We landed in Bali and immediately went about getting our visa extensions, which ended up taking longer than expected. We didn’t care at all because Ubud ended up being the perfect place to laze about and recharge and we did just that for two weeks. This town made popular by “Eat, Pray, Love” with sinewy yogis and young women trying to “find themselves” was also chock full of good, healthy, organic(-inspired) food and a great vibe for creative inspiration.
Every morning we woke up to a beautiful sunny day and ate a leisurely breakfast on our balcony in our pajamas. We eventually left our room to get lunch, explore and walk around the town. Maybe we should’ve been less lazy and done stuff like see the traditional dances or gone on tours of the coffee plantations and temples in the area, but we seriously needed some down time. It’s strange because while we never felt like we really needed to take breaks during the Europe leg of our adventure, Southeast Asia’s been a little more mentally taxing for some reason. We love it here in Indonesia but sometimes we need a “taste of home”. Ubud was perfect because it gave us just that and then some.
The afternoons were hot. We walked around the quiet town peeking into cute shops selling organic soaps and clothing, and stopped into cafés and restaurants when we were hungry. During the day, van loads of pale Chinese tourists descended on Ubud from the busier parts of the island like Kuta and Seminyak, fanning themselves under the identical cheap straw hats they probably bought for too much somewhere.
It’s not hard to find a beautiful place on the Istrian coast of Croatia. We knew we were going to be spending more time on the coast in the coming weeks, so we found a small, secluded hilltown of Groznjan as our first stop.
We took a bus to a tiny town called Buje on a cold and rainy afternoon and paid an idle old man we found in a café to drive us the rest of the way (about 8.5km on an uphill). Perched atop a hill overlooking farms and smaller villages below, Groznjan is a cluster of the cutest stone houses with a population of less than 100. When the town’s population dwindled and was on the verge of becoming a ghost town, a colony of artists moved in and made it their home and workplace. You can see the artists’ influence on the town in the brightly painted shutters, the beautiful plants decorating the houses and the ateliers dotting the place.
We simply couldn’t ignore the fact that Berlin was chock full of history, most of it very recent. Unfortunately, we couldn’t squeeze everything in, but that can wait until we go back next year. Below are some interesting places to edumacate yourself in Berlin.
East Side Gallery
Remnants of the Berlin Wall now serve as a gallery of images promoting peace in the world. Most of the art is unimpressive, but the concept is what matters here. The artwork is covered by graffiti and visitors wanting to leave their mark with a Sharpie, but I think it adds to the gritty character of this “gallery.”
The other side of the wall is worth perusing. It has photographs of walls and restricted areas that still remain in parts of the world.
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Started in a small apartment by a German anti-communist human rights activist Rainer Hildebrandt, this museum is now a fairly large place located right by what used to be Checkpoint Charlie. The main part of the museum has images and descriptions of various escape attempts and ingenious escape contraptions created by the residents of the GDR (in East Berlin) to get to West Berlin. It is PACKED with information in a very cluttered format. It’s worth noting that as educational as this museum is, it is just one perspective (and a West Berlin one at that) into life in the GDR.
“Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin.” – Hiroshi Motomura
If I wanted to move from my beloved New York City to someplace better, I would find myself on a one-way flight to Berlin. There, I said it. As a New Yorker, I like to compare big cities with my own, especially if I get to conclude that, “Yes, _____ is great but at the end of the day, there’s nothing like New York.” And I’ll sit there at an airy Paris café/packed biergarten in Munich/cool restaurant in St. Petersburg, staring glassy-eyed as I reminisce about my time in the Big Apple. But on our visit to Berlin, New York tasted almost bland by comparison, and for the first time since leaving home, I felt at home again.
Unlike many conventional travelers who research and book vacations months in advance (at work) and have the time to do the research for their destinations (at work), we have been planning as we go. But there are more than a few destinations on our loose itinerary we’ve been meaning to go to, and Berlin was one such city. Being uneducated and too lazy to look it up, I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
Berlin is not a wealthy city by any means, and it is understandable based on the fact that it was the victim of a tug-of-war between the Soviets and the other Allied Powers for 45 years after being badly demolished by the end of World War II. Because of this, the city is a good mix of all kinds of people, which lends to the unique cultural atmosphere.
What is there to do in Berlin? Well, just about anything your little heart desires. Using our rental apartment in trendy Kreuzburg (what Williamsburg in Brooklyn wishes it could be) as our base, we spent a week playing, eating (Vietnamese food), getting a haircut in a Japanese salon and educating ourselves in museums (the more educational part coming up in the next post).
Storm King Art Center is a must see in the New York area. It’s about 1 hour north of NYC by car and a perfect day-trip for anyone who enjoys art and wants to get away from the city. They have bike rentals which is a great way to get around this massive art center and you can also bring your own food and have a nice picnic while admiring the awesome artwork. Storm King is only open from the beginning of April until the end of November because of the weather but it would be pretty cool to see it in the winter with a fresh coat of snow. We went in the summer and it was stinking hot but still worth it. They have trams that pick up lazy people like us.
Since New York had its annual Armory Show this weekend, we decided to get up off our lazy butts and do something cultural for a change. I found a $10 discount off of the hefty adult ticket price of $30 on their official Facebook page (score!), and enticed my more art-minded friends to join us.
We woke up on Saturday morning from a long and nauseous night of tossing and turning in bed after one too many drinks. In an attempt to make getting up early (and still drunk) bearable, we had decided to meet our friends at Totto Ramen for lunch prior to heading over to the pier for a day of art, art and more art.