Jul 162013

Posted from West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.

Bali is a beautiful island geographically spread in-between the Indonesian islands of Java (big neighbour) and Lombok (small neighbour). According to the last census, the island has 4.5 million inhabitants and its population has been on a rapid increase over the past few years. The distance from its northern to southern tip is approximately 112km and it takes 153km to travel east to west. The population of the island associates itself mostly with Balinese Hindu religion (over 80%) whilst the rest believes in Islam.

The capital and the largest city in Bali is Denpassar, which is also where we landed after a long flight from Abu Dhabi. Some first learnings settled on us pretty quickly. The Indonesian currency must have undergone fairly significant inflation – 1GBP fetches nearly 15.000 Indonesian Rupee. Hence we have withdrawn our 3 million rupees right at the airport and suddenly felt rich!

This is a cash economy – forget credit cards. Although in some places it is surely possible to pay by a credit card, I haven’t really seen anyone doing it. Cash is the dominant payment vehicle. Barter is the way to go. The prices are already fairly low for Europeans, but negotiating the price can get one pay a quarter of the already fairly low price pitched by the locals.

Our first destination was the Balinese cultural centre – Ubud, where we settled for four days. Ubud is home to Balinese art and handicrafts and a vast number of international and Indonesian restaurants giving out an unforgettable culinary experience, and not least also to museums and dance performances.

After we partially overcame our jet leg, the Royal palace, the local information centre and the famous Monkey Forest were the first targets on our Ubud walk. The Ubud macaques are small apes 6-10kg in size and effectively waiting for tourists to deliver lots of food and entertainment to them. Some visitors get slightly scared by the monkeys’ insistence and persistence (including Flavia!).

Our evening programme was then the Lagong dance, in which young teenage girls performed a few traditional dance sets. The coordination of body movement with facial expression was stunning.

Our day two was about further cultural discovery via a long downhill biking tour. This is where we visited a local coffee plantation (and tried the world’s famous coffee that is processed after it has travelled through the Mongoose’s digestion tract and extracted from its poop!), rice fields, typical Balinese household, met locals and finally got to understand a bit about the traditions, such as why families keep living together, the importance of offerings to gods, the stories behind reincarnation, etc.

On the last day in Ubud we have hired a driver – Edi – who brought us up north to see the Ulun Danu Lake Temple and Jatiluwih Unesco protected rice fields. We have brought with us also two friends Joost and Liselotte. We met Liselotte over 1.5yrs ago in Australia whilst doing a three day trip to Kangaroo Island and here we were in Bali again! Amazing!

The next day in the morning we left Ubud and headed east to settle on Lombok’s Gili Island of Trawangan with the sole objective of relaxing on the beach and enjoying the sun.

Jul 092013

Posted from Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Our holiday finally came up and we arrived in Dubai, our stop over choice on our way to Bali.

The city often associated with luxury, extravaganza, futuristic mega-projects, Las Vegas style cheesiness and often believed to be a city state in its own right, which it is not.

We only had 3 days and were determined to check all of the must-see boxes.

Our day 1 was about Dubai’s origins. This is best seen in the north of Dubai – Deira, Bur Dubai, Dubai Creek and Bastakia Quarter. The Deira offers the raw experience of the famous souks (street markets). We visited the most important ones – Spice, Gold and Perfume souks. This is where one haggles with the merchants and gets constantly harassed to enter someone’s shop and buy stuff. It’s fun though!

Short water taxi ride across the Dubai Creek for 20 pence (GBP) landed us in Bur Dubai, the old Dubai where the Dubai Museum provided a short and clear synopsis of the city’s history. In short, if you were to come here a bit over 100 years ago, you’d find a couple of small villages surrounded by desert – Dubai and Deira. The two were strategically well positioned on a trade route from Iran, but not much else was going on. The trade route did lay down foundations to today’s success, that’s for sure.

The breakthrough came with the discovery of oil in 1960′s (as one would expect). What differentiated the emirate from its neighbours was the ambition to be more than only an oil exporter. Today’s economy profits from tourism and finance as much as it does from oil.

The area of Old Dubai is tiny compared to the New Dubai that we discovered on day 2 & 3. There are nearly 100 sky scrapers painting the city’s skyline. All of them were rapidly raised in the past few years only. We visited the tallest of them all – Burj Khalifa – and took a few shots from the visitor’s observatory on the 125th floor. Dubai mall is the largest mall in the world with its 1200 stores and is to be superseded by yet a larger one that is already being constructed a short ride outside of Dubai with planned 2000 stores. Yes, crazy … We have also visited the artificial Palm island, the Atlantis hotel, seen the 7* Burj al Arab hotel (from outside only!), etc. There is enough crazy stuff to see – indoor ski slope, mega indoor aquarium and ice rink – but not the type of stuff we typically get excited about.

Our favourite moment came with our half day trip to the desert on our Platinum Heritage tour. We learnt about the desert, saw local conservation area, learnt about the falconry, camel racing and ate some typical emirate food.

Overall, we enjoyed our time here. It’s a good stop over destination and for those with kids it can be easily more with the abundance of theme parks and attractions. I’m sure we’ll do another stop over in the future, but then there will be bigger, higher, faster and richer things to see – I’m sure about that ;o))

Mar 282013

Posted from .

Heading off to New York. It’s been such a rush over the past few weeks. So happy it’s all over and the holiday couldn’t come at better time!

I’ve been to New York 4x already, but this time it will be different. Coming with my wife will certainly uncover how little I’ve dedicated to culture and proper in-depth city exploration. We already have a plan, which takes no prisoners if one wanted to go crazy and “relax” … So New York, here I come again and this time I’ll get to know you a bit along the way … ;o)))