[Video] “8 Lessons I’ve learned in 2020” + blog news!

“Lockdown. Quarantine. Self-isolation. Social distancing. Life in times of Covid-19. …What did you learn from 2020?”

Hello Wanderers! It’s been a while, I know.

This year had a completely unexpected turn since the very start, didn’t it? I guess a pandemic wasn’t in the cards of any TV horoscope man, nor in any of our New Year’s resolutions lists… And yet it happened, and we had to deal with it, change our plans and our perspectives, let go of something, adjust, survive. Learn.

Life has many ways of teaching us a lesson, and this was quite a brutal way but it definitely taught us something. When I asked my followers on my Instagram stories what lesson they have learned from the past year I got all kinds of answers. Some hilarious ones, revolving around having a good stock of wine at home mainly (which is sooo relatable!), other ones very personal but surprisingly appliable to all of us. From those answers emerged a common urge for self-improvement (being more productive, stop procrastinating, invest on our own project…), but also a desire for a better world, populated of better human beings. Someone in the middle of the first lockdown said “we will come out of all this as better people than we were before”. I want to hope so. It sure will be so if we are smart enough to learn the lessons that this year taught us.

I made a video about it! In this eight minutes of comedy, stumbling on French words, saucy confessions, mental health talks, tripod smashing and much more, I share with you a bit of my 2020 experience, open-heartedly. The challenges I went through, but most of all the lessons I’ve learned. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, feel free to like/share/comment/subscribe! 🙂

Also I have an important announcement about this blog, that comes from a necessary adjustment to this year’s events. “The Artful Wanderer” was born mainly as a travel related blog: I wanted to share my experiences, tips and suggestions about cities and countries in the world, gathered during my time performing abroad and my personal holiday trips. But then Covid-19 happened. What to do of a travel blog in times where travelling freely is not possible? This was the question… Well, I decided to make a change, a small but significant shift. My activity as a blogger will not be limited to travel stories anymore, but it will embrace a broader range of topics. Which is a risk, because it will mean to get more personal sometimes too. But I think I’m ready for this step, in a way I’ve already started creating videos in which you can hear more of my “voice”. We need connection. We need to share thoughts, feelings, impressions, not only information and visuals. We need empathy, kindness, human interaction.  “The Artful Wanderer” will not only physically wander around the world when possible, but he will talk about the endless wander (funny how similar to “wonder” it sounds) that life itself is. And I will reveal more of the person behind the pseudonym, which is me, Carlo. I will use this blog for the written word, but most of all, my YouTube Channel. So please, if you want to follow and support me during this new chapter don’t forget to subscribe the channel! I’ll make sure to always create good and interesting content!

Thank you all! And enjoy “8 Lessons I’ve learned in 2020” 🙂

The best places to see in Antigua in 1 day!

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Hello Wanderers!
This post is dedicated to my short but awesome stay in breathtaking Antigua! And it’s the perfect ‘to see’ list if you are visiting on a cruise or if you are island hopping, giving you ideas for the ultimate itinerary to do in a short time!
I’ve been performing on board Silver Wind for a month and a half now and I’m making the most of the wonderful itinerary we are currently following, cruising Florida, Puerto Rico and several islands in the Caribbean. I’m loving the Caribbean sea so much, as you can probably imagine!
Former British colony until 1981, Antigua is nowadays, along with its sister island Barbuda, a fully independent country (yay! Another country to tick off my list!). It’s perfectly possible to visit the highlights of the entire island in one day, like I did, but of course I will also give you a few tips and suggestions in case you have more time and you want to indulge in the stunning beauty of this place.
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My day started with a relaxing morning at Dickenson Bay, absolute paradise if you like talc white sand and gorgeous clear waters. The bay stretches for a huge length and you can find plenty of resorts and restaurants all along.
My friends and I chose the area next to the Sandals Resort, highly recommended if you are a passionate Instagrammer: along the beach here you can find a red London-style phone booth, a little pier with wicker cocoons with tables and benches, beach four-poster beds with pink curtains and driftwood panels (at the lovely Ana’s On The Beach restaurant), lots of green coconuts casually abandoned on the sand and so on…
I was at the beach by 9:45 a.m., so I asked the barman a cocktail without alcohol. He said ‘Sure’, and started pouring two shots of dark rum in a shaker. I could have stopped him, but I firmly believe that when life puts on your way someone that knows you so well at a first glance, interfering with the masterplan would be a sin. So yes, I was pretty much merry by 10 a.m..
Dickenson Bay is not only amazing if you enjoy the milky-pink shades of the sand through the water when you are bathing and doing an absolute nothing: it’s also a great location for water sports, so get on a jet ski and dominate the Caribbean seas!

