On a recent visit to the Balkan Peninsula, B and I found ourselves spending one full day in beautiful Montenegro. This country is blessed with sweeping mountains, azure seasides and historic medieval towns. It is simply wonderful. Here are the five Montenegro must-sees that we …
Tag: destination review
A trip to Bali was just the birthday present S needed to celebrate her big day. Luckily, she invited B and me along to Indonesia and together we explored Bali and threw in a little Java for good measure. This post will discuss our 13-day Bali Itinerary.
Bali Itinerary Day 1: Arrival in Denpasar Airport
When we exited the plane after a series of looong flights, we were warmly welcomed to the island of Bali in Indonesia. I say warmly, but I should really say swelteringly, because Bali is H-O-T. We would spend the next 13 days red faced and covered in sweat.
We were most excited to visit the town of Ubud, and so had arranged with our hotel to have a driver pick us up at the Denpasar airport and drive us straight to Ubud. These towns are not far away, less than 25 miles, but it took us over an hour to make the drive. I had envisioned Ubud to be an isolated mountain town, but it turns out you just kind of drive through a long stretch of cities until you arrive. Kind of like driving South on I-15 of the Wasatch Front in Utah. Anyway, we arrived at the Kori Bali Inn and were pretty beat. After a cursory walk through of the town and a few markets, we crashed for the evening.
Bali Itinerary Day 2: Monkey Forest and Legong Dance
The next morning, we awoke bright and early and were treated to what we would lovingly name ‘Bali Pancakes.’ Read this post to learn how to make your own! It’s always a good idea to get moving when you are feeling jet lagged, so we spent our first real day in Ubud wandering through the jungle of the Mandala Suci Wenara Wana…aka Monkey Forest. The forest is actually a lovely nature reserve and Hindu temple complex. It is technically in another town, but we walked there from our hotel in Ubud.
Our stroll through the Monkey Forest was quite nice; it was lush and green and the shade from the trees felt heavenly. The monkeys, Balinese Macaques, weren’t so lovely. Many tourists visit Monkey Forest and many of them feed the monkeys so they (understandably) assume we all have food for them. We were not into letting crawl all over us so we tried to keep a respectable distance from the non-human primates. We spent several hours visiting Monkey Forest but eventually made our way back to Ubud.
Baby monkeys playing in Monkey Forest. Awwwww…..
That evening we attended a Legong Dance performance. This dancing style is quite famous; the dancers wear elaborate costumes, head dresses, masks, etc. and tell stories with their facial expressions and movements. The legong dance was set to music played by a gamelan, which is a group of musicians who mainly play different drums. Maybe this music was soothing…but the three of us were lulled into almost falling asleep. However, this type of music and dance is such an important part of Balinese culture that no Bali itinerary would be complete without attending one.
Bali Itinerary Day 3: Spa and yoga day
Speaking of requisite Bali Itinerary experiences…a spa and yoga day is a must. We awoke early and joined a 7:30 a.m. Vinyasa class, taught by an exceedingly handsome Argentinian gaucho. I’m not sure whether the class or the teach did it, but we were well awake when we finished and headed over to our full day spa treatment.
This spa treatment was so epic we discussed it in an entire post. Suffice it to say, Balinese are known for massages so when you are in Bali you should definitely get a massage. Heck, since the prices are so reasonable, get a few. Our spa treatment took most of our day. We spent the remainder of the day strolling through Ubud.
Bali Itinerary Day 4: Agung Batur hike, coffee plantation, rice terraces, fish eating feet
We had arranged for a sunrise hike of one of the main volcanoes on Bali, Agung Batur for day 4. The sunrise part of the hike didn’t turn out quite the way we planned (read about it here), but the rest of the tour was quite nice.
After the hike, we toured a coffee plantation where the coffee is famous for a bizarre reason. A mongoose eats the coffee beans, poops them out and then some unlucky person gets to collect the beans and grind them into coffee. Not sure who came up with this idea, but it is weird. The next stop was much more pleasant. We saw some of the beautiful tiered rice patty terraces. This island has so many vibrant colors, it is a feast for the eyes.
