Glamping at the Gorge Ampitheatre

Tracy,

Back in January, at an Ovarian Cancer Research auction, I saw a package for the “Oasis Campground” and Avett Brothers. Now, I only knew one Avett Brothers song, but I was intrigued by this campground and did a bit of phone research. The photos looked pretty excellent, so I made the opening bid and ended up winning the item! So for $200 (which is comparable cost for 2 concert tickets and general admission camping) we’d get to GLAMP in these nice tents with two twin foam mattresses, and a fan, and access to flush toilets and showers! Sign me up! (I was still in my early 20’s when I swore off general admission camping at The Gorge. No thank you! It’s like MAD MAX over there. Partying all night, vomiting people, strangers trying to get into your tent, OVERLFOWING porta-potties! Yikes. Nope. I’d rather just drive home all night, which is what I’ve done. But 2 nights at this Oasis Campground thing seemed promising. And so my pal Nichole and I prepared for our August Glamping adventure.  (For a more artsy documentation of our adventures, see the bottom of this post for links to Nichole’s instagram)

Then, a few months before the show, they emailed to say Mumford & Sons concert had been added to Fri night. Nichole and I grabbed some tickets to that show, too. So now we got to glamp, see a band we quite enjoy, and then next night see a band we kind of know.

Took Friday off work and had a leisurely drive east. Found the BEST new roadtrip diner along Hwy 2 in Gold Bar. The Wallace Fall Cafe. Big sign “under new management” which is often not a good indicator. But it was fantastic! As the toast option, you could get one giant pancake instead of toast! And they had homemade marionberry cobbler filling as a pancake topping. *drool* Legit great and we’ll be back.

Stopped in Leavenworth to try to meet up with a pal, but she got called in to work. So we bought some pretzels (!!) and continued on our way. Now, I much prefer Hwy 2 to I-90 (it’s a much prettier drive) but I’ve never gone past Leavenworth on it before. So it was a fun experience, chasing the river and seeing the basalt (?) cliffs and orchards.  And as we’d taken the day off work, it didn’t matter that it’s a bit longer.

Once there, the Oasis Campground was really nice. About 100 stand up tents, each with two outdoor chairs. And they provide one bag of ice each day for our coolers. It was hot hot hot, but still very nice. (Even if I had to hide under my sarong in the lack of shade areas).

Then off to the prettiest concert venue. Just check out that view!!

The campground included access to the Cliff House. What an overhyped WASTE OF MONEY AND TIME. The drink prices were drastically higher than the rest of the venue, it took over 90 minutes for our order of mini corndogs and tater tots. (We were extra glad we had our Leavenworth pretzels as a snack option when the wait became sooooo long). The food was expensive, the options limited, critically understaffed. Total nightmare. The view was pretty, but you can have a pretty view from general admission, too. And honestly, the view isn’t unobstructed. There are big fences in the way, that photo was just from putting my camera between the fence railings. I can’t believe that people pay money for this. The only decent part was that it had two flush toilets, so a long line, but you could avoid the porta potty. Because of the extreme wait for our food, we didn’t get to see Portugal The Man, but we could hear them, at least.

Also, I hadn’t been to The Gorge since Live Nation took over, and dang. They must have VERY good friends on the Washington State Liquor Control board, because I’ve never seen so many people over-served before. As you enter the ampitheatre, the walkway is literally lined with beer/hard alcohol shacks. At least 12 before you even reach the grass. And it is not cheap. $14 for tallboy cans with $5 to add a shot. Now most events in Washington are ridiculous about serving alcohol, requiring a small beer garden fence to separate people. But that’s apparently not a concern at all here. I think those beer garden fences are silly, and that adults should be able to wander a festival with a beer. I’m just not sure how The Gorge can legally do this when everywhere else cannot. But I was irritated at the extremely high percentage of literally falling-down-drunk people there were. And when the guy who could not stand up was able to stumble over and buy another beer…woah.

The Mumford & Sons concert itself was great. Although I feel like I missed a memo somewhere. I quite like their music and own two albums, but it’s not “rock your face off” vibe. Yet this audience was hyped to an 11. They were even throwing glowsticks around, and screaming their heads off. I kept thinking, “are they seeing the same show I’m seeing?” Still, it was a great show.

Back to spend the night in our cozy tents. Woke up around 2am to the heaviest rain ever. It sounded like someone had turned a fire house onto our tent. And then lightning flashes. Woah! My first sleep-induced thought was to take a Snapchat video. Ha. I’ll try to post it here

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Then someone pounds on our tent door, saying we all have to evacuate to our cars because of the lightning. Oh! Right! There’s a giant metal pole going down the middle of our tents. So we sleepily stumble, put on shoes and jackets, grab a few things, and run into the pissing rain to the car. Once there, I was quite pleased to discover the items I’d randomly grabbed. My towel (for drying off and as a blanket), the decorative throw pillow from the tent (for a pillow) and the large bag of grapes (snacks!). How’s that for survival instincts!! I worried for the poor bastards in regular camping. That campground is always a muddy terrible mess, and with drunken folks and self set up tents, etc, I’m sure lots of folks got washed out in those pouring rains. And I doubt they had any security telling them to evacuate due to lightning. And at 2am, that campground had only just passed out/gone to sleep when this all started. yikes! We then spent 1.5 hours sort of sleeping in the Prius. It was not as uncomfortable as I would’ve expected. Not great, but manageable. Finally we were given the all clear to return to our tents.

The next day, we’re up sooner than we’d like, because the hot temperatures have returned. Lovely lazy morning at the campsite, eating the “flood pasta salad” (Nichole had made some great vinegar pasta salad for us, but turns out those disposable tupperware don’t seal so tightly, so being in a cooler with melted ice, water got inside. But turned out to still be decently tasty, with fresh crunchy vegetables and pasta, just maybe not so much dressing anymore. Ha. Made friends with Liz and Ben in the tent nextdoor. Went over to nearby Cave B Winery for some wine tasting. They had live music too. Lovely. Back in the afternoon at the campground and we start seeing lightning flashes again. While no rain this time, everyone is ordered to evacuate to our cars again. We take a little more time, packing up wine and snacks and card games and Zombie dice. Everyone rolls down their windows and a strange sort of tailgate happens, with everyone inside their cars, passing bottles of whiskey from window to window.

Ben is playing songs through his portable speaker. It’s kind of lovely, actually. And fun watching stragglers returning to the campground and their utter confusion. “Um, why is everyone in their cars?” Don’t you know? This is the traditional Avett Brothers tradition!

Actually, this evacuation is a huge nightmare the concert venue. They had to evacuate the entire ampitheatre (we just hadn’t headed over yet because we didn’t care enough about the opening bands). As it’s a giant hillside/general admission, people get in line hours before the event to claim their perfect spot, and get all set up with blankets etc. And then they all had to be kicked out. For another 90 minutes at least. Then in a huge technical snaffu, Livenations automated system sent out alerts saying the venue was re-opened BEFORE the staff on site were ready for the venue to be re-opened. Having made pals with one of the campground security guys, we got to listen in to the madness, as a very angry crowd (already pissed they’d been evacuated) were now being denied re-entry. Rough!

We did have a very dramatic sunset that evening. With TONS of lightning flashes and strikes still happening. So we are not exactly sure how it was deemed “safe” to return, as the lightning is still actively happening, while these dark clouds roam in. I think the venue just didnt’ want to have to issue refunds so chose dollars over safety, but whatever.

At the ampitheatre, we saw Lake Street Dive and it started to rain. Ugh! But Nichole was willing to stick around because I did want to see at least SOME of the Avett Brothers show. And they were decently fun. Much less crowded than the night before, but I think all the storms and evacuations caused some folks to head home early, and if we hadn’t had this lovely glamping Oasis, we probably would’ve left earlier, too. Getting into the Gorge was hilarious, as they still had all the metal fencing endless switchbacks, but no lines to justify it, so all that twisting and walking back and forth. You’d think someone would’ve just opened the path, but nope.

Sunday morning and leisurely breakfast of the rest of our camp snacks, and then a drive home along I-90 this time, to allow for the mandatory stop at Owen’s Meats in Cle Elum (to get some Turkey Jerky and their gorgeous smoked porkchops). Stopped at the mexican place in Cle Elum for a late lunch, and found this magnificent painting of a man giving his rooster a drink of tequila. Just the perfect end to a wild but fun weekend.

For a more artsy documenting of our trip, you can check out Nichole’s instagram posts about it. I’ll share the links here.

It begins.

West to East

Glamping

That view, though

Storm Evacuation

Cave B Winery

“What We Do When There Are No Shadows”.

Stormy Sunset 

Mostly empty concert 

Heading home

Passenger stories

 

 

French Disneyland

Tracy,

Browse archives for October 9, 2019
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Being the primary caregiver for two family members sure eats up ones downtime. But boy, was that one of the reasons getting to take this little Paris adventure was so extra necessary for my body and soul.

Now that there are a few moments to myself again, I’m feeling the need to document the final 2.5 days. And I’ve still got some notes on my phone from my trip, so I can share those here, and then share a whole bunch of photos (because Disney is always good for a colorful photo opportunity). When I’d first agreed to this trip, it was going to end with 1.5 days in Disneyland. After booking my flight, the group decided they needed more Disney time (as there are two parks). So suddenly it was 3 nights Paris and 3 nights Disneyland. Not my personal ideal way to divvy up the time, but it was actually really lovely. The idea of staying behind in Paris by myself for an extra day didn’t seem worth it. And I do really enjoy the Disney experience, even if it’s a total shame that their food quality doesn’t match all the Parisian deliciousness around them. But the themed restaurants are great for style and attention to detail (just not in the food itself as much).

Our final morning in Paris, we went to meet some of Melissa’s pals in Montmarte for lunch. It’s such a colorful neighborhood. Walked down a street full of tiny closet sized shops doing all kinds of different textured hairstyles. Each shop was just big enough for one barber’s chair and sink. Full of laughter and conversation on this sunny morning. Very cool.

Cheese

The streetside cafe was super cute with tasty food, and it was a lovely final goodbye to the city.

Montmartre

It was dinner time once we’d checked in to our Disney adjacent hotel. Wandering the “Disney Village” outside the parks, we ended up at “King Ludwig” for dinner. This silly Medieval European Castle themed restaurant. It was “Latin Fest” which meant all of the waiters were wearing Hawaiian shirts, leis, and those woven straw hats. Which didn’t feel “Latin” necessarily, and was extra strange to see that inside this fake castle. Also, the restroom signs were TOTAL BULLSHIT! The women’s room had a princess on the door, so I expected the men’s to have a knight or something (which is irritating enough). But no, the boy’s toilet had a FRICKING BATTLE TIGER on the front. That is a bad ass Tiger, standing on two legs, wearing chest armor and carrying an axe or something. WTF!! The girl’s room should’ve at least had an awesome dragon or Pegasus or something. Sheesh. I’ll see if I can figure out how to share the video here!

That evening, Melissa and I had this epic walk trying to find the Super Marche grocery store nearby. It was only 0.75 miles away, but was on the other side of this giant shopping center that was closed/gates drawn. And Google maps failed us, so we walked forever in the wrong direction. and then it was still much farther than listed. But we saw this amazing sunset along our walks!

And we arrived just 10 minutes before closing, with the intention of buying a bottle or two of wine. But the selection and prices were insane. So we ended up getting 3 bottles each (her of Province rose and me of premiere cru burgundy). Then I tossed a few random french candies in our basket and we started the walk back carrying all our wine and big bottles of water for Judy and Marie. Ha!

Tom’s Disney Blog was Melissa’s bible for planning this trip, and it was full of some great tips and saved us a ton of money, too. They offer different vacation packages to different countries. They way they can do this legally in the EU is by technically making them available to anyone. But they don’t advertise that fact. So we got an amazing package offered to UK visitors, that included some fast passes and special reserved seating for the fireworks show and a discount on most of the restaurants too. Pretty dang cool.

The next morning we started our Disneyland Paris adventure. I got a Yoda baseball hat. and their Sleeping Beauty castle is much better than Anaheim. We met Genie from Aladdin. Their “Adventure land” is Agrabah/Aladdin themed, and it is gorgeous and very cool.

 

It was very sweet watching a young couple waltz at the end of the castle walk through, as it plays the song.

It was the final day of their Marvel superhero stuff, so I dragged everyone to the stunt show. They were good sports about it. And it was wild hearing Captain America speak French. (The park does a good job of blending french and english, so that you can get the context, even if you don’t speak both languages. And a certain percentage has to be french language. But it did seem an odd choice that CAP was one of the French speakers. Really?!? Captain America?!?

