop culture elements (I had Jimi Hendrix playing guitar on my wall!), with swimming pool and sunbeds facilities and a jolly good breakfast you can order and change every morning (Indonesian, continental, American…). Try the banana pancakes! At the hotel you can rent a bike for the whole day for 25000 rupees (1,30 £!) and start exploring the island on your own, embracing its slow and chilled vibe!

What to do on Gili Trawangan

Have you ever swum with sea turtles? Here you can! The most important thing you have to pack for this island is a mask with a snorkel, it’s an essential, like packing your shampoo or your toothbrush. You can always hire a snorkel set in various points along the beach, but you don’t really know whose mouth have used it before, do you? So yes, grab your snorkel set and head to the beach on the East side of the island (further up from the pier area): you will find many kiosks of beverages playing music, look for the signs reading “Turtle Point” and choose where to put your beach towel down and take a dive. I personally liked to stay at a place with blue and pink bean bags and a swing on the beach (look out for them and you will find it), where I managed to see turtles every day along with beautiful colourful fish. I even took a little video, you find it below! Another important advice! The beach on Gili T has white sand but it’s almost entirely covered by corals, therefore another essential to put in your suitcase is a pair of rubber swim shoes (you can find them for cheap at Decathlon, Sports Direct or on Amazon).

Chilling on the beach is definitely one of the best activities here on Gili T: plenty of spots with colourful bean bags, swings, sunbeds and beach bars where you can literally spend the whole day. You have to try a Lemon Bintang! It’s a lemon flavoured version of the Bintang beer and it’s so refreshing and addictive! Speaking of addictions, you will find that on Gili T you are offered magic mushrooms and sweet grass, in various forms (even blended into shakes and cocktails) nearly everywhere you go. I don’t personally get high, but I understand it can be a hilarious and fun thing for many… I know I’m going to sound like an old papa but if you decide to give it a try just be responsible and don’t exceed (I care about you Wanderers! 😀 ).

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Gili T has a few simple but efficient spas where to have a nice full body Balinese massage, and when you are on holiday you definitely have to treat yourself and relax! On Jl. Kelapa street (the one that I told you before, cutting the island horizontally) you can find a little spa (it’s called Desha Spa if I remember well) that offers couple massages, as well as a special happy hour discount if you go in the morning! Massages cost less that 10£, so you can potentially have one every day. Not bad, hey?

A day trip to the other Gili Islands is another great thing to do! Take one day to explore Gili Air and Gili Meno, they are so close and boat trips for island hopping are so cheap that it would be a crime not to try. Gili Meno is the most romantic, with a desert island feel in some spots, whereas Gili Air is another stunning place for snorkeling and diving.

The sunset is the real star of Gili T. If the sky is clear of clouds, head to the West side of the island to have a drink and enjoy the end of the day taking your best photos for your Instagram! The water swings and hammocks on the beach front of Hotel Ombak and Exile Restaurant are the most popular ones, but more and more bars have been setting up their own photo spots lately, to the point that you are spoilt for choice.

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After your sunset drinks you can ride or walk back to the buzzier side of the island and have a nice meal: many waroengs and barbecue restaurants to choose from, serving Indonesian cuisine and seafood feasts, and if you walk towards the pier area you will find a street food night market too! Be adventurous and try the delicious satays and seafood. Always make sure that your food is piping hot in order to avoid what is called the “Bali belly” (as a general rule when you travel, especially if you love street food, always pack a box of antiacid tablets to settle your stomach in case something doesn’t agree with you). Once you had your dinner you can dive into the night life… or simply lay on the beach and watch the stars! Stargazing is a marvellous experience on the Gili Islands because of the many spots with very little artificial light. And I’m a romantic soul, so yes, I recommend it.

I hope this post made you curious to experience this lovely getaway from Bali or from Lombok, and if you read about my whole Bali experience and you want to share your experience and/or add more tips and suggestions please use the comment box below, I’m always happy to exchange stories and ideas!

See you all again soon!

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My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 2: exploring Ubud

Hello Wanderers!

So, after a few days in Kuta and Seminyak I was ready to leave the westernised part and venture into the inner core of Bali, the village of Ubud. Ubud offers you a jungle escape, a moment of total reconnection with nature and spirituality, as depicted in the book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love”: luxuriant temples, rainforest, waterfalls, yoga and meditation classes… but also adventure activities, traditional village life, organic and authentic Indonesian food, beautiful art. Don’t expect the beach of course, because Ubud is far inside the island… and you don’t really need the beach, because there’s a lot to do and see in this area, I wish I had more time myself!

