From Dubai to South Africa

Wow, I can’t believe myself how fast the time has past. The 2 1/2 months after joining my new home-at-sea are gone.

From Dubai via  Abu Dhabi and then India, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar ( Tanzania) and the Seychelles, here is how I saw few of the places I went out at.

Dubai

Dubai is with no doubt a city of contrast, innovation and creativity. It is the city where I spend nearly three months in the year of 2012/2013 and I was excited to be back. Since I have seen the sights of New and Old Dubai and I also had very limited time to be out, I decided to drive straight to Downtown Dubai, went through the Dubai Mall, before having dinner by the Fountain, while watching the “music and light” water spectacle in the evening.

Abu Dhabi

First overnight after embarking my new home at sea and I was back in the finance capital of the UAE- namely Abu Dhabi.  The weather at this time of the year ( end of November) was so hot with not even one cloud in the sky to keep a shadow. I couldn’t wait until the evening to finish my duty and enjoy the evening life of Abu Dhabi. We went to a really nice roof top wine bar with spectacular views to the lightened skyliners. It was a warm Sunday evening, but the bars and restaurants were not so busy.

Mumbai and  Cochin, India

After two sunny and hot days at sea, we reached another city that never sleeps- Mumbai. My first time in Mumbai just few years ago, it was very exciting. Now, not so much, but having in mind that we were going to spend another day at sea, I had to be out. Between our two stops in India, Mumbai is definitely the city I was enjoying to be out at. Cosmopolitan, vibrant with beautiful architecture and sweet – cinnamon aroma ( at least in the part I was hanging around), smart dressed students or workers, who didn’t mind slowing down to give clear directions, Mumbai has something fascinating which I did love and which keep my curiosity for an upcoming visit of India ( I always wanted to do the Golden Triangle).

Cochin from the other hand was different – rural, green, with amazing sea views. With most of the sights located close from each other and around 20 minutes drive from the Cruise Port of Cochi, I decided to arrange a car with a driver to take me to the Fort Cochin, Mattencherry Palace, Chinese fishing nets, Jewish quarter & synagogue, St. Francis Church, Dutch Cemetery. While visiting all those places, I actually had fun, the driver introduce me to “art” of using the Chinese fishing nets ( not my thing really) but it was fun. We also seen a beautiful elephant which I got to touch as well. Most impressed I remain with the Jewish quarter – the colours of the buildings, the shops and most of all the cafés in the area. For my next stop in Cochin on our way back from South Africa to Europe via India, I will try an Ayurveda treatment. If you have a bit more time, I recommend you of going on  a tour along the backwaters.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Our next stop was scheduled to be Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Located so close to India, both of the countries sharing a lot in term of nature, people, lifestyle and cuisine. With two days spend in Colombo, there was quite a group from the ship that we went out in the evening, as soon as we arrived. For our surprise, there was not much happening in night life of Colombo, but we found a nice restaurant (http://ministryofcrab.com/ ), where we tried one of the local specialties – the curry crab. One of the facts, I do love about traveling to Asia is that the Spa’s and massage studios are open 24/7, so after the dinner and the walk in the Downtown of Colombo, we visited a small spa ( at around 2:00am) on our way back to the ship. The next day, as soon as, I was out, I jumped on a tuk – tuk and went to see few of the sights of Colombo-  Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple ( I just loved it), Viharamahadevi park – Victorian, Independence Memorial Hall, before dropping me at the t-Lounge by Dilmah (http://www.dilmaht-lounge.com/) , where I was meeting friends of mine from Sri Lanka. Crowded, congested and very contrast, I was again happy to be able to see something from a place where I didn’t go before.

Zanzibar, Tanzania

One of my favourite places from this first two months was Zanzibar, the Tanzanian island located just few miles away from the East Coast of Africa, and already cannot wait of re-visiting again in March. Dazzling white-sandy beaches, coral reefs, cobbled streets, stone towns, mango trees, strong coffee, hospitable people, the tourism in Zanzibar is booming and I can understand why. With appr. 4 hours off in the afternoon and great friend as company, we simply decided to book our places near the swimming pool of the luxury Serena Hotel (http://www.serenahotels.com/serenazanzibar/) , located at the beachfront of Zanzibar and within the Old “stone” Town, which we didn’t miss of visiting on our way back to the ship.

Mahe, Seychelles

Mahe, the largest and most developed island on the Seychelles, was our last stop-over before heading to Kenya and then South Africa. As such, everybody was so excited of spending as long as possible on the beach, myself included. Beau Vallon is most probably the most popular beach in the area and it is located just around 15 minutes drive from the port of Mahe. It was a clear and sunny morning, so first thing after we had all our guests gone for an excursions, was to take a taxi and head to the famous beach. The taxi coast around 20 USD and while driving to the beach, I could enjoy a bit of the landscapes of the island. When reaching the beach, honestly I didn’t find it as fascinating and beautiful as the one in Zanzibar, but I had a great time and great breakfast near the beach too.

Next to come will be more about wine tastings and Safari in South Africa.

Eat, Dream and LOVE Bali

Ever since the book and movie “Eat, pray and Love” were released, a trip to Bali, climb very up in my “bucket-list”.

