Feeling Good in Ubud

The perfect itinerary for spending a day in Bali’s spiritual centre, Ubud.

Ubud, Bali, is probably Indonesia’s most famous spiritual centre. As Julia Roberts discovers in Eat Pray Love, (which bookshops in Bali show, is still a huge plug for the destination) the town is an idyllic getaway from the stresses of everyday life. Massages are cheap and plentiful, good food in abundance, and the focus on traditional arts and crafts allows you to explore a hobby you may never know existed.

My boyfriend and I visited Bali last month, staying in the resort town of Seminyak. However, with the island being so small, many destinations are easily reachable within a couple of hours. So, one day, we decided to escape the sandy beaches (!) and head into Bali’s heartland: the idyllic uplands of Ubud.

Getting There

Getting to Ubud is relatively easy. If you’ve got money to spare, most tour companies will arrange transport and perhaps even a guide for you too. However, if you prefer to explore the town on your own (or are penniless students, like us), there are other, cheaper ways to get there. Taxis cost a fraction of the price they do in the UK, so this is always an option too. We opted instead to use the Kura-Kura bus, a shuttle service that operates its mini-van-like buses around the main tourist areas of Bali – Seminyak, Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua, South Nusa, and Ubud. For just a trip to Ubud, the ticket price is 120K IDR, however we worked out that it was actually cheaper and more benefical to get a 3-day pass for 150K IDR. This way you don’t need to worry about getting a ticket to the bus bay, which is where most of the lines (excluding Seminyak) start and end. It also means that you can have another 2 days to explore the rest of Bali hassle-free!

The Kura-Kura buses have wi-fi and air-conditioning, and as far as we can report, were relatively on time. In fact, the early bus to Ubud goes from Seminyak at 7:15, so was perfect for our trip. Be warned though – looking through the companies twitter did show that a lot of their buses can be late or diverted due to religious festivals. Luckily, this never affected us, but is something worth checking if you are sticking to a rigid schedule.

Monkey Forest

The first stop for us in Ubud was the popular Holy Monkey Forest. Filled with hundreds of adorable monkeys and many spectacular Hindi temples, it’s no surprise that this place is a hit with tourists. Thanks to previous research we knew to get there early, which is a tip that I strongly pass on. We got there about 9am, which may sound too early for some, but by the time we left around two hours later the forest was definitely a great deal busier. It was rather relaxing to share the forest with just a handful of tourists in the early hours…not to mention the heat and humidity of the forest that only increases as the day goes on!

Entrance to the forest is 50K IDR and is well worth it. You will also get chance to purchase bananas from local vendors inside to feed to the monkeys, however I’m not sure entirely how I feel about this so we opted not to. Whilst having a monkey crawl all over you may make a great photo, you need to remember that we are invading their natural home. My boyfriend and I chose to keep our distance from the monkeys (especially the baby ones, as hard as this was!) and observe from afar. My prior research also unveiled some horror stories of people getting bitten or scratched by angry monkeys, a chance we were not keen to take. From what we observed, if you didn’t have food, a visible water bottle, and kept your distance, the monkeys paid you no attention whatsoever.

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Coffee and Shopping

By the time we left the Monkey Forest it was just the right time for a mid-morning beverage, and thankfully Ubud is famous for its coffee. If you follow the road round from the forest, you will soon find yourself immersed in the best that the town has to offer in terms of food, drink and shopping, along a road heading directly to its beautiful temples.

We escaped the muggy morning and headed for a cosy looking cafe, ordered iced coffee, Indonesia’s famous black rice pudding, and granola and fruit. Cafe Maha was reasonably priced, and the whole lot came to (the equivalent of) under £7 in total.

Next…shopping! Of course, Ubud has the usual tourist-aimed stalls filled with postcards, patterned trousers, and key-chains galore. However, it really is legendary for its arts and crafts, and this is what I wanted to buy. Thankfully, the Ubud art market has an abundance of handmade and unique art pieces that are a small dent to even a students wallet. I managed to pick up a beautiful hand-painted scene for about £12. I probably could have haggled the price down, but after playing with the stall-owners adorable children I was happy to pay the asking price.

