From the mountain to the seaside

Week three in Bali began on Sunday afternoon when we checked out of The Firefly Resort and Rachel, Kaska, and I hopped into a taxi with our good pal Ketut and headed out to hike Mount Batur at sunrise in the northern part of Bali.

On our way just had to stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces and wander about.

A rice season here takes about 3-5 months and because weather is pretty consistent year round, every area is on a different planting/harvesting schedule. At one end of the terraces there were young seedlings freshly planted, but the area we were in had been harvested recently and was drying up.

As we got further and further north, rice fields turned into mandarin orange orchards, and we drove past fields of tomatoes and onions and cabbage.
The mineral-rich volcanic soil closer to the mountainous north is excellent for growing all sorts of things.

Seriously, it feels like they can grow anything in Bali!

We started driving by numerous beautiful  fruit stands and had to stop.

We picked up 2kg worth of mangos, about a dozen mandarin oranges, and a big bunch of mangostines.

We had the most hilarious time trying to find yet another accommodation; the Triangle House hotel was another tucked away secret, apparently, as the google maps location was incorrect and the property was so small and so low (and surrounded by tall bamboo fencing) that we drove right past it. Twice.

When we finally found it and saw our accommodation in real life, I was reminded of Swedish design. If the palm-leaf roofs were wood shingles instead, it would have completed the look as if we were staying in a cedar sauna house.

The hotel has only been open since December and everything was in pristine condition. This was already the most charming place I had stayed in so far.

These buildings contained only a bed, a side table, and two shelves. There were hooks outside to dry clothes/towels, and shared washrooms/showers behind. They put a soft, freshly washed duvet on the bed just after we arrived, and for the first time in Bali we didn’t even think about air conditioning. It was actually slightly cool in the evening… perhaps thanks to the elevation and mountain air.

Because originally, Rachel had booked the hotel for a solo trip up here, the booking was only for one person. Instead of booking another hotel somewhere for Kaska and I, we hoped we would be able to convince them to let us stay here and just pay them extra. (When I had tried to book another room in advance they were all full up- which was no surprise, it turns out they only had 4 rooms!)

English was not a strength for any of the staff there, but we got by with some charades and exaggerated gestures, and they seemed to be fine with having three girls share a room- and they even moved us to a slightly larger building.

I had been connected with Dewa, a local driver and guide who was friends with one of my best friends back home. They had met when she was here on a yoga retreat, and when I told him we wanted to climb Mount Batur he suggested that night as the weather was supposed to be perfect. He was taking two other Canadians up and asked if we wanted to join them. We had originally planned to go on the Monday night but at that point hadn’t secured a guide so we took him up on his offer.

(When you climb Mount Batur you need a guide. If you read any stories or blogs about people attempting to climb it solo, you will see how much hassle/issues they have with the locals. It’s considered extremely disrespectful to the local people, and particularly if you do a sunrise hike and go up in complete darkness, it can be dangerous. )

The total cost was 900,000 Indonesian Rupiah, which works out to about $90 Canadian. Between the 5 of us it only cost $18 each, which was a full $50 cheaper than what I found online when I was researching my trip before Christmas. Clearly it is best to wait until you get here to book a guide and you will get a much better deal!!

We went to bed at about 8pm, as our alarms would be going off at 3am that morning. Headlamps, water bottles, and running shoes at the ready, we awoke to our earliest morning yet, and headed out the door to meet Dewa at the gate.

The hike started shortly after 3:30am and we were moving at a very speedy pace. It may have had something to do with the other two Canadians being trail runners and they seemed to be racing to get to the top. I was the slowest of the group as it felt like the humidity in the air cancelled out any of my athleticism, and the struggle to breathe was actually worrying. Dewa suggested regular 20 second breaks, and I took them often, immediately turning back to look up at the stars.

The sky took the little that was left of my breath away. The canopy of bright stars were clearer and more plentiful than I have seen in years. I was awestruck.

My friends were happy to pause and we all marvelled at the view (while I tried not to pass out).

We still reached the top in about 90 minutes, climbing 700 meters over 4 km. The average group takes 1.5-2 hours to get to the top.

We were one of the first groups up there and we added our up-until-then seemingly laughable warm outer layers to counteract the cool mountaintop weather‘s effect on our sweaty bodies.

We were told that once there was a bit more light we could wander further along the ridge above the crater where steam still pours out.

(Mount Batur is actually a volcano, and another volcano in Indonesia did erupt within the last two weeks, causing a tsunami in Indonesian islands further north of Bali. No big deal.)

The sunrise was absolutely incredible. We took countless photos, including the ‘vital’ though obviously cliché yoga pose silhouettes.

It was so much fun, and we snuck further along the ridge so we could get some photos without having to dodge and deke around other people to get a good shot.

We came across the steam curling up off the mountain and it was like walking past a nordic spa and facial steam. And it was so warm!

It turns out our guided hike included breakfast: our guides cooked us eggs using only the steam on the mountain, and served them to us with sticky coconut rice. It was delicious.

Just as we were finishing up, about 15 monkeys came up out of the forest and hung out, waiting for leftover food. It was hilarious to turn around and see a monkey peeling and eating an egg like he had just come on the hike with us.

The hike down was hot but only about an hour, so we arrived back at Triangle House just after 8am and took showers.

Best mango ever

We looked over photos while we drank strong black tea with raw sugar and were just dividing up a mango when our hosts asked if we wanted the complimentary breakfast that came with the room. The options were: banana pancakes with honey or chocolate, toast with various spreads, or a “jaffle”: a soft-cooked egg inside two pieces of bread toasted in a round sandwich press. The other two had banana pancakes and I had a jaffle.

We all felt deserving of a late morning nap, and then at about noon we went out to the garden to have a tea when it started to rain. A lot.

I didn’t have my phone with me to document it but let me tell you, as we sat there the wall of water between us and our bedroom became an opaque silver curtain, and it just wouldn’t stop.

As the rain pounded down in monsoon-like fashion, we sat and sipped 2nd and 3rd cups of tea, watching geometric rivers form in between the raised paving stone pathways around the garden and hotel buildings.

The owner of the hotel went out during this time and returned with beautiful multi-coloured umbrellas and brought them over to us, insisting we use them for the rest of our stay.

We befriended the owners’ 3-year old as he played in the rain and made faces at us. It was that evening that another little boy joined him and by the time we were heading to bed they were hanging off our table and making faces and playing monsters & zombies and being silly with us.

When the rain finally let up (after several games of Crazy Eights and multiple cups of tea), we took the umbrellas and wandered over to the lake, in search of the famous Hot Springs and some dinner.

We didn’t feel inclined to jump in any of the pools (starting at $19 to get in), and went for food instead. We found ourselves on the very edge of the lake at the quietest restaurant I have ever been to (we actually thought it was closed when they waved us over) and while we waited for our food we watched locals setting out fishnets along the shoreline.

I had chicken saté there, and I’m pretty sure that the sauce was the best I’ve ever had in my life.

We got a ride back to Ubud the next morning by a friend of the hotel owner and from there I was heading to a hostel for the night and Rachel and Kashka were catching the shuttle to meet our fellow yogis Ange and Aneta in Kuta before their flights home.

The women’s dorm I had all to myself!

The view from my room

I got to enjoy one night in Ubud wandering charming streets, perusing unique souvenirs (like cool multicoloured travel/camping hammocks!) and finished the evening with some live music and great food!

Pad Thai!!

An early morning shuttle pickup mean that once again I was up before the sun, and then off to Padangbai to catch a fast boat that would be a 75 minute ride across to the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok.

Along the port for the fast boat to Gili, there were locals selling Bintang beer, Pringles and Dorito chips, and fresh fruit.
Verbatim, a woman selling snacks:
“Something something chips? Yes? Pring-less? Doreet-as? Doreet-as?”

We moved along the shoreline of the mainland of Bali and as we passed by the coastal town of Candidasa I noticed how black the shoreline is. Volcanic sand. 🙂

The highlight of this voyage was not only the discovery that I could hang out on the roof of the boat and listen to tunes cranked by the crew on their stereo, but the pod of dolphins that appeared out of nowhere and leapt across the waves along the side of the boat for several minutes! There were at least 12 of them!! (No video or photos as this moment was too magical to look through a lens for!)

The boat ended up being about 90% full and most people were headed to Gili Trawlangan – the biggest and liveliest of the islands where people go to party. 

Then there is the middle island, Gili Mano, which is apparently the quietest and most romantic. Not ideal for a solo traveller… unless maybe you are learning to love yourself…

I was headed to Gili Air, which is apparently the best of both worlds. Chill and relaxed, with some nice shops, yoga studios, dive/snorkel clubs, and restaurants to enjoy.

But really, I was going for some quality ocean time.

Swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking were on the top of my list.

The island also had many charming pathways and inviting entrances to all the home stays, hotels, and resorts here.

No vehicles or motorbikes are allowed on the island so it’s quite quiet. Occasionally, you will hear the sound of a horse and cart go by only because the horses wear bells that jingle as they prance and their hooves click on some of the paved roads.

VIDEO TO COME

The central mosque on the island

Most of the people on the islands are Muslim so there are no temples like in Bali.  Every day we could hear the morning and evening calls to prayer at dawn and dusk at the large central mosque.

Because flowers aren’t used in daily offerings, this means that the beautiful frangipani trees are always blooming with plenty of flowers that I can pick and put in my hair…

Gili Air is also called Rock Island because of all the coral that washes up on shore here.

In the low season, on a rainy afternoon, this island felt very *quiet*.

Barren, practically.

I learned that there was a huge earthquake in Lombok only four months ago, and it impacted the Gili islands greatly. Several shops and restaurants are still closed and you can see some places where entire buildings came down. The beautiful beach was lined with empty restaurant loungers and tables and hammocks. Beach umbrellas were closed, chair cushions were stacked, and my footprints were the only set on the beach.

I was glad to have my umbrella because at any given moment a heavy downpour was ready in the next set of clouds, and I made good use of it, and often found myself tiptoeing through puddles and pathways that were quiet as the rain poured down and everyone took cover.

I found a sweet little restaurant called Musa and I decided to try their vegan carrot cake. I picked the most comfortable looking spot in the restaurant; a beautiful big swing with comfortable cushions.

My server, Ending, [yes that is his name] suggested that next time I come, I try the treehouse. Because this restaurant has a treehouse.

The carrot cake was some of the best I’ve ever had. I swore I would come back the next day and try something else.

The first morning here looked like we were getting a bit of sun, and a storm was forecast for the afternoon. So I decided to sign up for a snorkelling adventure that morning! I brought my own full face mask which I was eager to try out. The trip promised sea turtles, underwater statues, and lots of fish! We took off at about 9:30 AM and went to our first location, just off the east shore of Gili Mano. I decided to put my $12 waterproof phone case to the test and try to capture the stunning under-the-sea sights I so often discover but can never share.

Not only was I delighted to discover the case worked, but I caught the absolute highlight of the day: a stunning, graceful sea turtles gliding by.

The downside, was the jellyfish. Tiny, aggressive, though almost invisible little demons. I was wearing a T-shirt, as I often do to snorkel in order to not burn my back. There was a point where I was sure I had trapped about six angry creatures inside the shirt so they could just keep stinging away to their hearts content. I ripped it off and tossed it up into the boat for the remainder of the day.

Sadly, by the time we got to our third spot, the jellyfish were so bad that no one had any interest in staying in the water and we all turned around simultaneously and beat our guide back to the boat. In the end it was probably for the best, as the aforementioned storm came up and it started to rain just as we began our return to Gili Air.

