Eating good Southern Soul Food is possibly one of the greatest things in the world. Here are a few handy things to know before you gorge yourself silly.
Southern Soul Food will reduce you to tears. As you bite into each dish you cannot believe how good everything tastes.
Stretchy trousers are necessary. Tight jeans become a hazard as unbuttoning them on a full belly could mean the button flies off like a rocket in any possible direction.
No matter how hard you try you will leave feeling completely stuffed. You will need to stop but the overwhelming urge to continue eating will be too powerful.
Southern Soul Food is best when shared with good company. Company that is as happy to be a glutton as you are.
The fresh, hot cornbread are like clouds in your mouth but don’t eat too many as you will fill up too quickly.
When the fried chicken arrives; pause, embrace the moment, listen to choirs of heavenly angels sing and remember that you are about to taste the most wonderful thing known to man.
Soul food is good for your soul not your waistline. Constant eating of this irresistible cuisine will ensure lard forms in place you never wanted it to.
Allow yourself to taste every single side dish. There will be many and at first it may be overwhelming but unless you try each dish you will not have had a true Southern meal. Here are some of the sides you could expect on your freshly pressed table cloth; mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, beans, gravy, cabbage, butter beans, black-eyed peas, squash, candied yams, pickled beets, Okra and tomatoes, potato salad, coleslaw, fried green tomatoes, snap peas, apple salad, macaroni salad and English Peas and noodles to name just a few.
Eating Southern food is best down in the South of United States. Find a place that provides that homely feel.
Leave space for dessert. You may think that you cannot have another mouthful but that piece of pie or banana pudding beg to differ.
Happy Canada Day! As this beautiful, toonie throwing, toque wearing, beaver tail eating country celebrates its National Day on the 1st of July; here is a list of just a few of the great things Canada has to offer.
Friendly Canadians: always smiling and always friendly. Canadians are some of the most friendly people around.
Maple Syrup: pour it on anything and everything. Or just drink it out of any Maple Leaf shaped glass vessel, the choice is yours.
Poutine: fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. Need I say more?
Beaver Tails: these deep fried dough strips can be covered in cinnamon, sugar, Nutella, bananas or any other delicious treats.
Montreal Bagels: boiled not fried these bagels are far more superior than the neighbouring New York bagel.
The Canadian Tuxedo: not many people can pull off double denim but Canadians sure know how to do it right. We could learn from them and know that to double denim isn’t a fashion crime.
Roots: this clothing store is the bee’s knees. It has plaid, denim, and all things warm including toques (which for anybody who doesn’t know is a beanie).
The Canadian Wilderness: travelling across this country provides any visitor with the most spectacular scenery.
Bears and Moose: who wouldn’t want to see these magnificent Canadian creatures in their natural habitat?
Canadian Mounties: simply because they have the coolest hats.
The Definitive Seasons: there is no mistaking what season you are experiencing in Canada. Each has its own unique palette of colours to wow any visitor.
Winnie the Pooh: who doesn’t remember this ever-caring and always wise bear who loves eating honey?
A Good Looking Prime Minister: politics can be, well politics, but there is no denying that Mr Justin Trudeau is a babe.
Justin Bieber: Sorry! Whether you love him or love to make fun of him; he is Canadian and has a fair few catchy tunes.
Great Canadian Cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to name a few. Each city has something unique to offer.
Ice Hockey: this action packed game is like religion in Canada. This is understandable when they are the current World Champions.
Lacrosse: this great game is Canada’s National sport. It uses a small rubber ball and each player runs around with a long-handled stick. Don’t be fooled this game is certainly a contact sport.
Loonies and Toonies: who else has such cool names for their coins? Loonies are $1 coins that bear the image of a loon, a common Canadian bird. Toonies are the $2 coins which are a combination of the word ‘two’ and ‘loonie’. Genius.
Bonjour, Hi: this great country has two national languages. When in the French Canadian parts you will be greeted with ‘Bonjour, Hi’. The French has to come first by law. How very French.
The Canadian Accent: adored by people all over the word the Canadian accent is one of the coolest there is. Just make sure you don’t mistake it for that of an American accent.
Sorry!: Canadians are always so over-apologetic and we love it.