Temples, temples, temples, museum

The art market is ideally located just across the road from the Ubud Palace, and a short walk from the towns other temples and the Museum Puri Lukisan. Whilst the Palace wasn’t open when we were there, I am told that some beautiful dance performances usually take place there if that is something you are interested in.

The temples however, were available, and are also free to visit. Both men and women are required to be modestly dressed before entering them though, but if you do forget then complimentary sarongs are provided. The temples are a great place to embrace fully the serenity of the town, and a chance to appreciate the detail that goes into creating such a beautiful place. This was definitely the place where I took the most photos, that’s for sure!

Along the same road is also Museum Puri Lukisan, the oldest art museum in Bali which specialises in modern traditional Balinese paintings and wood carvings. However, at 75K IDR entry, if art isn’t your thing this can probably be dropped from the itinerary. We did get a discount with the Kura-Kura bus ticket, paying 120K IDR in total, and the ticket does get you a free drink each at the cafe. Although, I can’t say that we got our money’s worth. It may have been that we were perhaps tired and the heat had worn us down even more, but I probably spent more time standing in front of the fans instead of looking at the actual art-work! The museum grounds are beautiful though, so perhaps even just a visit to the cafe is advisable. Enjoying an ice-cold lemonade in an expertly designed garden was the highlight of our museum visit, although I’m not quite sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

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Mmm…Massages

For anyone who’s visited South East Asia, you’ll know how much they love to promote a massage. The whole holiday we’d been used to saying no, politely shaking our heads, and carrying on down the street. However, with some time to kill in Ubud, we decided to go ahead and take someone up on their offer…and at £3 for a 30 minute head/back massage, you can’t go wrong. Like most places in Bali, the street-side massage parlors are available pretty much at every other door. Take some time to find a good deal though – for example, shops just outside major attractions will charge more than those just a five minute walk away. After settling on a place, we decided to waste 30 mins being truly pampered. What are holidays for anyway?

Campuhan Ridge Walk

The ridge walk is best done later in the day, hence why we decided to wait a little and get a massage before commencing the trail. Initially getting to the walk is actually rather tricky, and we ended up in the grounds of some resort by accident, much to the delight of one angry member of staff. To get there, you basically need to follow the road down past the museum and keep going until it veers sharply off to the left. Here, there will be a steep driveway which you walk down, and you will see yet another temple. Signs to a cafe and consequently the walk signal the start of the Campuhan Ridge Walk.

Even though we waited until later to complete the walk, we were still pretty tired and hot, so unfortunately did not complete the whole trail. However, from what I’ve researched I’m pretty sure we covered the main section…i.e, the part where all the photos are from. The walk offers some sweeping views of Ubud’s traditional landscape, and the breeze on a hot day is always welcome too. Even if you are short on time, I’d still recommend getting out on the ridge even if for just 20 minutes or so. It shows a side of Ubud and more importantly Bali that contrasts so much with the beach-side resorts which tourists are often used to seeing.

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Dinnertime!

Hands down, Cafe Lotus is the best place to eat in Ubud. We’d spied the restaurant on our visit to the temple earlier in the day, and I was instantly sold on it’s serene surroundings and the fact that you get to sit on the floor when you eat, Asian-style. Whilst the prices may be a little more than what you usually pay in Bali (and the portion sizes considerably smaller), it’s still a fraction of the price you’d pay for an experience like this in the West.

They offer traditional Balinese cuisine, as well as Western favorites too. I had the chicken satay and my boyfriend had a lamb burger, which we were both happy with. The dining area overlooks the lovely lotus pond and the nearby temple, which also means that the restaurant cannot serve beef. We still only paid around 250K IDR in total, which also included drinks and a tip, and was certainly an ideal way to end a great day out in Ubud. The spiritual town is a place that will always hold a place in my heart, and now also my photo album!