Walt’s steakhouse (gorgeous building, mediocre food)

I loved the wide variety of different cultures and peoples visiting the park. So many different languages. Laughing faces wearing mouse ears over their head scarves. At one point I overheard a 5 yr old British girl explaining, “I didn’t like that ride, mummy. It was too tummy-flipping and scary in the dark.” Another little girl had lost her tooth and was proudly showing her bloody gums to me. We didn’t share a language, but could still share her excitement.

 

Totally warmed my heart seeing so many little girls and tweens wearing the Captain Marvel superhero outfit. Like those “muscled” full body suits for all the other superheroes, it was amazing seeing these young girls get to be superheroes too! Their joy and pride. Representation matters.

The fireworks show is pretty dang impressive. They project video on the castle, integrate water effects, and fire works. Plus Ariel sang “part of your world” in French. And a huge portion dedicated to “Frozen” because Disney ain’t fools.

Thunder Mountain remains one of my favorites. Great fun. And witnessed a super cute moment, as an old-timey prospetor costumed employee was talking to a 3 yr old boy and his mom. He gave him a written certificate with the kid’s name, because Henry was too short to ride. “Now this is very valuable. You can bring it with you once you are tall enough, and that day you can have UNLIMITED fast pass for the ride. And there’s no time limit on using this. You can even bring it with you as an adult.” So that’s pretty cool.

They sell champagne (Disney has it’s own bottle) from the lemonade stands in the evening. So we got to have a champagne toast to say goodbye on our final evening.

Our ride the next morning to the airport took us past all these gorgeous fields of poppies, and led to me doing Wicked Witch of the West impressions the whole time. (mostly inside my head).

While the airport offered a sushi conveyor belt, I was entertained to see plates with croissants also going around the conveyor. There was total drama boarding the plane. Marie had issues getting the Delta app to work and it was a bit of a panic as we tried to board. So I stayed behind as we went to the desk to get them to print out her boarding pass. They also hand me a new boarding pass with a new seat assignment. What? I had specifically chosen this flight so I could sit by Melissa. I ask if I can have my old seat back (that seat assignment was valid and on the boarding pass I got at airport check-in 3 hours ago). They tell me they had to move me so a family could sit together. I’m super irritated that I’ll have to do the 10 hour flight by strangers. But can sort of understand if they had to move people for a small child (although normally the airline SHOULD ASK for volunteers and not make these changes without consulting me). Also I’ve been given a window trapped by a stranger, when I intentionally chose aisle months ago, because I get restless and need to stretch/stand up. It sort of worked out, because it was an exit row, so the extra bit of leg room meant I could mostly get up without making the person in the aisle stand up. But still, totally lame. Also lame being next to the bathroom smells the whole time. AND upsetting to see that the “family” that displaced me had zero children. It was a mom in her 60’s and two adult children in their 30’s/40’s. WTF. Then you have to book your flight earlier if you want to sit together. Just because I was a single reservation seat doesn’t mean I’m less valuable. Also they were super bitchy entitled people who brought on MORE CARRYON bags than allowed, that couldn’t fit in overhead bin. It was a nightmare. God I wish more airlines would enforce the frigging rules. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Delta/Air France must’ve been super concerned about safety. I’ve never seen so much attention paid to exit rows before. They spent lots of time explaining how to open the doors, etc. And I’m a rule follower. And I had a Boeing engineer beside me and the two gents behind me were pilots, so we were the safest exit rows ever! If shit had gone down, we were prepared! I watched “The Hate U Give” movie and sobbed my way through those two hours. I mean, movies on planes are more likely to make me cry, and the book had devastated me, so I was prepared. But still, emotions!!!

It was a wild and wonderful 6 days. I’m so grateful that this trip literally fell into my lap, and that my life allowed me to squeeze it in, just barely. Thanks again, Paris. I’ll definitely be back.

 

 

 

 

Parisian Adventures, The Second Part

Tracy,

Browse archives for August 24, 2019
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Hoo boy, I don’t think it’s ever taken me this long to post an update. Here it is, end of August, and I still haven’t told y’all about most of my mid-June trip to Paris. And if I’m being honest, not sure life is gonna settle enough to allow for the long stream-of-consciousness recaps I prefer. These last 8 weeks have been a doozy, not really having me with the spare moments or proper headspace to share the fun adventures we had. Happily I did take little notes/observations on my phone while there. So I think I’ll just share some of those and some photos. Here goes:

So, after my whirlwind 40 hours of travel and adventure, we awaken the next morning to take our food tour. This was one of two things I desperately requested we do, and the group willingly agreed. The walking food tour I’d taken in Athens last year was one of the highlights of the Greece trip, and decided me that I really want to include such things on future travels. And I found Paris By Mouth. I’ve never experienced the number 1 thing on a TripAdvisor category before. But the reviews were amazing. And I love that they keep it small group (no more than 8 people). It’s pricey, but seemed a worthy indulgence. They suggested we pick based on timing, rather than neighborhood, as all tours will visit the same categories of shops: (chocolates, pastry, bakery, meat, cheese, wine). St Germain tour was nearby and still had space for our group of 6. I hadn’t realized, until taking the tour, what a ritzy ritzy neighborhood this was. Which meant we were tasting at some of the fanciest world class shops around. Patrice Chapon chocolat (apparently he makes chocolate ice cream for the queen of England). Alexandre Polmard butcher.

Fancy meat storage

“Des Gateaux et du Pain” Fancy pants pastry shop that has a strict “no photos” policy. The woman explained how it was turning in to a food museum, not a place to purchase and eat. And Instagram photo takers would block paying customers. Horror stories of people dropping their phones onto the delicates cakes and pastries. But our fancy group tour was allowed to take pics. Celebrating what’s freshest/best that moment, it was strawberry season. And this gorgeous pastry with tiny wild strawberries and jasmine…so good. It was like the essence of strawberry distilled into a pastry, but remarkably different (more rugged and untamed) than the other one we had that was with traditional strawberries and orange blossom. And their croissants were out of this world!!

Tant Miche bakery for baguette. La Ferme d’Alexandre fromagerie was a celebration of all the cheeses! ALL OF THEM!

Excited about all the cheese!

Our tour group was the 6 of us and a delightful couple from Australia. We were all getting along swimmingly, and seemed to have a similar sense of humor. Unlike many food tours where you eat as you walk, most of our eating was saved for the final hour, where we hunkered above a small table above a wine shop. (Although our wonderful guide Diane did give us snacks and small bites along the route). Diane wouldn’t tell us what one of the beef dishes was until after we ate it (I HATE that. I’ll totally still try it, but I like knowing). Turned out to be beef snout and it was delicious. Anyways, eating the wonderful bounty and drinking lots of wine, we were getting a bit punchy. One of the cheeses was called “Hercules” and the Australian woman started doing the “Hercules” chant from the nutty professor. That, along with all of our silliness, led Diane to pick out one particular bottle of wine. She confessed she hadn’t tried it yet, but based on label and title, thought it was perfect for our group (Also fun to see that even highly trained food professionals also sometimes pick wine based on labels). Which is how we drank the “You Fuck My Wine?” bottle. 

We had an unplanned afternoon, before our dinner reservations. And Melissa was good sport enough to let me drag her all over Les Halles in search of a World Cup scarf. We explored the Fifa fan village and found several fan experiences etc (had to skip the free face painting as we had dinner in a few hours). But no souvenir vendors. At all. Apparently that’s only at the stadiums themselves. Walked through the four sporting goods stores too, but they only had a few generic country specific jerseys. No scarves or other merch. Darn. We did get this truly ridiculous free photo, though (We thought the photobooth would offer multiple poses, but it was just the one). 

Back to the hotel to shower and change. Poor Melissa has been stricken by the horrible cold that her mom has had for the last few days. But dammit, eating at Le Train Bleu was the thing she was most excited about doing (once I saw photos online, I knew I had to tell her about it. I was right, and we made reservations right away). And so she rallied, and got all fancy dressed up, but wasn’t feeling 100%. This is a ceiling being ALL that it can be, and more so. The food is decent and occasionally amazing. But mostly just decent. You’re really paying for the setting and the history. They even have a staff member dressed in an old timey train bellhop kind of costume. Once every hour he sings a song to the restaurant and then shares an historical story about the place. He was kind enough to come over to our table each time and tell us the story in English as well. 

Melissa had the cheese plate for her dessert. They wheel over this giant cheese board. “How many can I get?” “Oh, Four, or Five, or Six…or Seven.” Melissa says, “That sounds like a Dare!” And then she picked seven cheeses. Ha.

We were out LATE LATE LATE again, what with the fancy dining. So the next morning I was too tired for my original plan (of getting up early to see St Chapelle and it’s stained glass windows). But my body needed the sleep. And Melissa stayed sleeping, because she was so sick. Judy and Marie joined me for a lovely kebab lunch. Then Marie and I went off to amble through le Marais neighborhood. Because of her foot problems (and being in her early 70’s), she was concerned she’d be too slow for me. I assured her that it wouldn’t be a problem. We didn’t have any deadlines or places we had to be (until 5pm, back at the hotel, to get ready for our dinner reservations). And it was lovely. It was warm (a little too warm for our Seattle temperate selves) and sunny and gorgeous. And there are interesting things to see every which way we looked. When needed, we could stop on a bench by the Seine, or in the gorgeous Place des Vosges park, or resting in St Paul Cathedral. Or stopping to eat the most deliciously tart lemon tarts, while a man played French horn nearby. Victor Hugo’s house was closed for renovations, but at least we saw the sign? The only “plan” (other than the aborted trip to Victor Hugo’s house) was to get crepes at La Droguerie. But once there, we were full from our lemon tarts and we had our 7 course dinner happening in 2 hours, so decided against it. And now, I shall post many lovely photos from our explorations!

Re-opened for Mass for the 1st time this morning

  

Victor Hugo door
“And here we have…Another Fountain!”
My mouth puckers just thinking about it
Ballons et velo

The view from the road

After getting dressed for dinner (Melissa appreciates it when people stand on ceremony) we had a harrowing Uber ride to Aspic.  Harrowing because of traffic (and it was already stressful as we couldn’t find a taxi so had to settle for calling for an Uber and hoping they’d allow the four of us inside). Our driver was lovely and I used my extremely broken and limited French to try to communicate. He was a total sweetheart. With lots of mime and poor conjugation, I think we generally made ourselves understood. But yeah, there may have been several of those times when he or I would smile and shrug, abandoning hope of understanding the sentence the other had just said. ha! And if you’ve got to be stuck in terrible traffic, Paris sure affords some amazing views en route.

Spark Plug tin
Delicious
Really special

Chef Quentin Giroud is doing something truly special at Aspic. Having dinner here was my other request for the trip. Reservations only become available 30 days in advance, and I had all kinds of alarms and timers and calendar reminders set. It is a small place, serving a 7-course tasting menu each evening. Really trying to break down some of the “gate keeping” in fine dining, and removing some of the pretentiousness. This was still some of the fanciest food, with the fussiest and most interesting plating. But it’s only 69 euro for the 7 courses. And adding wine flight was reasonably priced, too. The staff could not have been lovelier. It’s an open line kitchen, which is always fun to watch. And the styling had me feeling very at home. There was a comforting industrial hipster ambience, with their chef “whites” being denim colored. And exposed brick. And the bill came in a battered metal tin (we had to Google, turns out it’s a French sparkplug box). The meal was amazing. Chef Giroud delivered and explained most of the courses himself. Their sommelier was a total doll, very much playing around with our table. After our amazing meal, we stayed chatting and drinking, and they kept bringing us additional generous “tastes” of different wines. At one point, Marie leans over to stage whisper, “Okay. Just so you know, I’ve lost my shoe under the table. No one be alarmed!” The kitchen even sent out an additional bonus dessert to us. And with that very French approach to dining, with no interest in turning tables to seat new guests (even though the place is SMALL), our 7pm reservations guaranteed us this 6-person table for the entire night. Truly truly special. Hands down the number one thing to do in Paris. I want to go back!!!!

Bonus dessert!
A truly special meal experience on our last night in Paris

And so we returned to our hotel, full of smiles and great food and wine and friendship and joie de vivre, a little sad to be saying goodbye to Paris. But dang, I feel like I had so many amazing experiences in my 2.5 days, but it never felt rushed or crowded, which is a nice touch.