Back in Bali I was always catching incredible sunrises. Well, here: it was all about the sunsets.

Oh the sunsets on this island!!

The Friday night I was here I glimpsed the sun going down through the palm trees and I booked it over to the west beach to catch one of the most gorgeous sunsets I have ever seen.

Even the locals seem to come to the beach at this time to sit and watch the sun go down. Some people stood in the shallows casually tossing fishing lines out into the water although they didn’t seem to be expecting anything at the other end. Some smoked cigarettes or sat in the sand drinking bottles of Bintang.

A further highlight to the evening was a beachside barbecue at one of the resorts nearby. The Oasis Resort had a huge screen set up and as I walked by the staff said “yes? You stay for movie night and dinner?”

I couldn’t resist.

The options for dinner were: locally caught tuna, saté chicken, prawns, or tofu/tempeh skewers and an all-you/can-eat buffet for $10.

When I mentioned I couldn’t decide between the tuna and chicken saté, they said they could give me a deal and I got both! A beautiful tuna steak seared on the barbecue, and two delicious saté chicken skewers.

The film was Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, and though I had seen it already, I grabbed a lounge chair and settled in to indulge in this beachside movie night with the soothing waves lapping the shore on my right. About ten minutes into the movie the staff brought out individual coconut bowls of popcorn for each of us! So awesome.

Oh yeah, and the sunset.

Breakfast fresh fruit

The next day I woke up to sunshine and heat and no sign of a storm or any rain at all! I was headed to the beach for a kayak, and then discovered they don’t rent kayaks until the afternoon as the tide is too low to get out there. They suggested I return just before sunset.

There are lots of yoga studios on the island, as well as diving training pools and shops, restaurants, and spa services everywhere you looked.

Oh, the flowers on this island!

Stunning mural at a local yoga studio

Back at Musa, I finished reading my ‘vacation novel’, a birthday gift from my friend Allison, while enjoying a cold fresh young coconut, in the treehouse. 😎

After exploring the island (you can wander across the entire thing back and forth in less than an hour), I found a lovely restaurant that was part of a resort.

I decided to splurge and booked a villa there for my last night. When I was looking at the website I knew they had me at ‘private pool’. With the stormy weather we had been having I hadn’t done nearly as much swimming as I had wanted on the island, and the pool was saltwater so I felt like that was a proper nod to the ocean (and definitely better: sans jellyfish)!

When I arrived at my new hotel in the early afternoon I was handed a fresh watermelon juice and my bag was carried to my villa through a shaded canopy walkway made of bougainvillea branches.

And oh, the pool. ❤️

One look at this place and I was tempted to stay longer on this island…

Everyone here is so friendly and I can see why people stay longer on the islands and really get to know the locals.

My hotel lent out free bikes so it was easy to get around the island last couple of days and do a bit of speedier exploring. I shared a pizza with a couple Canadians at a beach-side bar, took some photos for other solo travellers on the water swings, and was invited to come listen to a jam session with some of the locals at one of the restaurants later that evening.

Not my bike…. “bike in a palm tree” art installation?

Vegan strawberry coconut cheesecake at Musa

My last evening on Gili Air, I headed over to the beach and the hotel that rented kayaks. Pink Coco is the name of the hotel  and everything is magenta, from the beach chairs and the umbrella to the Instagram-worthy swing in the water, the hotel front, and the pool. $15 for an hour was just perfect for my final night, and I definitely had the best view of the sunset.

(My first ever kayak at sunset. Not too shabby.)

Indonesia, you raise the bar for sunsets to a whole other level. 😍

I was very sad to leave this magical place but was looking forward to heading back to Ubud for another yoga retreat week!

Goodnight, private pool. ❤️

Firefly Resort: A True Hidden Gem.

Everyone is a morning person in Bali.

Even when this night owl got up at a shockingly early 5:30am to catch the sunrise, when I stepped outside my room I could see rice farmers already bent over the fields surrounding the retreat.

I’m amazed when I think how many times this trip I have been up to see the sunrise.

Who am I?!

Our first day of our yoga retreat began at 7:00am with 30 minutes of meditation before our one-hour yoga class. It was a nice way to meet everyone and start our week with focus.

I very quickly realized that all yoga is hot yoga in Bali.

After the first practice slipping and sliding in my downward dog and warrior poses I realized it would be necessary to bring a towel to class from now on.

Laura- our yoga instructor

From the moment I first met our yoga instructor Laura, I could tell that she was a warm and generous soul, and with her beautiful Argentinian accent, all the poses sound like moves in a sexy Latin dance class.

After yoga we all went straight for a buffet breakfast of pancakes, fruit, banana-coconut ‘yogurt’, toast with homemade spreads, and granola.

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Everything was freshly made, and some of the fruit was even picked at the resort. The granola continued to be the surprise highlight of our mornings for the entire retreat and we joked we would have brought baggies and containers to take every last grain with us on the final morning.

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All the meals at Firefly are vegetarian, and made in a tiny kitchen off the eating area by a small number of staff, including 3 guys we slowly got to know named Wayan, Ninja, and Agung.

There were only six participants in the yoga retreat this week, which was magical, as normally the resort has 10-12 people per week.

The girls!! L to R: Rachel, Laura, Ange, Sara, Jackie, Kaska & Aneta in front

(And when I met four of them Sunday night when I got back from dinner, I was relieved to find out I wasn’t the only one who struggled to find the place. One of the girls ended up at a completely different address, and the other 3 all thought when they arrived at the bottom of the hill that a) they were either lost or b) the resort didn’t actually exist. I have already offered to paint a sign for Firefly to put at the bottom of that hill, but they just chuckled, like I was making a joke.)

I shared a room with Rachel; a fun, energetic girl who just finished a 4-month trip in Australia. She was a kinesiology student and happened to be the only other Canadian of the group.

Roomies!

This photo is the view right outside our room.

We spend every moment that is not scheduled by or in the pool.
Of course.

On Tuesday, our favourite staff member and tour guide Coco led us through a traditional offering/prayer process at the local temple, and then were taught how to make two kinds of ‘canang‘ (pronounced CHa-nang): traditional coconut leaf baskets for offerings!

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You often see Balinese people with flower petals behind one or both ears, and we learned that it was part of the prayer and offering that Balinese people traditionally do one to three times a day. Every day we saw people (women primarily) setting out offerings outside homes, on the street, on cars, and at temples.

They start every day with gratitude and offerings. No wonder the Balinese are such happy people.

Canang materials

Completed canangs with incense burning

Every day we had two yoga practices: one at 7am, and one at 5pm. Typically in the morning we had Flow Yoga, and then in the afternoons we did classes ranging from Hatha to Vinyasa to Yin yoga. Most of the women here were intermediate level yoginis, and Laura made it a challenging, varied week (with a total of 12 classes).

On our third morning we did partner yoga, which I had never tried. I was paired up with Jackie, a teacher from Tasmania. We were a pretty excellent team, if I do say so myself.

POOL TIME!!

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Journaling next to the pool. Rough life!

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After we expressed concerns on the first day, the plastic straws were replaced with beautiful glass straws.

We got one young coconut every day at the retreat and we would often ask for it at breakfast and store it in the mini fridge in our room until the afternoon where we could enjoy it chilled by the pool.

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Coco telling us all about the coffee they grow here.

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We got to try a coffee tasting at the resort, with traditional coffee made from the coffee plants on their property(in fact, growing right next to the yoga studio)!!!

We tried coffee with ginger added, lemon and honey, and turmeric. I was surprised how much I liked honey and lemon in coffee! But the ginger coffee was my favourite.

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SUNRISE TIME!!

We went on a bike tour on the Thursday through the area where a lot of filming for the movie Eat Pray Love, and apparently now has many new hotels because of that.

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A cashew tree with the fruit on it!

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We stopped to talk to these rice farmers who were prepping rice for planting

We arrived at Bali Geo coffee plantation and got a tour of the grounds.

As we walked through, our guide pointed out cool things like the beehives on the property, cinnamon trees, and types of spices and coffee beans they grow.

They not only grew two kinds of coffee beans (Robusta and Arabica) but also sold the famous Luwak coffee that comes from the undigested beans that the Luwak animals eat and poop out.

They kept several Luwak (animals that almost look like dark brown versions of red pandas) on site for 2-3 months at a time to eat and ‘process’ the coffee beans, and then they release them back into the wild and they collect more animals to keep on the grounds for the next few months.

We were given samples of various types of tea and coffee they have on the plantation. From lychee and mangostee tea, to mocha and vanilla coffee, we tried 14 different drinks, including durian coffee. (Durian being the really stinky fruit that is banned in some countries on transit and in hotels).

We decided to share a cup of Luwak coffee just so we could all try it. You had to pay for this fancy “ca-ca-coffee”. Depending on the fruit the animals eat and the type of coffee beans they ingest, the Luwak coffee flavour varies. The animals eat the beans because the fruit on the outside of the coffee bean is sweet and digested by the animals. The bean itself does not break down and the seeds ferment in the stomachs of the animals in the fruit juices of what they eat. They poo them out and the beans are gathered, washed, dried, washed again, and then dried and roasted.

We tried it. But we did not like it.

We all thought it tasted like bad coffee. So, to each his own, but we don’t get what the fuss is about.

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We got to take a Balinese cooking class at the retreat and learn how to make jackfruit curry. I have heard that jackfruit is becoming a real trend as a vegetarian option, and when it is picked before it is ripe it is perfect for cooking.

Here’s our host and instructor Ariel showing off ingredients. He looks serious until the camera comes out!

Ninja had to wear gloves and spray a large knife with oil in order to cut open the jackfruit because there is a sticky sap-like juice around the fruit that is just like glue. Once the jackfruit is rinsed it is ready to cook. We chopped and juiced the rest of the ingredients in the meantime.

img_7429We each had our own pot on a hot plate heated up with oil, we poured the juiced ingredients in the pot, then added water, the lime leaf, and the lemon grass.

We chopped the jackfruit into large pieces and tossed it in the boiling pot for 20 minutes, and then got to eat it for lunch with rice and shrimp crackers! It was awesome!!!

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Jackfruit curry recipe:

Purée the following:

Ginger (2 tbsp raw, peeled, chopped)

Garlic (4-5 cloves, chopped)

1 medium mild pepper, chopped

1/2-1 hot pepper (depending on desired spicy level), chopped

1 tbsp fresh turmeric root, peeled and chopped

3 small shallots, chopped

Heat 1 Tbsp of sunflower oil in sauce pot. Add puréed ingredients.

Add:

1 L water

1 lime leaf

1 stick lemongrass (cut lengthwise)

Used oiled knife to cut unripe (young) jackfruit and rinse off sticky residue.  Add sliced chunks of jackfruit to pot.

Simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve with rice.

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In the afternoon we learned to make Jamu, a Balinese herbal drink that is served both hot and cold in Bali. It is often used to cure colds, and has turmeric and ginger, and tamarind in it.

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Again, we minced and then pureed all the ingredients except the pandan leaf, lime juice, and fresh ginger. We added the juiced ingredients to the pot with  pandan leaf and a piece of peeled ginger and let it boil, adding salt to taste. We then poured it through a sieve into mugs and added lime juice.

It’s crazy strange but definitely tastes healthy. Almost like a sweet & sour soup.

Our instructor tried every pot of Jamu and gave us marks out of 10 on taste. It turns out we all needed more salt. (Jackie and I tied for first place with a score of 7/10)

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Jamu recipe:

Boil the following:

Pandan leaf (used for colour and smell)

Turmeric (puréed)

Tamarind massaged/crushed into ¼ cup water (pulp/seeds strained)

Fresh ginger (1 tbsp, peeled)

Salt (1-2 tsp) to taste

1L water

Pour through a sieve into a cup.