For my accommodation I wanted something completely different from the hotel in Seminyak. Ubud offers a multitude of private pool villas immersed in nature, where you can really enjoy your stay. I chose Umae Villas and I was absolutely pleased with the choice: perfect location, intimate and quiet, simple and lovely design, romantic and cosy. The pictures below show a few views of the villa we were staying at (Umae Villas count a total of 10 different villas), included the cute square pool (where I even swam naked because yay! it was our private pool) and the ‘rainforest’ bathroom! Breakfast is served in your own garden in the morning, it’s quite basic in terms of choice of food but it does the job (that was the moment I became addicted to having mie goreng for breakfast, to the point of missing it once I was back in London! Insane! Fried noodles?! Me, an Italian?).

Some handy travel tips

When we arrived to Ubud it was raining cats and dogs, and this is a very recurring phenomenon in this part of the island, so if I had to give one precious piece of advice that would be “absolutely PACK A PONCHO”. Umbrellas would ruin your experience, wear a poncho instead and you can dance in the rain while you enjoy your adventures in the jungle. You will soon realise that there’s really a lot to do and see in and around Ubud, and you will have to make the best of your time here. A good thing to do would be downloading the GetYourGuide app and book a private driver for the day: price is usually between 30 and 40£ and you have a personal driver for 8-10 hours (so cheap!), who will follow the itinerary you want, picking you up and dropping you off at your hotel. Here’s a clever use you can do of this service, keep your ears open. As I said, I was staying in Seminyak, which is on the South-West coast of Bali, before going to Ubud. Usually a taxi ride will take around one hour with no traffic (which is basically an utopian scenario in Bali, where streets are always busy) and will cost you the same amount of money as renting a private driver for the day. So why not hiring a driver that would pick you up from an area of Bali in the morning with your suitcases, take you around all day and drop you off in Ubud in the evening? This way you will save money and time, avoiding to waste half a day only to travel to Ubud. 😉 If you don’t want to use the GetYourGuide app, many hotels have their own private driver rental service too, but I’m not sure if it would be cheaper or not. In case, try and haggle a bit.

What to see in Ubud

My villa was very close to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, which I really recommend if you like jungle and animals! This forest is brimful of monkeys and it has an organised pathway you can follow, with members of staff explaining things and helping you getting to know these cute and unpredictable animals. Yep, unpredictable. A moment they are the loveliest thing ever, the moment after they start to fight like in Game Of Thrones trying to bite each other’s head off. A few simple rules when you visit the Monkey Forest: don’t carry valuables (jewellery, wallet, purse…) or at least keep them securely zipped where the monkeys can’t see them, because the little buggers love to jump and steal things; if you want to take pictures make sure you attach securely your phone or camera to yourself and be fast and sneaky, for the reason above; don’t carry food, especially bananas, because they can smell it and attack you. That said, you will be able to experience some beautiful family scenes of these fascinating animals and take the best pictures ever, of them and of the wonderful surroundings (the sanctuary itself is magical and the jungle is lush).

If you watched “Eat, Pray, Love” or if you simply ever typed ‘Bali’ on Instagram you surely have seen the images of luxuriantly green rice fields (paddies), organised in vertical staircase shapes and absolutely beautiful. You can’t go to Bali and not see the Tegallalang Rice Terraces: hire a bike and cycle all along the upper circuit or ask your driver to do a long stop and explore them by walking, so you can soak up all that marvel. These rice fields have some lovely photo spots in the form of suspended nests and cocoons, where you can climb in and have your fantastic picture taken. Ubud is literally full of these photo corners, as much as it’s full of swings, suspended at various (scary) heights. I challenged my irrational fear of height and gave the swing a try… I was launched back and forth in the air and once I stopped screaming like a hyena on fire I really enjoyed it!

Goa Gajah Sanctuary (or Elephant Cave) is another lovely place to visit. The cave itself is really small, with a nice facade but nothing major inside… but the surroundings are breathtaking and it’s such a peaceful place. Like for all the temples in Bali, you will be asked to cover your knees and your shoulder: don’t buy the sarong from the vendors in the outside parking lot (unless you like the colours and you want to bring one home with you), because you will be offered one for free at the entrance, near the box office. Don’t laugh at me in the photos below: my red Sarong didn’t really match the blue trainers and the green t-shirt. Fashion faux pas.

The Ubud area is also famous for some gorgeous waterfalls. Tegenungan Waterfall is a great fun place, where you can admire this cascading wonder of Nature and take the best photographs in suspended nests, love hearts or with wooden angel wings. Bear in mind that there’s a steep and long slope with stairs to reach the actual waterfall, which is perfectly fine when you are going down but it’s a bit challenging on the way up (don’t worry there are spots in the shade where you can sit down a few minutes and sip some water. Bring water with you at all times in Bali!). If you have the chance, visit this waterfall in the late afternoon, when the weather is less humid and it’s less packed with tourists.