 

Other beaches worth exploring in Antigua are Half Moon Bay (where snorkeling and windsurfing are the main activities), Johnson’s Point and Crabb Hill (deserted beaches on the southwest coast, looking out toward Montserrat, Guadalupe and St. Kitts) and Pigeon Point (lovely views and restaurants/bars for your enjoyment).

After my beach morning I returned to the pier to join a bus tour of the island.
Our guide was a lovely and bubbly young lady called Mia. “Actually my name is Maria Belle, but there are so many Marias around… Plus, in Spanish this means that I’m yours!”, she cheerfully explained. Our tour started with a scenic drive in the direction of the Blockhouse Ruins: along the way we found a few interesting things, such as sugar factories with old outdoor machinery (sugar used to be the number one product to be exported worldwide from Antigua), big billboard that portrays Antigua and Barbuda’s national heroes (including Dame Nellie Robinson, who defied race inequalities opening up a school to bring secondary education to the non-white community), the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium (built for the 2007 Cricket World Cup and named after West Indies’ cricket team captain) and plenty of houses painted in the most vivid colours, like mint green, yellow, pink and purple. Apparently here people paint their houses with strong and bright colours because in the hot season the sun is so strong that it bleaches the colour out very quickly. I think the world would be a much better place if we had more mint green houses. Or lime green. Or whatever colour, really.
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We arrived to the Blockhouse Ruins and the view was breathtaking! These ruins are part of the military complex known as Shirley Heights (named after the Sir Thomas Shirley, Governor of the Leeward Islands, who fortified the harbour and strengthened Antigua’s defences in 1781) and they are an incredible viewpoint, along with what is called The Lookout (situated nearby) which offers a great view of the English and Falmouth Harbours. If you want to know more about the island’s history and culture from Amerindian times to the present days, the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre offers a multimedia sound-and-lights presentation accompanied by running commentary and music (plus observation platforms for more awesome vistas of the surroundings).
Here are a few pictures I took at Shirley Heights, so you can see what I’m talking about!
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The final stop of our tour was at Nelson’s Dockyard. Named after Admiral Horatio Nelson, this is the world’s only dockyard from the Georgian era still in use, hub for oceangoing yachts and headquarters for the annual Sailing Week Regatta (April-May). The whole area surrounding the marina is considered a national park of Antigua, and the Dockyard Museum (once the original Naval Officer’s House) presents ship models, trophies, maps and displays that recreate life in the English Harbour and pay tribute to the people who worked there. The marina is a lovely area for a stroll, with a few shopping places and bars (don’t leave before trying a rum punch).
Antigua is such a fascinating island…  The sunshine, the sound of music from the houses, the sweet taste of the black pineapple (the national fruit here), those white sand beaches… Many sea turtles, including the gorgeous and endangered Hawksbill Turtles, come to the beaches in Antigua during the key nesting months to lay their eggs. Mia told us that when the baby turtles grow up and the time comes for them to lay their eggs, they always come back to the beach where they were born, like they hear a call to their origins, an instinct, a primordial sense of belonging. That’s exatly the feeling I had with Antigua, and so had many other people I spoke with. This is definitely an island that calls you back, and I hope I’ll have the chance to come back one day. In the meantime, let the wandering continue and see you all again soon for new adventures!
[Visit Antigua and Barbuda website for more info and ideas to plan your trip!]
Carlo
[Note: I had started drafting this post before the outbreak of Covid-19 became pandemic. I am now in isolation in my flat in London. I decided to keep on sharing my travel stories to keep the moral high, waiting patiently and hopefully for the time when travelling will be possible and safe again. 🙂 ]

 

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[Video] Ha Long Bay cruise by junk boat!

