Sunday, May 18, 2014


Australians seem to have mixed reactions when you tell them you are about to visit Bali. After all, recent news media have highlighted that an Australian dies in Bali every 9 days. Perhaps this is a rare case where we are lucky to hold American passports while traveling overseas? Regardless of the bad media, many Australians still embrace Bali and regularly head there as a holiday destination. Indonesia has been on my list of "must-see" places since we moved Down Under in 2011, and in April we were fortunate enough to spend 10 days in Bali and Lombok.

Bali is actually very close to Australia, and by "close", I mean that the flight is between 5 and 6 hours depending on which way you are traveling. We chose to fly with Garuda Indonesia, a full service airline, because I found a great deal that was cheaper than the budget airline (Jetstar) that flies from Melbourne to Denpasar, Bali. Arrival at the airport is quite chaotic, as there are scores of taxi drivers trying to charge an exuberant amount of money for a cab ride. Luckily I had done a bit of research in advance and learned that there is a taxi company that runs out of the airport with fixed prices to most tourist destinations. Once we checked the price for our destination, we headed to the ATM for some local currency to pay the taxi driver. On the way to the ATM, we ran into another driver who was offering us a ride to our accommodation. He initially gave some outrageous price and then when I explained we could get there for cheaper with the airport taxi company, we did some negotiating back and forth and ultimately got a good deal from our new friend, Raja. Raja boasted about all of the famous people he had driven in Bali as we made our way to Seminyak, where Erik and I would spend the next 4 days.
There are motorbikes EVERYWHERE in Bali and this is how they fill up their tanks!
I decided that we should splurge a bit on accommodation in Bali by staying in a pool villa. The prices of villas in Bali are some of the cheapest in the world, and value for money is extremely high. Service is also impeccable, as there is a lot of competition for accommodation, particularly in low season, which is when we were visiting. After looking online at MANY different pool villas, ultimately we decided on Disini Luxury Spa Villas. As soon as the doors to the villa opened, my jaw dropped. The place was even more amazing than the pictures I had seen online! One of the employees took us inside to show us around, and this "orientation" was accompanied with cool towels, a welcome drink, and some chocolates. He also took our order for breakfast in the morning (which is prepared in their kitchen and then delivered to the villa via room service) before leaving us to enjoy our new luxury digs.
The first views of the villa are quite impressive!
That door leads into the bathroom, with double sinks, a toilet, shower, and massage table.

The hallway of villas!
The villa is huge! The living area and kitchen are open to the pool area. The door to the bedroom is on the far left, next to the living room. The bedroom/bathroom could be completely shut off from the outside.
The location was fantastic, within walking distance to lots of restaurants and also to the beach, though to be honest, once we set our eyes on the villa, we did not want to leave! Eventually we got hungry for dinner and walked to Wacko Burger Cafe. There is a reason why the place is top ranked on TripAdvisor - the burgers were tasty!
Such a nice way to have breakfast served! The juice (mango) tasted AMAZING!
Nasi goreng. Delicious. We had the same breakfast each morning even though there were 20 choices!

Outdoor shower.
The kitchen could have been used for cooking, but we chose to eat out for dinner.
Love the ceiling!
We had a few visitors in our villa, but nothing dangerous or scary.
Frangipanis everywhere!
We spent our first full day in Seminyak lounging around our villa. At some point during the day we set out to explore the beach. The beaches are not nearly as nice as most Australian beaches, but you can have a $1 beer and a $5 pedicure on the beach, both of which I did, because you certainly cannot get that in Australia!

Coconut water and shade. It was HOT during the day!

For dinner we called Raja and had him take us to famed Jimbaran Bay for a seafood dinner. I had read great things about Jimbaran for the seafood and the sunset, but it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The prices are high - actually quite similar to what food costs in Australia, and the seafood was good but not great. The atmosphere is really nice, though a band walking around singing and playing music would not leave us alone until we tipped them. All in all maybe it was a bit touristy for our tastes and we ended up having much better fish at a random roadside stand in Lombok for a fraction of the cost!
You get to pick your own fish for the seafood dinner.
I love this guy!
The prawns were actually very good -- better than the fish!
Lots of people enjoying dinner on the beach.

The next day we hired Raja (about $40 for 12 hours!) to drive us to Ubud. Unfortunately something came up with Raja's family and he sent his friend, Udek. Udek was a friendly guy, but his English was poor and we were worried that he might not understand that we did not want to make the usually touristy stops along the way to Ubud. We had a few communication issues with Udek, but for the most part he did a nice job. Before reaching Ubud, we stopped at a local village so that we could see what a traditional Balinese home looks like.
Placing offerings around the village.
Most villages have walls like this just beyond the entrance door, as the wall is thought to keep out evil.
Once reaching Ubud, Erik and I left Udek behind and set out on the Campuhan Ridge Walk, which provided stunning views of rice fields and villages.
One of the temples we saw on our walk.
That's a lot of rice!