I considered myself super lucky to have incidentally landed onboard a luxury ship, visiting Italy, India and then having three days in Bali, just a week before my holiday was scheduled to begin,  from another city I already wrote about – Singapore.

I have read so much about Bali before I visited it and I felt in love with it, long before I actually did it.

My only concerns were the facts, that I planned so many activities and at the same time I wasn’t on a holiday yet, so I had to still do my duties onboard and do what I wanted to do in the little breaks given in between apart of the last day.

The ship was docked at the port of  Benoa, nearly 10 km away from the biggest city Denpassar, around 16 km from the Kuta area and 45 km from Ubud ( where the Eat, Pray, Love was filmed ;-).

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The Entrance to the Kuta Beach

During the first two days, I managed to visit the Kuta beach twice – during the day and in the evening, and even though it does has some nice sights and places to see, it didn’t impress me much. Some places did scare me to go further , so I stayed close to the really nice central area, with the many many shops, restaurants and temples build in traditional Bali style. I did visit a small Spa. Unfortunately, it was not possible to do the famous banana hair treatment, but I save this procedure for the next time, when I visit the island.

Night life in Bali was also promising with many, many restaurants, serving international and local cuisine, night clubs from the quality of those one in Ibiza, Dubai, London, New York etc.

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“Ku De Ta” Restaurant and Night bar, Bali

Another thing I love about Bali, is that this is а great fusion between cultures ( Balinese living together with the high number of  people, coming from all over the world), traditional and modern ( from modern shopping centers to temples, from high fashion stores to made it in Bali) , quit or noisy, whatever you like, Bali has it already.

The day for the private tour was set during our last one in Bali. The driver was organize with the assistance of a good friend of mine and the only way to see what was set, was to leave as early as possible from the port. The scary hour to begin the mini tour was 6:00 am sharp. Honestly, as difficult, as it is to wake up that early in the morning ( 5:00 am in order to get myself ready), the motivation and excitement kept me energized during the day and even until now.

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Puputam Square, Denpassar

When driving the way to Denpassar ( main city in Bali), where I did research, what I might be interested to see, my friend and our driver, named Ketut, did prove me wrong, so we only stop on Puputan Square to see the magnificent temple and we drove further to Ubud.

It was a pleasure having the sun just now coming up, the air outside – still so crispy and fresh, the roads were tiny but already with motorcyclist on it and the scenery varied – from volcanic hills and rice terraces, from both of the sides of the roads there were more temples and  local markets, selling everything from wooden furniture to statues for your home or garden.

 

Just before entering Ubud, Ketut, suggested to stop near the monkey forest – a sacred forest full of ravenous monkeys. Lucky us, the cheerful monkeys were more occupied in biting some fruits, they find on the street than bothering with us.

In Ubud, we were able to leave the car,right in front of the Palace of Ubud or Puri Saren, nicely located in the center of the town with the entrance of the art and craft market nearby.

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Ubud Palace

There was no entrance fee and no other visitors that early, so we enjoy it a lot.
Just on the right side of the Palace, situated on the main street , I saw the  The “ Lotus Café”, overlooking the lotus pond and the Pura Saraswati, where at first I meant to have our coffee, but my friend Narsi had another one in mind.

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Cafe Lotus, Ubud

After the photo session in the yeard of Lotus Cafe, Narsi took me to her favorite cafe in Ubud called – the Seniman Café. I seriously felt in love its unique decor, music, the taste of the coffee ( strong, but a bit sweet). The coffee was served in a wooden paddle with a glass of water and a small Balinese cake or sweet delight covered in banana leaf… Simply delicious. About the breakfast, I won’t even mentioning, in case some of you feeling hungry, but yes, the fresh omelette was also served in a banana leaf…

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Sineman Cafe, Ubud

Next, in the list was the visit of the art and craft market, where Javier Bardem walked with Julia Roberts 🙂 I didn’t miss a chance of bringing home jewelry, a beautiful painting and a lovely Balinese dress.

Enjoying Ubud was followed by the visit of the rice terraces, passing though the artsy villages and many road galleries.

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The Rice Terrace in front

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Komune Resort, Ubud

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last before driving back to the port, was the visit in Komune Resort, Ubud area, an exotic designed with a magical location fronting world- class surfing breaks. Enjoying the scenery and the skills of the surfers looking like born in the ocean, one- too -many cocktails and lovely lunch near the swimming pool, it almost felt like being on a holiday.

Driving back to the port of Benoa, I was thinking about, how happy the inhabitants of the island were looking like, thanks to all – the beaches, volcanoes, terraced rice fields, forests, renowned resorts, surfing, golf and world – class dive sites, the Balinese traditions and the people dedicating in celebrating it. Somewhere I read, that “the hundreds of temples, dances, rituals and crafts linked to the ancient Hindu faith aren’t show for tourist, but a living, breathing culture in which visitors are warmly received by the Balinese, who cherish their own identities”.