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Getting out of Sydney: 24 hours in the Blue Mountains

I lived in Sydney for about five months, and its quietest moments, it’s at best busy. Escaping the hustle and bustle of the city fumes is a must and thankfully, Sydney’s well connected travel links provide an easy option for tired city dwellers: the Blue Mountains.

Catch a train from Sydney’s central station, and you’ll be whisked away to the beautiful mountains in a little under two hours. Go on a Sunday, and you’ll benefit from Sydney’s travel-cap too, paying just a few dollars for your trip. The train travels through sleepy countryside towns, the idyllic landscape unfolding before your very eyes.

The main stop for the Blue Mountains is called Katoomba. Whilst you can get off at other places and still technically reach the Blue Mountains, if you get off here you’ll find your biggest range of restaurants, hostels/motels, and the visitors centre. A bus runs directly from the station down to the visitors centre and the start of trails, pretty regularly.

When we visited last year, we chose to spend the night in a nearby motel just minutes from the visitors centre. However, this isn’t entirely necessary. If you’re short on time (or money) the main sections of the Blue Mountains can easily be walked in under a day, and you’ll be back in the city by evening. If you are looking for a more relaxed and slow-paced weekend though, I would definitely recommend pre-booking accommodation. This way, you can do what we did and stroll aimlessly around the less traversed trails…and get horrendously lost too!

Many maps of the Blue Mountains showcase the main walking tracks, however in peak times, these can be exceptionally busy. These are the Giant Stairway, Three Sisters, and the tracks to the waterfalls. Whilst these are all beautiful and definitely worth a look, we found our best scenery and walking tracks in the areas where tourists don’t usually go. In the few hours that we were walking we saw just a handful of people…and it was lovely!

For those with families, or people who just want something a bit more established, the Blue Mountains are also home to Scenic World. This a combination of a skyway, walkway, cableway, and railway – the steepest railway incline in the world. We did look into tickets, but we found them too expensive and not really the kind of thing we were looking for. However, things like the skyway and cableway would offer amazing views of the surrounding area, so do some research if you are interested.

Our short time in the Blue Mountains was definitely one of my highlights of being in Australia. It’s so easy to reach from Sydney and you don’t need to stay overnight, that I’d encourage anyone staying in the city to embark on this nature-filled day trip. You’ll capture stunning photographs, exercise your lungs and legs, and appreciate some of the natural beauty that Australia has to offer.

 

 

Valentine’s Day at the Beach

Happy Valentine’s Day! As it’s #travelTuesday and Valentine’s Day, I thought I would combine the two and write a post dedicated to what my better half and I got up to, this time last year.

As you may or may not know, this time last year we were just beginning the Australian stint of our year abroad. By now, we would have been in the land down under for just under two weeks…yet we were still feeling the effects of the dreaded jet-lag! Hot days and heavy heads meant we’d just explored the city that I lived in, Sydney, so far. So, on Valentine’s Day, we took advantage of the Opal card travel-cap and went up to Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, for a wonderful couple of nights.

As mentioned, the Sunday travel-cap that Opal card have, meant that we travelled roughly 5 hours up New South Wales for just a couple of dollars! We went first to Newcastle (meant to be a train, but actually ended up being a bus replacement service), then got the bus to Nelson Bay. Yes, the journey was long (and hot), but boy it was worth it. Even on the way back to Sydney, the daily-cap Opal have meant our journey didn’t exceed around $15 – so cheap compared to UK transport fees!

Our accommodation, costing us £30 each for two nights, was a beautifully decorated one-bed ‘beach-house’, complete with Jacuzzi bathtub. It had its very own entrance leading down to the beach too. Perfect for a couple of nights of relaxation. In fact, we both admitted we could have definitely stayed there longer too.

Nelson Bay itself is a beautiful, relatively quiet place. Its main attraction is the beach and the nearby harbour, so there isn’t much to do beside lounging around and getting a tan…ideal for us anyway! However, a longer stay might have been slightly problematic without a car. The main centre has little to eat outside the realm of fatty fast-food, which is not really what you desire after a day spent in the sun, and not great for breakfast either. We managed to track down a very small (and very overpriced) supermarket, but that was around a 45 minute walk from our accommodation, so we could only go in the evening when it was cooler. Although, if you’ve got the money to rent a car, Nelson Bay would make a perfect week-long getaway from the hustle and bustle of nearby Sydney.