Here’s a controversial one. The visit at the Luwak Coffee Plantation. Luwak Coffee is known for being the most expensive coffee in the world, with its well rounded flavour and very low caffein content. To obtain the precious blend, the coffee beans are fed to these civet cats that eat them, partially digest (and here is where the fermentation process happens) and expel them from, ehm, their rear exit. The pooped beans are then washed, dried and milled into fine powder. This practice is controversial for a few reasons, all related to the conditions in which these animals are kept (caged, fed a one-food type diet when they would need a variegated one, etc…). The visit to the coffee plantation has no admittance fee and includes a free tasting of many different teas and hot chocolates as well, which are honestly delicious. The staff are welcoming and they show you the different plants of the field, but you will not actually see much of the process of creation of the blend. Altogether it is a nice place to see, with cute photo spots, but if you don’t want to support animal cruelty in any way just avoid to buy or even try the Luwak Coffee, enjoy the teas and chocolates instead. Bear in mind that some of the products you find in the gift shop are available in town in Ubud even at cheaper prices. So yes, I wanted to list this place as one of the things to see but it’s a tricky one, totally up to you.

Kemenuh Butterfly Park! We stumbled upon this place by pure chance and it was a really nice surprise! You walk across a garden full of butterflies with different patterns and colours… You can follow the various stages of growth from larvae to cocoon to fully adult and even keep a giant moth in your hand. It’s quite warm and humid in the garden, so dress light.

The village life in Ubud is busy but very nice. Visit Ubud Palace in the late afternoon and stay to watch the evening Balinese Legong dance, or venture inside the nearby Art & Craft market Pasar Reni to buy souvenirs. Don’t forget to experience a class of yoga in Ubud: Yoga Barn is the more popular studio, but if you want something more intimate you can try Intuitive Flow.

Food & Drinks

Thanks to the tips of my lovely Spanish friend Bea I got to experience the sultry deliciousness of a dish called beef rendang: it’s a sort of sweet and sour marinated pulled beef served with rice and vegetables, and I loved it so much that I had it almost every day when I was in Ubud. You can taste the best beef rendang at Waroeng Bernadette, which is a place that serves lovely Indonesian food and it’s also super quirky! It’s decor is all made with vintage colourful finds from thrift markets and artistic creations (see photos below!). A few steps after Waroeng Bernadette there’s another interesting restaurant called Biah Biah which serves a long menu with many different Indonesian dishes in the form of little tapas, perfect if you want to taste a few options and have an idea of this cuisine. If you fancy a day meal with breathtaking view on the rice fields, check Kampung Cafe or Sari Organik (they are a bit far, so maybe you can pair them to your visit to the rice terraces!). For a coffee & cake afternoon stop or a bistro lunch with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options I strongly recommend the superb Kafe, right in the centre of the city. For night drinks and chill-out vibes I would suggest the candle-lit ambience of CP Lounge, tapas bar with live music.

Ubud is this and much, much, much more, that I didn’t have the chance to experience in the little time I had… This time I preferred to concentrate in terms of distance the things to see and do, but next time I will definitely try and hike Mount Batur to see the sunrise, see the Tirta Empal Temple and the other smaller but beautiful waterfalls that are a bit far out from the city area.

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Wanna know how my holiday continued? Swimming with turtles, drinking Lemon Bintang and cycling an entire island in less than one hour? Read My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 3: Gili Trawangan

🙂

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My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 1: Kuta and Seminyak

Hello Wanderers!

My Bali holiday was something I really looked forward to and I planned it with enthusiasm for months, reading posts from all my favourite travel bloggers and shaping up my personal itinerary. Here you can find my experience, tips and suggestions for Kuta and Seminyak, where it all started for me!

Kuta days (and nights)

The strip of Kuta Beach is the closest area to Denpasar Airport and it’s often mistreated and overlooked because it tends to be chaotic and busy: it’s one of the favourite areas for youngsters, full of bars, clubs and discos, with locals offering you taxi rides and all kinds of goods (legal and not) and traffic jams every day at peek times. Said that, you can still enjoy some time in Kuta, maybe a couple of days, if you like places with a buzzy nightlife. For your accommodation I will suggest you three different options for three different budgets: if you want to treat yourself to a luxury room, beautiful Balinese decor and a breakfast buffet that looks like a wedding banquet then take a look at The Anvaya Beach Resort : with its wide choice of suites, rooms and villas, an elegant cocktail bar and all the facilities you can imagine (even for families with kids), this resort will pamper you good. The Anvaya organises tours, excursions and activities for their guests, you just have to book yourself in 24 hours before. The boutique hotel The Vira is another chic and beautiful option in the area, or, if you are on a tighter budget but still want a quality stay with swimming pool and spa services, The Rani will make you happy. All three hotels are on Jl. Kartika Plaza, the main street of Kuta Beach.