These are just a few things that make Canada amazing. Happy Canada Day Eh!
*This list was compiled with the help of one of the many great Canadians I know.*
Wondering around Montreal has been delightful but I began to wonder if I had left continental Europe at all. I knew that I had because the people of Montreal are much friendlier than the entire continent of Europe combined.
Everyone greeted you with ‘Bonjour, hi’ to gauge where you were from or if you were a fortunate Canadian who could speak both of the national languages. A local told us that the people in Montreal are actually some of the most unfriendly people in all of this maple syrup loving nation but coming from a place where even allowing an elderly person to sit or holding open a door is too much to ask for; this was a refreshing change.
Our morning was spent making our way over to Mont Royal, a beautiful park on the top of a hill which allows any visitor with a panoramic view of the city. We opted for the bus to take us to the top and since we had a day pass on public transport we figured we may as well use it. We were dropped off and took a casual stroll through the park towards the view point but we were not alone.
Some Canadian wildlife had decided to join us for some of the journey, a small squirrel was obviously using his looks to manipulate the two very obvious tourists that had wandered into his turf. Eventually the squirrel found something a little bit more interesting than us and we reached the view point.
The view was truly spectacular. The palate of reds, oranges and yellows from the changing leaves surrounded the tall and powerful grey and dark browns buildings creating a stark contrast. A slight and rather chilly breeze swept across us bringing with it leaves that whimsically danced in the wind as they made their great escape from the roots that had nurtured them. With a last little glance at the view we decided it was time to become a little more acquainted with the city; but first we needed something to eat.
We were told by several locals and visitors that a bagel was an absolute must and that there was one small establishment that made the very best bagels. St Viateur Bagels sits close to the Mont Royal metro station and part of their fame comes from the fact that they make their delicious bagels in the store and boil them before placing them in a large pizza type oven for baking.
Making our way down the store lined street we eventually found St Viateur’s with large bagels on the front signage. Once we were inside we chose a small table in the front window; the sunshine had made it a lovely and warm place to nest.
We decided on sharing a traditional bagel and allowed our waitress to make the rest of the decisions on our behalf and within minutes our Montreal specialty had arrived. The bagel was covered in sesame seeds that were as toasted as we were in the midday fall sunshine, the cream cheese was liberally plastered on one side and on the other half sat layers of fresh pink salmon, red onion that had been crafty laid on top with capers that had hid themselves in the luscious folds.
For my first bite I had to make sure that I had all of the ingredients on my fork to have a true experience and I was certainly not disappointed. The bagel was so fresh and lighter than the dense bagels I have had previously. Suffice to say that my meal did not last long and I was left feeling perfectly content by the end. We sat chatting while observing the staff in the kitchen making endless streams of bagels to delight other visitors to St Viateur’s. Eventually it was time to make our way into Old Montreal.
Arriving in the downtown area we wandered towards the port. I was surprised by the small number of people around, they too had drifted like the coloured leaves on the trees. The port provided an interesting side of the city with many buildings and factory warehouses having been completely abandoned. The number of these buildings around the area was astonishing and the only company that they now have are of the graffiti faces that decorate their walls.
With the cold wind picking up it was easy to understand why there was no hustle and bustle in the main squares of the city. Instead people sat indoors and ventured out to quickly nip inside somewhere else. As we weren’t accustomed as yet to the chilling wind we decided to explore some of the underground shopping malls.
These malls have over 32km of walkways and are home to hundreds of stores that sit in a world entirely on it’s own. After a couple of hours meandering our way through these large and yet stuffy shopping pavilions we decided that it was time for something very important; dinner.
Each person we had spoken to had recommended a little place called Schwartz Deli and so without delay we made our way over to the Jewish Quarter. Arriving at Schwartz the first thing that we noticed was the very long queue out the front; initially we were put off by the hoards of people who too had followed the smell of smoked meat but if we weren’t going to wait we certainly weren’t going to get any.
We were sat at the counter of the small diner; newspaper articles and photos of semi – famous people covered the old smoked meat absorbed walls. Every single table was full and each person had the same dish placed in front of them. We sat next to an older Canadian couple and as is custom, it seems, in Canada they greeted us and gave us some advice on what to order. We ordered with our waiter who also seemed to be the manager of the joint. Minutes later we had enough food in front of us to feed a small army or at least two self confessed food lovers.