In all honesty, Nelson Bay was probably my most favourite place I visited during my time in Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my boyfriend said the same thing too. Although we did little more than lay around on the beach and tan (read: burn), it was so peaceful and relaxing to get away from inner Sydney. Although, I did later realise how much I wasn’t a ‘big city girl’, so maybe this was simply a sign of things to come. As I sit at my desk this cold and rather dreary English February afternoon, I find myself wishing for the sound of waves, the feel of sand between my toes, and the heavy rays of sun beaming down on me…however cliché that may sound.

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The San Xavier Mission – Tucson

Going through my old posts about my time in States, I realised I’d neglected to write about one of my favourite experiences – visiting the San Xavier Mission.

Located just 10 miles south of downtown Tucson, the mission is a world away from the colourful, student-filled streets of the city centre and campus surroundings. In fact, it was one of the only times I felt I experienced the ‘real Tucson’, and understood that it is actually a complex city rooted with many (seemingly forgotten) socioeconomic problems.

We took a bus from the main bus station, still in the downtown area, and traveled just 20 minutes or so to another bus terminal where we would need to change buses. Just this short drive made me aware of the college bubble I had been living in for the past few months. The roads were less looked after, many stores looked closed or failing, and the people had changed too; instead of being mainly white and college-aged, they looked older and of Mexican or Native American heritage.

Being at the bus stop definitely cemented this idea; me and my boyfriend were by far the ‘whitest’ people there, not just in terms of skin tone, but the way we dressed, acted, spoke…we felt uncomfortable and like outsiders. This was new to me. I had been living in Tucson for a little over three months and had begun to feel comfortable with my surroundings, the people there, and the way of life. Waiting just 30 minutes or so in that bus stop made me realise that I’d merely scratched the surface on some of the complex issues embedded in Tucson’s core.

Even when the bus came, we were shocked. It wasn’t a bus: it was mini-van, and many of the locals used this transport everyday, as a way of getting around the mission. They knew one another, and the driver. Again, our tourist status was exemplified. The drive round the mission was also eye-opening. Tucson itself has a relatively modern looking downtown area, complete with skyscrapers and a tram. This was the complete opposite. Roads were dirt-tracks, houses were shack-like, and it looked as though the government had simply given up trying to improve it.

The church itself is beautiful, filled with stunning figures of Christ, amazing architecture, and if you climb the neighboring hill as we did, some amazing views of the area surrounding Tucson. You feel like you have stepped out of the mainstream, white America, and into a rural Mexican village of sorts. What I liked in particular was the way in which the brilliant white of the church contrasted against the sky – which is always bright blue in Tucson – and the orange of the sand.

Whilst you definitely won’t get a days visit out of the church, the whole experience of being in the mission and getting to the mission, will stay with you. Especially, if like me, you had previously only experienced Tucson’s relatively college-focused centre.

To this day, I still don’t fully know how to talk about my snippet of ‘true Tucson’. When I tell Americans that I spent time living in Tucson, I am either told that the school is really party-focused (which it is!) or that the city is a dump outside the campus. It’s sad to think that what Tucson was originally noted for is slowly fading away, and becoming less favourable. Sadly, this kind of reaction to missions in America is not unique. They are often surrounded by negative stereotypes and a general fear by outsiders.

However, the only way to ‘conquer that fear’ and prove the stereotypes wrong, is to visit one, and spend some time around the people who reside there. San Xavier is a great starting point, and it did really help me to appreciate the diverse society I lived in. I hope in the future to explore more places like this, and to create a conversation where people really know and understand these kind of areas.

For more information about San Xavier Mission, click here.

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Holocaust Memorial Day: Why it’s Important to Keep on Remembering

Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Memorial Day. Chosen specifically on the day that the death camp Auschwitz was liberated many years ago, the day is a time of remembrance for all genocides, throughout our recent history.