I briefly mentioned earlier about excursions and activities you can do in Kuta and in Bali in general. There are lots. Snorkeling, surfing, diving, island hopping, boat cruises, cooking classes focused on Indonesian cuisine… Scattered around Kuta are many kiosks where you can book the activities you like, just remember to step up your best haggling game (although Bali is generally quite cheap and affordable, it’s always good when you can knock a few pennies off the prices and vendors in Bali are usually flexible in this sense). If you want to be able to book your activities with a click on your smartphone I suggest you the great app called GetYourGuide , which allows you to source and book activities by location, anywhere in the world (I will tell you more about some clever use you can do of it in my post about Ubud). When in Kuta, don’t forget to check the Art market for local crafted creations, organic products and wall art to buy at very affordable prices. Kuta has big “western style” shopping malls as well, to satisfy your shopping spree urges for popular brands: you can head to Beachwalk , Discovery or Mal Bali Galeria, to name a few.

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Dinner time! Speaking of food and beverages you can start your night at Bamboo Bar & Grill, where you can enjoy a wide choice of cocktails and bites, resting your feet on the sand-covered floor and listening to a live band playing (very often they give you the chance to jump on stage and sing, so prepare your best performance and have a couple of drinks to warm up!). Another good fun place is Aribar , delicious Mexican restaurant where Sangrias and Margaritas keep you happy and the friendly staff entertain you with impromptu dances… If you are a fan of Indian food you need to check Queen’s Of India, possibly the best Indian food I ever had in my life! You will not be disappointed.

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Seminyak sunsets and pools

Only 25 minutes taxi ride (if you don’t get stuck in traffic!) from Kuta and you are in lovely Seminyak! The most “westernized” part of Bali, the perfect area to have a gradual immersion into the Balinese spirit and wear off your jet lag (believe me, if you fly from London you will need a couple of days to adjust!) enjoying beautiful beach resorts, poolside cocktails, a perfect combination of relax and luxury and some of the best sunset spots!

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For my days in Seminyak I really wanted to pamper myself accomodation-wise, and what a stunning surprise was my stay at De Vins Sky Hotel! I stumbled upon this gorgeous hotel while browsing on Agoda and I’m so happy that it didn’t only match the expectations but it exceeded them in all aspects of the experience. I suggest you to check on Agoda if De Vins Sky Hotel has special deals on their Whirlpool Suites and book one like I did! The room is absolutely stunning and you will have your own private Jacuzzi on the veranda, where you can relax to the sound of the cicadas before getting ready for your night out. The hotel has a lovely spa, a gym, a rooftop pool with bar and a restaurant (I spent literally hours floating on pool mattresses with a Rosella Mojito in my hand, getting my best tan) and the most friendly and smiley staff. Once a week the hotel hosts an event called Balinese Cultural Night, where you can taste an amazing Indonesian buffet and watch a Balinese dance show for the equivalent of just 10£ (yes, that’s another reason to love Bali)!

In terms of sightseeing, the Petitenget Temple is worth a visit and it’s right there in the area, near Seminyak beach and nightlife spots (perfect location!). But make sure that during your stay in Seminyak you save a late afternoon to take a taxi and go and see the sunset on Tanah Lot Temple, because it’s one of the best views you’ll see. I made the mistake to visit the temple in the morning and the sun was high and incredibly hot, so definitely go just before sunset for your own safety! You may want to pair the visit to the Tanah Lot Temple with a day trip to Canggu, another nice area of Bali famous for surfing spots, amazing organic food bowls, art markets and places with a trendy-hipster edge: go there in the early morning, have a beach day, an afternoon of strolling and exploring and finish watching the sunset on Tanah Lot Temple. Sounds very good to me!

Speaking of sunsets, Seminyak offers some of the best clubs, rooftop pools and lounge bars you can possibly have, to enjoy this magical moment of the day. Potato Head Beach Club has the perfect combination for me: hip and artistic edge, infinity pool right before the beach, people getting together on the lawn, cocktails flowing and chill out music… Oh, what a great vibe! You definitely can’t skip it. Other similar places I can suggest are Ku De Ta (very similar setting to Potato Head, less hippy, more “western”, very popular and busy!), Mrs. Sippy (awesome cocktail bar with a huuuge saltwater pool) and La Plancha (spanish tapas bar and restaurant with a colourful explosion of beach umbrellas and bean bags, totally instagrammable!). Dinner time? If you fancy some delicious Italian fine dining you must go to La Lucciola: astonishing candle-lit restaurant on the beach, a bit more expensive than the usual Bali prices but totally, totally worth it! If you want to try a more local cuisine, check Made’s Warung, which has a wide choice of cuisines, from the authentic Indonesian to Thai and American too, great if you are a party of people with different tastes!