The sandwich had layers of thinly sliced deep pink beef with the edges brown and grainy from the spices that gave it the unique Schwartz flavour. Protecting the middle of the sandwich was of course the bread but this bread was fresh; the centre was soft and when you pressed strategically grabbed it, so as not to have the contents fall out, the bread felt like a soft cushion with the crust a light tanned colour. Mustard smothered each gap on one side of the sandwich and a dill pickle that looked like it was sat amongst Arnold Schwartzengger’s steroid cabinet, had a plate entirely on it’s own. We sipped the very local Cott’s Soda which was insanely sweet but complimented the savoury meal which was slowly being devoured.
We savoured each bite and just as the people around us did we finished up and allowed those eager and waiting in the cold to come in and enjoy their experience. Plunged into the cold; which our waiter was insistent was worse than normal, we made our way back to our hostel for a quiet drink and a toast to completing our first city on our two month adventure. In two days we had completed the top three food experiences recommended to us by all those we spoke to about the beautiful city of Montreal.
Arriving back at the hostel we were greeted with a friendly smile and a ‘Bonjour, Hi.’
Whenever I spoke to Canadians about the fact that I was going to be visiting their country they all spoke of a dish that could not be missed; a dish called poutine.
Arriving in Montreal off of our Air Canada flight we were greeted with a combination of ‘Bonjour’ here and ‘Hello’ there before turning the corner to go through customs where we were met with a not so Canadian welcome.
Being the weekend after Thanksgiving it was packed and unlike any airport I have ever seen before. The Canadians around us could not believe their luck and their previous weekend of thanks and giving went out the window as they lined up very irritated, like us, in the queue for over an hour.
We lost a large chunk of our time in the queue as we watched the daylight slip away from us as the sky turned from a pasty grey to a dark charcoal.
Eventually with a slight diversion (my fault) we made it to our hostel in the downtown area. The M Hostel is located in the University district and for our short stay in Montreal had everything we needed.
After a quick drop of our bags we had one goal for the evening; find poutine.
What is this that I speak of? Well; poutine is a truly Canadian dish which originated in Quebec. Poutine is a dish that would suffice in any circumstance however I do believe that if you were drunk it would provide the consumer with a food experience to match no other. Essentially it is chips doused in gravy with a heavy handed sprinkle of cheese curd. Sounds simple enough but it is a combination that is sure to blow your mind.
We were told about a little place called La Banquise. They are known as the best place for it and as lovers of food, new things and a rule to always follow a good recommendation, who were we to say no?
When we arrived we were very quickly seated and experienced our first bit of Canadian service. Water was on the table and a quick explanation was given in regards to what we should try.
Our receptionist told us to not go for the classic poutine however I could not go past it. While the menu had many other delicious and mouthwatering options which included ingredients like guacamole, pulled pork, beef mince and Swiss cheese, I opted for the classic poutine as a first time cherry popper.
Less than five minutes had passed and an enormous (apparently regular) plate of poutine had arrived on the red decorated table. Oh my god! It isn’t really much to look at and doesn’t get points for presentation but I couldn’t wait to tuck in. I took my first bite and let me just say “Oh Canada, thank you for poutine!”
It was amazing, my first mouthful had everything on it, ensuring I got the whole experience and it was great. How can a meal with hardly any (or very little) nutritional value taste so damn good?
Tactfully; with extreme skill and precision we managed to make our way through the dish. Each bite providing a gateway to the pool of gravy at the bottom of the once white plate.
I got a third of the way through and already began feeling defeated. I know what you are thinking, I can hear the cheers now “Keep going! You can do it!” I continued for a little while taking breaks where I could. You must understand it was tough, really tough. As a lactose intolerant person this is not the ideal dish but I had prepared with myself.
I got halfway and I had to stop, not because I wanted to but because my body could not keep up. This delicious poutine had beat me; taken me into its gravy filled void to spit me out and look like it does on a plate.
Poutine had won! Just this once.
Breweries tell stories and the abandoned Bärenqull Brewey in the former East Berlin is no exception.