It is scary to think that the concept of a ‘holocaust’ or the act of genocide did not end with the liberation of Nazi-run death camps, and the consequent persecution of many of the perpetrators. A lot of intelligent, well-read people, still do not understand the horrors that later occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia, for example.

Genocide has devastated millions of people throughout history, and continues to affect the lives of relatives and friends, of the loved ones they lost. We might pride ourselves as a society now capable of spotting the ‘warning signs’ of a genocidal regime. How can such acts go amiss and ignored, with things like social media and the news covering every corner of the globe? The sad thing is, it does.

During my first year of university, I took a class called ‘The Holocaust in History’. While most of the module was focused on the Nazi persecution of European Jews, and other alleged ‘undesirables’, the last class focused on the question ‘is the Holocaust unique?’ Of course, every death is unique. Every life touches different people in a different way, and their death cannot be compared in this respect. However, we then preceded to look at more recent genocides, those that Western society has either ignored, or not given much attention to. This idea of pigeon-holing a group of people, and preying upon them from a position of power, is not new. When things get tough, society needs a scapegoat.

This brings me to my main point, and title: why it’s important to keep on remembering. Genocide is current: it is now, and it has not been eradicated. I’m sure we’re all aware of the Trump/Hitler comparisons that have been dominating the media since his arrival into the mainstream. In just a week of being in office, and in control of one of the most powerful nations on the planet, the bills, policies, and even just verbal statements he has made are ludicrously scary. Hitler didn’t marginalise the Jews overnight; it took years of propaganda and conditioning his people to make them feel like it was a valid thing to do, to place them in ghettos, and then later work and death camps. Already Trump is calling for immigrants to be ‘registered’ separately if that have committed a crime, saying that millions voted illegally, and has guaranteed his promise of a wall along the Mexican border. Sound familiar?

Today, perhaps more than ever, it is especially important to take this time to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Whilst it may be uncomfortable and upsetting, it is essential to realise that this is unfortunately something that humanity as a whole is capable of, not just one person acting alone.

For more information visit hmd.org.uk

 

Living with ‘Itchy Feet Syndrome’

I’ve recently realised that, although I write a lot about suffering with anxiety, depression, and other mental health related issues, thing I struggle the most with day-to-day is actually something much, much worse. Itchy feet syndrome.

For those not aware, itchy feet syndrome is the niggling feeling in the back of your brain that you need to go somewhere. It’s the excitement you get whenever Ryanair, Easyjet, or any other airline announce a sale. It’s the pure jealousy you have whenever someone on Facebook ‘checks in’ to an airport or hotel. It’s calculating how much of your weekly earnings (or student loan, in my case!) you can afford to spend on a trip abroad, even though ‘you’ve only just come back from [insert exotic destination here]’.

Basically, it’s just always wanting to be somewhere. Anywhere. Now.

It plagues even the most rookie travellers – as once the travel-bug bites, there’s no going back. Once you’ve experienced your first true taste of freedom, you’re immediately eager to get back, to explore another place, to be rid of the daily grind.

I’d say I spend at least 20 minutes a day checking holiday sites, looking up things to do in planned trips, and just generally daydreaming about a tropical beach. Honestly, this illness really is quite constrictive! Sufferers may also find themselves in a momentary time-lapse, realising that after what they thought was just a few minutes flicking through said sites, it’s really been three hours…or more.

Sadly, there is no cure for this tragic disease. Even when itchy-feet sufferers do go ahead and book that holiday and take the trip, they find that even after a few days (hours in some cases) the telltale symptoms of wistfully wishing you were transported back, yet again arise. Unlike the ‘holiday blues’, these feelings continue indefinitely, until said user takes flight again…or at least books another flight.

Ultimately though, itchy feet syndrome is one of those things that keeps travellers going. It’s what makes someone into a true, seasoned traveller, and creates the magical feeling that is ‘wanderlust’. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s definitely a feeling that I couldn’t live without.

 

Should you Travel with Anxiety? And if so, how?!