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Hello Wanderers!

One year ago exactly I was cruising Ha Long Bay on board what they call a “junk boat” (a modern version of the slow sailing ships originally from China): it was one of the highlights of my stay in Vietnam, such a marvellous experience. Back then I had created a video about it for this blog, but never managed to post it. Time passed and I couldn’t find it anymore, until today, when it magically resurfaced from a hard disk I had forgotten about! So, bizarrely enough, after one year exactly here’s the video of that magical experience!

Ha Long Bay is considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of The World, and it was nominated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The name means “where the dragon descends into the sea” and it comes from an ancient legend, according to which a giant dragon appeared once to help the local people in their fight against Northern invaders. After they achieved victory the dragon remained, turning into a fence of rocky limestone islets as protection for further invasions.

When my junk boat cruise started, the weather was not promising and when it started raining I thought “here we go, my usual luck…”… but after we visited the Thien Cung cave (majestic grotto of stalactite, not to be missed, absolutely stunning!), the sky cleared up and the vessel kept gliding along those beautiful rocks and cliffs until sunset.

If you are planning a trip to Vietnam you absolutely have to cruise Ha Long Bay by junk boat. And now, enjoy my little video from that awesome experience!

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[Video] Video-diary of my weekend in Brighton!

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Hello Wanderers!

I know, it’s been a long time since my last post, but life got a bit in the way 😀 But I’m finally back with two brand new posts! I’ve spent a lovely weekend in Brighton some time ago and I’ve prepared this little video-diary to show you some highlights of this awesome UK city, perfect in the summer but fantastic all year round. If this video tickles your curiosity then you absolutely should check my list of…

31 things you’ll find in Brighton that will never make you want to leave!

You’ll find pictures, useful links, tips and suggestions about food, places to go and things to see!

But now it’s time to press play and see me loving my life by the seaside 😀 Enjoy!

 

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31 things you’ll find in Brighton that will never make you want to leave!

Hello Wanderers! I had a lovely weekend in Brighton (you can find my little video-diary here) and I have prepared a special list (full of pictures and clickable links!) of 31 things you’ll find in this lovely seaside destination and they’ll never make you want to leave!

Are you ready? Here we go! 🙂

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1. The Brighton Palace Pier! 

Probably the most iconic and awesome landmark in Brighton, the first structure of this pier was originally built in 1823, and it soon developed into a collection of stalls of artists, souvenirs and confectionary sellers, as well as fortune tellers and entertaining attractions. Because of storms and war damages the pier was rebuilt and retouched several times… Now it’s a fantastic place where to stroll, enjoy a meal and a glass of wine, watch movies al fresco, enjoy live music events and much more! Like, for example…

2. …A huge videogame arcade!

Who doesn’t like the 80’s playful, noisy and tacky atmosphere of videogame arcades? …Well, I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m a child of the 80’s and I LOVE IT! The Palace Of Fun, right in the middle of the Pier, will delight you with pinballs, slot machines and videogames… just remember to gamble responsibly and don’t burn all your money on it!

3. Attractions for kids and adults! 

Turbo Coaster, Horror Hotel, Cup&Saucers, Dragon Fly… Whether with your family or with a group of friends, the rides and attractions on the pier are definitely something to try, even just for the fun of taking silly pictures and having a laugh. Buy a wristband on the website, it will give you a special discount!

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4. Brighton Rocks, cotton candy and lots of sugary things your dentist will thank you for!

Let’s face it, Brighton Rocks are the kind of sweets that you buy impulsively when you have a sugar crave and regret it straight after. They are the sweets that your friends bring you from Brighton and you forget them in the cupboard for months, then one night you find them, you start eating them and then you realise they passed their expiration date a year before. But anyway, a trip to Brighton can’t do without a little sugar overdose, and along the Palace Pier there’s plenty of choice for sugary treats, just go for it and diet tomorrow.

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5. Seagulls that will steal your food!                               