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With my close Balinese Friend ( Narsi) and our driver (Ketut), just leaving the ” Komune Resort”

What is left behind my short visit, is the plan to re-visit Bali very soon again…

 

Singapore in 2 days

Founded some time in the 13th century, Singapore was once called the Sea town. Nowadays, the city has many nicknames, my favorite of which is the ” The Lion City”. Strategically located  on the southernmost tip of continental Asia, the city was soon to become one of the biggest trading hubs, financial center, a meeting point of culture and  traditions giving out that beautiful vibes to be feel while in Singapore.

Owning one of the busiest and biggest cruise terminals in the world, Singapore was set as our turnaround port for the time being in Asia. It was the port, where I was scheduled to start my vacation from the ship as well, so I have decided to spend a couple of days on my own to live in, discover and taste the city, before flying home.

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At the Arab street – one of my favourites. Even during the slight rain, there were people our shopping,  eating or looking at the local spas.

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The Sultan Mosque

I booked a hotel in the Arab district, which accordingly to my pre-research, it was described as lively neighborhood, with great hotels build in the Colonial style( which I like a lot) and with easy access to all the major sights I was planning to visit. I would say, that if  I happen to visit Singapore again, I would chose that very same hotel or neighborhood. Apart of walking on the Arab street, you could stop by at the Malay Heritage Center or take your photograph in with the Sultan Mosque in the background.

One of the facts,  I really loved about Singapore was the fact that it was so easy to walk and as for getting around – it was so easy to approach  locals and even better – they approach you with the question, whenever you need help, as soon as they see you holding map or checking on the public transportation itineraries.  Amazing really.

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The Sultan Boutique Hotel  was a perfect choice to stay in while in Singapore.

Among my interests , I can list history, architecture and the influence of different cultures into the architecture in the chosen places of visit, real stories from the past, art, modern art and design, lifestyle, Arab food and street life, I picked up the places I wanted to see and the activities to do accordingly.

Once on the Arab street and when taking the  Victoria street, you will pass the shopping center of Bugis Junction ( you can find a really great shopping deals at some of the many store in Bugis), followed by the Singapore Art museum on your right and the National Library of Singapore on the left.If then turn on the Bras Basah road to the right will reach the iconic for Singapore- The Raffles Hotel. While approaching to the Raffles,  the “Element” Art Exhibition center,located just on the back of the hotel, has catched my eye and I  decided make a small detour and visit it. If you interested in the artwork of the innovative artists from the region, I would recommend.

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The Raffles Hotel, named after Sir  Raffles, which gave the beginning of modern Singapore.

Next to the “Element” Art Center,  I stop by  the Raffles Hotel – the must-see hotel, named after the person who set the beginning of modern Singapore- Sir Raffles.  Monuments of him are to be seen almost everywhere in the city. The 5 star luxury hotel is located in the heart of the business and civil district of Singapore, overlooking partly the other iconic hotel for Singapore – The Marina Bay Sands.

They say, that no visit to Raffles Hotel is completed without having the Singapore Sling cocktail in some of the bars at the hotel. I did pass on that drink this time, but during my next visit, I will sure  try it.

From the Raffles hotel, take down the North Bridge road, reaching the Downtown Core –  busy, lively and historical epicenter of Singapore, build next to the river of Singapore, around where the city expanded. In here, you will find the National Gallery, the Parliament Building of Singapore, The Victoria Theater and Concert Hall, the Asian Civilisation museum and then Fullerton Hotel Building, once post office and nowadays an upscale luxury hotel.

Once down next to river, don’t miss to visit the Clarke Quay, housing restaurants, nightclubs and a pedestrian mall, the place where people visiting and working in Singapore meet & mingle.

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The Clarke Quay by the river

The morning on the next day, I decided to spend it on Sentosa island, hitting to the beach and visiting the Universal Studio. Getting to Sentosa was easy and fast. I decided to take a bus to Vivo Center and then the Sentosa Express. Just click the link next to, to find out more options to get to Sentosa-  ( http://www.rt10.rspo.org/c/getting-to-sentosa/).

 

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Palawin Beach, Sentosa Island

Honestly, I was not too impress from the beach on Sentosa island due to the view to the many many ships waiting to enter the port of Singapore, but I could understand why people would choice to spend the day off’s in here. There are all kind of facilities – such as beach bars and restaurants, an yacht port with more restaurants, playground for beach sports and children. Visiting the Universal Studio was fun though, but as the time was pressing and I wanted to visit the Gardens by the Bay  ( just before sunset) and have a drink on the rooftop bar of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, I decided to head back to the hotel and get ready for the evening.

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Just entering the Gardens by the Bay

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The Super Trees by night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day after was the day, when my flight was scheduled and since the flight was late at night, I was happy to spend the morning having breakfast in the “Wild Honey” lounge, in one of the shopping district of Singapore ( Orchard boulevard) and buying the last minute memento’s for family,friends and myself.

During my 2 days in Singapore, I managed to visit a small Spa near my hotel. Something else I love about traveling to Asia is the fact that the Spa’s in the most visited towns in the entire continent are working 24\7 and are everywhere to be found, so the visit to the Spa center got me ready to explore the city of Singapore and fly back home in more relaxed look, then the one,I did left from work.

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“Derwish Restaurant” at the Arab street