There aren’t many things as good as a cold beer; the condensation on the glass as the label wrinkles, the unmistakable and satisfying sound of the top as it pops off of the bottle only ever wanting to be free.
We don’t often think about where these glass bottles of heavenly liquid are made or the long process behind how beer is pefected.
The Bärenquell brewery was created in 1888 and was situated in East Berlin during the time of the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall many East Berliners decided that they preferred the refreshing taste of a new capitalist country with beer brands which matched those ideologies.
Abandoned in 1994 the brewery fell into disrepair and now the red brick walls have become a blank canvas. A canvas not only for graffiti artists but for anyone who knows how to handle a spray paint can or is seeking a little adventure in the city of Berlin.
The complex is huge and could take a good few hours to explore. We wandered through the different sections of the old brewery and tried to piece together the functions of each building.
The tall mill and brewery tower still stand. While barley and hops don’t pass through the large drums the only life are trees that have somehow managed to creep up the outside walls and grow through any crack creating a stark contrast of green splashed on the red brick.
More colour has been splashed across the building and the artworks bring more character to this brewery with so many stories. From small pieces to wall murals these pieces of art captivate any visitor.
Broken glass scatters the floor and some had been strangely arranged in piles as though someone had been looking to clean up the place but had given up.
Old burnt out cars sit in the manufacturing hall and bottling plant. If you look closely enough you can find the old neglected beer labels and coasters covered in 20 years worth of dirt and grime.
The old office provides any intruder with an insider’s point of view. Old files lay on the floor opened with crumbled and curled edge papers scattered around only longing to be straight, uniform and systematically ordered once more.
This huge complex is crying out for visitors or for someone to give it a purpose. On my visit I didn’t see anyone else and I wondered how much longer this brewery would stay so isolated after its near hundred year existence. Or if it would ever relive it’s glory days where a unique East Berlin beer quenched the thirst of the population.
It now seems that the only thirst quenching qualities this huge complex provides is for that of street artists or for adventurers looking to do something unique and off the beaten track in the fascinating city of Berlin.
An airport without travellers is like night without day; the two naturally coincide. Berlin Tempelhof, an abandoned airport, has arrival halls that hold the excitement of past passengers where the memories of heartfelt goodbyes fade like the paint on the walls. It is something so unique and bizarre because it is not often airport walls tell a story to people who are willing to listen, rather than travel in another direction.
The story of this airport is an interesting one and a two hour guided tour of the airport will give you a complete idea of the grandeur of the building and the tales of struggle and triumph which have since been neglected and ignored.
Before the 1970’s the Tempelhof airport had seen over six million travellers and the facilities trump any other airport. Walking through the airport would make anybody feel so insignificant because of the sheer size. Knowing the history of Germany makes it even more intriguing and made me question the sheer capabilities of man.
Hitler had imagined great things for this airport and wanted it to serve as a multi purpose building. It would not only be an airport but would also allow for hundreds of thousands of people to gather to listen to the captivating speeches and the calculated propaganda which fuelled the basis of the Nazi Party during the Second World War. Hitler wanted Berlin to be redesigned and Tempelhof was only the beginning of this wildly overestimated plans.
This enormous building; shaped like an eagle spreading its wings, was the largest of its kind when it was built. It has since been the inspiration for many of the world’s most modern and busiest airports. It still ranks third as the tallest building in the world in terms of floor area.
During the Second World War it held in its broad grasp a prison camp. Hundreds of political prisoners were held here in 20 barracks which were destroyed after the war when the Allies took control of the area.
The Americans used the airport as their base during the Cold War for the Berlin Blockade. The Berlin Blockade saw the Allied forces bringing in supplies to West Berlin when the USSR blocked all land routes into Berlin through East Germany.
Planes were landing here every minute with essential supplies for the citizens in West Berlin. The air traffic at this airport was busier than that of London Heathrow and if pilots weren’t on time they had to fly back to their starting point and try again at a later stage.
When these soldiers weren’t constantly bringing in a stream of supplies they lived in the self-sufficient airport complex. Many soldiers had their own rooms in the barracks and didn’t have to share. There was a grocery store, basketball court, entertainment room, restaurant and bar. Soldiers were able to live their free time here and to escape the world outside where the Berlin Wall stood tall and mighty while separating different ideologies.