Because of their proximity to the Denpasar Airport, Kuta and Seminyak are a good starting point for a Bali holiday, to immerse gradually into the Balinese atmosphere and not be thrown into the jungle straight away! Although Kuta was kind of a handy location for me (I had just disembarked from my contract on a ship in Benoa and Kuta is nearby), net of the night life it’s objectively not the cutest place in Bali. You might consider choosing the near areas of Jimbaran or Uluwatu (a bit more south of Kuta), or even Canggu, as an alternative. But I absolutely loved Seminyak and I’m sure you will love it too!

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Wanna know how my holiday continued? With monkeys, butterflies, rice fields, swings, nests and waterfalls? Read My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 2: exploring Ubud 🙂

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[Video] My Croatian Days

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I sip my coffee and soak up this lazy early afternoon, while the scent of lavender and dry citrus zest from the local market tingles my nose. Dubrovnik is even better than I remembered. And what a fool I’ve been: I thought for a long time that I was only drunk in love when I was here last, six years ago… I was drunk on this stunning blue vault of sky instead, and on the green hues of this sea. “Croatia redefined the colour blue”, I write down on a paper napkin: I guess this would make the perfect caption for one of my Instagram posts.
I’m sitting here at a bar in the old town, gathering my thoughts about the few days just spent in this country, exploring and discovering gems I hadn’t even heard of before.

Starting with the village of Trogir, Unesco World Heritage site since 1997, sitting on a tiny island on the Split riviera. Minuscule and still so enticing, built almost entirely with a particular, precious kind of limestone that looks like marble. A strong wind called ‘Bura’, typical of this season, cleared the sky completely and created a crisp and inebriating air that married the bright sunshine perfectly, reminding me of those early October Sunday mornings of my childhood in Rome.

The perfect symbiosis between the ancient and the new was the element I liked the most in the renown summer destination that is Split, along with its beautiful waterfront and its cheeky cocktail bars.

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The biggest surprise for me was definitely the island of Hvar, with its luxuriant green mountains and rustic villages (like Starigrad and Vrisnik). If you visit Hvar you definitely must experience a Croatian Konoba: a typical family ran tavern, where to enjoy authentic olive oil, home-made cheese and ham and delicious wine (the rosé I tried in Vrisnik had a silky aroma of chestnut honey and fruits, and tasted heavenly). Highlight of this gorgeous island was the view from the top of the Spanish Fortress (‘Spanjola’), which is a silent and peaceful place, rarely invaded by big groups of noisy tourists and therefore really enjoyable.

At last, I’ve spent a beautiful morning in Rovinj, having breakfast by the pier where boats and yachts shelter in the sunshine, and exploring the stunning rocky coastline that peeks between this city’s colourful buildings, creating sudden glimpses of infinite blue.

My coffee and cake rest now peacefully in my belly, as I look up to the clock tower and smile lovely Dubrovnik goodbye, until we meet again. And for all you Wanderers, here’s my little video diary divided in two parts, so you can see the beauty of Croatia through my eyes… I hope it makes you feel the itch to visit this awesome country, because I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
Enjoy all this fantastic blue, and see you again soon!

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[Video] Hiking the Hill of St. John in Kotor, Montenegro

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Hello Wanderers!!!

Here I am back on these pages, ready to collect and share new adventures and travel stories! I apologise once again for not having posted lately, but I was extremely busy rehearsing and setting up all the shows I will perform on Silver Muse until March 2019 🙂 The adventure on board has started and so far it was really rewarding, in terms of performing and ports of call we were able to visit.

After a lovely little time in Italy, where I’ve enjoyed great Limoncello in Sorrento, walked along the streets of my grandma’s childhood in Palermo and soaked up the eternal beauty of Venice’s canals (see my Instagram for shots and stories!), I’ve ticked off another country from my list: Montenegro! One day only, spent in the city of Kotor.

Kotor is considered a UNESCO Heritage Site, and you can trace back its history from the Roman Era (although the fortification that gives the city its charming character started in the early Middle Ages). After a walk in the city, my friends and I went for the number one must-do things in Kotor: we hiked the Hill of St. John to the top, following the impressive fortifications that include gates, towers, ramparts, bastions, a little chapel and even a castle! All beautifully preserved and in communion with the surrounding nature, offering the tourists breathtaking views of the panorama, below and all around.

Who knows me knows that I’m dramatically unfit for any kind of sport activity, but I decided to go for the hiking and take pictures and videos, so that you can all see me struggling and panting all the way through the 1355 steps and steep slopes of the hill. Here’s a little video I’ve put together just for you Wanderers! I hope you enjoy it, and if you are in Kotor and want to go for this I suggest you to carry a light backpack with plenty of water, sunscreen and… a raincoat! (Yes, we were caught in a rainstorm on the way back down and I even slipped and fell with my bum on the floor, so please wear shoes that have a good grip because the steps become slippery 😉 ).

See you soon with another post, this time dedicated to my days in lush Croatia!

A weekend in Bruges

 

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Oh, Bruges.