Bali Itinerary Day 5: Pura Taman Ayun temple, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan lake, Git Git waterfall
We arranged for the owner of our hotel to drive us to our next home base on our Bali itinerary: Lovina. We negotiated a rate with him, and he recommended several points of interest along the way where he would take us. (All for around $50.) The first stop was the Pura Taman Ayun temple. This temple was quite peaceful and not very crowded. We were able to stroll along and climb some of the wood towers and to get an aerial view of the gardens and buildings.
Stop number two was Pura Ulun Danau Bratan Lake. If you google images of Bali, you are sure to see a picture of this temple on the edge of a lake. I was pumped to see it IRL because I had been staring at it for months as my wallpaper on my work computer. Honestly, this place was a little strange. From a distance it was just what I expected, but up close there were weird carnival type rides and lots of Balinese tourists around. I’m guessing this is a hot spot for locals.
Stop number 3 was the Git Git waterfall. We picked up a local guide at the beginning of this hike and he guided us down the mile or so path. We were getting skeptical about what we were going to see, but then it opened up and two waterfalls met in one pool. It was beautiful!
Bali Itinerary Day 6: Chillaxing in Lovina
B had found a little info on a town not many tourists go to on the north of the island. We decided to stay there for a few days and boy are we glad we did! A mid-vacation respite is always nice on a long vacation, and Lovina was it for us. Our first day there we spent several hours reading and swimming in the small hotel pool while a staff member climbed trees with a machete and cut us down some coconuts to drink. For real, that happened.
After gathering strength, we made our way to the beach and proceeded to stay there for the rest of the day, ordering food and having it brought to our beach chairs. What a glorious day to include on your Bali Itinerary!
Bali Itinerary Day 7: Brahma Vihara Arama Buddhist Monastery, Banjar Hot Springs
The next day on our we arranged for a ride to take us to the Brahma Vihara Arama Buddhist Monastery, the reason B had found this lovely area. This is a legit Monastery and we saw several Buddhist monks on our tour. Many of the buildings have signs asking for ‘Nobel Silence,’ so visiting this temple was quite tranquil.
Our next stop was the Banjar Hot Springs. We had seen pictures of this place and wanted to test out the waters for ourselves. Banjar is a natural hot spring with several pools. But the coolest part is the fountain where water shots out of dragon’s heads. The water has a high sulfur content, so be careful if you have a lighter colored swimsuit.
Bali Itinerary Day 8: Tulamben
S wanted to go scuba diving on her birthday so she decided we would travel down to Tulamben to see the wreckage of the U.S.S. Liberty. We arranged for a driver to take us to the tiny town of Tulamben, which is really just a few houses, a hotel, and a store or two. Tulamben is several hours away from Lovina, so the drive was the main event for day 8 of our Bali itinerary. We arrived around 4:00 p.m. in Tulamben which was nice, because there wasn’t much to see or do. We opted for some more massages and called it a day.
Bali Itinerary Day 9: Diving and Sanur
The Liberty wreck is the main event in these parts. So bright and early, S and B suited up and headed into the water. Since I prefer to snorkel, I stayed near the shore but could still see the wreckage when I dove down from the surface. This is one of the most popular dive spots in Bali and many divers make the trek to this sleepy town. S and B were glad that they chose this spot to dive because the wreckage was so unique. It definitely wasn’t the clearest water I’ve snorkeled in. If that floats your boat, you might want to pick a different location. Since we were only in Tulamben to dive, we quickly got out of dodge once we were done. We hired a driver from the hotel to take us down to Sanur.
Sanur is a relaxed town that happens to border some stunning beaches. There are a few towns in this area of Bali that are known for beaches (Sanur, Seminyak, Kuta), but we opted for Sanur. When we arrived, we took a lovely stroll along the beach and found a restaurant on the water to close out S’s b-day extravaganza.
Bali Itinerary Day 10: Java (two-day optional tour to Java on the Bali Itinerary)
When we landed on day 1 at the Denpasar airport, we walked on over to the tickets area and purchased round trip tickets to visit the neighboring island of Java. I really wanted to do this as there are some incredible temple complexes in the middle of the island. Hence on day 10 of our Bali itinerary, we made our way to the airport for a domestic flight to Yogyakarta, aka ‘Joge-ja.’ This flight is only a few hours long and was quite a contrast to most flights I’ve been on. For example, in the seat pocket was a laminated card with prayers asking for a safe flight from several different religions. The on-board announcements included a very serious warning about trafficking drugs in Indonesia, which is punishable by death. Yikes!