Then add Lime (1 tsp of juice).

Drink warm or chilled.

 

Our last full day at the retreat had no scheduled activities outside of our two yoga practices and a nighttime firefly excursion to close the week.

We booked my friend from the weekend before, our driver and ‘tour guide extraordinaire’ Ketut to take us on a tour around some temples and waterfalls. We also hoped to get to the Monkey Forest and do the Campuhan Ridge walk.

As soon as we were done breakfast, Rachel, Aneta, Jackie, Kaska and I headed to the Temple Goa Gajah (also known as the Elephant Temple).

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We all donned our sarongs (they are provided for free with your ticket if you do not bring your own), and Ketut brought us through, giving us the history of the grounds (as a local who brought us there, he doesn’t have to pay the entrance fee to get in).

These fountains used to be where the king would bathe.

This is the famous temple where the king would worship.

We then went on the search for some waterfalls!

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Me and Aneta

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First, we went to Kanto Lampo waterfall which is a beautiful cascading wall of rocks and fine spray.

It was very busy and we spent most of our time there waiting for a couple taking photos at the centre of the rocks who had a photographer down below keeping other people off the rocks.

People were polite for about 10 minutes and then Rachel was one of the impatient folks who just started crawling up to get some fun shots.

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We moved on to my favourite spot of the day, the Air Terjun Tibumana waterfall. When we got to it there were only a handful of people there, including a cute engagement photo shoot on the shoreline.

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The photo opportunities were endless and it was a stunning spot.

Kaska and Rachel having some fun with rocks, and Aneta being a model for me

Because everyone was staying on the shore I asked if we were allowed to swim in the water. When I was told we could I threw off my dress and then leapt into that gorgeous water as fast as I possibly could. It felt like I had my very own personal waterfall.

I could have stayed in there for the entire day!

We then went to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary and it didn’t rain this time!

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Rachel stoked to see some monkeys!

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There were loads of detailed sculptures throughout the forest

 

I can’t believe we still had time to make it to the Campuhan Ridge, but we did, and it was magnificent. About a 60- to 90- minute walk to the end and back, unless you stop for a coconut at one of the restaurants at the end.

One word I can use to describe Bali is lush. Everywhere you look, it’s this gorgeous green.

Somehow after all that we made it back for our last yoga class of the week, and our final evening was spent walking around the grounds after sunset finding fireflies. The bonus of the night was definitely Coco singing us some Balinese songs.

On our final morning we all practically ran to the pool after stuffing our faces with our last delicious breakfast.

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We had a little pool photo shoot and then Rachel, Kaska, and I were picked up by Ketut to begin our drive north to Mount Batur for the start of another fantastic week on this inspiring island.

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Up next: the absolute highlight of this week in detail!!

 

 

 

 

March 2018: A Much Needed Tropical Trip

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I decided in January that I was overdue for a tropical vacation, and after one of the snowiest, coldest winters I have experienced in my entire life in Calgary, I needed OUT!

I decided to try somewhere new for a seven-day escape.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t too difficult to convince my mom to join me. 🙂

Our route to Belize from Calgary made for a long day; three flights, three airlines, and an arrival 12 hours after first take off. We left for the airport at 3:30am, and were on the plane at 6:00am headed for Texas. From Houston we flew to Belize City. From there we walked to the local airline and flew 45 minutes (with one stopover) to arrive at the south end of the Belizean peninsula: Placencia.

We stepped off the plane along with one other gentleman who was greeted by a big enthusiastic group of American ex-pats. My mum said “well, you folks seem like a lot of fun! Can we come home with you?” to which one gentleman replied “Sure! Welcome to Belize! Wanna beer?” and preceeded to walk straight over to his golf cart and crack two Belekin Beers and hand them to us without waiting for a reply.

He introduced himself as Eugene, and he and his wife own the Pickled Parrot in Placencia, a bar ‘with the best burgers in town’! He invited us to the bar that evening for dinner and live music by a buddy of his visiting from the U.S.

We arrived at the Serenade Hotel and met the hotel manager Anna, who became our go-to lady for all things local. She showed us to our room that came complete with microwave, mini fridge, and air conditioner. The A/C was quite the pleasant surprise as in previous vacations we were used to having only a ceiling fan (if we were lucky).

The humidity and warm evening was perfect for a little exploring, and after spraying our ankles with Deep Woods Off (in perhaps a too-optimistic, attempted defense of the inevitable sand-flea bites), we took off down the boardwalk behind the hotel. This pathway is poured concrete faux-finished to look like wood, and goes all through Placencia to the south end at the pier.

Lots of local artists carve conch shells, calabash and coconut shells, and natural wood into jewelry, serving dishes, and beautiful art.

The forecast here was 28 degrees celcius. Every day. (The LOW was 23 or 24 degrees.) Magical. We never needed a sweater in the evening and the days were sunny at best and partially cloudy at ‘worst’- in the way you actually don’t mind when a few clouds roll over and give you a little reprieve from the heat.

We found the Pickled Parrot and were welcomed first by Eugene’s two dogs and later a cat as we found a seat at a picnic table on the side of the bar. This place was busy! We had our first pina coladas of the trip and ordered burgers, fries, and onion rings.

The Belizean dollar is worth half the American Dollar, so our original thought of a $20 burger being a bit pricey turned into the realization that it was closer to $12 CAD which was totally reasonable. The Pickled Parrot is cash only, and we were told that it is pretty common for places in town to only accept cash (both American and Belizean currency.)

The music was great, the burgers were excellent, and Eugene made us feel very welcome, introducing us to some regulars sitting nearby who quickly gave us the rundown of must-see and must-do things for our week on the peninsula.

We were walking back to our hotel when the sound of drumming pulled us further up the boardwalk and we found ourselves at the Tipsy Tuna and a performance of drumming that we later learned was Garifuna (also spelled Garafina) traditional music, and dancing. It was mostly kids, dressed in traditional Garifuna costume, and tourists and locals were enjoying the rhythm on the dance floor. Although we were too tired to join in, we couldn’t help but bounce along to the music. This is a weekly event at the Tipsy Tuna, so we felt fortunate to catch it on our first night in town.

One of the things we always love about the Caribbean is that the sound of the waves and the wind in the palm trees feel like they immediately lower our heart rates. ❤️

We also noticed that over the week we were there, our walking pace definitely slowed.

Plancencia has some of the nicest people I have met in the Caribbean, and people always said hello and good morning and good night as you passed on the boardwalk or on the main road. It felt even safer than Nassau!

Our first morning found us over at a tiny little building that was no more than a counter that seats about 5 people, a stove with two burners, a sink , and a fridge. And the best burritos I have ever had for $4 each! Anna told us they had the best fresh juice in town, and we ordered orange and watermelon to go with our breakfast. (This was another place that only took cash- and exact change only!)

We were anxious to get to the beach, and as we were told the ocean side of the peninsula was too hard to swim at due to all the seaweed, we headed down to the south end next to the pier and found a good patch of sand to throw down our towels and summer dresses and we leapt into the water.

To give you an idea of the ocean here, these are views of the Belizeans shoreline from the tiny plane we took to and from Placencia.

I’m pretty sure the ocean around Belize is more shallow for further out than anywhere I have been in the Caribbean, and the temperature reflected that. It was practically warm! We were slightly constrained as to how far out we could swim as the boats coming in and out of the harbor are constant (and the harbor master on the pier will yell at you, we quickly learned!).

There wasn’t much to see using our snorkels in this spot, but we had been assured by Anna that the real beautiful water and snorkeling was out off the mainland at reefs. It requires the hiring of a boat, and she knew just who to call. She phoned her friend Rudy as we chatted with her at the hotel and told him “Get over here right away! I know I know, but you are only five minutes away, so you can spare a little time to come and talk to these ladies!”

Rudy and Rudy Jr. arrived and we were informed that Rudy Jr is a certified boat operator who can take us out for either a half-day or full-day excursion. We opted for a full day trip which would include lunch and a stop on an island that had a natural pool and hammocks. We booked for the next day.

Rudy & Rudy Jr.

After a full lazy afternoon of sunbathing and swimming in looped repetition, we decided to try the Tipsy Tuna for dinner, and ordered wings and conch fritters and iced tea. We shared a big table with a couple from Lake Tahoe who were quick to chat us up and tell us about their road trip adventures exploring Belize and Venezuela over the past 12 days; this was the end of their trip. Theresa and Joey had two days in Placencia, and were considering taking a boat out to go snorkeling, so we suggested they join us the next day, hoping our guides would have room for two more.

Friday morning we got all our snorkeling gear together (yes, we bring our own snorkeling gear) and headed to the meeting spot for our day on the water. Our plans were quickly kai-boshed as the wind was strong that day and the ocean was choppy with white caps. We all agreed that the 30-minute ride out would be too rough and likely the water cloudy from all the waves, so we post-poned until Monday, as the Rudy’s were already booked Saturday and Sunday.

We decided to have another lazy beach day, and wandered along the main street and stopped into the Above Grounds coffee shop – which truly felt like a treehouse – and was a perfect spot to have an iced latte and enjoy the breeze. (They also make delicious baked goods and sell local coffee you can take home as a souvenir.)

Most of the houses in Placencia are on stilts, and we learned that the reasoning behind this was three-fold:

1) The higher you go, the better ocean breeze you get, and since most people cannot afford air conditioning, opening windows and letting the wind blow through was the best way to stay cool.

2) When they get sudden heavy rainstorms there is often flooding, so having your home off the ground means less damage/stress when this happens several times a year.

3) Sand fleas (or ‘no-see-ums’) and other bugs are only active a few feet off the ground so to be a floor above them makes it easier to avoid bug bites.

Friday night we went to Nic’s Restaurant, another recommended spot. We arrived to a pretty full, tiny wrap-around porch where we took a seat at a small table so close to the couple next to us we joked we were joining them for dinner. We ended up ordering a Greek Pizza and Caesar salad to share, and learned that our almost-table-mates ordered a similar meal; they got a Cobb salad and a Belezean Pizza (think: Hawaiian pizza with jalapeno peppers and red onions).

Pete and Sandy were from Missouri and were back in Belize after 12 years, and had just spent one week on a sailboat cruise swimming and snorkeling out along the islands and reefs off the Belizean coast. They were lovely company and we had a great time getting to know them as we ate our respective meals, and then ended up exchanging pizza slices! How often do you share/swap your meal with people at another table?! The magic of Belize. 🙂

We had been told about Taste Belize Tours  and as soon as we saw “Chocolate Waterfall Tour”, we knew what our Saturday plans were. Our tour guide/tour company owner was Lyra, a born-and-raised Belizean who was raised on a cacao farm outside Toledo Belize, and had gone to university in the US to get her doctorate in Anthropology and Food Studies. She was full of information about Belize’s history, the various cultural influences, the indigenous people, and I was lucky enough to sit in the front seat (or, alternatively, be unlucky enough to have the worst motion sickness in the group). There were 12 of us total; my mum and I, a couple from Ontario, and two American couples who were on vacation together with their 3 kids.

It was a two-hour drive to the chocolate farm and along the way we drove past more and less touristy areas, through the a Garifuna town of Barranco- the birthplace of the most famous Belizean musician Andy Palacio. We went past many tiny villages, saw several banana plantations, and drove past large sections of land that are currently being developed into resorts. There is a big boom in real estate in Belize right now, in Placencia specifically.