Definitely one of those cities that you can’t help reminisce about with a little sigh, a comma and its name. Oh, Bruges… (yes, feel free to add an ellipsis as well, for extra drama.)

Romantic European getaway, relaxing and unusual hen-do destination, family friendly location or lone traveller’s mind-clearing retreat, this Belgian gem of a city needs to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. First of all, it’s the perfect city to see in a two-days weekend (even better if you have three days, of course). Really, you don’t need more time than that to soak up all Bruges’ beauty. Choose springtime, because of the good weather and because it tends to be packed with tourists in high season.

Bruges oozes with character. Think of Venice meets Siena, with bold brushes of colour and a lot of chocolate. Tons of chocolate.

From London St. Pancras, Eurostar trains take you to Brussels (so, if you have time, you can combine these two very different cities in the same holiday and it’ll be totally worth it!); from there you can continue your journey on a national train and it’s only 40 minutes more. Although Bruges is not exactly cheap, visiting on a budget is still possible, taking advantage of the Ibis Budget Hotel (located just outside the station, a short walk to the city centre and a good abundant morning breakfast!) or opting for an Air BnB dig.

What to see –  Everything! Just walk and lose yourself, you’ll always find your way to beautiful views. One of the two main squares is Markt (Market Square), famous for its unique and colourful pointy roofed buildings and for the Historium, museum that offers virtual historical tours and a wonderful view from its rooftop. Burg, the other one, is more tucked away, but it’s home to the magnificent gothic City Town Hall. You probably have seen a place called Rozenhoedkaai in the pictures of all your friends who visited Bruges before: this famous photo-spot overlooking the canal, with a suggestive weeping willow and typical architecture as background, is the main area for cafes and restaurants, you are really spoilt for choice. You can also visit Saint-Janshospital, which is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe, with its own museum of artifacts not for the faint hearted. In the late afternoon (or at any time, really) don’t forget to have a long and relaxing stroll across Minnewater Park: expanding around what is known as the “Lake of Love”, this beautiful park will soothe your eyes and make you want to kiss a stranger on a bridge. Well, don’t. (Joking, follow your heart, sweetie).

What to eat  – You definitely should try the Flemish Stew (or Carbonnade Flamande), a stew of succulent beef chops slow cooked in dark beer and onions, served with crispy fries. Oh, so good. Or the famous Moules-Frites, delicious mussels cooked in wine, beer or cream and paired again with a rich side of fries. Fries and potatoes in general are massively present in Belgian cuisine, and you can try different kinds of mash as well as an alternative to the crispy sticks. Of course, being in Belgium, you have to indulge in the wonderful chocolate creations that this country provides. Go to Neuhaus (or to Elisabeth if you have time to kill when you’re in Brussels) and stock on the gorgeous assortment of lush pralines, truffles and bonbons that combine the finest Belgian chocolate with creams, fruit and nuts beyond your imagination. It’s pure sex. Another unmissable dessert in Bruges is Belgian waffles, fresh from the iron cast and topped with voluptuous mountains of cream, ice cream, fruit and/or flooded with thick melted chocolate. Delicious and quite filling. You can’t leave the Belgian border without having experienced a food baby from waffles. And of course be adventurous with the selection of crafted Belgian beers from the many beer bars in Bruges. I went for wine. I know: “Italians”.

What activities to do – Visit the many museums that Bruges offers! At the moment two big exhibitions of Picasso and Salvador Dali are snatching all the attention, but if you’re bored with Art you can find an Archeological Museum, a Chocolate Museum and even a Fries Museum! Pay a visit to the Brugs Biermuseum if you are fascinated by the whole process of creation of beer (and go wild on the sample tasting area!). Boat tours along the many canals in Bruges are another option that allow you to embrace the spirit of this lovely city. Or you can venture just outside the city centre and visit the windmills of Bruges, some of them still working and open to the public after three centuries.

What’s Instagrammable – Basically the whole city. But if we want to point out some highlights from Bruges let’s say that your Instagram feed can’t do without

  • the doors and the houses (with infinite colour combinations and quirky decorations);
  • weeping willows (really, they are so poetic);
  • strawberries dipped in chocolate;
  • the thousand small statues that you can spot on corners of buildings;
  • Tintin memorabilia;
  • waffles, waffles, waffles like there’s no tomorrow;
  • you on a bridge. And of course you and your loved one with the backdrop of Rozenhoedkaai (not going to share that one with you, hope you don’t mind 😀

I hope this post and my photodiary enticed you into visiting and discovering this precious city, that surely will stay in your heart much, much longer after the chocolate praline box from Neuhaus is finished. (Which usually happens on the way back to the hotel, it rarely survives one day. Mine didn’t, ça va sans dire.)

Have you been to Bruges? What did you love the most?

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Homeowning

Hi everyone!