We had arranged for a driver to pick us up and drive us to Megalung, a smallish town that is the closest hub to Borobudur. We arrived in time to see all that we wanted to of this town and then walked to our small resort.
You are definitely in a rural area in these parts; we relied on our hotel to feed us that night and enjoyed the open air (read cloth roof, no walls) in the common area. As we walked through Megalung, we were definitely uncommon, being the only white people strolling down the street. Everyone was incredibly smiley and friendly and little kids blew us kisses. It’s amazing how a few miles can get you so far off the beaten tourist path.
Bali Itinerary Day 11: Borobudur, Yogya, Prambanan
The next morning, we had arranged for a ride to the the Borobudur complex. There is lodging right next to the temple and if you don’t mind paying a little more, this is a nice option. We arrived very early, around 4:30 a.m. The sunrise crowd wasn’t very big, probably because of the early hour. We had flashlights with us and were able to explore the large temple on our own. At sunrise, we all gathered on the east-facing side of the temple and watched as it got lighter. Unfortunately, mist rolled in and we didn’t see the sharp sunrise between two volcanoes, but it was still beautiful lighting.
This temple is pretty incredible, and I’ve been to a fair few temples. It was built around 800 AD and is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world. There are over 500 Buddha statues carved out of stone and 1,500 carved relief walls depicting different religious stories.
We finished up at Borobudur pretty early in the day and headed back to Yogya. We befriended a girl at the resort and she joined us as our driver brought us back to town.
We checked into our hotel in Yogya and set out to look around. At this point, we got caught in a common scam; a local takes you to a school where students do batik. We were loaded onto two tuk-tuks and driven through town. At one point, S and B’s tuk tuk rammed the van in front of it…probably one of the funniest things I saw on the trip. Anyway, we did go to the store and bought some batiks and even though it was a scam, we were still happy paying what we did for the batik and experience.
The second reason I dragged S and B to Java was to go to the Hindu temple built around the same time as Borobudur. Unlike Borobudur, which is one large temple, Prambanan has several very tall buildings that aren’t as wide around the base. I would estimate that of the 200 visitors at Prambanan, we were some of the 15 white people. As such, we were quite popular with the kids who all wanted to get their pictures taken with us.
If you go to any of the religious sites in this area (or anywhere, really) you should most definitely be sensitive about dressing appropriately. Thus, in the 250 degree weather we were walking around with sarongs covering our legs. It’s important to be respectful when you can. After exploring the complex, we caught a bus (about $.30) back to where we were staying. We opted to go totally local for dinner and ended up paying less than $6 for the three of us. I don’t always recommend this, but we didn’t get sick so it turned out alright.
Bali Itinerary Day 12: Sultan’s Palace and back to Bali
Our morning began abruptly around 5:00 a.m. Unlike Bali, Java is mostly Muslim and if you spend time there you will hear the Call to Prayer at a mosque. It was the first time I’d experienced this and it was LOUD! In all fairness, we were right next to a mosque and on the second floor so the speaker was about 15 feet away from our room. Our adventure for the day was to explore the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s Palace. This was not super impressive (compared to the places we had seen the day before), but it was interesting. Most of the buildings just had ornate roofs and ceilings and were open walled. I seriously don’t know how people survive here without air conditioning, but that just goes to show how big of a wimp I am.
Speaking of air conditioning, we decided to hit up an indoor mall to enjoy some AC before we got a plane back to Bali. We also partook of McDonald’s and KFC. Lame, but when you have eaten rice and noodles for weeks, sometimes you just want a burger. Plus, it is always fun to go to Micky D’s and see what’s different on the menu. At the Yogya McDonald’s, you could choose fries or rice balls as your side.
We then caught a flight back to Bali and to bed.