 

 

 

 

 

Parisian Adventures, The First Part

Tracy,

Browse archives for July 13, 2019
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Well, goodness, I just didn’t update this at all during my whirlwind 5 days in Paris. Partly a lack of Wi-Fi, but mostly because I stayed up way past my bedtime our first night and never really got caught up. So in those rare “downtime” moments, we were either having too good of conversations, or my eyes would be closing. But I did take note some anecdotes in my phone, so I can share those with you all now. The bonus of not doing this “in country” is that I’ve got my photos uploaded and edited, so I can add pictures as I post, rather than adding the media a few weeks later, once I’m back home. Let us begin:

Delta offers a direct flight from Seattle to Paris, so that was pretty great. And they must’ve been severely overbooked because they were offering the most generous compensation I’ve ever heard. $1,200 for skipping this light and departing 24 hr later. I was SORELY tempted, but as I only had 3 days in Paris before the group went to Disneyland, I just couldn’t give up one of those days. But I really strongly considered it. If I’d had a few more days allotted I would’ve done it. I mean, heck! I sure hope that a family was able to delay their trip by a day…what a windfall that would be for them. The flight itself was fine, and we did get some truly amazing views flying over Greenland (previous flight patterns have been too cloudy or too dark to see anything).

I haven’t done a daytime international flight in a longtime. Strange, but pleasant, to be leaving mid-day, but without that Red Eye sleepiness, adjusting to local time was harder. Landed 8am Parisian time, with my body thinking it’s 11pm. A strong believer in the “NO NAPS” rule of avoiding jet lag, I intend to stay awake and active until something approaching a reasonable local bedtime. The immigration line at CDG airport was the worst I’ve ever encountered. It was 2 hours to get through. Dang. As I just kept emailing my pals at their Parisian hotel with my adjusted ETA. But on the ride into town, I did encounter some excellent graffitti. You’ll need some backstory. My mom & sister were super into crossword puzzles when we were growing up. And it was my favorite thing to find one of my sister’s puzzles, locate a 6-letter word, and fill it in with BOOGER. Sometimes she wouldn’t notice for days. Still makes me laugh. So I totally had to send her this photo when I found this fancy French “booger” graffitti. Ha! 

When I finally made it to the hotel around 11am, Melissa and Judy were still getting ready for the day. And my brain was tired/a bit out of it, as I thought I was locked in the hotel’s luggage storage room (the woman at the front desk had to walk over to let me out, and showed me that it was a push door. D’oh!) Marie was generous enough to lend me her hotel room so I could shower and change. Life changing after a long flight. Refreshed and ready to face the day. And so our group of 6 head off to lunch. My pal Melissa, her mom Judy, her mom’s pal Marie, their pal Erik and his pal Alex (from Romania). It was a bit rainy, but super charming wandering the Latin Quarter. Spring rain in Paris, a bottle of rose with lunch, some excellent burrata. No complaints so far. And then we head off to Sacre Couer and to explore Montemarte. And on the Metro train, a man boarded with a large fuzzy dog riding in his backpack! Dog! On a subway! And then, they got off at our stop. Dog in a backpack, going down the sidewalk. It was hilarious watching some of the street dogs notice him up there and do canine double-takes. AND this dog in a backpack (as well as the man carrying him) got on the funicular with us, too! So already, Paris is the best! Such a fuzzy dog face!

The view from the top of the hill is supposed to be legendary, overlooking Paris, but it’s so cloudy and full of misting rain, that we can’t really see that much. Still, the outside of Sacre Coeur cathedral is impressive and we get in line. After a few minutes, a torrential downpour starts up. Everyone starts shrieking. We try to huddle under our umbrellas. And bless the security guards because they just start waving in the long entrance line, skipping bag checks and letting everyone make their way to cover. That is also how we saw someone in a tube top inside the Basilica, too. Normally they’re pretty thorough about letting visitors know the dress code for this sacred space. Actually, the majority of crowd inside the Basilica was not behaving respectfully. There are signs everywhere asking people to be silent and to refrain from taking photos. Explaining that this is considered a holy place and asking people to be respectful. It was wild watching people taking tons of photos, notice a sign that says “no photos,” look down for a moment, and then resume taking lots of photos. And people would be disruptive and talking loudly. One of the security guards started pacing the giant building, bellowing “Silence” (which is sort of counterproductive). Still, it was very cool to see. There are several really gorgeous chapels and different saints statues. And so many opportunities to light a prayer candle. (I saw Eddie Izzard perform in Seattle yesterday, and he talked about how he doesn’t believe in God but he still believes in the candles! Ha!) I found myself quite moved a few times. And the ceiling is truly stunning. There is an amazing gigantic mosaic, truly beautiful. But what I found most wonderful was that different scenes and people from the mosaic would peek out and be visible from different arches and flying buttresses or whatever the architectural pieces are called. Walking around the Basilica, it was truly amazing to keep looking up at different moments, and finding new interestingly framed scenes and moments. Very powerful. They also had some commemorative coin vending machines, selling coins of Sacre Coeur itself, Pope Francis, and Pope John Paul II (but not the pope inbetween, because that guy was the worst. I doubt that’s officially stated Church policy as to why there’s no Ratzinger coin, but we all know why). And when we finished exploring the Basilica, the sun was shining with blue skies and that view overlooking Paris. Too cool.

Our group parted, as everyone had different plans for the afternoon, and I went with Melissa to explore the Montmarte Museum. Housed in 17th century homes, it’s a small but fascinating collection, representing a lot of the areas artists and history. Pierre-Auguste Renoir resided in these houses back in the day, as well as many associated with the Cabaret du Chat Noir.

So lots of really fun stuff. If you want a taste of cancan or impressionists from Montmarte, come here! And next door is the Clos Montmartre vineyard, the last vineyard within Paris. Very small and cute.

We then went to wander through Montmarte. The weather continued to have periodic rain showers, which we’d use as an opportunity to stop in the nearest cafe for a glass of wine or a coffee. It was a relaxing and lovely wander. While in “Le Cafe qui Parle,” I see a man walking down the sidewalk, carrying a small stack of plates and cutlery. Walking beside him is a small french bulldog, no leash. The dog starts to cross teh busy street’s crosswalk, causing the man to sort of hustle into the street, juggle the plates into one hand while holding up his other arm to stop traffic for the dog. As I’m chuckling and thinking this is weird/dangerous situation, the man with the plates and the dog ENTER our cafe. As many tour guides will tell you, in general the French don’t really do “leftovers,” but this is a pretty excellent way to do Take Out. Just carry the prepared and plated dish to your house, and then return the plates when finished. The dog was super cute and starts wandering throughout the entire place, exploring under tables and meeting all the patrons. The owner keeps calling the dog to come to him, but the dog ignores him entirely. Only after finishing his several minute long circuit of the place, having finished smelling all our smells, did he walk to his owner in the doorway. The man, wisely, picks up the dog to carry him for the return journey to their apartment.

Montmarte Cemetery

It’s a lot of dog stories, isn’t it? Well, when I’m in a country without monkeys, dogs will totally do! I’m pleased to report that, since my previous visit in 2003, Paris has made great strides in addressing it’s dog turds on the sidewalk problem. It was really bad back then. My poet’s heart was pretty shocked to find the City of Lights littered with dog poo. These super fashionable women in their amazing shoes, having to carefully watch where they step everywhere. So the culture of picking up after your dog is getting better. Still, many owned dogs (with collars and everything) are allowed to roam the neighborhood freely, which does mean you still have to pay a bit of attention to where you step. Still, much better than it was!

We spent several lovely hours of wandering, looking at beautiful things, and escaping indoors for a beverage during yet another downpour, where our conversations try to parse and examine the world and all its wonders.

It’s getting to be dinner time and we’re searching our phones for where to dine. Oh, this place looks nice but it’s very far away. The place across the street has amazing reviews but Melissa doesn’t want to dine next to the “live girls” place. While not associated with the bistro, that just killed the ambience for her. And then suddenly, I hit HANGRY. Or more accurately, I hit super tired and needing to be done. We walk a few blocks to a great place, but they don’t have any open tables for 2 more hours. So we just walk into the next place that has space: le Bistro des Deux Theatres. I’m a bit skeptical about this dining experience (the decor is all over the place!) but I don’t care enough to keep searching. And then we see they offer this amazing set course deal, which includes a kir cocktail, bottle of wine, and three courses. So yeah, let’s do that. The staff were amazing. Very playful and fun, alternatively scolding and praising our attempts at French. And the starter and main courses were quite good. It was also reassuring to me that the diners at tables around us were all speaking French.

So we’re having a lovely meal, and great conversation. Melissa has some excellent escargot (and I have a few bites: I loves me that garlic sauce, but sometimes have issues with texture/concept of eating snails). And three cheers for french mayonaise and truffle oil because my deviled eggs were amazing. More chatting after our meal and suddenly it hits me. I’ve been awake and about for over 40 hr and I’ve just hit a WALL. I need to be in bed. But they haven’t brought our desserts yet. So we ask for those, and they were pretty forgettable. Totally should’ve skipped them. As we’re waiting for the bill, the boisterous older man at the table next to us (it was a large French dinner party, and they were having a good time) tries to get us to drink some of his wine. We politely decline, we still have some of our rose left, even (and I just want to get gone and get in to bed). He scolds us for ordering a wine that’s served chilled as it “kills the taste.” (Later Melissa tells me she’d been watching him trying to get his companions to help finish his bottle of red, and they weren’t interested either). He says he’s impressed that we know French. We explain, not really, just a little bit. “No, no. I’ve heard you speaking to the servers. It is very good for Americans to know this.” What followed was a 15 minute conversation, and it just felt like the most French thing ever. It was entertaining enough, wearing my internal “Anthropologist Observer” hat, that it revived me and I was willing to stay seated to participate, even though we’d been about to walk out the door (to take the subway back to our hotel). After having started his interaction by negging us a bit, he’s then slinging compliments and needs to tell us all about his time in Florida, the thesis of which is “Hey, just so you know, I totally fuck!”. Bragging about how he spent two months in Florida, riding a motorbike, visiting the beaches, “and in all of that two months, I only had to pay for a hotel room on one night. Eh?” *insert very pointed eyebrow waggle here* It was such a wild brag/invitation. The conversation then moved on to sharing differences between French and American culture, favorite foods, interactions with the police in The States vs Paris. It actually proved to be a very entertaining conversation, and his very French braggadocio (I’m aware of the irony of using an Italian word here) was such an “only in France” kind of thing. It ended up being a very delightful end to the evening: we shared some interesting stories and had some good laughs. I do always appreciate the upfront/let’s not play games approach to flirting, and even more appreciate the good natured way most French guys accept it when the woman declines. Instead of responding with anger or insults or something equally awful, there’s a very cavalier gallic shrug and a “can’t blame me for trying” attitude. And because it’s not met with awful behavior, I really don’t blame anyone. Because the most amazing part is that most French guys seem perfectly content to continue the conversation and interaction as two adult humans sharing a moment, instead of blowing up and blowing off as soon as it’s become clear you won’t be having sex with them. Sadly this is sometimes a novel concept back home. *dramatic sigh* And then it was finally time for us to say goodnight and head back to the hotel.

Finally, after 42 hours, it’s time for me to get some sleep! Melissa explains she has a terrible time getting to sleep most nights. The only thing that seems to help is when her Alex reads to her at night. I pause, and then offer, “Well, I always read for at least 10-20 minutes before going to sleep myself. If it wouldn’t be too weird, and if you want, I could do that reading aloud.” I was reading
Circe” by Madeline Miller and I loved that novel so much! And guys, reading aloud to Melissa was like a frigging magic trick! After about 7 or 8 minutes, I heard her breathing change as she drifted off to sleep. And the novel was so good, I’d found myself highlighting so many passages. It was wonderful to have the words actually rolling around in my mouth, too.