I’m on a train to Bruges at the moment and I’ve finally found some time to write, after being away for more than a month (sorry!), swallowed by my life basically. What happened in the past busy month? First of all, this blog turned one year old (yay! virtual prosecco for all my followers).

But the biggest news is a personal milestone I’ve finally achieved: [drumroll…………] I’ve bought a house! Well, a flat actually, not an entire building, which in London is already a pretty big thing. But yes, I’m officially an adult with a mortgage, scared and excited. I know that most travel&lifestyle bloggers prefer to have a more nomad life and flexible bases, and I thought about it a lot… coming to the conclusion that for me it was very important to stop wasting money on rent, making landlords rich and having to deal with ridiculous letting agencies (and having to argue because they wanted to charge us 334 £ to change a toilet lid that was cracked. Yep, 334 £, true story. Not even in the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi I’ve seen toilet lids worth 334 £). I wanted to start investing in something more solid for my future. Plus, my partner and I really wanted to have a house to call our own and we felt this was the right time.

The past year has been dedicated to this project entirely. Saving money was a priority: after a delightful contract on board SilverCloud I had to put my performing on hold and commit to a more regular day job (aaaaaargh….). I had to find ingenious ways to live, eat, go out, even have holidays on a budget. I’ve switched to a capsule wardrobe, minimising and optimising the purchase of clothes. I’ve mastered a shopping list template that allows me to buy groceries for an entire week for two people spending less than 30£, salmon fillets included. I’ve cooked nice and healthy meals to take to work, so that I could cut extra costs (and extra carbs). I bought an insulated flask and started preparing my coffee at home, with my beloved Italian moka espresso machine (saving a minimum of 2,70£ a day). This was the best part, but it was tough at times. I had to constantly remind myself that I was working towards a goal, and that sacrifice was only a temporary and necessary step.

And here we are, all settled in our new place, having a fresh new start. I feel a bit tired and overwhelmed by emotions, but at the same time I’m happy and energised. We still don’t have Internet connection at home (we live in a brand new development and the works for the fibre broadband are delaying a bit), but I think I’ll use the local library to have my blog work done. I need to get back in the game, and after this important milestone there’s so much more I want to achieve, personally. Things I want to do, places I want to go, best versions of me I want to be. But first, I’d better put up the curtains on the bedroom window, because I’m currently sleeping with a black t-shirt wrapped around my eyes like I had been kidnapped by a dodgy gang in Tijuana.

See you all soon!

 

 

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The wonders of Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka [Photogallery]

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Hello wanderers!

I was flicking through my photo albums from my time in Japan and I decided to dedicate a special post to one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had: visiting the Kaiyukan Aquarium in beautiful Osaka! If you are in ‘Japan’s kitchen’ (this is the nickname that Osaka has, probably because it’s a gourmand’s heaven) and like me you’re in love with the big blue ocean, then you really can’t miss it.

This breathtaking place is listed in the Top 10 of the largest aquariums in the world. Some numbers? 30 000 living creatures, 740 different species and a total water volume of 10 million liter!

Location – Tempozan Harbor Village of Osaka’s bay area (near Tempozan’s Ferris Wheel)

Theme and concept – Designed by American architect Peter Chermayeff, the Kaiyukan (a japanese word that means ‘playing in the sea pavilion’) was based on the Gaia hypothesis proposed by Dr. James Lovelock: an ecological theory, according to which all the living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings (like volcanoes) to form, and function as, a single organism, maintaining and perpetrating the conditions for life on the planet.

In the Pacific ocean we can notice a curious and astounding overlap between the Pacific Rim volcanic belt (constantly shaken by eruptions) and the area with the most varied and rich biodiversity: the ‘Ring of Fire’ meets the ‘Ring of Life’, this is the concept that the Kaiyukan embodies.

Structure of the Kaiyukan – All the living species of this aquarium are organised in 16 different large tanks, each representing a specific region of the Pacific Rim and recreating its natural environment. Visitors can take a tour starting from the 8th floor and walking down the spiral ramp that wraps around the biggest central tank called ‘Pacific Ocean’. This tank is 9 metres deep, contains more than 5000 tons of water and is house to the whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world.

Not only fish – Amphibians, birds, reptiles, mammals, marine invertebrates, plants… The Kaiyukan composes a complete biosphere. Don’t forget to visit the more recent and new interactive exhibition area for a thorough sensory experience of the natural environment!

I’ll leave you with some more pictures I’ve taken of this dazzling place, enjoy!

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[Oh, jellyfish. I love jellyfish. I spent more than an hour staring at it, hypnotized. I just love jellyfish. Of course with a glass pan between me and it, otherwise “aaaargh, back off!”]

 

Yoga, wellness and healthy food at LEVELSIX Peckham!