One story which I found most interesting was that of the Raisin Bombers or Candy Bombers as they were commonly known. Gail Halvorsen, one an American pilot, used to regularly fly into Tempelhof and he would drop candy and chocolate bars attached to handkerchiefs creating parachutes of joy for those children living below. The Candy Bombers created hope and happiness in a time of struggle. This is just one tale from this historic place and a visit to the airport will provide any curious traveller with the chance to hear what the wall have to say.
Now the buildings wait for visitors and the runways have become an outdoor oasis for families. Children race on bikes race down the middle and the health concious sprint down the 2km strip. If you were interested in visiting the airport then have a look at the Tempelhof website as tours offered in different languages and at different times. The tour cost €12 and was completely worthwhile. Our guide was so knowledgeable an gave the group some great insight into this mysterious building.
Tempelhof may also be the only chance you get to go to an airport where you don’t have heartfelt goodbyes, where there is no excitement for the prospect of travelling somewhere new and where the stories cling to the walls like passengers cling to a boarding pass before leaving the gate.
In London there are hundreds of options for tourists to experience the bustling city; here is one that needs some planning but won’t cost you a penny. It will see you sitting above London in a tranquil green Eden where the forbidden fruit sits in a welcoming chilled cocktail glass and where the view is better than that of a naked Adam or Eve.
A visit to the newly opened Sky Garden may be just the thing for you after a busy day of sightseeing. The Sky Garden is located on 20 Fenchurch Street which is home to the towering Walkie Talkie building as it is commonly known. On the top floor of this toy-shaped building sits a small tranquil garden where the slight glass house humidity combines with the smell of earth and trees to provide a small escape from the surrounding concrete prison.
Visiting the Sky Garden is easy but it is not a last minute ordeal; you have to book in advance. Booking online is quick and the website asks for some personal details and your preferred time slot and once complete you receive a confirmation email where you download your ticket.
The building is easily accessible and if you arrive by tube then be sure to just look up to orientate yourself an you won’t be able to miss the tall building; I found that Bank station worked best for my visit.
Ensure when you go and visit that you have some kind of photo identification and be aware that they have airport type security at the gate. Other than that it is rather simple and a great way to see the city.
Should you be feeling a little peckish you can pick up some small snacks from the Sky Pod Bar where the prices are fairly reasonable. If you want something a little more flash then you can make a reservation at the Fenchurch Seafood Bar and Grill or the Darwin Brasserie which sit amongst the trees of the Sky Garden.
I would say the best time of day to go would be later afternoon, it is often a little cooler and with summer on it’s way it is a great opportunity to take advantage of the sunshine. The outside viewpoint allows visitors to see The Tower of London, Tower Bridge and The Shard. Walking around the garden visitors can get a complete view of the city of London.
So grab your Adam or Eve and book online for an appointment in the Sky Garden; a little Eden above London with a forbidden fruit cocktail and a view of London like no other.
Being a Trip Manager means you just get to drink and party all the time right? Wrong! The misconception of the life as a trip manager is something we all find pretty common.
Here are the top ten misconceptions of Trip Managers who take bunches of 50 youths around a continent.
1. Yes we party, but not all the time– We visit some of the world’s best party cities and trust me when I say that we enjoy having a boogie but we can’t always show you our winning dance moves (of which we have many). Getting very little sleep is normal and it sometimes means that we have to do the occasional ‘smoke bomb’. This ninja-like move is when we walk around; check that you are all having the best time and then ‘poof’ we disappear.
We do this knowing that you are going to have a great night regardless and that we will be the ones working the next morning while you attempt to cure a hangover. Do be aware though, that when we do pick a night to party we usually go hard and it means you may need to clear the dance floor and we will usually be in the last taxi home.
2. We are not human- This common misconception is felt by many in the industry. Now I know that sometimes it may seem as though we are robots; finely tuned with genius minds which never switch off but really we are not. Being human, as you may know, means that we have our ups and downs just like anyone else. We have to smile and be accommodating, that’s an essential part of our job but being human means we may have a day where we are sad, tired or do not want to be disturbed because we want to have a quick shower at the end of a long day.