We also drove through the tropical part of Belize and then suddenly, like a switch had been hit, we were driving through a savanah with dry grasses and tropical pine trees. Apparently the soil quality changes over a few meters to make this huge environment change. And we also found out that we were visiting in the dry season, which meant that many plants were blooming that don’t normally have flowers, like the “Buttercup Flower” tree.

We were greeted at the Ixcacao Farm by Juan, who owns the land and factory with his wife, Abalina.

Juan showed us the cacao tree and we learned about the process of growing cacao in Belize, and things like how succeptible the cacao plants are to disease and fungus, how they require mixed sunlight and shade to prorperly mature and thrive, and how, like coffee and grapes used for wine, the soil and area and local plants influence the final flavor of the cacao.

Two varieties of cacao plants:

Also growing on their property were the calabash tree, which has these beautiful round fruits that are the traditional container (the shell is cut in half and dried) to drink hot chocolate. We also saw these shells carved and decorated as souvenirs you could purchase at various places in Belize.

We went upstairs to a beautiful patio and sat down to try traditional Mayan hot chocolate. When it was poured, it looked like a cloudy caramel-coloured coffee.

There is no milk or cream products in any traditional mayan chocolate, so the ingredients that make up hot chocolate is ground cacao nibs and hot water. It was slightly bitter and tasted like a watered down version of a dark chocolate hot drink without any sugar.

We were instructed to add a tiny pinch of crushed chili powder. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of ‘chili hot chocolate’ that I have known previously, the point is not to make the drink spicy. There is a reaction in the chemical compounds between chilis and cacao that cuts the bitterness so the cacao flavor can be deeper. It was remarkable.

After that we added a tiny bit of cinnamon; this is another ‘classic’ addition to Mayan hot chocolate but is also not traditional, as cinnamon is not naturally found in central American and was introduced by Indian/Middle Eastern influences.

Lastly we were offered sugar to add but we didn’t feel like it needed it.

Juan then opened up a cacao pod to show us the wet seeds and then took us step by step through the entire process of making chocolate.

He let us try the wet seeds straight from the pod and the exterior was a soft, slightly stringy, and sweet coating that tasted somewhat like soursop, or sort of a combo of sweet melon, citrus, and pineapple. And if you bit right through the cacao seed it was bright purple and had not even a hint of chocolate flavor!

They harvest the pods by hand, cut them open and scoop out the wet seeds, letting the sugars in the juice of the pulp ferment, and then they take that liquid to make chocolate liquer, and dry and then roast the remaining seeds.

Dried and roasted seeds:

We were given the roasted seeds and asked to shell them to collect caco nibs that we would then grind to make our own chocolate.

Shelled cacao nibs:

The two granite pieces on the table in front of us were over 150 years old and had matching granite grinding stones that they had used before the factory acquired machinery that could grind large quantities of beans 24 hours a day and increase their output exponentially. (We were informed that 32 cacao beans are required to make one ounce of chocolate. No wonder high quality chocolate is expensive!)

We got a chance to grind the cacao seeds ourselves, and it is hard work! Lyra told us that Abalina ground all the cacao seeds by hand for the first 5 years they owned this farm, which is one of the reasons she is called The Chocolate Queen. (She must have amazing biceps!)

Juan finished grinding the chocolate at a speed that made it look like his arms would fall off, and the emulsification of the cacao seeds and the cacao butter in them was so creamy, it almost looked like it could be scooped up and dropped in a swirl like thick Nutella icing.

We got to try samples of the many kinds of finished chocolate they produced, including orange, ginger, coconut, sea salt, cardamom, and milk chocolate.

We learned about the European discovery of adding powdered milk to chocolate to make it creamier, but that other stabilizing ingredients have to be added when milk is added, which is why the percentage of cacao drops so significantly when it is processed into chocolate products. (And how a Hershey or Nestle milk ‘chocolate’ bar contains less than 10% actual chocolate; artificial flavor and colour has to be added because the finished product no longer tastes or looks like chocolate!)

And then there was the lunch that was included with the tour. This was definitely one of the highlights of our vacation!!

Lunch was created by none other that Abalina; the Chocolate Queen herself. It was a phenomenal spread of the best food we had the entire trip, including chocolate chicken, hearts of palm, cooked greens, beans, tortillas, zucchini and squash, coconut rice, and fried plantain.

As we were leaving we heard a little tune playing on repeat and slowly getting louder. The source of it turned out to be a small truck that was driving by. My mom joked “it’s the local ice-cream truck” and we all chuckled because it had a similar sound. Lyra then looked over at the truck and said “Yes it is, actually!”

We could see a bunch of coolers in the bed of the truck as it went past, and she told us that many of the people in rural Belize do not have refrigeration so this man drives through all the villages and sells ice cream!

On the way back to Placencia, Lyra stopped on the side of the road and introduced us to a group of women who sold palm leaf woven products like baskets and trivets and art. They were kind enough to show us their kitchen where they were making green corn soup and smoking/drying chilis.

A few details-

Drying chilis:

Most rural buildings have these palm-branch roofs:

We loved the way this hinge had been attached to their shutter:

Baskets and trivets and placemats:

These girls were shy to talk to me but were happy to pose for a picture.

On to the waterfall!!

The Coxcomb Ridge is the largest collection of foothills through Belize and we drove up the side of the ridge to spend the afternoon on a private property at a set of three gorgeous jungle waterfalls.

You turn off the main road at the fake Mayan pyramid along the main highway, and you find yourself at a small gate where a man who doesn’t speak a word of English meets you and you hand him $20 per person and he will open the gate so you can drive up to the waterfall.

The Maya King Waterfall:

We drove through a rain storm on the way to the farm, another downfall happened while we were having lunch, but by the time we arrived at the waterfall the weather was perfect and we proceeded to swim in all three pools, sit under the waterfalls, and even try out the natural stone slide in the lower pool area.

Have you heard of the trend at some Asian spas where you can pay for a fish pedicure; tiny fish nibble off the dead skin from your feet? Well in the pools of this waterfall, you get that for free! #notjoking

We got back to the hotel just in time to change for dinner, as we met our Lake Tahoe friends at RumFish at 6pm! Both Mum and I couldn’t resist the special; sesame crusted tuna that had been caught that day! It was absolutely delicious, and we paired it with watermelon mojitos. Dessert was key lime pie and banana crème brulee.

Sunday morning we got a surprise phone call from the Rudys and were told that their day had opened up and the weather was PERFECT for snorkeling, so we dropped our plans to explore up the peninsula and the recommended Turtle Bay beach and Restaurant, and loaded up to take a boat out for the day.

We stopped at three different locations out on the reef, and Rudy Jr let me try my hand at spear-gun fishing. 😁😳

He and his dad went fishing while my mom and I explored the reefs and discovered jellyfish, many varieties of Parrot fish, Angel fish, grouper, conch, and even a couple of medium-sized Nurse Sharks sleeping in a cave of coral!

We arrived at Lark Cay and pulled up to this sweet island with a man-made natural pool on one side, hammocks, and a perfect place to lie in the sun and dry off.

You can actually rent a cabin on this island for $20 USD a night!

The Rudys had caught a grouper, a snapper, a jack fish, a pompineau, and conch for lunch, and proceeded to fillet and cook them up with okra, purple yams, plantain, tomatoes, pineapple, potatoes, shallots, and cilantro in a coconut and spiced broth. We drank water from coconuts they cut down for us while we waited for lunch, enjoyed some iced fruit punch, and then ate this amazing lunch. We even got to take home the leftovers for dinner that night!

By the time we took the boat back the wind had picked up and the water was choppier, so it was perfect timing to head home and apply after-sun aloe vera lotion….

Note to self for next time, bring way more sunscreen, and make sure it is waterproof! We were two cooked Canadians after that day.

Sunday night we stopped for dessert at the gelato place and heard amazing jazz music coming from Chachi’s, the bar upstairs. We made our way up there and got to watch the last hour of a phenomenal 8-piece band jamming out. Soprano and alto sax, flute, 2 guitars, piano, bass, and drums. It was phenomenal! We ended up meeting one of the owners of the bar on our last night there as he and a buddy practiced in the open area downstairs for a gig they had later that week. A couple of music majors from the US decided to come to Placencia, open a pizza restaurant that had a good space for live music.

Monday we enjoyed a shady beach day. Swimming in the salt water felt good on our more-than-sunkissed skin, but we hid under palm trees for most of the day, chasing the shadows as they inched over.

Tuesday we were brave enough to venture out in the sun again and for our last day we decided that some kayaking was in order. The ocean side of the peninsula was a bit rough when we went to pick up the kayak from the handsome Frenchman who ran Awesome Adventures rentals on the beach, so he suggested we start on the lagoon side (a 5 minute walk across the road to the other side of the peninsula).

We slathered on the last of our sunscreen and set about exploring the lagoon side of Placencia. A quieter side, there were properties on either side of us, as many long islands are inhabited in the lagoon. Sorry, no photos until the second half of the afternoon; we were too busy kayaking. 🙂

The water’s edge wherever it is left wild is like what I imagine mangroves to be. Viny roots with big tough leaves bend in and out of the water, and we moved out to the south end and into the open ocean water quite easily.

We pulled our kayak up on the shore at the pier and went for a swim before heading back around to the ocean side to complete our loop.


As we came into shore I realized our mistake in not returning to the lagoon. As I mentioned before, the west shoreline is covered in thick seaweed which makes it less than ideal for swimming, but it also happened to be covered in plastic garbage. Pop bottle and water bottle lids, straws, plastic juice containers and broken pieces of every colour man-made garbage you can imagine. We were told that “it is not normally like this”; apparently a recent flash flood in Guatemala washed all their garbage into their rivers and therefore into the ocean. It made my heart hurt to see this, as I have never seen such litter on such a grand scale, especially in such a beautiful, natural place.

(I took these photos later that day, when the waves weren’t as high and most of the garbage was held against the shore by the seaweed.)

We had an audience as we paddled up to the shoreline as a group of volunteers had just arrived that day to clean up the shoreline. As my mom stepped out of the kayak I realized what was coming and braced myself for the incoming wave. Let me tell you, there was a collective gasp and grimace on all the faces of the volunteers as garbage and seaweed washed up my shirt and across my back, not once, but twice before I could step out of the kayak properly. If that doesn’t make one seriously consider changing their plastic consumption, I’m not sure what else will. Imagining the wildlife affected and how this isn’t even the worst situation that exists in the world, it just makes my heart hurt.

After rinsing off (!) and some lunch, we took some fresh pineapple and made ourselves pina coladas, and headed to the beach at the pier for a final afternoon of swimming and sunning.

Our last treat that afternoon was finally trying Bakerman John’s famous cinnamon buns! Delicious.

When we walked by the “garbaged beach” later that night we saw bags piled and only seaweed along the water’s edge.

Our last dinner was pizza at Chachi’s, and a shot of homemade bitters with the owners! We then got to hang out while 2 of them practiced for a gig later that week. One played the cajon (box drum), and the other, a Charinga; a Peruvian ukulele! It was a perfect way to relax on our last night in this totally chill place.

The flight on the tiny plane to Belize City gave us great departing views of this tropical place.

So long Placencia!

And then I went to Italy… Sardegna, to be exact.

The alternate name for this post could also be: A heckuva lot of beach photos … 😁

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Helloooo, Italy.

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The opportunity came up for me to volunteer at another workaway in an Italian town I had never heard of: Cala Gonone.

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I received the request in mid-August to come stay in Sardegna for the end of September; the two weeks after I was to fly back home.

Sometimes you feel the need to jump at an opportunity that might be once in a lifetime, so I jumped.

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I’m lucky to have a good friend who is a travel agent so she organized it all for me. 😊

Buongiorno, Olbia!