Temptation, thy name is “Free Place to Stay in Paris”

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 6, 2019
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Okay, at a certain point I have to learn to take responsibility for my choices and actions, and stop blaming Mark Twain. But dang, if this quote of his still speaks so strongly to my soul.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

I’ve been ridiculously well-traveled recently (with Greece last Fall, and then the amazing Indonesia trip in January). So the travel budget is well and truly depleted. Yet the urging for more travel adventures is something powerful. (Especially when everything at home seems to be ON FIRE! Actually, right now things seem comparatively calm, but, to torture the metaphor, there’ve been a lot of “brush fires” cropping up in places both expected and unexpected for the last year. And so having these chances for adventure, escape, distraction, experiencing new things, celebrating joy and friendship, to unplug and recharge (*insert more high-faluting words here)…anyway, it’s been a really wonderful way I’ve been staying sane. And having that subscription to Scott’s Cheap Flights email alerts has been a sweet sweet torture. Seeing amazing international deals daily. I previously knew nothing about the Cook Islands, but after a special $600 flight deal out of LAX, I started researching. And found the most charming tourism video ever! And now I totally want to go!!!!!!!!!! This video is seriously one of the best ways to spend 12 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXCCzw5bn20

In any case, this March I was approached by a dear pal. “I’m going to be in Paris for two weeks in June, and my hotel rooms have two twin beds in them, so if you can get yourself there, you’ll have a free place to stay.” Ack! TEMPTATION! I’d only been back a few months from Indonesia. But, but, I wanted to. “Our plan is to eat well and walk around looking at beautiful things.” I mean, that sounds perfect! But I also knew there was no way I could be gone from work for another two weeks. It’s just too hard. But…maybe….maybe I could go for a shorter time frame. After guaranteeing that my assistant would be available those days to cover the office, I found myself booking a flight for 5 amazing Parisian nights! Bonus is that Melissa and I will be next to each other on the return flight home. Yay.

And let me tell you, when those metaphorical brush fires kept cropping up, and my emotional (and physical) batteries were being drained, it was amazingly restorative to know that I was going to get to RUN AWAY FROM IT ALL in June. Huzzah! Now, there have been a shit ton of hiccups along the way, darn it. (Man plans and The Gods laugh, and all that). My assistant’s daughter was due to give birth during my absence. Okay, so we make contingencies for the office being un-staffed for up to 48 hours. I’ve also been a caretaker for family members’ medical issues. And things have been quite good/calm on that front. So of COURSE there are going to be flare ups and sudden complications and hardships in the week leading up to this trip. Argh! And then my amazing assistant had to take a leave of absence starting mid-May, dealing with her own family medical issues. Crap. Double Crap. Triple Crap. And yet, it will all work out somehow. Work will manage, somehow, for that week. (It’s one of my favorite things about working for a small family company…everyone rallies around, wears many “hats,” and helps out where needed). But darn it, when I’d made these plans, I’d made it so there would be hardly a blip or inconvenience around. And now it’s going to be a week FULL of inconvenience and delay. (Also NOT looking forward to landing 11pm and having to be at work at 8am the next day to process payroll while jetlagged and sleep-deprived). Never the less, she persisted! Empowering roar. Here: Please enjoy this empowering cow meme!

And so, it will be amazing. Even if the timing is imperfect. I mean, life is imperfect. That’s one of the things that lets us know we’re alive. (or something). The timing of this has never been ideal (as it is the Seattle International Film Festival, and I’m always very involved/busy during that. Plus HANNAH GADSBY is coming to Seattle, and I’m not missing her show…not even for Paris). And so it’ll be a weekend crammed full of SIFF galas and comedy shows, and then I still have to do laundry and pack. But it’ll be fine. IT WILL BE FINE! Honestly. Which is why I’ve agreed to an impromptu cousins’ dinner/gathering on Friday (which was my one “day without plans” before I leave). Because it’s not like I’d actually get my packing done in advance. That’s purely aspirational these days, if past evidence is anything to go by. And because all those metaphorical life and work and medical and family “brush fires” have really driven home the importance of community. And I’d much rather see those faces and laugh with those people then listen to podcasts while cleaning and packing at home. Life is short. And see that Mark Twain quote about regrets again! That applies to small everyday life decisions as much (or more than) epic grand adventures. We have to feed our souls. Nourish our communities. Take care of ourselves and each other. Much love to you all.

 

 

 

In the shadow of the volcano: exploring Eastern Bali

Tracy,

Browse archives for March 14, 2019
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The tradition of taking more than a month to write/post my final blog post continues! *sings Fiddler on the Roof to herself* Tradition! Tra-dish-on! It seems if I don’t use my time on the flight home to type this up, then I don’t get around to it. But here I am, finally with a spare moment and the headspace to recount our 3 day explorations of Eastern Bali and Candidasa in January 2019. And I did type a few musings throughout those days, so I’ll share those first, and then I’ll try to do a wrap-up. The bonus of this being delayed is that I’ve uploaded and edited all my photos, so there will be more photos for sharing in this one.

Never knew how prominent a role garlic bread would play on this trip. It’s not the food I’d have thought would provide a “through line” for Hong Kong/Indonesia. Hong Kong Airlines offers garlic bread with their meals. It was unexpected but super tasty treat. Warm and buttery and garlic-y. And such a treat on an AIRPLANE! Then, during the acoustic music night/special bbq dinner at Alena Resort, garlic bread came with our pumpkin soup course. And now it’s been served as an appetizer at a small cafe in Candidasa. Not mad about it. Yum!

“Knives fix everything!” Jen declares as breakfast. Should we be worried?

After getting settled in our room at Candidasa, we head off to find a meal. Oh look, there’s Warung across the street. “Warung Bintang” was just perfect. Locally owned, unassuming building, but the most amazing view of the volcano. And great fun watching the geckos hunt flies and chase each other across the walls/ceiling. The food was quite good, offering Indonesian specialties and some Italian cuisine, too. (AND a piece of garlic bread was served with my bisque). Afterwards we learned this is one of the top places in Candidasa and location couldn’t have been more convenient. And the staff were so nice. Plus, this view!!

We walk into town on our first morning. Candidasa is spread out along both sides of the main highway. There is a small sidewalk (thankfully) but there are lots of vehicles and large trucks driving past. And sometimes waiting to cross the street can take awhile. But we often have glimpses of the ocean and the sun is shining (beating down on us, if i’m honest).

It’s hot but also lovely. We find a local grocery store where we buy a variety of candies and hot sauces as souvenirs. And a small craft shop offers to sell us stamps and mail our postcards, too. Very nice. It took about a month for my postcards to arrive, but it is very far away, and I’m sure they must have been sent by boat. Also, perhaps postal pickup is infrequent in this smaller town? January is rainy season/slow season, so it was pretty empty of tourists. Which meant we were the only people to solicit along the way. Folks kept offering us business cards for their services as taxi drivers or guides. Initially I was taking them to be polite, but then we thought maybe better to decline in person, so they don’t waste the printing costs on that card we’re not going to use. Everyone was friendly, though, and not unpleasantly aggressive in their sales pitches. And so we have small conversations as we wander along. At one point we notice we’re near “Vincent’s,” a recommended restaurant in town. We head over, asking if it requires reservations (as we wouldn’t want to make the 2 mile walk that evening only to find they didn’t have a table). We learn that the restaurant encourages reservations and includes free taxi transport from the area hotels, so that’s convenient! Turns out that’s pretty standard in town, and you can ask the restaurant or your hotel to call to arrange for it. Nice.

The afternoon is spent in the pool! As we were walking to the Bayshore Villas main pool (it is this truly shocking blue color tiles, and then lit with blue lights in the evening for an otherworldly experience), the brash Australian owner comes over, introduces himself to us, and lets us know that we’re also welcome to use the smaller infinity pool around the corner, and that that pool has a breeze as it’s on the ocean. And so we do that. It’s great watching the waves crash, and it’s always relaxing to float in a pool. Candidasa doesn’t really have beaches you can walk along or go swimming in the ocean. As Lonely Planet states “The beach here was pretty well destroyed in the 1970s, when its offshore reef was mined for lime to make cement and other construction materials, so those seeking to swim, snorkel or dive in the sea shouldn’t bother. However, the hinterland is attractive, the picturesque lagoon in the centre of town is full of water lillies that bloom in the morning and many of the local hotels have beachside pools where guests can laze their days away.” Back in our hotel room and the power is out. The resort has power, but our room does not. And there are no phones in the rooms, so we always have to walk across the grounds to discuss room issues (there were several, surprisingly. Giant wasp nest in the shower. AC stopped working one night. Power outage. Only 2 of the 7 lightbulbs worked, so I had to use my headlamp to see in my bedroom (They replaced one of the lightbulbs so I had a very dimly lit bedroom and still had to use my flashlight. I’m guessing that the main bedroom lighting fixture itself was broken, then). Honestly, our “Terrace Suite” was shockingly not up to the standards of the rest of the place. The TV was missing, with just bare wires and cables dangling from the wall/shelf. Maybe it just hadn’t been updated. This particular 2-bedroom option was not listed on their website anymore by the time we checked in, so maybe they were phasing it out, but didn’t want to move us to another room. Maybe we should’ve asked for that, but that seemed even a bigger hassle. The other rooms we walked past had updated nicer fixtures and furniture, so I guess our room just hadn’t been updated? The staff and the grounds are lovely, but our room feels forgotten and abandoned). In any case, we shower/dress in the twilight/by flashlight, and head out to our dinner reservations/waiting taxi, letting the front desk know about the power issue.

Vincent’s is super cool, jazz and Vincent van gough themed space. Great service. Delicious food. Lovely internal garden/courtyard for dining. Fun watching geckos race across replicas of impressionist paintings. It was a very special evening. And, when we got back to our room, they sent over two guys who investigated and replaced a fuse, restoring our electricity!

Our final full day in Bali, and we’ve got a tour set up to explore much that Eastern Bali has to offer. It’s a rainy day, but our spirits are not dampened. Honestly, we’d been prepared for daily rain this trip and were mostly blessed with sunshine! Our first stop is the Lebah Honeybee farm. It’s fascinating learning about the two types of bees/honey they cultivate: a more familiar Oriental bee and these itty bitty Bali bees that don’t have stingers.

They make this sour black honey. It was super interesting and tasty. (If we’d had internet, we could’ve researched customs/import rules on honey and bought some to take home. But honey is so often not allowed for international transport that we didn’t want to risk it).

Then we visited the Tenganan Village, home of the Bali Aga people – the descendants of the original Balinese who inhabited Bali before the Majapahit arrival in the 11th century. They’re understandably fiercely proud of their distinct culture and language. Our guide showed us around, explaining the local festivals and showing us the intricate woven decorations still left out from the previous night’s wedding. Then he took us to visit his house. Many of the houses are also artisan workshops. He demonstrated some traditional weaving and carving, and we got to meet his dog who had just had puppies! Honestly, I could’ve played with the puppies all day. He also showed his fighting rooster, that he’d dyed all sorts of colors. Not for any traditional reasons, “Just for fun.” It was pretty cool.

Next stop, Ujung Water Palace. It continues to be rainy, but lovely. The grounds were gorgeous, with lots of amazing plants. The gardening crew required to maintain this site must be immense! When my sister saw the photos of the figure with the triple parasol, she became quite excited. “Wait. Is a triple parasol a thing? Why didn’t I know about this?!? I want one!!!” It was a lovely place to wander, with fun people watching, too.

Then on to Tirta Gangga Royal Water Garden, with an impressive fountain and these stepping stones along the water. I knew my own lack-of-balance enough to not venture too far, but Sarah and Jen were brave/well balanced enough to wander about.

Lots of statues and bridges to explore. Lots of rain, but laughter and smiles and tons of fun photo opportunities.

Our driver and guide Komar was a delight throughout the day, with a big smile and good stories.

A common part of this Eastern Bali tour is the white sand beach, but we’d been unsure whether we wanted to visit in the rains. But the skies quieted, so we decided to head over. Along the way, we saw many gorgeous cows wandering and eating along the small roadways. And we drove through the village of “bugbug” which was delightful to say and see signs for. *smile* At the white sand beach, there was one beachside shack/restaurant, and it was a lovely place for lunch.

Some chickens wandered by on the beach, we had a beer, we watched local fishermen launch their boats. Sarah had some exceptionally fresh fish, and my coconut curry was great.

On the drive back to Candidasa we also encountered some macaques! Alongside the road and climbing the road signs. Monkey achievement!

That evening, our last in Bali, we made reservations at Warung Lu Putu, and it is a truly SPECIAL place. Locally owned, with a lovely sign stating all are welcome here. The owner picked us up/drove us to the restaurant (still dressed in his finery, having come from a funeral ceremony at the temple). The restaurant space is gorgeous, with an internal courtyard/garden, some semi-wild rabbits that hop around. Several kinds of rabbits from white and fluffy to sleek and brown. It was delightful to watch. And there’s a small water feature running between the tables, a small “canal” with koi fish. The food was really delicious (and prices continued to be amazing, compared to the much more popular Ubud). Jen and I ordered the special to share…it’s a traditional “everything” plate often served at weddings, and the different offerings each came in their own banana-leaf dish. Very cool, and super tasty, and amazing to get to try all the things. They also had arak (local rice wine) cocktails. It was such a special and unique last night.