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London has a brand new place for those who love body and mind wellness, yoga practice and healthy living. It’s for those who want to join a friendly and caring environment with an artistic edge, made by people who absolutely love what they do and offer a full experience that goes beyond the simple ‘hour of yoga class in a crowded gym’. A place to leave the stress of the city life behind, nourish our spirit and reconnect with ourselves in the best way possible. This place is called LEVELSIX Peckham.

The brand new yoga studio was founded by the combined forces of yoga teacher Will Wheeler (read his lovely interview for Wandertalks here), with lawyer Ben Rose, project manager Tania Eber and chef Woody Pike. The four decided to make their vision come to life by joining the vibrant and interesting hub of Peckham Levels, a beautiful project to transform an unused multi-storey car park into a creative space for artists, new businesses and for the community to come together, in a new and organic exchange of energy, art, good vibes and… good food! “It took a year and a half to go from concept to the official opening” says Will Wheeler, while we sit at the big table in the warm and cosy café area at LEVELSIX, “and it was so exciting to see the project come alive bit by bit, month after month: it required – and still requires – a deep commitment and a lot of energy, listening and engaging with what people want and look for, to be sure we are shaping our project in the right direction… But when we finally launched LEVELSIX back in December we were amazed and happy with the great response we got”.

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What makes LEVELSIX different from the other yoga studios in London?

The answer is pretty simple: LEVELSIX offers a wholesome experience of yoga, wellness and healthy food for EVERYBODY. It’s an inclusive environment, familiar and accessible, with a timetable that collects the finest yoga teachers in London. “Everyone is nice!”, Will says with a smile, and I can confirm it after attending a lovely class of Vinyasa Flow with the extraordinary Mischa Varmuza, who shared with us her passion and knowledge of mantras and yoga culture. There’s a clean and incredibly bright atmosphere at LEVELSIX, and you breathe it as soon as you walk in. The two studios, spacious and open, offer the perfect dimension for practice, whereas many other yoga places in London tend to fill up their timetables with tons of classes, crammed in minuscule rooms, missing the point of yoga entirely. There’s also a room for wellness treatments, such as acupuncture, sport massage, therapeutic massage and energy healing, that will be launched this week.

The experience at LEVELSIX is enriched even more by the partnership with some of the best brands in the sector: you practice on yoga mats by Lululemon, shower with a fresh and voluptuous bergamot shower gel by Malin+Goetz and sip on the hot premium teas of Rare Tea Company.

Another important factor that contributes to the success of LEVELSIX is the beautiful café and the healthy food offering. And we are not talking about pre-packed protein bars and bottled juices here: at LEVELSIX, chef Woody Pyke combines the best seasonal, fresh and organic ingredients (as local and km zero possible) creating a varied and brilliant vegetarian and vegan menu that nourishes your body and spirit. Breakfasts, soups, lunch bowls, smoothies… all prepared with art and care in front of your eyes. The café area has an industrial vibe, made homely and eclectic by colourful printed cushions, candles and yellow daffodils, and it really invites you to take your time before and after attending the class: you can sit down anytime and indulge in one of the heartwarming bowls of gorgeous food (I highly recommend the chickpea tagine with quinoa, labneh and rich creamy yoghurt, and the turmeric latte, which is the tastiest I’ve ever tried) and relax your mind (or nose around the big jars of sauerkraut, kombucha and yoghurt that chef Woody prepares and ferments in-house).

Attention to the yoga practice is the strong backbone around which LEVELSIX is structured. The studio offers Vinyasa Flow (gentle & dynamic) classes, Pilates, Restorative, Kundalini, Hatha and Yoga Nidra. Every Friday evening yoga teacher David Kam teaches an unmissable Candle Lit Vinyasa Flow class, and more events, Yoga Brunches, workshop and day-retreats are on the schedule for the near future. We talked about ‘inclusivity’ as a key element of LEVELSIX, and this translates practically into the aim of shaping up their classes around the needs of all levels (beginners, intermediate, experienced), offering a community programme with deals and promotions, and classes especially designed (yoga for kids, classes for sight impaired, and more).

On the 16th of March, LEVELSIX will host a delightful event, a Mythical Flow Workshop and Dinner with Tanja Mickwitz. Incorporating storytelling into the asana practice, mentor and teacher Tanja will take you for a journey through Indian mythology, mantra and mudra, providing you with a deeper understanding of yoga, as well as yourself. After the workshop, you will be served a freshly prepared organic seasonal supper in the LEVELSIX café. For more information you can visit the event section on the LEVELSIX website or call 020 39411950.

I’m already looking forward to my next visit to this gem of a place. I recommend you to take advantage of the great introductory offer for newcomers at LEVELSIX: 2 weeks of unlimited yoga (14 calendar days) for only 20 £, a price that is lower than a dinner out in London, to enjoy the City’s latest and hippest yoga place to the fullest.

See you all at LEVELSIX Peckham!

[LEVELSIX Floor 6, Multistorey Car Park, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London SE15 4TG]

 

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