3. We know it all- So many people ask how we can remember as much as we do and when you work as a trip manager you are able to retain plenty of information but that doesn’t mean that we know it all. We are always learning and we may not have the answer for you but we are willing to find out or to listen to a fun fact that you have to share.
It is impossible for someone to know everything and this also means that sometimes we get lost; yes that’s correct. Sometimes we take a wrong turn in cities we know but most of the time you won’t even notice because we don’t want you to have to worry.
4. We don’t know the gossip on the coach- Please don’t be fooled. We know exactly what is going on. Organised group tours often have a feeling similar to what we all experienced in high school. There are groups of friends; some outgoing others a little shy and people who end up in a relationship on tour. Don’t think that we are oblivious to these happenings. We are always listening and just because it’s hasn’t been explicitly said that people didn’t spend the evening in their room doesn’t mean it’s not, almost always, noticeable the very next morning.
5. We don’t have lives outside of tour- We are faithful to you always, for 24 hours of the day you are in our care but sometimes we get to grab a few minutes to ourselves and in that time we will do normal things. We have family and friends who want to hang out and chat just as you do in your day to day life. We have hobbies and interest which extend well beyond our work and when your tour is finished; unless you were someone we genuinely enjoyed spending time with, we will part ways, continue with our lives as you continue with yours.
6. We haven’t done this before and have no idea what we are doing- no matter how many tours you have been on our how many times you may have visited a particular city you are not the Trip Manager. I’m sure you would be a little grumpy if someone came into your place of work and told you how to do your job so please don’t tell us how to do ours. Which leads to the next point
7. Anyone can get this job- We go through some of the longest and most intense training of all companies globally. No matter which company takes you on your tour rest assured that trip managers have put the blood sweat and endless tears into getting our dream job. Each year youth travel companies receive thousands of applications and companies will maybe employ around thirty to forty of those applicants; those aren’t great odds unless you work your butt off.
8. A tour just happens- The amount of work that goes behind a tour is staggering and it goes well beyond just the role of the trip manager. Our offices have teams who organise these trips and take the worry out of it for you. They probably have a fair few grey hairs for organising every aspect of the tour up to a year in advance. Have a think about the hotels, dinners, transport, drivers, activities, ferries, flights and activities, these things only cover the tip of the iceberg. This is why you booked a group tour, for us to take the hassle out of you having to organise it all yourself. You’re job is to be on holiday while we do the work remembering it is not only your driver and trip manager who make it happen.
9. We like you all- This may be the hardest blow for some of you but with every tour taking fifty travellers around continents we sometimes encounter people that we get on better with than with others. This is the way life works and there will be people you like and dislike. Just because you may not be someone we connect with as much doesn’t mean that you will have less of an incredible experience. We have to be professional, treat people equally and with respect but if you are not going to reciprocate that behaviour then don’t expect us to be best buddies outside of your tour.
10. We are on holiday- So many people assume that because we travel for work that we are on holiday; this couldn’t be more untrue. If we were on holiday we would be sitting next to you on the coach not at the front with mounds of paperwork and a list of endless tasks each day. If we look like we are having a good time it’s because we have managed to get all of our work done prior and because if we didn’t look like we were having a good time you may question if you were.
These misconceptions are common but our line of work lends to them but there aren’t many people in the industry who would trade it for anything else because we do have the best job in the world. We often take it for granted but it is a job and it does see us working hard to ensure that you have the best time possible.
We do have fun on a daily basis and most of that can be attributed to all of you who put trust in us to show you some of the most unique and fascinating places. You teach us things along the way and while you are busy making memories that you will cherish and hold dear; we are too and you are part of them and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
One cannot truly experience a new land without seeing how the locals live. A land far from tourist areas where the pace is slower, the grass is greener and the country really shows you what it is has to offer.
Our fifth day was spent venturing away from the buzz of the beach area and into the archipelago wilderness towards the serene Ubud. The journey from Seminyak took us a good two hours. We had arranged the day before and booked with Bali Eco Cycling.
Our transfer arrived and our driver didn’t speak much English although we wouldn’t have been able to hear him over the loud snore of the engine getting gradually louder as the gears changed. We picked up four more people on the way and ventured from the tourist areas past the little villages and lush green landscapes to Ubud.