Because we had an afternoon flight, we didn’t have to do a “mad dash” in the morning. Still, Candidasa is 2-3 hours from the airport. So we had our final breakfast at the resort, and went back to our room to finish packing and relax. Jen and I crossed the street to Warung Bintang for an afternoon snack/last Bali taste. She’d been craving their black rice pudding, but had been too full after our meals to get dessert. And so she had the delicious black rice pudding with coconut milk, and I had the traditional Balinese coconut filled pancake (dadar gulang). Yum! Then it was the long drive to the airport, where all three of us nodded off at times. Grabbed some last minute airport souvenirs and checked out the airport lounge. The flight to Hong Kong was nice and uneventful. We landed at midnight and would leave to San Fransisco the next morning, so it didn’t make sense to travel all the way into the city and back. Instead, we relaxed at the airport hotel (so convenient!). The next morning, we went swimming in the hotel pool before breakfast. Because, why not?!? Gotta say I’ve never had “swimming pool” be part of an airport layover before, and I highly recommend it. Great fun.

Plus, the locker room had this swimsuit dryer/centrifuge thing that would spin your suit super super fast, helping whisk away most of the moisture. Pretty cool and made it easier to pack up for our flight (still put the suits in a plastic bag, but they were only slightly moist instead of truly damp). Long flight back to the states. No complaints about business class. Some wishes that we three were better about sleeping on airplanes. Even with the fancier seats, we only slept intermittently and never well. Still, one of the most pleasant ways to be sleepy on an airplane, if that makes sense. Then we’ve got 7 hours to kill at SFO, but Alaska Air won’t take our luggage until 3 hr before the flight (which makes sense, from a logistics standpoint, but is irritating from a traveler standpoint). The international terminal does have a luggage storage place. Kind of expensive, though. Still, we dropped off our bags and took our travel groggy selves into the city. Got dim sum in chinatown. Wandered around the city for a bit.

We finally admitted we were all too tired to really care about any of this, so headed back to the airport (mistakenly thinking we’d have a nice lounge we could relax in). Huge security lines (this was still during Trump’s government shutdown). And then we discovered that our gate/terminal was super tiny and lacking in any amenities. There was just one place for food, even (but we’d already eaten, at least). We found three chairs near our gate, propped our feet on our backpacks and all three of us basically passed out for the next hour (our flight wouldn’t be leaving for 2 hours). That nap was much needed. And bonus, we found that our Alaska flight home was one of the former Virgin America planes that had yet to be converted. And i’d upgraded us to First class (Because it had been super cheap!). And the Virgin America first class seats actually are recliners. Super nice. They even had small tv’s that folded out from the armrests. Super unexpected bonus on a 2 hr domestic flight. However, being that they’re not part of the standard Alaska Air planes, the seats aren’t maintained much. My seat would recline (yay) but couldn’t be turned back into a seat. The helpful flight attendant had me get up and she had to bend over and do this weird manual re-set thing from behind the seat to turn it into a chair so I could eat the lunch. Ha. And boy was it good to be back home, too. What a journey. Rarely stressful, full of gorgeous people, and delicious food, and wonderful sites, and lifetime memories. Highly highly recommend. Just what my heart and soul needed.

Old friends and new memories in Ubud.

Tracy,

Browse archives for January 15, 2019
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Post monkey forest, Sarah and I had a lovely relaxing mid-day (while Jen got her “art museum fix” in town), and were invited to a complimentary afternoon tea at Alena. My younger self very much believed one should never take a break when traveling; go go go. See everything. Who knows when you’ll be back, and you can sleep when you get home. Now, staring down my late thirties, I’m finally recognizing it’s not only nice but important to have some “down time.” otherwise you return from vacation more exhausted than when you left.

That evening, we went into town to meet Jen and to see one of the dance performances. We chose the performance at the water temple, as the location itself is so special. And it was fantastic people watching. A whole community affair. The families of the dance troupe all attend, making offerings, and watching the show as well. Lots of little kids in their formal wear, trying to hold still (or not, as their age and temperament dictated). Noticed some of the younger girls would kneel with their flip-flops under their knees (very clever and more comfortable than just on concrete, for sure). Didn’t notice any of the adult women doing this, though. But I did see that the adult men, as well as the young boys, would sit cross legged atop their flip-flops, rather than sitting directly on the ground.

The dance was fascinating, but unfortunately Sarah started to feel unwell, so we had to leave early. Then it was a bit stressful trying to find a taxi to take us back in time to tell the hotel not to look for us at the 9:30pm shuttle stop. It worked out, but was stressful.

We had planned to do a lot of exploring the next day. Sarah decided to stay behind, resting up, as she’s gotten a bad cold. We offered to do a truncated/half day tour but she didn’t feel up to it. And so we were a group of two on our adventures. Took the scenic drive up the mountain to Pura Ulun Danu Batur. A gorgeous lake temple. Being Sunday, which tends to be family day (as most work 6 days a week here), it was very busy. As well as lots of bus tour groups from Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia, too.

Jen went off to find a toilet and I was just taking in the view. From one of the Jakarta bus tours, Two Indonesian grandmas in their headscarves were smiling and taking photos nearby. One looks at me with a giant grin and asks me, “Photo?” I thought she was asking me to take a photo of the both of them. But nope. They wanted to be IN a photo WITH ME. Why yes, I am a larger than average person. They seemed very pleased to hear I was from America and not Australia. Ya know, it’s always a little awkward being exoticized, but they were so dang happy and appreciative of my large size, it was hard to feel too badly about it. Weird, but also not the first time encountering such throughout SE Asia. Big smiles for the photo, and then one of the old ladies patted my butt! Like, her arm is around my waist, starts to drift lower, and then two bigs pats on my butt cheek. Oh my! That’s a first. Huh. (If I’d been thinking, I should’ve asked to take my own selfie with them in their traditional clothing, so we could’ve shared the exoticization experience). Such big smiles, though. After a few words of conversation had exhausted my Indonesian language skills, they wished me good health and went off to explore. So I’m now a part of their Facebook forever, probably. Jen came back just one minute after. Timing!

As we started to explore the grounds, the skies opened up, and the crowds of people scattered. Suddenly everyone was huddled under shelter from the rain, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We managed to easily get some photos in iconic locations without having to wait for people to walk by. We had it all to ourselves. Ha.

Then a drive through Mount Batukaru. An area of rich farmland, we’re told that these families now make very very good money, because they contract with hotels for daily delivery of fresh high quality produce. And tourists can pay big dollars so everyone does well. Being at the top of the mountain, the weather is often damp and good for the soils. And the houses we passed were very impressive. Multi-story affairs, with lots of marble. Big family temples, full of gold and rich decorations.

(Every Balinese Hindu family has a family temple, but few can be as lush as these). It was interesting to hear the longing for such a life. And to have farming so exalted. (To be clear, there’s a lot of subsistence farming and rice farming and it’s all hard, and very little is glamorous. But those at the top of the mountain, while still working very hard, are able to grow a wide variety of crops for good prices). The prices for garlic and chiles and tomatoes and squash are much better than the prices for just growing rice. It was also acknowledged that there is risk involved, as landslides are a problem on the mountain. So there is opportunity for those to have a more comfortable life, but unpredictable risk of losing it all, too. (Although Bali has many natural disaster risks, from earthquake to volcano to tsunami, so many recognize that they can only trust to the gods and try to live a good life for good karma)

Then to explore the Jatiluwih rice terraces. Truly gorgeous. A UNESCO world heritage site. I visited here on my last Bali trip, but was more than happy to see it again. Plus, this time I actually got to trek through the fields. We picked the one hour route. It just boggles, so green and lush. And this route took us through some of the terraces, where we got to make small talk (very small) with some of the rice farming family. Many use cows to till, and so we got to meet some cute cows and cute baby cows, too. AND happily we’d brought snacks on this trip, so got to munch on an apple (as it was now 1:30pm with no lunch in site). Gusti was waiting for us at the end of our trek, with cold water bottles. Heaven!

We were advised against getting lunch at Jatiluwih itself, “you pay for the view here, not the food.” He said maybe we’d find a good Warung (small street side Cafe) to get all three of us nasi goreng (fried rice). That sounds great to us, as Jen and I munch on our dried soursop pieces and he crunches his peanuts. Great conversation as we drive toward Tanah Lot temple on the coast (famous sunset). Unfortunately, as we’re getting closer to temple, we still haven’t found a place for fried rice, and he’s not comfortable having us eat just any random street food, whereas fried rice is made to order (“your stomach, I think, would not be happy”). Darn. Ah well, we’ll just have to grab dinner on the giant temple compound (there are rows of stores and stalls, offering all kinds of items).

Although now Jen and I have no guidance on where to eat. Three cheers for TripAdvisor that steered us to a decent place (being 4pm/off hours for dining, we couldn’t use the old “this place is busy so it’s probably good” trick). There is a menu item “Texas Burger” (which was actually chicken patty with bacon). And the man working the coconut station, using machete to open young coconuts for drinking the water, he is so delightfully grumpy, it was entertaining people watching. As waitress clears our plates, she asks if food was good. I said “Makanan ini enak” which is something like “this food is delicious.” And she about lost her mind that I knew three words of Indonesian. (To be fair, she does work at a hotel at their number one tourist site, where thousands of people from around the world come through every day). But her reaction was more than most. In general, people have been slightly pleased. She was gobsmacked. Her eyes got huge and it was like she was seeing a mythical beast. A unicorn in her restaurant! She walks away, shaking her head, as we sip our beers. A few minutes later, she comes back to the table to ask another question in Indonesian, where are we from? My answer again has her flabbergasted. She walks away. A Few minutes later, she comes back to ask my name. And she just keeps repeating, “Tracy” (which I love how Indonesian people say my name, as all their R’s are rolled, so there’s a wonderful trill to it) with a laughing voice and beneficent smile as she walks past. Honestly, Jen points out that we can’t quite believe she hasn’t dragged a coworker over to watch me perform. Ha. Then she walks over and says, “it is very nice to meet you” and is staring at me intently and expectantly. Now, this is strange, as we’ve talked for twenty minutes and she learned my name/met me awhile ago. She’s walked past three times saying “Tracy.” But I can tell what she’s wanting. The Indonesian phrase for I’m very pleased to meet you is quite long. Or maybe it’s just that it’s been quite hard for me to memorize. Now, I know it. I’ve said it to many people on both of my visits here, and it’s a crowd pleaser. Maybe because it’s one step beyond the basic “good morning” “thank you” phrases. I dunno. Or maybe because it’s very formal, so it’s extra incongruous to see a large western tourist use such a formal Indonesian phrase. Or maybe it’s just an appreciation of the politeness of it. But this woman is staring SO intently, that I just became convinced she would spontaneously combust if I told her it was a pleasure to make her acquaintance in bahasa Indonesia. So I just said it in English. And she nodded and said thank you. Afterwards I confessed to Jen that I felt she was seeking that phrase, and Jen agreed it might’ve done her in. HA. (Jen has spent the last two days trilling my name with a big goofy smile, “Trrrrracy”).

Tanah Lot exploration was cool. The temple in the ocean is lovely.

And we got to watch several surfers. The people watching is amazing, as giant tour groups from all over the world are wandering by, posing for Instagram, etc. It’s also very hot and the humidity is out of control. And we can see the clouds increasing, knowing there won’t be much of a sunset to see. Plus it’s been a long day and we feel badly Sarah has been solo all day. So we make the choice to head back, 50 minutes before sunset. This is the right choice! We beat traffic and the skies start dumping rain a few minutes after we’re in the car. Phew.

Along our drive, we were given great insights into Balinese life. In addition to the big famous all-island temples, and the family temples, each village has three village temples (one to Brahma, one to Vishnu, one to Shiva). Each of these must have its own priest.

Priests are not allowed to work other jobs, as they have to be on call 24/7. If baby is born, or there is death, or for any of the many rituals where they are required, they must be reachable. The village provides for their needs (with food, housing, gifts), but priest always must be at home, waiting. Gusti says, if you need a priest for a ceremony at your family’s temple, you can pick the one of the three you like best. Not necessarily dictated by Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva. I said it’s the same at home, this priest is boring and talks too long, that one has good heart and powerful words, etc. He agreed, it’s about finding the right spiritual personality.