Everyone loves the idea of strolling along the seaside savouring a crepe with Nutella or whatever, just be aware of the seagulls: these naughty mothercluckers have mastered a real art in stealing food from naive tourists and fly away at the speed of light. But if you know it they sense it and they leave you alone. But it’s a fun thing when it happens to others and you have the fortune to witness the whole action, I’m not gonna lie!

6. Bikes for rent! 

If you’re up for a bike ride along the beach you can either use the BTN BykeShare service (their bikes are a beautiful aqua green colour!) or choose one of the independent bike rental kiosks on the seaside and in the city. Prices are very reasonable and there’s a bike lane all along the beach that will allow you to cycle without killing pedestrians.

7. Iconic white & blue striped beach chairs!

All lined up along the beach, they are just a beautiful sight… Super photographable, not super comfy to relax upon if I have to be honest, but surely one of the most iconic things in Brighton. In some areas they are free (on a first come / first served basis), in others they are for rent by the hour or for the whole day.

8. A merry-go-round on the beach!   

More than one actually! But I’m not gonna tell you how many, just have a stroll, count them and write your answer in the comments below, you can win a Brighton rock to forget in your cupboard for a year.

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9. Awesome oysters and tasty seafood in small cups! 

If you, like me, absolutely love to indulge in fresh daily catches of shellfish, mussels, lobster, oysters etc…, Brighton is your place. At the little kiosks on the beach on the right hand side of the Palace Pier (my favourite one is The Brighton Shellfish And Oyster Bar) you’ll feel spoiled for choice: from little pots of seafood salad, plump prawns, stuffed olives wrapped in anchovies, lobster tails, to soft bread rolls with crab and mayo, to luxurious Jersey and Carlingford oysters… Bring your own ice cold prosecco, buy a few of these gorgeous goods from the ocean and have an awesome aperitivo watching the sunset on the beach. Heaven.

10. A burnt pier!

Another one of the most photographed things in Brighton. As for the Palace Pier, the history of the West Pier is made of fires, storms, attempts to renovation, war damages… The skeleton of this burnt pier is nowadays a striking silhouette against the sky, somehow captivating in all seasons.

11. Independent coffee shops for your caffeine fix!

Coffee and cake anyone? Plenty of choice here, from the most hipster to the minimalistic ones. My favourites are Small Batch on Jubilee St. and Bond Street Coffee, but there are really so many of them with such good quality roasts that it would be a shame to settle for a Starbucks. Trust an Italian 😉

12. The Royal Pavillion and the gardens! 

If you want to lay down on the grass to rest a bit after lunch you can enjoy the gardens of the Royal Pavillion, with their luxuriant nature. It tends to get a bit crowded in the afternoon, but it’s still a lovely green oasis right in the centre of the city. And the museum is a nice place to visit in case of bad weather (or good weather if you are into museums, of course).

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13. Vintage vynil stores!

While Cult Hero looks like the perfect geeky vynil record store (it reminds me of Stuart’s comic books store in The Big Bang Theory!), if you want to rummage through piles and piles of new and second hand vintage vynils I suggest you to head to the North Laines area, for the best rare finds and bargains!

14. The most delicious Fish & Chips!   

If you went to Brighton and you haven’t scoffed a bowl of fish & chips from the chippy outside the Palace Pier sitting on a bench and wiping your grubby hands on your t-shirt you simply haven’t lived, there you go. That said, there are many other good places in Brighton where to taste delicious battered cod in a more posh condition. The Regency is absolutely my go-to place, but if it’s too busy (like it often happens) then Wolfies of Hove is another very popular spot, or The Fisherman’s (another one of my favourites!).

15. A mojito kiosk!

You can find it most of the times on New Road, right near a side entrance to the Royal Pavillion Gardens, and it offers refreshing and boozy version of the renowned cocktail, to tipple up your day. It’s always five o’clock, peeps.

16. Quirky and stylish homeware stores! 

Berts, Dowse and Workshop are only three of the many homeware and lifestyle stores in Brighton where you can spend hours choosing pieces to dress up your living space, from the quirkiest to the more streamlined design.