Bali Itinerary Day 13: Kuta and fly home
Kuta has a pretty bad reputation for a dirty party town for tourists. If that’s your thing, then no offense, but we didn’t want to spend that much time there. It is very close to the airport though, and our flight was at noon. So we spent the morning experiencing the softer side of Kuta. We walked along the beach and watched as people learned to surf. The water is clear blue and the sand was light tan, so it was very striking. Maybe the trick to enjoying Kuta is to only be there early in the morning and leave before dark.
We pre-booked all of our accommodations on this itinerary before we left the States. In cases where we knew we were going to need rides (to Ubud and Megalung) we contacted the hotel and requested a driver. In other cases, we simply asked for drivers at the hotels we were staying at. We didn’t ever take up one of the ubiquitous taxi rides, and used public transportation once in Yogya. Because there were three of us and we weren’t on a super tight budget, we felt hiring personal drivers was worth the time we would save if we were to use other forms of transport. We also pre-booked our spa treatment and scuba diving, but purchased all the other tickets once we arrived at the destination or night before.
A thirteen-day Bali Itinerary included more than enough time to fit in everything we wanted to do and see, even with the two-day jaunt to Java. Because it is so far away, you’ll want to spend at least a week in these here parts. Ubud gets the most press and is famous because of that one book, but I actually preferred all of the other locations on this trip to it.
For 2017, we opted to try out a European Christmas instead of our usual celebrations. B and I joined together with four more people to take on The Continent during the holiday season. We’ve discussed the importance of keeping a travel journal, so we wanted …
As we might have mentioned once or twice, we spent Christmas this year in the Benelux region of Europe. Apparently, these countries are pretty small and close to each other geographically and culturally, so they get their own cute acronym. (BElgium, NEtherlands, LUXembourg.) We had …
Salt Lake City is not the most exotic location on the planet. However, there are plenty of fun things to do and see there. It is an especially good location to begin a trip out west. Due to its proximity to Idaho, it makes an excellent weekend getaway and we find ourselves there a couple times of year for various events (mostly concerts). Below are my five favorite things about Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City Recommendations
1. The State Room
I go to a lot of concerts. I hesitate to put a number on it because then I will realize how much money I am spending on concerts and I would rather not go there. So I will just leave it at “a lot.” When one goes to a lot of concerts, one spends a lot of time in concert venues. I have enjoyed large events at places like the Gorge and Red Rocks as well as events at hole-in-the-wall bars that hold 15 people. Each venue comes with its own set of pros and cons.
Of all of the concert venues I have been to, the State Room is my favorite. The only con, in my opinion, is that it is not located in my hometown. I would attend events there a lot more often if it was closer. The State Room is small and intimate and even during sold-out performances, there is room to move. You can choose to sit down or stand. Either way, you will have a great view. Sometimes R and I go to concerts in Salt Lake City instead of Boise simply because of the State Room is hosting. If you get a chance to see one of your favorite bands there, do not hesitate.
2. Wasatch Range
The Wasatch Range, a mountain range that stretches north and south from the Idaho border to central Utah, is awfully pretty. It is also really close to Salt Lake City. Not only are you afforded gorgeous views just by looking up, but it could not be easier to go exploring in the mountains. A short drive from the city (sometimes less than 10 minutes) can find you winding through a canyon with gorgeous views of breathtaking scenery. Salt Lake City’s proximity to the mountains means easy access to skiing, hiking and camping. The people there really are spoiled with this range right in their backyard and it is wonderful perk for those of us visiting the city.
3. Bruges Waffles and Frites
I only recently discovered Bruges Waffles and Frites on a trip for work. A coworker had tried it out and raved about it so I figured I would give it a whirl. Excellent decision on my part. From their website, it appears they have several locations. However, I went to the teeny-tiny original location in downtown. There were three places to sit and barely enough room for two people to stand. Since I was the only customer “dining in,” the cramped space did not bother me. If you have a larger party, I suggest one of the other locations.
How was the food? It was better than fine. The menu is interesting and I had a hard time deciding what to order. I finally settled on some sort of hot dog, fries and a waffle for dessert. It was all tasty, but the dipping sauce for the fries and the waffle exceeded my expectations. I was an instant fan and I cannot wait to travel to Belgium to see how it compares. I also recommend you try it out for yourself ASAP.