We also learned that the duties/job of being a specific village temple priest is descended along family lines. “But what if a priest has no children?” “Ah. This is very good question. And this is very big problem!” If a priest has no children, then the entire village gets together to pray and ask the Gods for guidance on who should be the next priest. This is a big commitment for oneself and their future generations. Jen asked if it’s something where a person can have a spiritual calling and nominate themselves. It’s not exactly saying “I want to be a priest. Seems like a good job.” But there are situations where someone comes forward to say if they’ve had the same prophetic dream five times, or other instances where a person has signs the Gods are choosing them. Then, in that case, the village would get together to vote on whether they think this person is truly God-chosen or not.

The next day, final morning at Alena. Early breakfast so we can have leisurely packing time, as we hadn’t felt up to it last night. Then drinking Bintang beer on our balcony. Followed by prolonged and heartfelt goodbyes. All the staff members come out and we talk for twenty minutes, sharing hugs and a group photo. The front desk calls the manager Gusti so he can come say goodbye, too! Gusti our driver is going to take us to our next stop in the coastal village of Candidasa, but he has to go into Ubud to pick up two other guest first. So the hotel treats us to green tea while we sip and watch the rice fields.

Along the way, we make a few quick stops. One at “Balinese original house.” This is just a traditional home set up, where the family allows guests to be shown around, for a small donation. Gusti had taken me and Jessica here on my previous trip, too. It’s Gusti’s knowledge and genuine desire to share his island’s culture that makes this such an informative visit. Learning how each room has directional significance and is used for different stages of life. We get to pet the family’s three legged dog, too! There are several impressive looking roosters, each in a separate section. For cock fighting. “But I think this is not very good karma. Very popular, but not good because the roosters must kill.” There’s also a bunny in a large cage. “For eating?” I ask. “Noooo. In Bali, we don’t eat these. I think maybe it was sick or hurt. The dogs, they can chase or bite the rabbits. So now they are helping it heal.” And then the family’s cat made an appearance. I was pleased to see same cat as two yr ago, with its very striking, angular, irritated face! I’ll try to upload photo later. 

Then we’re driving across the island, with the shared experience of judging other drivers. Some serious rain starts falling. Which only emphasizes how lucky we’ve been in the weather. While it’s rainy season, we’ve mostly had gorgeous sunshine, with a few short bursts of rain. The rains let up in time for us to visit Pura Goa Lawah (a holy temple built around a bat cave). Gusti pays for our admission, as a beautiful gift. He shows us where a big celebration is being prepared for tomorrow, and that a cremation ceremony is ending. Several hundred people are leaving. The whole village will generally come to these ceremonies. There are many stages, including gathering water from the ocean right here, too. After, we are allowed to walk through the temple, wearing our Sarongs and sashes to be respectful. You can hear the bats as soon as you walk through the gate. And then you see them at the back in the cave. Thousands! It’s very impressive.

Then to our destination of Bayshore Villa at Candidasa. Extended goodbyes with our very good friend Gusti.

Several group hugs and gratitude for wonderful shared stories and laughter. After he drives away, Sarah starts to cry a little bit, “I’m going to miss Gusti!!” Me too, sister. Me too.

“Welcome Home!” The Alena Resort and Ubud.

Tracy,

Browse archives for January 12, 2019
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Man, the last two-and-a-half days have been so great. I feel like we’ve seen and done so many things, yet it’s never felt rushed and we’ve had lots of relaxing down time too. Just perfect.

When we landed at Denpasar Airport, my friend Gusti was waiting to be our driver to take us to Ubud. It was really wonderful to see him again, and to be back in this place. But boy, that heat and humidity just hit you instantly. We arrived around 6pm, so that’s dealing with rush hour as we take the two-hour Drive to Ubud. So grateful to have a professional driver to navigate these roads!!

The welcome at the Alena was a little bit overwhelming. Everyone is so gracious and warm and solicitous in general, but they were Beyond tickled that I’ve returned two years later. And it was really great to recognize almost all of the staff. That staff retention really speaks to the hotel treating their employees well. “Welcome home, Miss Tracy!” And we are given flower leis with the Frangipani blossom (Plumeria), which I strongly associate as the smell of Bali. (Although even first-time guests get an arrival this gracious, I remember last time that Yanthi had to run around from the front desk to give me a hug to thank me for having written such clear emails (coordinating airport pickup, etc).

Our rooms are gorgeous, and we’re honestly too travel drained to deal with a sit-down dinner at 9pm. So we nibble on some of the complementary tropical fruits, and Sarah and Jen had brought some peanut packs for a little protein, and then we shower and collapse into bed.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast of mie goreng (my favorite: spicy stir-fried noodles), we take the shuttle into Ubud. We shop at market, navigating hundreds of stalls jam-packed with the same items. Constantly being called out to, and encouraged to look and buy. And I am still so susceptible to a certain type of Grandma seller. A bit aggressive, as they all have to be, but with a twinkle in her eye as she tries to show you special item and special price for new very good friend. Someone who is having fun with it, and having fun with my struggles through Indonesian numbers. (As items cost in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, figuring out prices is slow in another language. It is also completely not required in another language. Even if a seller did not speak much English, you know they would know all of the prices and number words in English).

We then escape to air conditioning and some Bintang beer. Served in a frosted glass, even!!! Fancy! We wander through water temple and lotus pond.

Then into the very fancy Starbucks next door, in search of a toilet. Then we explore the royal palace, where we felt like we are literally wilting in this humidity. (but hey, it’s a gorgeous day, when we’d prepared for rainy season). And the people watching is amazing, as some of these Travelers are having so much fun doing mini photo shoots. They are definitely going to have some quality Instagram moments.

Back to Alena Resort and into the swimming pool!! But there’s a chalkboard sign about a charity event, beginning poolside with a free cocktail and apps. The ladies worry we are under dressed, being in our swimsuits, so back to the room for another shower and changing. Then poolside for the cocktail. It was basically a Balinese version of a Mojito, made with arok instead of rum.

It was delicious. As were the appetizers they brought by. Extra fun that I recognized two of the dishes as things Jessica and I had learned how to prepare when we took the cooking class here two years ago.

The charity sign says a portion of the proceeds from the special barbecue dinner would go to help “unlucky family.” We tried to get a little more information about the charity, but it turns out it was a fundraiser for one very specific unlucky family. Our bartender explains that the family we are helping “he has no father. he has no brother. so he has very hard time. Very sad.”

The manager Gusti (different man than my driver friend) comes over to talk with us. He also has a great smile and a wonderful attitude. He tells me that I am to be his reporter on how things have changed, for the good and for the bad too. That is a lot of pressure. I did not sign up to be anyone’s not so secret shopper. (& even if I had some constructive criticisms, I’m not sure I would want to pass them along. Because I think they’ve apologized three or four times already because there was a small wasp’s nest on Sarah and Jen’s balcony. An apology is not necessary, we just thought they should know so they could take care of it. *smile*

The acoustic BBQ dinner that the hotel offered turned out to be a really entertaining night, and not what I expected. I wasn’t particularly drawn to the event, before I heard there was a charity aspect, but Sarah was interested and I didn’t have a strong feeling against it either. It was a little pricey by Balinese standards, but not bad by US Dollars. (OMG!! My talk-to-text program keeps typing Bolognese instead of Balinese!)

The acoustic band was 4 very hip young men, with fedoras and vests, 3 playing guitar and one playing percussion. The songs that they chose to sing were a bit of a surprise. I’d sort of expected a lot of Western standards or hits, but they definitely started out with a few surprises, as we had, hey good lookin what you got cooking”, Johnny Cash, some Louisiana jazz into Pink Floyd. And the meal itself was quite good, including salad, a pumpkin curry soup that was amazing, and three different grilled Meats. The chef that we have done our cooking class with was working the grill. He was very excited to see me again. And his English has gotten much better than it was two years ago. And/or he is just more confident now in it.

As part of the band banter, they would ask if anyone wanted to come up and sing or play guitar, and part way through dinner a young Chinese woman took them up on their offering. She sang two songs and played guitar, one in Chinese and one in English. Very brave.

(oh!! As I am writing this it is just starting to rain. It’s really our first significant rain since we got here, and if the past is any indication it should pass quickly. Fingers crossed)

Partway through dinner the Russian family (that sat next to us on the plane from Hong Kong to Bali) Came To Dinner. Their adorable six-year-old girl was really interested in the band and the musicians. She initially went right up front and was very flirtatious, but then got a little shy and needed to hide behind the pillar. But once he started singing the next song, she was out there dancing for all she was worth. It was great. She had more Rhythm than I’ve ever had in my entire life. And she was swinging her arms and feeling the music. And all of us enjoyed it very much.

Yesterday was our second full day in Bali, and we had arranged for Gusti to provide a half day tour for us. So breakfast at 8 and we left at 9 am. Gusti is a fabulous Storyteller, with such a big heart, and an easy laugh. It’s just the best energy to spend time with.

We went and did some coffee tasting.

Sarah was brave enough to try one of those big swings that’s swing you out over a cliff Edge with rice fields in the background. It was gorgeous to see, but way too scary for me, even though they seem to have very good safety measures and harness you in pretty securely.

Then to the holy water spring temple. The best!! This place is gorgeous and was my one regret from last time that we didn’t get to go. When we had discussed itinerary with Gusti the night before, I had been asking him about how the water purification works. Is there a changing room, do people wear swimsuits under their sarongs, Etc. He then asked if we would want to actually do the purification ritual. He said we definitely can and he could walk us through the steps, but that it would require two and a half to three hours, rather than one hour visit at that site. So we would have to decide how we wanted to allocate our time. He asked me to please let him know that evening if we did want to do the ritual, and that, if so, his wife would put together offerings for us to bring. But after discussing it, we decided that we would prefer to see a few more sites rather than spend all of our time at one place.

We were given so much insight into the ways of Balinese Hinduism. And were shown along the way each stop and told about the prayers and rituals you would do if you were doing the purification ritual. First you must make offerings and pray at a Shrine outside. Then there are multiple water spigots, and different ones are used for different purposes. He would show specifically how everyone is supposed to use number one, but on this one side the others are only for use for very specific things. One is for gathering specific holy water after there’s been a death in the family to take back to wash the body and perform rituals at home. One maybe to help with fertility or for blessing a new home Etc. While this is being explained, we are watching several tourists doing it incorrectly. Gusti tsks and shakes his head, explaining this is bad, but not the tourists’ fault. That their guides should be telling them how to do it properly. It is not their fault because they don’t know better.
Then there is another set of 10 water spouts and everyone is supposed to bathe through number 1 through number seven. Making offerings and prayers at each. But again number 8 9 and 10 only have specific meanings and uses.

When we come across a few statues of different Hindu characters who have a giant family, (there are easily 8 or 10 babies crawling all over them), I was surprised at the turn the conversation took. Instead of telling us about these figures and their story, we have this great talk about the changing makeup of Indonesian families. He discusses how having this many children is very hard. How in the past this is how Indonesians did it, but now they are more likely to only have two children. This allows them to provide better housing and food, and be sure that they can afford school fees for both children. He went on to share how he is one of seven, but only he and one brother were able to go to school. And the sadness and hardship that that has left for his other five siblings, who don’t have another option beyond subsistence farming.

Overlooking the holy spring water temple is a very rich fancy residence that belongs to the government, or maybe the royal family? I’m not entirely sure. But he explained that the Obama family got to stay there when they have come to Bali two years ago. And that back in the day Gusti had gotten to visit, because it used to be open to the public, but after the nightclub bombings, they were no longer open to the public for security purposes. But with a twinkle in his eye, Gusti tells us that if we work hard and become president of the US, then we could probably stay there too. Or because Hindus believe in reincarnation if we lead very good lives, maybe in the next life we will come back as powerful rich people who could stay there.

Further Explorations through the temple, we approach a set of gates. We are told that the gates are there so that one can make a prayer and clear their mind of all of the bad thoughts, so that bad thoughts all stay outside and then you can enter through the gates with pure thoughts. Once inside we saw the holy Pond / water source. I was quite surprised to see that it is a cold water underground spring. Full of bubbling roiling motion as all of this sand is moving around, and there are gorgeous water plants growing on top, and swallows swooping everywhere eating the mosquitoes. Good job swallows, by the way. Gesturing to this protected holy water pond: “Only the very most holy of priests can go inside” says Gusti. “If I were to go inside… Ohhhh…” and then he tsssks, “I would be in very bad trouble.”

Then to another set of temples and structures, where people, after doing the water purification and after changing out of their wet sarangs into dry clothing, will do prayers with further offerings, guided by a priest.