We stopped and picked up Weda, our guide for the day. He explained how he used to be a rice farmer and that he was now doing tours to improve his English; which was perfectly comprehensible. With a wide smile and a welcoming face he explained a short history of Bali and certain cultural aspects of Balinese life.
Listening intently we drove the tight road into a national park in the Kintamani area which is home to the active Batur Volcano and the calm Batur Lake. Our snoring van came to a halt at The Lookout Cafe where we were to have some breakfast. The view made me forget all about the void in my stomach and I was taken back by the sheer natural beauty of the area. The Batur Volcano last erupted in the sixties but the fertile land is a blessing and the lake below provides water to the rice paddies in the larger surrounding area.
Eventually after a light breakfast and when I could tear my eyes away from the majestic landscape, it was back into our noisy van to visit a coffee plantation. We were shown a variety of different plants by Weda and told about a type of coffee very unique to Indonsia and the little animal who helps produce it.
Kopi Luwak is the rarest type of coffee around and is produced after a small luwak or civet cat digests the beans allows them to pass through their system and then locals look for the droppings, clean them and roast them. Unfortunately these days the poor little luwaks are just kept in cages and exploited for the sake of a very expensive coffee. Coffee you cannot bring into Australia.
With our tea and coffee experience behind us it was time to start seeing the countryside without the constant grumble of the van. We were trading our four wheels for two and placing a helmet on our heads as we began a 25km ride.
It wasn’t long before we picked up a fair amount of speed as we were continuously travelling downhill and just as I was beginning to get used to the gears on the bike it was time to pull over onto a dirt track to our first stop.
Weda told us that we were going to visit a compound where several families lived and that some of the money from the tour was used to help the family. Walking in we were shown the kitchen. The small fire in the corner had coloured the walls black and the preparation bench was low to the ground. Traditionally in Balinese homes the women cook but Weda explained that it is not exclusively the women who cook and that for Balinese people meal time is something which is enjoyed alone and not in the company of others as Westerners are so used to doing.
Walking out of the kitchen someone caught my eye. There was a small old man who had been following me through the compound. With skin like a well-used leather bag and more wrinkles than a shirt in need of an iron this man muttered to himself. He sat himself on the side of the compound; always muttering to himself and seemingly pointing at nothing at all. Meanwhile around him was a hive of activity where the women were doing all the work weaving banana leaves into decorative shapes and bowls in preparation for the New Year festivities in a few days time.
I couldn’t tear my gaze from this old man. His empty eyes had caught mine full of wonder and I took a photograph of his face, he had a face full of stories and I had to capture it. Once I had I asked Weda about this intriguing man. He told me that he was the crazy man and that when his wife died so did his spirit.
We wandered through the compound and saw the ATM; which is the livestock. The livestock in the compound allow the families to make a small yet steady income. The old man was the only male I saw in the compound all of the other women has busied themselves and there was no barrier on age.
The oldest woman in the compound was 92 and she sat weaving while she gazed off into the distance. It made me wonder what they thought of us, tourists watching them. Encroaching on their daily routine with cameras and a sense of curiosity. This old woman; the grandmother of the compound had captivating eyes the colour of the ocean just after sunrise and age spots covered her face. When we said hello she smiled and gave us a nod all the while her hands never once stopping the intricate banana leaf weave.
It was a humbling experience to see the way that the majority of Balinese people in the rural areas live and how important trade and hard work is to them. Walking out of the compound I turned around one final time to see if I could spot the old man but he was gone.
Peddling down the hill we began seeing wide open spaces with eternal green rice fields, people were working in the fields and children ran to the road to wave frantically and shout ‘hello’ as us, the strangers, passing by in awe.
We stopped in the rice paddies and got to have a little walk through, balancing carefully, so as not to fall in the mud below, we walked on the paths between the paddies. Rice is the staple food for the majority of the global population and to see the work behind something we take so for granted was fascinating.