4. Smith and Edwards
Okay, so this one is not exactly in Salt Lake City. It is about an hour drive north in a town called Ogden. If you are driving to or from Idaho, it is right on the way and well worth a stop. (Note: it is closed on Sundays so do not try then.) They sell just about everything at Smith and Edwards. I am serious. From clothes and tools to penny candy and kitchen gadgets, they have everything you need and several things you did not even realize you did needed. I have bought over-sized bags of Swedish Fish, kid-sized boots that fit me like a glove, garlic power and a clay pigeon launcher. Seriously. Everything.
About the only thing you cannot buy, as far as I can tell, is groceries. But there is a fast-food restaurant inside so it is not like you will go hungry. The people watching is also pretty good. I do have a couple of warnings however; be prepared to feel overwhelmed. There is a lot to see and a lot of people shopping, especially on Saturday. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed. Also, I recommend you set a spending and/or time limit. I always to seem to walk out an hour later and $100 dollars poorer. I guess that works for me, but you may want to set some stricter guidelines. I do not know of any other store like Smith and Edwards and I always enjoy the time spent meandering its vast and varied offerings.
5. Temple Square
After having visiting Salt Lake City numerous times, I rarely visit Temple Square anymore. The exception, however, is Christmas time. The hundreds of thousands of lights transform Temple Square into a winter wonderland, making it a delight to stroll around at night. It will be cold this time of year so you will want to bundle up first. And maybe grab some hot cocoa. Once fortified against the cold, you will be ready to enjoy the sights and sounds of Temple Square. It is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.
Salt Lake City is an excellent place to visit. It just so happens to be a good example of a place in our “backyard” that we can easily visit in a weekend. So we do so often. If you have never visited before or are looking for something new to try, give one of my top five recommendations a go. Then let me know what you think.
Recently, R and I spent a day in Boston, Massachusetts. Now one day may not sound like much, but even a short amount of time in Bean Town is better than no time at all and I am going to share with you some tips …
R and I spent five and a half days driving around and exploring São Miguel Island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Locally, it is referred to as The Green Island. I just called it stunning. Turns out the Azores make a great micro …
Last July, B and I ventured to St. Louis, Missouri, to attend the Antiques Roadshow. While there, we were pleasantly surprised by several attractions and left with a very positive view of this city, which, to be honest, we weren’t expecting much out of. This post will discuss five St. Louis things we saw and did so next time you find yourself randomly in St. Louis, you’ll have as nice of a time as we had. (To be fair, I’ll leave the highlight of the trip, the Roadshow, off this list because it isn’t a permanent fixture.)
5. Delmar Loop
From our downtown hotel, we hopped on the St. Louis Metro Red Line and headed to the Delmar Loop. This is a hip, groovy part of town that is chock full of restaurants, entertainment and funky shops. We walked up and down Delmar Boulevard and enjoyed looking at the different stars in the St. Louis Hall of Fame (kind of like in Hollywood, only these are St. Louis people). I was especially pumped when I found Nelly’s Star. To be perfectly honest, I was singing Country Grammar all weekend.
In Delmar Loop, we did one of our favorite trip rituals of wandering around a local grocery market. This particular one had a very robust section of Asian goods…not sure why. We also saw our first example of a quick, cheap place to eat in St. Louis that we did a few more times. At several grocery stores, there is an excellent selection of prepared foods. Not the gross kind like a Tornado at a gas station, but good quality. Instead of a sit down restaurant where you have to wait and pay a tip, you can pick what you want and get sushi, barbeque, sandwiches, etc.
We also found a few cool shops and enjoyed spending our money on interesting local items before the heat and humidity finally did us in and we had to catch the train back downtown. Sadly, last month Delmar Loop was the site of vandalism after a what-had-been peaceful protest. Several of the shops that we had visited in July had their windows broken. Hopefully, by the time you visit, the Loop will have been restored to how it should be.