We are told how on the specific holy days for this Temple, the wait to do all of the prayers can be hours and hours. Because this is the only Temple for this specific purpose in Bali. He says he and his wife would get in line at 8 a.m. and maybe not be done until 3 p.m. or later.

We stopped at the tagalong Rice Terraces, and it’s a very beautiful Vista. Gusti drops us off at the entrance and tells us that when we are done to ask the parking attendant to call Gusti, and he will come find us. As the parking lot is a bit away. I ask if the parking lot attendant has gusti’s number. He laughs and says “no, they have a loudspeaker. And they will say, “Gusti. Come!” But there are many people named Gusti in Bali, aren’t there? He laughs and says they will say “Gusti Alena.” And the system seems to work. The man uses his walkie-talkie and then suddenly an announcement is made over the loudspeaker. And the appropriate driver comes to pick up their tourists.

As we start to make our way down the rice Terraces, I can see that there our many many uneven stairs without a railing, and some muddy trails on the climb down, and it’s freaking midday afternoon sun, so I decide that I have gone far enough. And find a small bush to provide me with some shade,while Jen and Sara climb down to explore. I was affirmed strongly in my choice, as I watched the pained exhaustion and hot faces of everyone making the climb back up. Also gave me the chance to do some amazing people watching, and family Dynamics and exhausted travel grumpiness came out in strangers. And the Vista was truly gorgeous.

We then went to explore the holy elephant cave. Now Bali does not actually have elephants, but the cave does have a temple to Ganesh inside. I’d also read online that is named after the elephant spring that is nearby. I may have to do some more research on that. The entrance to the cave is truly striking, with all of these carved faces. And it is staggeringly hot inside. I am used to caves being cool and damp. But this doesn’t go deep or far enough to have that coolness Maybe.

Along our drive, as dogs are often wandering beside the road, I asked Gusti what the Indonesian word for dog is. He tells me it is ajing. Then he says Chee-ching is Balinese for dog. “But please, don’t use this word around other people. I will get in trouble” We are confused, but learn it is an insult /bad word. Gusti points out bad drivers and says they could be called Chee-ching. And now it’s all I can do to keep myself from calling someone that.

It’s now 2 p.m. and time for us to return. I am starving, as we had breakfast early. We did not pack snacks with us, but I Do buy a sweetened iced tea which helps. On the ride back Gusti is explaining there was one more stop he was intending, which is a walk down to a waterfall. He says Tracy may not want to do the walk but it’s alright and Jen/Sarah might. The man is not wrong. But actually, once Sarah and Jen realize that the waterfall requires a walk a ways down a hill and then having to climb back up, they decided they don’t care either. So we returned sweaty, exhausted, starving, and so happy.

We have lunch at the resort because we are starving, rather than risking shuttle into town. And their food is quite good. It’s just a bit pricier for Bala standards. But you can’t beat the convenience. After lunch we do some swimming / floating in the pool, and reading poolside, while Sarah goes to take a nap.

Because lunch was so late, we plan for a late meal in Ubud town. Knowing that we are getting up early this morning to go to the monkey Forest just as it opens at 8:30 am. Because the included breakfasts here at the resort are staggered 3 course Affairs, it takes about 45 minutes for breakfast. So we have to get up at 6:30 a.m. or earlier.

So for dinner, we take the 8 p.m. shuttle into town asking for a 9:30 p.m. return. The front desk is very concerned that this is not enough time and that the 10:30 p.m. return would be better, but that is way later than we want to be out. Also we legitimately are just going to pick one of the first places we see, eat quickly, and return. And that’s what we do. 🙂

A staff change has happened as well, which means that I get to reconnect with two more of my friends from last time. “How are you? How is your family? How is your mother? We are so happy to see you.” (When Jen had gone to reserve the 8 p.m. shuttle for us earlier in the day, she returns saying “I only had to invoke the magic word of “Miss Tracy” and everything was easy.”) It is very humbling and a little bit overwhelming. It’s also honestly surprising to legitimately be this remembered. I mean, I only spent five days here two years ago. And presumably they have many guests in the meantime. But it does help to stand out. Being a bigger girl and also someone who had learned a few Indonesian phrases. So I guess it really is rare that anybody else does the language. Or maybe it is just that other Travelers aren’t as interested in having a conversation with the staff? Which is a huge missed opportunity on their part. Firstly, I just think one should be open to experience and meeting new people. And when traveling, the hotel staff are going to be one of the easiest barriers of entry in making a connection with locals. But also, what type of person doesn’t View service workers as peers? The answer is “a type of person I’m not interested in being friends with.”

Up early for our pre-monkey breakfast. As we are going to the monkey Forest, we are traveling light. One of the recommended and best ways to avoid potential problems with the monkeys, is to basically not bring anything with you. If you bring a backpack or purse, the monkeys will often jump on it or try to get things out of it. Especially if you have any type of food or candy or snacks inside your bag. There are so many signs begging you to please not bring any food inside. Do not hide it in Pockets or bags because the monkeys will find it. So we’ve got a bit of spending money zipped into a pocket or money belt, and our camera in our hands, and that’s it. Sunscreen and bug spray applied before go to the front desk, where I asked for the 8 a.m. shuttle. But oops. They have not offered at 8 a.m. shuttle for over a year. It starts at 9am. Happily they are able to arrange for a driver for a few dollars to take us into town, as we really wanted to get to Monkey Forest as it opened at 8:30 before it got too crowded, or too hot, or too full of tourists acting poorly.

Monkey Forest is great. But there are definitely some Bad actors in the early arrivals. A French couple who have brought food and are feeding the monkeys, and agree to them to climb on them, and trying to pet them. It’s the worst. Plus Sarah is extra stressed out, because the travel doctor they visited at University of Washington also warned them about a simian Herpes the long tailed macaque can carry, which is fatal in humans if monkey bites are not treated right away. Now that is a pretty obscure disease, I’ve never heard of it before and I’ve done several Travel Medicine consultations. Well, there is a small but real rabies risk, as well as basic infection risk for you to be bit or scratched, this was not what I had heard of before. After Sarah told me about it I did a bit of Google searching back home and was eventually able to find out about it. But in any case, definitely the fear of death was put into Sarah and Jen, so they were even more concerned and frustrated when people were behaving poorly. We eventually just had to wait 5 minutes for that couple to get past us because they kept showing up where we were taking photos and ruining it.

We spent almost two hours wandering through the gorgeous Forest, and observing the antics of the seven different macaque troops.

Then beverages at this adorable hipster pretend French cafe, with tables looking over the rice paddy, it was really cute. And would have looked at home in Seattle or Brooklyn. The staff even wore plaid shirts with suspenders as their uniform. And my lychee iced tea was served in a mason jar.

Then we returned to the hotel, had another glorious shower and now we are relaxing. Well, Sarah and I are relaxing. Our Intrepid Jen really wanted to visit a Balinese art museum that is about a two-mile walk from Ubud shuttle stop. So she has headed out To do that exploration. And we will meet up with her for dinner and maybe to see one of the dance performances tonight.

52 hr of travel & overnight in Hong Kong

Tracy,

Browse archives for January 9, 2019
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The poet Robert Burns has been reminding us for many centuries, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”. But if your plan is to allow for more than adequate travel time and to have a looser itinerary, then you are in a much better mood when the inevitable “going awry” happens. And this is how we found our explorations of San Francisco to be willingly truncated. So much for spending a day wandering the sites. Instead, some of our most memorable parts were the lovely conversations with various Lyft drivers, trying to navigate the flooded streets during this wild wind and rain storm. (And burritos in the mission district!)

This itinerary has certainly been a new way to travel for me. I’ve never had so many overnight layovers before. Gotta admit, it’s kind of relaxing/nice to have these breaks (with a shower and a bed in between), but it sure does take up a lot of time. We only end up with 8 nights in Bali, even though we’ll be 14 days away from home. (I’m typing this on our final flight leg, 5 hr from Hong Kong to Denpasar).

Firstly, three cheers for being planners, rule followers, and worriers. We’d decided to fly down to SFO a day early, giving us a chance to explore the city, and lots of “time padding” in case of unforeseen travel hiccups. And boy, were there ever. (I almost feel like I jinxed it somehow, as I’d been so smug before departure, thrilled we didn’t have any east coast connections so wouldn’t have worries about winter weather delays). And the universe wanted to remind me that us puny humans are not in control, when our departure weekend was hit with major wind storms all along the west coast. Hundreds of flights delayed and canceled from SFO. That morning, en route to SeaTac, many homes in Seattle were without power.

We did our due diligence and arrived at airport the recommended amount early. (in addition to possible weather delays, there have been airport security delays nationwide, as Trump’s government shutdown continues to have TSA employees forced to work without pay, and folks are being forced to call in sick, because without their paychecks they can’t afford childcare and/or need to take a paying gig in the hopes of covering rent and other life requirements.) We made it through security, bleary eyed, and bought coffee. Then relaxed at our gate. Travel is all about “hurry up and wait.”

Gate announcement: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, this flight will now be re-routed to Oakland instead, and we will provide a bus to SFO.” but it was the next sentence that was the real kicker. “Those of you with connecting flights WILL NOT MAKE THEM.” The three of us were extra glad we’d planned this “go a day early” thing, as we watched people line up at the counter or start calling airlines, trying to find other options to get there in time or reschedule their connecting flights. I guess it was a real problem all day at SFO, with many delays/cancelations. We took off over an hr late, and then landed at a different airport. We dreaded the logistics of them trying to get us all on the same shuttle bus. But there were several Alaska employees with smart tablets at baggage claim. They were booking Uber for each party. It was a pretty great solution, actually. And we had a very nice driver. But we did end up at SFO almost 3 hr late. And the weather was terrible. Heavy rains and winds. Highways flooded. Terrible traffic. So much clouds and rain one couldn’t see anything. I’m told the views across the new bridge from Oakland are nice, but we could only see rain and grey clouds so heavy it felt like we were fogged in.

And apparently the Comfort Inn San Bruno is in a strange vortex of highway on ramps/off ramps, making it a total confusing maze for all of our rideshare drivers. The room was clean and near airport, though. We’d considered either renting a car to explore the city, or taking the BART. But with the terrible weather, and being tired and hungry, we decided to grab a Lyft to the mission district. Where we grabbed burritos and tacos at El Farolito. Yum! Their Al Pastor taco remains one of my favorites! 

Our hunger sated, we began a soggy wander through the neighborhood. Explored the really amazing and well curated fantasy/sci fi bookstore Borderlands. But as the afternoon wore on, it was obvious we were too tired and wet to really enjoy any of the activities we’d planned. Most of what we wanted required walking around, a prospect unappealing in this awful weather. We thought about seeing a movie, but found ourselves almost falling asleep in our pre-movie lattes. So decided to just go back to the hotel.

We had the most enjoyable Lyft driver, Thomas. An older gay man who moved here from Indiana 32 yr ago, his “tour guide” information as we drove around was very entertaining. The freeway entrance we needed was closed (due to flooding) so we ended up on some strange side streets through warehouse district. He even sang us a song (about people being stuck on the Boston subway forever, inspired by our circuitous route, flooded roads, and wrong turns).

Going back to the hotel was exactly what our bodies needed. Semi-napping while watching the Golden Globes. The heat on full blast as our sodden clothes were suspended above the vents, praying they’d be dry by morning. Later we caught a Lyft to an area Italian restaurant for a late dinner. It was very old school and perfectly decent. Nothing “life changing” about the meal, but adequate and tasty and warm. The salad just a pile of iceberg lettuce with Shredded carrots and one peppercini. They had a delightfully old school staff. The type of guys who’d tell you they knew Sinatra, even though the math on their ages doesn’t quite work out. And they gave us each a free glass of Madeira after the meal. Then we had a decent enough night’s sleep, and off to airport in the morning. Met an older couple from San Diego whose flight the day before had been canceled entirely and were just hoping to get home finally.

Then we got to start luxuriating in our business class experience. By which I mean they gave us vouchers for the Air France lounge. Which was nice. At the end of the day, it’s just some chairs and tables with a small selection of snacks/drinks. But it’s a calmer quieter space, which is a lovely auditory Oasis at the airport. Plus Jen was using her school French skills to read L’equipe newspaper. Impressed.