Weda handed us ponchos and said it was going to rain; without question we popped them on and continued our ride through the countryside. True to his word the heavens opened and a refreshing tropical rain fell. Within minutes we were all soaked but there was something magical about riding in the rain. All the tension and electricity held in the humidity before just dissipated and the cool drops were welcoming with both of us opening our arms and embracing the droplets rolling off of our faces. The path cleared of frantic children, the rice paddies were deserted and had an overwhelming feeling of solitude and happiness.
Our day cycling around the countryside was nearly complete but we needed to have a final lunch stop before the journey home. We drove up to a beautiful restaurant which overlooked yet another rice paddy field and the smell of peanut and chilli filled the air along with the damp ground below from the rain. We sat and indulged on a variety of different dishes all with an Indonesian or South East Asian influence. There was Nasi Goring, similar to fried rice, duck, chicken satay with a tofu dish and of course fresh steamed rice.
Paying only US$40 for our whole day with Bali Eco Cycling; we were amazed at everything that had been included and I really would highly recommend them if you plan on going to Bali.
We eventually said our goodbyes to Weda our wonderful guide and began on the winding road away from the dense forest and green fields back towards the brown sandy beaches of Seminyak on the outer edge of the island. I began reflecting on the morning and everything that we had done. It had been spectacular, not just this day but all the previous days in Bali too. It is beautiful to see how the people are so gentle, friendly and welcoming.
Our last days in Bali were spent embracing the culture, rituals and traditions of the island. We sat and watched the sun set over the ocean, we laughed and we experienced a place of true beauty which captivated me and left me wanting to stay.
Traditions and rituals are two things which define a culture. Seeing both while travelling allows for a greater understanding and overall appreciation of a country.
Our fourth day in Bali was spent observing some of these traditions and rituals as we made our way to one of the most popular temples in Bali; Pura Tanah Lot.
Tanah Lot is located in Tabanan off of the Indonesian island and is perfectly placed on the top of a large rock which juts out from the sea. It stands tall while the Indian Ocean batters and shapes its sides while the temple is witness to some of Bali’s best sunsets over the horizon. It is around a 45 minute drive from the centre of Seminyak. Entrance costs 30 000 IDR each (around AUS $3) and to park a car it costs a small 5000 IDR (AUS $0.50) which is a small price to pay for the beauty of the complex.
Once through the gates you will find an array of market stalls. While many of the goods are the same as you can find in Seminyak there are a few slight differences in some of the products with more hand-crafted goods including woven bowls and wooden statues.
One of the stores had three women sitting in a row and they ran a well-oiled coconut cutting machine; two of the women shaved coconuts and rolled the shavings into small balls for people to try while the third woman stood with a machete knife and beheaded coconuts; pouring the water into a small plastic bag and before tying the top places a straw in the bag for easy drinking which is much lighter than carrying an entire coconut around.
Meandering through the markets and dodging the daily offerings we made it to the entrance gates of the Tanah Lot area. When we arrived the tide was low, the sky clear and the sun high. To the left of Tanah Lot was the Pura Batu Bolong temple. This tiny temple is situated on the edge a cliff sticking out into the ocean where centuries of crashing salt water waves have eroded the rock causing a hole in the wall of the cliff creating a unique natural scene.
Meandering from the Pura Batu Bolong we made our way down the stairs to the entrance of the Tanah Lot temple where the sea water swashed its way around the rock holding the temple. People were getting photographs from every angle while ensuring that they didn’t step in a puddle left from the low tide.
We walked up towards the temple and saw people crossing the small stream to get to the entrance of the temple. Upon crossing the stream ourselves and with soggy shoes we noticed that the men in the temple were offering blessings to all. There was a stream of Holy Water which you poured over your head, once you had done this you then were sprinkled with more water, had rice grains placed on your forehead and a frangipani placed behind your ear as a blessing. It was a very peaceful and beautiful ritual which I have never experienced before.
After our blessing we were able to have a look at the Holy Sea Snakes. These snakes are said to guard the temple from evil spirits and they used to be free and able to protect the area.Now they are kept in a small sand cave with a local man guarding the guardians and ensuring visitors pay a small fee to view them.
In the heat of the midday sun the Tanah Lot stands cool and calm with its free-flowing Holy Water and it’s age old traditions. A visit to Bali wouldn’t be complete without visiting this unique Sea Temple.