It seems like most regions of the south are known for their barbeque. To be honest, I don’t have a refined enough bbq palate to be able to distinguish what city does it best. I can say, though, that barbeque down south just tastes better than it does in Idaho. After we finished up at the Roadshow, we walked down the road from the convention center and B found a highly recommended place on her phone called Sugarfire. So we decided to stop in. It was around 3:00 in the afternoon, so we walked right into the establishment, ordered our bbq and took a seat. It was quite delicious, so much so that I was in no mood for dinner later that night.
If you are going to hit up Sugarfire, you might want to get there during in a non-peak hour. We had no idea we had lucked out the first time with no line; whenever we walked past this place around meal time, the line was out the door.
3. The Arch
The St. Louis Arch is iconic, and all other times I have been to St. Louis I have made a point to go to the visitor center and get a stamp in my passport and one time, I even took the elevator to the top. However, when B and I visited St. Louis, I got a new appreciation for the Arch. Instead of being a destination, we enjoyed it more as part of the landscape. We took a walk around the park that begins at the Arch and runs along the Mississippi River. Then we sat at the base of it and watched the tour helicopters take tourists on quick flights around the city while eating pizza in the plaza in front of it. Most magically, we watched the sunset set it on fire from the roof of our hotel.
The Arch was built in 1965 and was dedicated to the American people. I hadn’t fully appreciated how cool the Arch was until I looked at it as something other than as a structure–this trip helped me think of it more symbolically, as a representation of ingenuity and ambition.
2. The Cardinals
I have seen the New York Mets play baseball at 90% of the major league games I’ve attended. I’ve seen them in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C. and even interleague in Baltimore. So it came as no surprise to me that when we decided to see a St. Louis Cardinals game, they would of course be playing the Mets. (This would all be cool if the Mets were my team..they aren’t.) ANYWAY, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to make a game so we didn’t buy tickets beforehand. This made our experience at the stadium even more magical. Here’s how it went: we showed up and bypassed the ticket office line by purchasing tickets at an electronic kiosk. The machine spit out our tickets, receipt and coupons for free hotdogs and drinks (Miracle #1).
We then walked through the gates and a ticket checker handed us our commemorative St. Louis Cardinals baseball caps so we could support the hometeam (Miracle #2). We then found our way up, up, up to our cheap seats. You’d think we’d be sad about our nosebleed seats. However, because our seats were so high, we were in the shade. Yes, instead of roasting in the heat and humidity, we were the first row of shaded seats (Miracle #3). We didn’t anticipate we would last long at the game because of the heat, but we ended up watching the whole game. The Cards won and we were fed and clothed for a very inexpensive ticket.
A few months before I found out I had been selected to get tickets to the St. Louis Roadshow, I came across an article about an ancient culture in the southeastern United States. I was astounded. How is it that I have a degree in American History and have dragged B halfway around the world multiple times to see ancient structures and I had never heard of this in my own backyard? So embarrassing! I resolved to visit at my earliest convenience. Fortunately for me, I did get tickets to St. Louis so I knew I’d be adding this piece to the Roadshow trip.
The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is located a short 15 minute uber ride across the Mississippi River into Illinois. The grounds are about 3.5 miles and look like a very well manicured lawn, with some hills every now and then. I had purchased a Groupon to the site, so B and I each got our own ipods and could learn the history of the place as we climbed the hills. The Site is very well managed and we learned so much about the people that lived here a thousand years ago who had decided to carry bucket upon bucket of dirt to create hundreds of these mounds. If you visit St. Louis, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is an absolute must. I’m quite surprised that this park is only a National Historic Landmark and not a full-fledged National Park.
Honorable mention: Insomnia Cookies
I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention the fine establishments in St. Louis called Insomnia Cookies. One day we weren’t quite hungry enough for a proper dinner so we popped into an Insomnia Cookie and had a delicious ice cream cookie sandwich–which we did manage to eat most of before it melted in the sweltering heat of a Missouri summer. This bakery delivers cookies ’til 3:00 a.m. Guaranteed the students at local universities make good use of this place.
St. Louis has a pretty bad reputation. Yes, we did see some rough areas and wouldn’t have felt comfortable in a lot of places after dark. That being said, B and I were pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable a time we had there during a long weekend. There’s always good places mixed in with bad. So if you find yourself in St. Louis, don’t stay locked up in your hotel room. Explore!