Then on to our gate and our fancy lie-flat seats. The airplane was very nice. And the staff were wonderfully attentive. Felt very pampered. Plus, they had a pretty amazing selection of teas on the menu. We were more than an hr waiting on the plane from when we left the gate to when we took off (yikes!). Don’t know if that’s standard or if things were still being rerouted/weird schedules from the weather. But it was hard to complain when you’re among the 1%-ers. Honestly, it was very nice. The movie selection wasn’t great, but I think that’s more a problem with recent Hollywood films than with the airline. I’ve heard both The Meg and Skyscraper are bad and boring, but not bad enough to be fun. Still, I drank some Port while watching “The Predator”, because I’m fancy!!! And I saw silly British comedy “Swimming with Men” that was heartwarming and sweet, about some middle aged guys who start an amateur synchronized swim team.

15 hr later and we’re in Hong Kong. With so much fog/cloud cover, we can’t see anything. With semi-confidence that our bags have been checked all the way through to Indonesia, we take our carry on and head through customs and immigration. Where I was (unreasonably) sad to learn they don’t stamp our passports. They just print out a little paper receipt in lieu of a passport visa. Bummer. Totes wanted that stamp!!! Lame! Still sad about it. But not enough to ruin our excitement over getting to explore Hong Kong.

Our travel groggy selves successfully figured out how to take the correct double decker bus to our hotel in the city. It was super cheap and pretty easy, actually. And all the travel forums said our tiny “Ocean Inn” was right by an A22 bus stop, whereas taking the subway would require multiple transfers and more money. The busses had great digital screens showing upcoming stops, in English as well. It was about 45 min travel time.

Ocean Inn was the perfect spot, low budget but clean space. Great location near Jordan Rd and night Market. It’s just one small part of the 11th floor of a massive old skyscraper. 9 rooms total. Square footage is precious in Hong Kong. Our room had a double and twin bed and we were pleasantly surprised to see our own ensuite, rather than having to share a bathroom. It was a tiny combined wet room, so you could use this tiny shower nozzle as you showered standing right next to the toilet and all of the water would eventually go down the floor drain.  Online reviews had already warned us that the building’s older and a bit run-down, and that the elevator situation could be frustrating. There are only two and they often fill up before they get to your floor, when trying to descend.

We’re checked in and ready for dinner and ready for eating all the pork buns (it’s 8pm local time). I went to look up the Tim Ho Wan location near us (Michelin starred dim sum place), Google tells me it’s closing soon. What?!? I swear I’d researched this at home and found it was 24 hr. Apparently that’s just the new Singapore location. So we rush out to try to find a taxi to take us the 2 miles (it closed in a little over an hr and we didn’t know if there’d be a wait/when last orders were taken). And this is where my handy “show the taxi driver a screenshot of your destination address” method failed me. Huge. D’oh! Forgot about the whole having a different system of writing thing. And I Didn’t know how to get the address to display in Chinese characters. A helpful man on the sidewalk translated the address to the taxi driver, but driver said he didn’t know where that was. So we scrapped that destination.

My pals Joe and Laura had recommended a dumpling place: Cheung Hing Kee. It’s so good they plan their Hong Kong layovers around the hours of operation. Also Michelin recommended! And it was only half mile away. So a semi stressful wander down the misting sidewalks to try to find THIS place before it closes (the stress was my own. I don’t do well about being late, or with being lost when I have a time-dependent destination). And we find it. It’s just a window/take out space, rather than offering tables. Limited menu, I kind of want to order all 4 of the things. But woman informs me they only have one thing left, their signature dumpling, so that’s what we order. Then wandering back towards Kowloon Park to find a scenic place to eat. These pan fried dumplings are legit. Crunchy on the bottom and softer on top. While not specifically “soup dumplings” they are full of an amazing broth and flavorful filling. Probably pork? It was lovely. Not graceful to eat, but very tasty. And we had napkins!

Got to see some cranes hunting in the water feature near our bench. Me: guys, look at those cool bird statues. Them: Tracy, those are actual birds  They’re holding still because they’re hunting. D’oh! Then a very cool night time wander through Kowloon Park. It’s massive!!! Full of many interesting twists and turns and things to discover. In fact, we’re finding it harder to find our way out than we’d expected. Every time we see what we think will lead us to the street, we instead are presented with a sculpture garden, or water feature, or statues celebrating honk Kong animation, or a looping path that tajes us away from the street, or the giant public swimming pool building. Ha. It was very cool to explore, actually. But we did want to find night market before it closed.

On our walk back towards the night market, Jen spots a group of fashionable youths gathered at a take out counter, so we stop, too. “Tiger Sugar” is a bubble tea place, selling brown sugar flavored milk teas, that are very Instagram-able. They’re served with all these stripes of syrup, and after taking your photo, then you shake them up for a few minutes until fully blended. Yum.

Now the weather has changed from a fine mist to actual rain as we get to the market. Vendors have some tarps and rain coverings, which create this “perfect storm” of a heavy rain ‘drip line’ right down the middle of the walkway. Gross. Sarah very generously lends me her umbrella (she had her hooded rain jacket. I’d left my jacket at the hotel). Jen decided she wouldn’t melt and wasn’t scared of rain. But it’s hardly the most Pleasant shopping conditions, and many vendors just start packing up. We wander through a few streets of stalls, but definitely not lingering or looking to shop so intently.

On our walk back, in an effort to avoid all of the tarps and Rain drips, we hug the sidewalks behind the vendor booths. There are main floor store fronts along this way, some of them selling adult DVDs, others Electronics, or small restaurants. And then we walked through about 20 sex workers standing around behind a few Shacks. These young women were dressed in cute clubbing outfits and my initial thought as I saw a few of them was that maybe they were getting ready for a night on the town or there was a dance club nearby. But then as we walked past more, it became apparent that this was not two dozen young friends out for a night on the town. Bummer. I sent out some positive energy, hoping they’d be safe and well.

The next morning Jen headed out early to find an area bakery. She brought back a lovely selection of Hong Kong pastry for our breakfast. Coconut sweet bread, a chicken sausage roll, a lovely and mild cream bun, and a ham and egg bread. Reminded me of shopping at the bakeries at H Mart back home.

Trying to catch an elevator to go down to the lobby from the 11th floor proved as tricky as online reviews had mentioned. The elevators always seem to be full before they got to us. We decided we would need to try to go one by one. And I made it down to lobby first and waited. After watching two more elevators unload passengers without Sarah and Jen on them, I was a tiny bit worried. But turns out the ladies had bravely found the stairs and managed their way down to the lobby. There’d been some confusion as the lobby doors from the stairwell are not clearly marked, and some other doors they had tried were locked. Relieved to learn they were not trapped there forever.

Hong Kong Airlines has just opened a new Lounge for its business class at the airport. It was very lovely. Calming swooping designs, a better-than-average food selection, lots of Windows and natural light, and they piped in some natural bird song sounds. It was very soothing and lovely. Also check out this tiny baked potato. So tiny!

And this is how I’m here, on the plane, typing this update. I’ll have to see about getting some photos from Sarah and Jen and uploading those later. Again I am mostly using my digital camera, so actual photos from me with the phone be uploaded to a computer and edit it for a few months, if the past is any indication. But I should be able to get a few fun shots from Sarah and Jen’s phone and share this when I have good Wi-Fi and some free time.

“This is nuts, in the best way!!” Indonesia: Redux

Tracy,

Browse archives for December 18, 2018
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So, a crazy thing happened mid-August. This summer I learned about Scott’s Cheap Flights, an email newsletter that announces great international flight deals. They send out a few emails a day, and I quickly decided that the paying for their subscription premium service was worth it. At only $39 for the entire year, it seemed a no brainer for getting the most advanced notice on any sales. And it was a delightful summer, each email announcement giving me that seratonin high of finding a great deal and some travel dreaming time, thinking about each potential destination. And then, just 3 weeks before I was to leave on my Greek adventure, I got that White Whale email. A MISTAKE FARE IN BUSINESS CLASS! That’s international business class seats for $600 from California to several Asian destinations. Scott’s Cheap Flights (SCF) emails are great about guestimating how long they think a deal will last and giving other helpful pointers. Such as the fact that Congress changed the rules a few years ago, so airlines are no longer required to honor mistake fares. So while some still do, SCF urges people to wait a few weeks before booking any non-refundable related travel things, just in case. And they rightly guessed that these fares would only last around an hour (until someone at the airline realized and shut it down).

My morning is then a scramble, mass texting everyone I know who might be interested in immediately booking a trip to Indonesia (and have a life and job that will allow for such a thing). And, oh yeah, we’d need to buy the plane tickets like, right now! And the universe provides sometimes. My dear pal Jen replied right away, very excited, but reasonably stating that she couldn’t finalize this without approval from her wife Sarah (who was at work and often doesn’t check her phone during the work day). Again, providence was looking out for us. Because not 10 minutes later, Sarah was on a break and decided to check her phone, and agreed to this insanity! So then it’s scrambling to find passport numbers and trying to find a set of travel dates still offering this deal. Which is how we’ve ended up with this upcoming mid-January adventure to Bali. After booking, and knowing we had to wait a few weeks with fingers crossed (to see if the airline would honor it’s mistake or not), Jen wrote, “This is nuts in the best way!!” Amen, sister! Hong Kong Airlines came through in the best way possible, and earned approbations from travel sites the world over. Super classy move!

And so I departed for Greece, knowing that I’d be going to Indonesia not four months later! Ack! I mean, travel is obviously super important to me, and I make lots of choices/sacrifices to make it a priority (all of my tech/electronics are old, most of my furniture is hand-me-down, etc), and I’ve definitley increased the frequency of my adventures the last few years (shifting from once every 3 years to annually, if I can swing it). And while this upcoming trip is technically in 2019, coming only 4 months after my last big adventure is pretty intense, even for me. And that’s one of the reasons I don’t think I’ve been talking about it as widely. Also because my brain can’t shift into “new adventure mode” so quickly, as I’m still solidly in post-adventure/decompression mode. I mean, heck, I only finally finished editing my Sept travel pics a few weeks ago.

Also, I’ve never done a trip in early January before, and I don’t recommend it. Trying to get ready, plan for, and survive the holidays takes up most of my Nov/Dec. And so concurrently trying to squeeze in getting ready/planning for, and surviving a big travel adventure is a bit intense!!! Especially as Holidays are requiring more work this year, as my sister and I are stepping up and taking over a lot more things as my folks are dealing with some health stuff (and because they’ve just plain earned a break, eh? Although it took the health stuff for my mom to finally give up some of that control. NO IDEA where she gets that from. *shifty eyes*). Happy to report that Thanksgiving worked wonderfully, and Christmas should be equally great. But holy crap! Christmas is less than a week away, and in two weeks time, I’m on a frigging airplane again. There’s so much to do. The final two weeks before a trip, it’s time for me to locate/consolidate all my travel gear. Figure out what I’m taking and what to leave behind. Also to sort out my clothing. Do laundry. Which swimsuit? Which overshirts and light weight long pants (those pesky SE Asian mosquitos!!) I mean, I’ve done this lots before, so I know the things, and I own most of things already (but I’m pretty sure my sunscreen is old and will need to be replaced. As well as new travel sized gold bond powder. That stuff is a magic necessity in the humid tropics). Decisions on whether to pack my snorkel and mask or not. And I still haven’t wrapped presents yet. And I’m taking over lots of the traditional holiday baking. PANIC!!!

But travel medications/vaccinations obtained! (Actually, didn’t have to get any new shots. I’m currently still covered, which is nice). After we booked our trip, we discovered that January is actually the middle of RAINY SEASON! Oh well. Adventure! Instead of beach time (which isn’t my biggest priority in general, and I frigging just spent a few weeks in the Agean in September, so I was already spoiled with amazing beaches!!), it’ll be more cultural exploration. So looking forward to the people and the food and the adventures. It was with true excitement and delight that I got to email some of the friends I’d made on my last trip, to tell them I’m lucky enough to be returning. Cannot wait! We’ll be packing ponchos and a good attitude. Hopefully it’ll be the type of rainy season with downpours for a few hours but then clear skies. But even if it’s constant rains and flooded streets, it’s all part of the adventure. Also, we have a LONG layover in Hong Kong each way, so that will be exciting. Unfortunately it’s overnight, so we can’t do the Hong Kong Disney (which was Sarah’s choice) or take a sailboat or climb the mountain. But we will get to explore night markets, eat amazing food, and sleep in a real bed/take a shower, before getting on the plane again. So, holy crap! In 3 weeks, I’ll be making my way back to Indonesia. And so I’ve been listening, again, to the fantastic Learning Indonesia podcast. Woohoo!!