Suffering with anxiety is hard enough when you have a stable, permanent environment; if you choose to travel, you then face a ton of obstacles that the ‘regular’ traveler may not encounter, or even consider. However, many people nowadays are recognizing the importance of not letting their mental illness control their decisions, opting to take the difficult path and venture on out into the world…with a few trusted tips, of course.

Whilst I’m no medical expert, I’ve suffered enough with anxiety, depression, and other related issues, whilst on the road and at home, to form an understanding of what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. However, this is purely down to my own experiences, and it is important to discover for yourselves how best to integrate your own love of traveling with your anxiety, making sure you are safe and well.

Sometimes, the hardest thing I’ve had to do is to admit that I can’t do something. I just can’t go on this trip, can’t do that activity, etc. Whilst everyone else around you encourages you not to let it ‘beat’ you, sometimes it is just safer and more beneficial to your health to take it easy, and say no. There have been a couple of times where I have listened to this advice and been better for it, but there have also been times when I have succumbed to peer pressure and ending up feeling so much worse. Only you know your own state of mind and well-being. Deep down, you will now exactly when it is time to sit something out, take some time to focus on yourself, and save yourself the stress that often comes with planning a trip, being away, and undertaking a new experience.

Hopefully though, there will be many more times when you feel you are well enough to say ‘screw you anxiety!’ and take the plunge. Nerves hit everyone before they go off on an adventure, whether it be in the form of excitement or genuine worry, so you’re definitely not alone in those feelings anyway.

Deciding what type of travel style is best for you really helps if you have decided to go away. There are pros and cons to both, it really is just a case of personal taste. Myself, I prefer to travel slowly, focusing on a country or area for a longer period of time and settling into some sort of routine, getting to know the area/people around me. I feel that it puts me at ease, allows me to calm down, and I feel secure knowing I have a bed or place to go back to, if my anxiety or depression does get the better of me one day.

However, lots of people prefer to travel much quicker, often due to lack of money and/or time. Besides these two reasons, spending just a few days in each place may also have mental health and anxiety benefits; you are always active, keeping your mind and body occupied. This type of traveling is usually seen on group tours too, which can also help with the planning side of trip, or if you’re a first time traveler. I’ve been on a couple of organised tours, and whilst they are fast-paced and you are often exhausted at the end, the ease of undertaking the trip largely outweighs this. On the other hand, they are not great if you just need a day to yourself to relax, or if you do begin to feel anxious/down and need some time to recover, as there usually isn’t any.

No matter what type of travel style you opt for, anxiety attacks and low moods can strike at any time, as fellow sufferers will know. Having a plan of action in place if this does happen is therefore a great thing to organize before you embark. Again, what you do will vary person to person, but if you really are stuck for ideas and can’t pinpoint what makes your anxiety/depression better, a friend recently told me about her use of a ‘mental health first aid kit’. She takes this on every trip she goes on, carrying it in her rucksack in case of emergencies. In it, she has pictures and letters from home, coloring books and pens, and calming herbal teas. Something like this is a great idea, and again can be personalized and altered to you. I usually carry a sketchpad and pencils in my bag, as I find drawing distracts me and calms me down, if I do need to take a minute for myself during a trip.

The main thing to take from this is to listen to your mind and body. If you don’t feel ready for a trip, don’t do it, or scale it back somehow. Decide on a traveling style that is right for you, not just what your friends are into. And finally, have in a place some sort of back-up if you do begin to feel yourself getting anxious. Anxiety and travel can actually go hand-in-hand quite harmoniously, if you are careful, kind to yourself, and (most importantly) remember to enjoy it!

Later this year, I will be moving to Vietnam to teach English, something that this time last year I could not have imagined myself doing. However, I’ve taken some time recovering and focusing on myself getting better, and am pleased to say that I’m looking forward to the trip with (mostly!) minimal worry. Of course I am aware that I’ll most likely get anxious or sad or at least something during the move and transition (and will definitely make sure I am prepared for that!)…but it just goes to show, that you don’t need to let your anxiety stop you from traveling, taking new jobs, and doing something outrageous!