I arrived at the Olbia airport to meet my lovely only-Italian-speaking airbnb host Monica, and another guest arriving that same day from Berlin: Lou, a German online photo-editor who was in Sardegna for a two-week vacation, and one week of that would be rock climbing in Cala Gonone!

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The next morning, after a brief exploration of the old part of Olbia with Lou and a proper Italian cappuccino, of course, I made my way back to the airport (with a free bus ride 😁 because I think the bus driver was mad I wanted to pay with cash instead of a ticket and refused my money- whoops! 😳).

I purchased a ticket for the Deplano bus from the airport to Cala Gonone. It’s a €16 trip from the Olbia airport and took about 2 hours.

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And the entire trip I was in absolute awe of my surroundings.
The drive was an adventure all its own, worth every penny, and I’m not surprised that people can take a bus around the entire island like a tour. The scenery is gorgeous!!

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Not sure if you can see them, but there is a pile o’ sheep on that hill.

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I arrived in Cala Gonone and my host Claudio introduced me to his  parents who had come over for a visit. His mother only speaks Italian but his dad speaks Italian and French so he and I could communicate well! 🙂

The garden and apartment are beautiful, and there are fruit trees and fresh herbs and olive trees surrounding us.

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Possibly one of the most delightfully surprising discoveries of my trip was the lemon tree in the next door neighbors’ yard. We were grateful to pick one or two almost every day, and by far, they were the most flavourful, delicious lemons I have tasted in my entire life.

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I also met the adorable pets of household: Flora, Claudio’s dog, and Leo, his cat.

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I didn’t have much time to relax or even unpack, as almost immediately after my arrival, Claudio took me to the final evening of a festival in the local town of Dorgali.

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Sardinians are very proud of their culture and traditions and it was amazing to see everyone celebrate it together.

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Right away we came across a group of guys playing live local music. And they just didn’t stop!

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The launeddas (triple pipe) was the most impressive, and it reminded me of a bagpipe with one pipe playing constant sound like a drone.
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Live traditional Sardegnian music within 24 hours of arriving in Italy? Incredible!


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Claudio knew all the locations of various traditional food and historical displays, and we spent the evening walking all over the town from one place to the next!

There was free wine all over the place- all private collections by owners of the shops/homes along the street. And just try saying no to Italians. I dare you. 😜

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Many people opened the main floor of their homes and set up food or art or historical artifacts from the region and invited everyone in!

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We watched women make cheese tarts with fresh mint (even the  pastry was made by hand) and cook them in a traditional wood burning oven.

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Claudio showed me where they were roasting traditional pork (porchetta) outside around an open fire and we watched a man throw pottery, handing off completed pieces to the young boy standing next to him…

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We watched some women dancing and more launeddas (a group performance this time), saw original (ancient) and traditional handmade clothing of the area, tried many versions of local cheese (picorino) and I had my first taste of pane carasau (a light crisp flat bread that is served at every meal; farmers used to bring it out to the fields because it was light and lasted a long time), we perused  local artwork, and drank lots of wine…

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There were some festival contests in the street, too, like “guess how much the cow weighs and if you guess right, you win the cow”, and “guess how high this cheese is hanging off the ground and you can win it”.

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Yep. 🙂
I have been told that there is not much produce-style agriculture in the area, other than wine. Lots of sheep, though. 🙂 (approximately 3 million sheep, actually)
I also had a seada, which is a baked cheese pastry served with honey. The cheese is local new/young locally made pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, and it’s actually a dessert! It was absolutely delicious.

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I felt like the only non-Italiano speaking person in the whole village, but apparently this festival brings in all sorts of tourists.
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My fellow workawayer and roommate for my two weeks here was Ravit, from Israel. She is a photographer and anthropologist and has fallen in love with the island here and is taking some tour groups around in October.

 


The food here is very good and quite inexpensive. Ravit and I often made meals together, and we only shared two meals with Claudio in his house upstairs.

 

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Ravit made amazing tuna cakes and tahini dressing!

One afternoon Claudio made us risotto with onions and zucchini, and another day his mom and dad came over for a visit and his mom made us all culugiones (which are Sardinian ravioli) and breaded aubergines. The culugiones reminded me of the love child of manicotti and perogies, served with tomato sauce and cheese on top. Sooo good!

 

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Just a typical street sign with a painting underneath it. 😉

The town of Cala Gonone is a tourist hotspot on the island and is very busy in the summer months and then closes up at the end of September, so shops and restaurants are becoming quieter and quieter and one by one closing up for the ‘winter’ season.

 

 

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Cork and leather purses. Beautiful.

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Masks like the ones worn in Carnivale in the new year.

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Our apartment was a 5 minute walk to the beach as well as the restaurants and shops, and it’s also easy to walk down to the port and take a boat to get to the beaches further south on the island that are not accessible by the road.

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Alternatively, to get to these beaches, you can rent a kayak.

 

😁

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So of course I did.
Twice.

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Cala Luna
is the first popular beach south of Cala Gonone, and it took me only an hour and ten minutes to get there, and it was over some of the most incredible blue water I have ever seen!

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There are also caves here if you want some shade. Enormous, wonderful caves.

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The second time I was headed to Cala Luna but decided to stop at the little beach just before. You can only access it by boat or hiking, so it was pretty quiet with only a few people there, and the swimming is perfection.

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These beaches are excellent spots to bring a picnic, but to kayak there and back was the best excuse to warrant going for gelato back in town, or better yet, go for pizza. The pizza here is just the way I like it: fire burning oven-cooked, thin crust style. And inexpensive! A marguerita pizza is only €5 or €6! (And they are not small!)

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The town of Cala Gonone may get busy in the summer and cater to tourists, but it doesn’t feel commercial like other beach-towns I have been to before.

There were still many (mostly German) tourists, and I met up again with my new friend Lou partway through her climbing week.

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Now I have a friend to visit in Berlin!

One day Claudio picked us some cactus fruit on his way back from work and prepared them for us.

img_5876Ravit has has them often because they are all over in Israel, but I had never tried a “prickly pear”!

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You have to wear gloves to handle them because they have tiny needles you can barely see and are painful and irritating if you get them stuck in your fingertips. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and soft and full of giant seeds you swallow whole (I can assure you from personal experience don’t even attempt to bite!).

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Another fruit I discovered was the corbezzolo ‘berries’ that happened to grow in Claudio’s garden. They look almost like a lycee and are ripe when they turn red. They are squishy and the pokey-looking exterior is actually soft. They are like nothing I have ever had. Not too sweet, with a slight citrus-crossed-with-fig flavour, and the texture of a strawberry. (How’s that for a description?)
The workaway jobs at the apartment have been mostly painting. Some simple things like refreshing the white paint on exterior garden walls, while others are tougher like sanding off years of old paint from metal benches and lots of detail-work like adding Greece-inspired blue trim around the garden, and faux-finishing furniture to look antiqued.

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It seems I was destined to paint blue this summer, be it called “Picasso”, “Sky” or “Sea Breeze”.

 

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This was the beauty of mixing an exterior wall paint to match the bright blue furniture inside.

What’s amazing is that every day our schedule was entirely affected by  how much it looks like ‘beach weather’. For example, on particularly nice days we would  work for a couple hours in the morning, and then go to the beach at the heat of the day, go swimming, sunbathe, and then come back home and finish the day’s work. This is possibly the dream kind of job, really.

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One afternoon we went out to the countryside property of Claudio’s family and helped organize wood for the winter. The work was removing giant nails and screws and fencing wire from old boards and fence posts and chopping various lengths of wood that were piled all around the garage there, all while taking turns playing soccer with Flora.

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But the view here? Woooo!

Every day there were beautiful skies, gorgeous sunsets, and stunning sunrises. Great photo ops for this beach-lover.

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Buongiorno, Olbia!

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On the last full day in Sardegna Ravit and I joined Claudio and his parents to harvest all the grapes from their vineyard!

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Thank goodness it’s a tiny vineyard. 😁😳

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Afterwards we went to his parent’s home in Nuoro where they have an entire room and basement to make wine.

We had a delicious pasta lunch, including some of their home made wine.
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First they washed all the equipment with a high pressure hose, and we set up the grinder on top of the juice barrel and stainless steel ramp/trough from the front garden into the basement window. Then Claudio and Ravit dumped the 18 cassettes of grapes onto the trough and Claudio’s dad and I used pieces of wood to push the grapes through the grinder (grapes and stems, but no leaves).

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Once they are all through the grinder, Claudio raked them out evenly, and put weight on them to create the juice.

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Claudio says that he has been helping his parents make this wine every year as long as he can remember.

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One thing I have never heard of before is using the same grapes to make both white and red wine!
Claudio’s family immediately drains 20% of the juice from the large barrel of grapes within the hour of macerating them. They make the vino bianco from this.
Then they wait 5 or 6 days for the grapes to sit in the barrel and then drain all the juice then, and then they will use a press to squeeze the remaining juice and flavour from the pulp and wood left in the barrel, and add that to the dark juice and make the vino rosso.
I then learned that the rest of the grape fibre/wood/skins is what is  used to make grappa.

We got to try some of the grape juice after the ‘vino bianco’ was drawn. It tasted unlike any grape juice I have ever had.

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It doesn’t quite look like white wine to me yet…
I stayed overnight in Nuoro before taking the Deplano bus back to Olbia for my flight to Paris. (Being October 2, we were now in the ‘winter season’ and the bus didn’t run to Cala Gonone any more.)
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It was only an €8 ticket from Nuoro, and just less than 2 hours drive. Before checking in for my flight I even had time to get a pizza at the outdoor restaurant next to the airport. 🙂

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An easy flight back to Paris for one night, and the inspiration to leave my luggage at the airport for the night so I wouldn’t have to lug it around the metro with less than 24 hours on the city. For €18, I could leave it at the security baggage check at Terminal 2, and I felt like a genius. 😎

I then made my way to the Eiffel Tower where I caught a gorgeous sunset and snapped a couple photos before heading to my friend Hugo’s apartment where I got to enjoy a visit with him before we both crashed for the night.

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The next morning we headed off at the same time- Hugo to work, and me back to the airport.

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I savoured one last croissant and café crème before boarding my flight home!

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And thus ends my unforgettable summer travel of 2016! ❤️

…Okay, a few more beach photos because I can’t help it. 😁

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 Okay, and a video.


 😘

A summer in French heaven, part two… or six.

I am soon to be homesick for a place I just discovered. 

The summer is quickly turning into autumn, and with two weeks left in L’Isle Jourdain, I switched locations (a 2 minute stroll down the street) to Barbie and Andy’s house.  They are good friends of Corinne and Gilles, and they needed a little help with some home renos.


Their house has a huge yard (complete with fig tree overloaded with much-to-my-chagrin-just-not-yet-ripe figs), a view of the valley and the church and town across the river, loads of beautiful hydrangea and hibiscus bushes, and a lovely terrace that was excellent for morning tea, stargazing, and card games and wine.


The yards on all sides are full of fruit and olive trees, chicken coops, vegetable garden so, grape vines, and a big sweet grey donkey two gardens over. 


Their next door neighbor, an older gentleman named De-De (nickname for André), has a lovely large garden as well as chickens and rabbits, and several times during my stay with them he came over with a bucket of tomatoes and a dozen eggs; sometimes he just leaves them on the front step. He also gives them loads of green beans, potatoes, and onions throughout the summer. One afternoon he even came to the door with a freshly-made jar of plum jam, still warm! The sweetest!

Captured on a morning walk over by the church.