17. The Lanes! (aka the Maze…)

This popular area takes the name from the maze of narrow streets and alleyways that compose it. It’s one of my favourite areas especially for coffee & cake (stop at Sugardough and The Flour Pot Bakery!) and brunch, but in The Lanes you can also find restaurants, pubs, craft stores and above all…

18. Jewellery shops for your engagement ring!

…yes, The Lanes are literally packed with gold, silver and jewellery stores! So, if you get the sudden urge of proposing to your partner while you’re having your oysters and prosecco on the beach, you know where to go to get a bling bling.

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19. Traditional pubs for when it’s time for a pint!

The Pump House is one of the most famous ones, but there’s plenty of awesome pubs in Brighton if you like ales and awesome hearty food.

20. Cakes, ice cream and cupcakes at colourful Cloud 9!

Cloud 9 is the most colourful and dreamy bakery and ice cream store you can possibly want! A triumph of rainbow cupcakes, unicorn goodies, pastel colours and delicious sugary creations that make this place absolutely irresistible! Take a look at their Instagram to see what I’m talking about 😉

21. A comedy club!

It’s called Komedia and it’s in the North Laine’s area, offering you an impressive programme of stand up comedy, cabaret and music shows. Definitely a place to check if you’re up for an evening of fun!

22. An amazing Fringe Festival!

For ‘stagey’ people like me Brighton Fringe Festival is every year an event to look forward to, being one of the largest fringe festivals in the world (if you’re not familiar with the definition, ‘fringe theatre’ is a kind of performance that experiments in style, format or subject, usually taking place in small-scale theatres or unusual venues). For an entire month the city hosts hundreds of shows in many different locations, and you can often see promos and previews on the street in the afternoon! Check the website for news and programme for the next season!

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23. Veggie and vegan heaven!

In the last few years Brighton embraced brilliantly vegetarianism and veganism, with many restaurants and cafes that focus on organic and plant based recipes. Check this list  to have an idea of what’s on offer 🙂

24. An upside down house!

It’s on the beach! It’s upside down! And it’s my favourite colour, mint/aqua green! For just 5£ you can visit it inside and take all the pictures you want, playing with the inverted perspective. Fun times!

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25. A vibrant LGBTQ nightlife and daylife!

Brighton Pride is considered the biggest Pride parade in the UK, with great headliners every year (Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, Paloma Faith, to name a few) and fantastic events. The city of Brighton has become the LGBTQ capital of the UK (you can read a bit of the history here), with pubs, clubs, events and vital services mainly concentrated in the area of Kemp Town.

26. Street art that will blow your mind!

Keep your cameras ready at all times when you walk in Brighton! Murales and street art at every turn, often incorporated in the decor of streets and shops. Stunning!

27. Lots of people riding a bike naked!

Every year since 2006, Brighton has joined World Naked Bike Rides around the world to celebrate cycling and the human body. Born as a protest against car culture, it became year after year a great platform to affirm body positivity. So every year around June the city gets full of naked people cycling. Get your birth suit on and join this awesome event (wear sunscreen though)!

28. Live music, gigs and festivals!

Brighton is a very lively city for concerts and festivals, from small venues to big stages. check What’s On to be always updated!

29. Colourful walls and doors for your Instagram selfies!

Blaker Street is only one of the many streets in Brighton where you can find an array of houses and doors painted with different bright colours (a bit like Bruges, or Notting Hill in London), from the bold to the pastel ones. A joy to watch!

30. Vintage markets and shops for rummagers!

If you like to rummage through thrift stores, vintage markets and junk shops, Brighton is great! Snoopers Paradise is a huge flea market where you can find literally anything. Don’t forget to also check Vine Street Vintage, Brighton Flea Market and The Open Market (click on the links to know opening times).

31. Striped vintage beach huts!

And last but not least, your trip to Brighton can’t be complete without a treasure hunt (believe me, it is!) to find the famous coloured beach huts, perfect element for your Instagram pictures. I will not tell you where they are (no one actually will, tradition wants you to walk your way to find them), but you can check this hashtag for a few tips 😉

I hope you enjoyed this list of awesome things in Brighton! Of course there’s more and more I could have included, and if you have more tips and ideas please feel free to add a comment below! Let’s make this the ultimate list about this fantastic city!

See you soon, people!

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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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