I am so impressed with the stonework!
Along the way we stopped at a cafe for coconut water (fresh out of the coconut, I had many of these during our time in Indonesia!) and key lime pie.

We were pretty tired after our walk, as I think we racked up somewhere between 8-10 kilometers in total. Raja had told us before our trip that we needed to try "babi guling" (suckling pig) at the famous Warung Ibu Oka, so we headed there for lunch. The meal resembled pulled pork and it was definitely flavorful.

After lunch we visited the monkey forest. There were an insane amount of monkeys running around everywhere! These monkeys have clearly learned that they can be fed by visitors, and if visitors tease them and do not give up the food, the monkeys can get aggressive.
"Mums" and their "bubs"

A temple inside the monkey forest

Erik made a friend!

We spent a few hours wandering around with the monkeys before finding Udek and telling him we wanted to go to the market for some shopping. Unfortunately, Udek misunderstood and took us to a shop with fixed prices rather than a market with lots of different stalls for bargaining, however, he made up for it with a stop for shopping at the Kuta market on the way back to Seminyak. We ate Mexican for dinner (random, I know) and it was delicious.

On our last day in Seminyak we were lucky enough to get a late check out. Erik went for a run on the beach in the morning while I went for a massage, as it is hard to beat $15 for an hour massage! We spent the rest of the day hanging out by our private pool until it was time to head to the airport. As usual, we had arranged for Raja to come pick us up to take us to Denpasar, and on the way we stopped by a grocery store to pick up some snacks, as we were about to embark on a 3 day hike once arriving on Lombok.

Upon check in at the airport we were told that our bags were too heavy, as we were on a budget airline and apparently they only allow 10kg each of checked luggage. We were 8kg over between the two of us, which set us back about $3.50 (by the look on the airline employee's face when he told us we were over and we were going to be charged, I thought it was going to be $100!). Our flight was on time and we got to see some pretty cool views of Bali out of the plane window. About 30 minutes after taking off we landed on Lombok, ready to start the second part of our Indonesian adventure!
That stretch of sand on the left is Jimbaran Bay, where we ate the seafood dinner. If you look closely in the center of the picture you can see Mount Agung , a volcano and the highest point on Bali.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Last weekend we celebrated the 30th birthday of one of my co-workers, and the party was held near the town of Ballarat. Quite a few of my co-workers are either from Ballarat or went to university there, so Erik and I had been talking about visiting Ballarat, the 3rd largest city in Victoria, for a while. Fortunately, the party hosts were kind enough to let us crash at their place on Saturday night so that we could spend the next day exploring "the 'Rat". As a bonus, we took a morning stroll around their neighborhood for some kangaroo viewing, which never gets old for us non-Australians!

Ballarat is about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne, and its significance as a "boom town" during the gold rush in the 1800's is what made the town famous. Today, many school groups flock to Sovereign Hill, the site of gold discovery. We decided not to enter Sovereign Hill, as it is quite expensive, but we did head to the Sovereign Hill overlook, where you can see the area where gold was first discovered. I did learn that as teacher I can apply for free entry to Sovereign Hill, so it might be worth a trip back just for that!

The town itself is very picturesque, with tree-lined streets and gorgeous older houses dotting the roads. There is also a lake, which happens to be where the rowing events were held during the 1956 Olympic Games.
Lake Wendouree

Lydiard Street is home to historic buildings, including a cinema and an art gallery. The art gallery is free and quite extensive, definitely worth a visit!

Ballarat as it was during the gold rush of the 1850's
Aboriginal artwork. The paintings are done on tree bark!

For lunch we made a stop at The Burger Company. I think burgers are a food that America tends to do well and Australian burgers are sometimes a let-down, but this place was outstanding! In addition to good burgers, they served crinkle cut fries (known as "chips" here), which I don't think I've ever seen in Australia. The owner loved that we were American (and wondered what a few Americans were doing in Ballarat!) and wanted to make sure that we thought the food was up to par. We also split a Tim Tam milkshake that was quite tasty, though Australian milkshakes are just not what we are used to in the States (in Oz they seem to be thin and milky, rather than thick and creamy).

Along Sturt Street, a major road running through Ballarat, we found St Patrick's College, one of Victoria's most prestigious private Catholic schools. Our school competes against them annually in Australian Rules Football.

Love the old school post box!
We also stopped by the Avenue of Honour and the Arch of Victory, both serving as memorials to soldiers (commonly known as "diggers") who served in WWI and WWII.
The is the arch and the "avenue" is the tree-lined street just beyond the arch.
This was just after ANZAC Day, where "diggers" are honored, hence the fresh flower arrangements.
We sort of felt like we could have been in one of our hometowns, either Westminster, MD or Buffalo, MN. The historic buildings, tree-lined streets, and general laid-back feel of a smaller city made us smile, and we felt it was a Sunday well-spent in Ballarat.