We always started our mornings with a walk over to Café de la Paix or to Le Dix, the bar next door (and it definitely it should be noted that they have the most delicious cakes; my good friend Victor can vouch for every single flavour 😊).

The owner Fanfan has our usual orders memorized and brings us ‘un petit café et deux grandes crèmes’, and we eat pain au chocolat and chat with all the regulars/neighbors. 🙂 A lovely ritual. 

Back at the house I started with some small jobs like painting window frames and installing curtain rods and baseboards upstairs, and one afternoon we had the adventures of cutting a hole into the wall under the stairs in order to make use of the possible storage space. The hope was that we would not find anything too scary, or dangerous, or complicated to remove. Luck was on our side as all that was inside was rocks and earth. AND a century-old whistle! Oh yeah, and part of a sheep leg bone. (Yes, I am sure. I checked. It was just a sheep bone.)
The bigger jobs of my stay were re-varnishing their living room floor (only because we had to move all the furniture around) and I cut and installed (and started the painting process) of a new wood floor and baseboards in their kitchen. 

The kitchen floor was definitely the trickiest as it is the very centre of their home. They access the rest of the house (including the stairs up to the bedrooms) from there, and they have two dogs. 😁😳

the old tile floor is in great condition but is absolutely freezing in the winter.


Practically everyone has dogs here, and my new friends’ pups are two other hilarious personalities. 

This face.

Pedro is the little shaggy sausage dog with freckles across his nose and a growl-purr when he is playing or getting attention. He loves to be cuddled and often falls asleep in Barbie’s arms.

Lottie has the colouring of a Rottweiler, and is the look and somewhat size of a slender German Shepherd. She is the sweetest, sneakies, cheekiest dog ever, and I absolutely adore her. 


In my last week much to my delight: Another invitation came for a delicious dinner at the Chateau Jourdain!

Six countries represented at this table! (New Zealand, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Canada, Great Britain)

We were invited for homemade falafel and hummus and chips, and yet again had weather right out of a storybook. 

The most beautiful skies of the entire summer, without a doubt. 


That night I met two more workawayers (from Leeds, and one of them has family IN CALGARY 😃). What are the odds??

Moyad was holding Dolly up so she could see a paddleboat go by.

One Friday night I drove to the nearby village of Queaux with a couple friends, Zara and Kane (both from the UK), to have dinner and watch a jazz concert down by the river. 

Queaux has fresh spring water running through the village and there is an old clothes washing station still intact on the main road. 

The water is freezing, but clean enough to drink! 

The wooden washboards used to scrub clothing.

This village also has an incredible view of the river valley.


 It was a gorgeous night and there were still people swimming in the rive at 8pm as we ate our picnic dinner. We should have know the 8pm “start” was just a loose guideline, and the show began around 9. 🙂

It was brilliant- they just set up everything under some trees in the park area and people brought their own chairs or pulled up benches from the picnic area. 

There was a keyboard, guitar, saxophone, drum set, bass, and trombone. (The bass player also played the trombone, because, of course she did). 

Of course you never remember to take photos while it is still light out!


It was excellent music and we had the best time! They were a talented group and when the drummer started playing with brushes, that was it for me: I was in heaven. (My dad would have just loved it.) Found another happy place!
Barbie and Andy are real estate agents so they have gotten to know our region of Poitou-Charentes quite well. They have been enthusiastic tour guides and have taken me to some beautiful spots (there are just so many!) in our area.

The first weekend I was staying with them Andy and Barbie took me to Lake Pardoux, about an 80-minute drive away. They had never been there but had heard it was nice, so I was a great excuse for them to be touristy and go.
The lake is absolutely huge and clearly a popular spot. There is camping nearby and you can rent paddle boats (“pédalos”), go sailing, boating, fishing, and enjoy swimming off a lifeguard-supervised beach.

We packed a picnic and found a spot in the grass facing the lake. It was a beautiful day and just hot enough to warrant a swim!! 

This Canadian girl was the only one to go take the plunge, and it was glorious. There was a great floating dock to dive off and the water gets to a nice depth pretty quick and is very refreshing.

After coffees and chocolate ice cream at the little restaurant just up from the water, we went further down the shoreline for a walk along part of the hiking trail that circles the lake, and decided you could easily make a day out of hiking the area here. I will remember that for next time. 🙂


Poitiers Day Trip!


We spent one Saturday in Poitiers  exploring the city.  This was fantastic as I had only really seen the airport and the train station!

Nôtre Dame du Poitiers.


Saturdays they have a street market going, and we wandered past stalls of clothing, food, and some artisan items, and while stopping for coffees on a patio a travelling band walked by playing fantastic music on tuba, trumpet, sax, banjo, and drums. 


We wandered around from the Nôtre Dame Du Poitiers in the Old Town area, and enjoyed the tall old buildings and architecture, turning up and down tiny side streets to finally arrive at Francois Frères.  

There are only 5 places in France that hand-make umbrellas anymore, and one is in Poitiers! Barbie and Andy have one beautiful umbrella already and wanted to show me the store. We were so happy to find it open we practically skipped into this shop filled with a full rainbow of parasols and umbrellas of every design and shape you can imagine, and even each wooden handle is  gorgeous. 


The owner came right out of the back room (where he makes them all himself) to talk to us. He clearly takes pride in his work, as well he should. His family has been making umbrellas since 1882! 

I want a newsprint umbrella. 🙂

If I could have fit a full-size umbrella in my backpack, I would have splurged and bought one right there! 

After my first croissant amande of the trip 😁, we headed to see the majestic Cathedral de Poitiers, which was absolutely gigantic and a definite must-see if you visit Poitiers. 


Gorgeous and vastly tall ceilings, beautiful frescos, stained glass windows for days, and crazy cool/creepy gargoyles outside.

On to Confolens!


The second weekend we went to Confolens, and this city is absolutely darling, and even more romantic on a grey and cloudy day.

Many medieval aspects to the old buildings reminded me of Carcassone that we visited 2 years ago on our Viking Cruise tour. 



On the way back home we stopped into Confolens-St-Germain and the old castle ruins up on the hill. 


It’s absolutely beautiful, and felt well-timed, as my friend Leslie was travelling in Ireland at this point and posting all these beautiful photos of Irish castles and I felt due for some castle time. 🙂

There was also a fantastic gift shop at the bottom filled with local artists’ work, from jewelry to soap to ornaments to honey. Absolutely beautiful things. 🙂

We ended up going for pizza in the charming river town of Availles-Limozine the next night with clients/friends of Barbie and Andy. I immediately liked these three friendly Brits: Gary, who is selling his vacation property home, and Jarvis and Lindsay, who are buying it! The sale was complete this week, so we went out to dinner to celebrate. 

Side note: Real estate is a good example of how nothing happens quickly in France. The sale of a house in the countryside takes anywhere from 5 months -and that’s speedy/optimistic- to 5 years.



The pizza was absolutely excellent (I had le Trois Fromages), the company was entertaining (stories of Jarvis and Lindsay from when they were stationed in Saudi Arabia, and hilariously bad jokes by Andy and Gary), and we even got in a walk down to the gorgeous Vienne River to see the early start of fall and some of the most beautiful reflections in the river I have seen so far on this trip.

They tell me that in the winter the river is much faster flowing and they say looks quite dynamic and different than the summer, as in the winter they open the dams all along. 
Maybe one day I will buy an apartment here and find out. 🙂
On Friday night my friends Jamshid and Jo cooked up a big dinner to send me off, and Gilles and Viktor came over to join us and we had a perfect evening of food and great company, complete with favourite music video sharing and star gazing in their fantastic back garden. (It was here we had a fabulous ‘sky-watching party’ back in August when the Perseid meteor shower was happening.)

On my last day I even (finally) got in a swim in the river down by the island. Viktor paddled us out in Moyad’s row boat and we swam in the middle of the river near the chateau. It was fantastic! It made me wish I ventured down there more often when we had our crazy few weeks of 33+ degree weather!

Thus ends my incredible time in L’Isle Jourdain. I have never felt more at home in a different country. Luckily, now I have numerous friends to come back and visit…. And if I’m looking to buy a small French countryside apartment, I know these fabulous real estate agents…. 🤔😎

Up next: a weekend in Lyon and 5 days visiting my friend Chinatzu in Switzerland!

Cette maison, ces personnes, ce lieu. C’est le bonheur ! :)

There are some days when I get absolutely covered in paint. Or drywall dust. Or clay or glue or sawdust. 

And I just love it.

 I am so happy to be in such company, working on all sorts of creative and odd jobs, speaking français/anglais, living like a local, and getting to know the awesome people who live here and completely understand why they fell in love with this part of the world.  

I have so found my happy place here.

I’m not kidding when I tell you that this house is absolutely buzzing with truly great people. I have now met and worked with people from 7 different countries, from my workaway friends to our hosts, to the folks in the neighborhood. 

 It’s a really cool thing to spend time with people from entirely different places and cultures, and there’s an awesome energy in this house.

Corinne and Gilles are the most generous, warm-hearted hosts. I often work alongside them and I think we are kindred spirits. Corinne and I both have a hard time sitting still when there are lots of projects we want to accomplish all at once, and Gilles and I have recently enjoyed watching the Olympics (with him teaching me all sorts of sports terms in French). 
I was the second workawayer to arrive, as my ‘beach-buddy’ Viktor arrived a few days before me. He started off here for the summer with plans to travel around Europe for the next year or two with Workaway (while back home in Hungary he had been a bike courier and website designer.) He’s now volunteering down on the island for a few weeks and comes by to visit every once and a while.

Sini arrived ten days after me and is from Finland. She is a fashion design student and not only do we enjoy the occasional “French Hour” together (where we quiz each other and practice new phrases from a French book she brought), but she has a great sense of humour and she regularly organizes tea time every day. (Corinne jokes that she’s practically British for being so adamant about tea. I think I’d fit in well in Britain- tea-wise – too.)

While at her last workaway Sini met a plasterer named Craig who’s from the UK and suggested to Corinne that he join us at the house as well. 

Craig and Sini. (Please pardon the blurry photo).

Craig is a super chill Brit who has been doing workaway for the last two months with holidays in between to check out music festivals across Europe. Sounds like an amazing way to spend the summer if you ask me! This also means he makes a good DJ, introducing us to new indie band tunes while we work. 🙂

And since he arrived, any plans of wallpapering over old bad surfaces has been completely thrown out the window. He is now skillfully plastering over all the old walls and then I or Sini pretty much follow him around with a paint roller!

The plaster is a beautiful terra cotta colour- imported from the UK- and looks nice as a wall treatment on its own. It’s still drying in this photo.

We take Wednesday’s and Sundays off (because that’s the French way). It’s been a very hot summer so we often grab our bathing suits and head for water. 
 

Our favourite swimming hole is a 15 minute drive away at the St Martin-Lars lake, and we have also tried out the shallow, fast-moving river down by Moussac, as well as the local swimming pool complete with water slide. 😏 

Lastly, if time is of the essence, we can always take a dip in the small pool in the back yard. And by ‘dip’, I mean: sit. (It’s about 8 feet long.) 🙂

Saint Martin-Lars swimming area and restaurant.

Ice cream at the restaurant. Only 12 Euros for a starter, steak and fries, dessert, and wine or coffee. 🙂

The river down by Moussac

We have also taken several day trips to local villages and towns for Vide Greniers and markets. We even had a Vide Grenier in L’Isle Jourdain which had loads of great stuff, neighbors to bump into, and all we had to do was walk over the bridge. 🙂

All the copper pots and pans you could imagine.

Buttons, thread, fabric….

locally made pottery

One morning Corinne suggested we take a walk around the lake in Lussac to check out the old grottos in the caves there and it’s a beautiful and easy little 40 minute path. Lussac also has a Prehistoric Museum, but I have yet to go.

One sunny Sunday Corinne and Sini and I went to Rochechouart on recommendation that the Vide Grenier there was good, and the hope that we would find a couple more bikes for the household. 

There was a competition for “Best Garden in a Wheelbarrow”. 😄

While we were there, we checked out the museum of contemporary art in the majestic Château de Rochechouart . 

The Chateau is a beautiful venue for art and had three luxurious floors all currently showing an exposition called “L’Iris de Lucy” showcasing female African Artists. Corinne even discovered that a friend of hers, Zineb Sedira, had some work showcased (and they happened to be some of my favourite pieces there: large  haunting saturated colour photographs of rusted out and abandoned cargo ships.)

Last week we drove to Montmorillon for their Wednesday market and had lunch at a popular restaurant by the water: Crêperie du Brouard. With galettes (savory crepes) named after famous people like Brad Pitt and Gerrard Depardieu, it’s fun and casual, and packed throughout midday. We ordered 4 completely different kinds and everyone was happy with their choices (mine was one of the few without a celebrity name: Scandave, with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and lemon). 

Montmorillon is known as the City Of Writers and Bookmaking. There were new and used bookstores all over, calligraphy shops, and with the medieval town and beautiful winding tiny streets to wander around, it was easy to lose track of time. 🙂

 
We took a moment to get out of the sun inside the cool and quiet Église Nôtre Dame, after perusing tables of old books outside numerous bookstores (finding everything from old romance novels to rock and roll band biographies). 

My favourite find was a beautiful Japanese store full of art supplies and imported and local Japanese art and pottery. They have built the store over an old rock wall and have indigenous ferns and ivy growing out of it inside the shop. I am sheepish to say that I only snapped a photo of some hilariously translated notepads you could buy.

Well, the messages are certainly … positive.


As the market was actually the reason we went, we went searching for cheeses, sausage, honey, local fruits and vegetables, wine, and artisan bread. Samples were offered and of course we tried everything we could. The lady that we bought the cheese from was delighted to hear us speaking English and started enthusiastically saying all the English phrases she knows. “It is a beautiful day!” “You are very welcome!” “I am happy to meet you!” “The sun in shining!”

I’m hoping to get back to Montmorillon again sometime for more exploring of the city, check out their old 50-seat theatre I have since heard about, visit the famous octagonal chapel they call Octogone, and of course to try out a different galette at Crêperie du Brouard. 🙂

The renovations are coming along well, and the house is buzzing with activity, between our hosts, us workawayers, and contractors working upstairs and down, inside and out, and of course the dogs winding their way around our feet through rooms of paint and tools and sawdust and drop cloths.

At the moment we have all the following projects ongoing: plastering and painting walls and ceilings, building an ensuite in the bedroom I am staying in, creating a couple closets, replacing a few windows, tiling the remaining wall in the kitchen, building a storage cabinet for tools, sewing curtains and pillowcases for the various bedrooms, securing barker board in the upstairs bathroom, and sanding years of paint off of old doors and window frames. 

Craig was showing the state of the beam he was uncovering.

one of the cabinet doors sitting outside while the kitchen was getting a bit reorganized.

Gilles removing the wallpaper in one room.

 

One Monday we had a delightfully artsy day of helping create moulds for decorative details for the house, and worked with Corinne in the backyard with clay, plaster, andvinamold.

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My French is slowly getting better, with a few new words of vocabulary every day, some phrases, and along with Sini’s and my occasional “French Hour”, I try to speak mostly in French with Gilles, (aka the most patient man ever 😁), and with the French-speaking friends of Gilles and Corinne. I still definitely understand more than I speak but all the Francophones here have been very patient with me and they say my French is very good. 

Local apricots and peaches for a snack.

This is also the first place I have ever been where I have heard fluent French speakers with British accents. There are so many Brits here who have vacationed or lived here for years (and even decades) that have learned to speak French fluently but still have a strong accent. Before this summer I only knew people who spoke French in the Parisian dialect, or perhaps a French Canadian one, but that is sort of it. It’s fascinating! When French is spoken with a Yorkshire accent or a London accent it is totally different! 😀

Un cafe crême et un croissant, bien sûr!

Another delightful thing during the summer hereis the regularly scheduled free concerts in towns nearby with well-known artists that people come from all over to see. 

The first concert I went to this summer was in L’Isle Jourdain through the Les Heures Vagabonds festival, and the artist was Yaniss Odua, a French Dub Reggae artist who is originally from Martinique and is *very* popular (I was made aware of this pretty quickly as everyone around me knew the words to all his songs). 
About 2000 people were there to see the concert, and it was definitely a mix of all ages, though the teens & 20-somethings were the most active, right up in front of the stage.


It was an excellent show with fantastic performances by the entire band, and really great sound mixing. There was a very positive energy to the evening, and we had a perfect outdoor night sky. 

Following the last song, I walked home across the river faster than  the one-lane line of cars of the out-of-town-attendee majority slowly crawled along attempting to get home.
Just one week later there was another free concert (this time: Les Innocentes) in St Martin-Lars, and it turns out the attendance was over 6000 people! 

This time Craig and Sini had the brilliant idea of bringing a picnic dinner (complete with wine) to the concert. When we were parking at the site we saw signs posted forbidding any glass in the fenced-in concert area so we found a spot down by the lake, within hearing distance of the stage, and we sat down to dine just as the concert began.
With a lovely underscore in the background we had an amazing meal: complete with chèvre Camembert, salami and prosciutto, peaches, traditional baguette, and wine. The evening was absolutely perfect, and when we wandered over to the concert ground we were amused to  discover that there were only two songs left. Our hosts and their friends all agreed that it wasn’t as good as the previous concert, so we were doubly glad that our dining took priority!

The summer is flying by, and the work on the house, the eating the socializing, the exploring, and the happiness continues…. 

More adventures (and maybe some house reno pics) to come soon! 

Some fireworks and some beach-time.

The days here fly by and we are definitely seeing progress with the house. However, I seem to take more pictures and have more stories on my days off… 😁

Here are some photos and details about the national holiday and a long weekend camping trip to the coast!

“Bastille Day” brought a show of fireworks to the village and we were invited to another delightful evening at the island home of Helen and Moyed, again with plenty of food and wine and good company.
I baked chocolate hazelnut brownies for dessert. (They were something I hoped would not have to compete with the local boulangerie that people had become accustomed to. And I was relieved when they went over very well! 🙂 )

We were told that every year the lower bridge between Bourpeuil and L’Isle Jourdain is filled with locals and people who come into town for the fireworks. 

While we waited for the fireworks and ate a delicious dinner in the front yard, we could hear his strange music coming from the bridge. 

We ventured out the front gate to see what was going on and discovered a group of bugle players performing a sort of pre-show entertainment in the crowd. 

You may not have considered it before (I certainly didn’t), but it is actually extremely difficult for numerous bugle players to create the same note at the same time as bugles are only ‘tuned’ by the way a player holds their mouth.

One player stood at one end of the bridge and played a tune, and then the group at the other end would echo it back. It was really fun!

The fireworks (or feu d’artifice en français) were set off from both the base and the top of the viaduct, and the water in the Vienne River was so still that night we got to see an incredible double display with the reflection in the water. They were gorgeous and lasted 20 minutes! 

This video gives you an idea of the coolness factor of seeing the fireworks and their reflections at the start of the show.

The next morning my ‘co-workawayer’ Viktor and I took off for the Brittany coast for a long weekend of beachy camping on Isle D’Oléron and Isle De Ré.
We packed up the little van with Corinne’s and Gilles’ bikes, blankets, sheets, and beachwear, and headed for the coast. I drove (stick shift as a right-side driver 😳), with Viktor as navigator. 

After what seemed like endless roundabouts (the true French road way, apparently), we first arrived in La Rochelle and saw the beach and wandered around the Old Town, and then took the viaduct over the water to L’Isle D’Oléron, and towards the Grand Village. 

We stopped for a coffee and some wifi with a view of the ocean, of course!

The Old Town area of La Rochelle.

I was happy to note the giant sign that read “La Ville Des Huitres” as we drove onto the island of Oléron. Oysters (and mussels) are *the* thing to get on the islands as they are farmed all along the shorelines. (You also get amazing Fleur De Sel here, direct from salt farmers). 🙂 Another happy place. 

We arrived at a very busy campground called Les Pins (pine trees) as it was located in the forested lower end of the Oléron island, yet only a ten-minute bike ride to the beach! 

Campgrounds here are even more deluxe than along the East Coast of Canada.

 It seems like the French like to arrive to fully furnished cabins, trailers, and structured tent units with running water and electricity. Some are really beautiful, and clearly big families come and stay for a while here. (There is even a regular schedule of some sort of family activities and/or entertainment every day.)

I spent a little time at the naturally-filtered pool (complete with waterfall!)

Bikes are pretty much essential on these islands not only to go where cars can’t, and due to the limited parking spots available near all the best beaches on the islands, but because the winding roads and endless pathways along the island are perfectly lovely to cruise on two wheels. 😎

An afternoon siesta? I think so!

There were a handful of restaurants just down the street from the campground, a boulangerie, and a little supermarket. It was quite convenient, as I ended up buying a sleeping bag the second day we were there because the nights were colder than I expected (wimp that I am, I should have known better).

Chez moi pour le week-end!


We set up camp in a sandy and shaded campsite (tent for Viktor, van-avec-curtains for me), and made our way over to the beach just as the last of the daytime visitors were leaving. The beach was almost completely empty, aside from a few guys flying a large kite, and so we checked out the water temperature (freezing) and wandered he shoreline, watching the sun sink down towards the water before we headed back to our campsite.

The next day we spent at the beach (La Plage de la Giraudiere). The water was very shallow for quite a distance out, and with the heat and wind, and waves all along the shoreline it was the perfect location for surf lessons. It was fun to watch both kids and adults run and jump onto small surf boards and glide along the shoreline (or slip right off and tumble into the water, which happened much more often). 

It was a packed beach, and actually reminded me of family vacations to Florida when I was younger. Lots of families, and lots of kids.

Every morning there was a market at our campsite, where you could purchase 6 varieties of local oysters 😁, fresh veggies and fruit, and bread. 

Viktor tried his first ever oyster, but wasn’t too keen on it, so I happily had oysters for lunch, while he had the tried-and-true cheese and bread.

Perfection

Friday night at a tapas bar and pizza place called La Choza we caught the most excellent live djs I have ever seen- 5 guys sharing 4 turntables, multiple pieces of effects equipment, and numerous boxes of records, and on top of that there was also a saxophone player who would improvise along brilliantly with the music when he felt like it. 

It was clearly a popular locals spot and was a very surfer/island/party atmosphere. After an excellent pizza dinner I ended up hanging out there until well after midnight watching them skillfully mix sweet music for hours!


Saturday we changed islands and made our way up to the northern tip of Isle De Ré. 

Clearly the more popular/touristy of the two islands, you have to pay a toll of €16 to drive onto the island. (It’s free if you walk or bike over. The bike ride would likely take 20 min over the bridge, and walking would likely be closer to 45, but as the island is almost 30km long we figured a vehicle would be more efficient this trip.)

The beach we spent the day at was idyllic. The sun was hot, the water was perfectly refreshing, and the beach was busy but not packed. The only thing I wished we had brought was a large parasol (as everyone else did), as there was no shade to be found otherwise.
After playing volleyball in the water with a bunch of Francophones, sunning on the beach, swimming and wandering along the shore (and checking out the huge dead jellyfish that had washed up hours earlier)….and possibly turning a bit pink (but not as pink as Viktor!), we searched for a campsite.

After the June road trip  where we never worried about pre-booking campsites, I didn’t have any concern for finding a spot. This was when I learned that this was the start of the summer holidays for not only public schools, but now private schools, and it took us until our third campsite to find an available tenting spot! 

Luckily, our campground was awesome (Camp Du Soleil), near the stunning town of Ars-En-Ré

Complete with restaurant, pool, arcade, and two perfect trees for the hammock we brought, this was our favourite spot to stay.



An evening bike ride over to Ars En Ré was absolute perfection Saturday evening, with the streets looking ready for a movie crew to set up a scene for a romantic French film at any moment. 

Pristine buildings, lavender and hollyhocks lining the cobblestone streets, and nothing but a few pedestrians and cyclists winding their way through the little village that has been named one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.


We came to the town centre and the regal Church of Saint-Etienne, where a boys choir was performing a small concert. If you come during the day you can sometimes climb to the top of the tower and have a great view, but I only learned this after we left. 

This is definitely a place I’d return to!!

I think that will have to do for now. So much to share, but I’m definitely finding it hard to sit still! 🙂

Bahamas 2016; New Providence Revisited!

A return trip to Nassau was in order after our dream of a vacation last March. We booked our stays again with Airbnb: one week again at Sarah and Derek’s, and a second week with Shaun and Christine.

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We arrived to windy and cloudy weather, and a rainstorm that started late in the evening and woke us up with it’s heavy hitting raindrops throughout the night! We woke to cloudy skies and wind, but the smell of the sea and warm breezes just can’t be beat!

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Breakfast on the patio was yet again delicious as always, and we did meet some of the other guests in the house, though there were fewer than the previous year by half!

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Like last year, we made dinner one night for Sarah and Derek: my dad’s famous Caesar salad and my mom’s famous Lemon Meringue Pie! Without an electric mixer, that meringue was truly made with love. Hand whipping egg whites to create meringue takes tenacity and strong wrists! 😀

 

We had our favourite spots we planned to see, but also had a few new locations on our to do list, including an organic farm/market/restaurant, the Primeval Forest, The Island House, sea kayaking, and a sailing cruise. We did however, make sure we touched the ocean every day.

 

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Walking back from Love Beach.

With windy and slightly rainy weather, we booked our exploration to ‘inside’ sights in our first week. We re-visited the National Art Gallery, which was showcasing the life’s work of Brent Malone, a Bahamain artist, and it was a real assortment from sketches to prints to sculpture to paint, from abstract to realism and everything in between. It could have been a collection of different artists, his work was so varied. I think our favourite pieces were his more recent work with Junkanoo as the subject matter. You could hear the drums and cowbells!  🙂

We took the bus most places (#10 and #12 travelled most of the length of West Bay street), but often we chose to walk because the weather was nice enough and we had the time! The funny thing? There are no sidewalks. No one walks on New Providence. They drive or take the bus. (There are very few cyclists, even.) This meant taking your life into your hands when traffic got busy, as there is barely any room on either side of the road for any sort of pedestrian traffic.

Bus drivers overall were very kind. We often noticed they drove out of their way to drop someone off or pick someone up, and no one on the bus seemed to mind. We were often driven off the main road closer to our destination simply because the driver knew where we were headed and said “Well, wouldn’t want to walk that far!” and would drive an extra 5 minutes out of their way. We even had one bus driver offer to take us the extra distance to Jaws Beach (not on the normal bus route, but sometimes alright if you gave the bus driver an extra $5), and then he asked us what time we wanted to be picked up and he came back to get us!

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A very quiet Jaws Beach

Goodfellow farms was amazing! It is owned by a Canadian family and they use Aquaponics to grow their food. They keep Tilapia fish in several giant tanks, and the water is used to fertilize lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, and I’m sure much more. Then the water, cleaned by the plants growing in it, is recycled in the tilapia tanks.

We had some of the best food on our trip in the restaurant on the grounds there (I don’t normally gush about vegetables, but OH, the salad!!). They also have a small store with specialty foods, and locally made ice cream.

The Primeval Forest was actually ridiculous to get to. We were told we could walk from the organic farm to the entrance, (“about 5 km”), but it turned out these directions were beyond optimistic, and when we asked to confirm the walking route on our map with the folks at the restaurant, they gawked and told us we would need a car for sure, and called us a taxi.

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The forest was fascinating, with very strict instructions to”stay on the steel-reinforced pathway unless you want to chance falling into a sinkhole”. There was also a type of tree there that was supposedly 10 times worse than poison ivy or poison oak, which made our wander through even more trepidatious. With a  $10 entrance fee, it is an interesting way to spend 30-45 minutes seeing the last un-touched area and oldest trees of the Bahamas, but not  a vital must-see.

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It felt like a place Tarzan would be very comfortable in.

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We also checked out the caves– a step off the main road and 5-10 minutes tops to explore. Free, and easy to check out if you are interested in seeing where the pirates liked to hide on the island back in the day.

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A highlight of our trip was definitely the All-Day Sailing Cruise we took with Barefoot Sailing Tours. It was something my mom wanted to book last year but I wasn’t interested. Boy was I glad she convinced me this year!

The weather was perfect for our travels over to Rose Island, with 3 hours of sailing, and 3 hours at the island to swim snorkel and tan, and a bbq lunch on the boat made by the captain himself.

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The water was straight out of a travel magazine, and we couldn’t believe its beauty even as we swam. The snorkelling was fantastic, and we saw everything from (small!) Barracuda to parrot fish to baby squid.

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Our sailboat is on the right!

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We thought that we had planned well with regularly re-applying sunscreen, but we got cooked that day! Happily ‘sail-boat-cooked’. 🙂

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Our second week had calmer weather days, and the temperature jumped and we spent almost every day at the beach. We learned in our first week that no amount of 100% Deet bug spray kept away the no-see-ums (aka sand fleas) that like to hang out in the sand and LOVE to bite us, and keeping off the sand was vital to our happiness. (In fact, we are now educated that we should likely start taking Benadryl several days before our trip to get our immune systems boosted against the allergic reactions we have to the bites.)

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We frequented the beach by Sandyport Resort, where we would make good use of the beach chairs and umbrellas they so generously supply. 🙂 The restaurant there, The Blue Sail, makes excellent pizzas.

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I don’t recall finding this out last year but ALL beaches in the Bahamas are public. There is no such thing as a private beach; the law states that 30m up from the high water mark is public beach on every single one of the 700+ islands. Even the beach at Atlantis is free to the public, whether you are staying at the resort or not (though we hear it is always crowded).

 

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The Island House is a dreamy resort that is not on the beach and it doesn’t matter. Our friend Sarah suggested we go see a movie in their 40-seat theatre on one of the stormier days, and we felt like we had stumbled on a movie set; it was such an out-of-this-world hotel.

It was definitely a ‘happy place’ of ours for the trip, and we saw two movies there and tried out the restaurant Mahogany House for lunch on our last day in the Bahamas.

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Deluxe and comfortable seats, with tables to hold your wine or beer as you watch and leather footstools to be extra comfortable.

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My mother, the model/movie star.

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I could get used to this! 😉

Unless I win the lottery or marry a millionaire, I will never be able to afford to stay here, but I will pay it a day-visit whenever I am in Nassau!

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Speaking of food, we, of course, had to have another freshly made conch salad, this time, complete with a grapefruit Radler beer, at Dino’s. Now, we learned a very important new tip: if we wanted to see our lunch without having to wait 40-80 minutes (the epitome of island time, people, island time!): Call ahead and order in advance. Then when you arrive your order goes to the front of the line (and you wait 15-20 minutes instead of an hour)!

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We also splurged on the insanely classy Sapodilla restaurant, with the most elegant atmosphere (and menu) of our entire vacation.

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Live piano was being played in the lounge throughout our entire dinner, and we were even offered a ride to and from the restaurant when we made our reservation. We were also asked if it was a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, etc) so they could plan accordingly for our arrival.

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They made Caesar salad at the table, and it was just like Dad’s!

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Seriously, go to this restaurant. It is spectacular.

(Expert tip: don’t order water; order Persecco: they cost the same.)

 

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We did revisit the fish fry and Sonja’s bbq Jerk truck, and Twin Brother’s and their fabulous pina colada/daquiri slush on a couple of our evenings, as well. We love our Bahamian food. 🙂

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We spent as much time on or in the water as possible, and were able to rent a kayak and explore the west end of the island via the ocean, and it felt like a private island as we paddled along! It was peaceful and gorgeous!

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It was also cool to learn the names of the creatures that we came across, as our host Shaun was an avid diver and had these great snorkelling cards to identify fish and wildlife in the waters around New Providence.

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Until next time, Nassau… 🙂

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Provence. I heart you.

It was sad to have mum head home to Calgary on Monday as we had such a phenomenal month in France together. Here are the stories of our week in Provence!!

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Some vineyards near Modene and a view of the top of Mont Ventoux

It was a 45 minute drive from Avignon to our villa in Modene, and we couldn’t quite believe it as we walked in to the yard to meet our hosts Phillipe and Sylvie. (They are absolutely wonderful and if you want to stay in a spectacular bed and breakfast (or ‘chambre d’hôte’/’gîte’) , check out their website: http://www.villa-noria.com)

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The view out the window from the indoor dining room.

We walked past a gorgeous yard and large outdoor dining table and up the stairs to our adjoining rooms. The first had a king size four-poster bed, the second two single beds on wrought iron frames.

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imageThen there was our bathroom with a large claw-foot bath tub, dual sinks and beautiful shower. White fluffy towels and three white terry cloth robes were ready for us. After carefully waiting for Phillipe to turn his back to us so we could silently jump up and down in glee, he brought us back outside to see the yard and pool. Oh, the pool.

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When we went to Tuscany as a family ten years ago, I thought we had stayed in the crème de la crème of bed and breakfasts. I never thought we’d find a place even close, but here we did.

Our dining room table

Our dining room table, and their dog Hurley.

Our host is also a renowned chef in the area, and cooks dinner every second night if guests want a gourmet dinner at home. We of course were looking forward to his cooking and were not disappointed. Just like on the cruise ship, not only was quality at the highest level but the presentation was beautiful.

Chilled Eggplant soup with a poached egg and sesame crisp

Chilled Eggplant soup with a poached egg and sesame crisp

Broiled cod with crispy polenta, zucchini tartar and roasted tomatoes

Broiled cod with crispy polenta, zucchini tartar and roasted red peppers.

Cheese plate of local chèvre with various herbs and seasonings

Cheese plate of local chèvre with various herbs and seasonings

Chocolate crème brûlée with rhubarb

Chocolate crème brûlée with rhubarb

Our first breakfast was another good sign of how the week would go. Sitting under a giant tree with morning sun shining through the leaves, several options of loose leaf tea or coffee, and with an overflowing basket of fruit (including peaches and figs they had picked that morning!!), freshly baked bread, croissants, homemade yoghurt, and waffles with fresh preserves, we were in heaven.

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On our first day we wanted to check out a local market, and then meet up with friends from home.
We drove to Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue to the Sunday market and found it to be the best one we have been to by far! It was fairly busy, and the weather was beautiful. There were dozens and dozens of stands with everything from fresh produce, vibrant pottery, artisan baking and sausage, souvenirs, to lavender, honey, soap, and table linens. We bought some fruit (and we thought that Parisian fruit was delicious!), some nougat, some cheese, and the best almonds we have tasted in our lives by leaps and bounds. Oh, France, you’ve done it again. 🙂

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