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Stephanie

Paddling in the City

Family Weekend: Fun times trying out new things together!

By | Germany | No Comments

There are these things people do in my home town Hamburg, which I constantly put on my “Want-To-Do-List”. Paddling on the big river Alster is one of them. Very often, when I cycle through town, I see people enjoying themselves on the water. For two years, the summer just passed by and I did not go.

This year I tried to engage my friends – but somehow… it was not on their “Want-To-Do-List”. This weekend, when my parents came over visiting, I proposed going paddling together and I was almost sure, they’d not be interested at all. Too exhausting, too dangerous, too much of a hassle, too … But no. My parents simply said: “Sounds really great! Why not!”

So the next day, we cycled to the boat rental place, got a boat for the three of us and had an amazing afternoon paddling through town on the river. It has been an inspiring experience to all of us to do something together, we had never ever done before. Everyone played a different role in this boat. I had never expected my dad to be such a talented steerer and paddler in the back of the boat. My mum, who is usually very engaged in whatever goes on, refused to touch a paddle and simply relaxed on the boat – after she finally trusted my Dad’s and my paddling abilities. We had so much fin together and came back home rejuvenated and very hungry.

Note to self: Never forget to play – especially with your parents.
Exploring things and places with parents is an unforgettable and wonderful experience.

For anyone living or visiting Hamburg, don’t miss this experience on a sunny day!

Rent your boat at Bootsvermietung Dornheim
(You can only make a reservations if you are more than 2o people. So just go there and worst case enjoy an ice cream or coffee while waiting for a boat).

They will provide you with a map to find your way.

Make sure you plan a stop at the Cafe Canale in the Mühlenkampkanal and spoil yourself with a delicious home made Vanilla Ice Cream with Rhubarb and an Ice coffee delivered directly into your boat.

Bike Tour Hamburg

Discover Bikemap! Find the best tours out of town!

By | Germany | No Comments

Bike Tour 2

I love biking, but I don’t know any nice tours out of town. Checking it out on a map of the internet does not really work, as you never know, what the roads look like.

This is probably what the founders of bike map figured. They launched an amazing community based app for bike tours around the world – with 2,8 million tours. You can choose the length of the tour and your kind of bike to find the perfect tour for you in your city. This way someone with a city-bike will be proposed a different tour form a race-biker or mountain-biker.

The tours are created and by shared in the community and the ratings help to find the most popular ones easily.

It’s been an amazing race bike ride on calm great paved roads to beautiful places I never went to before. I cycled along the greenest field with beautiful houses and a lot of outer city fresh air!

So download the app, find your perfect tour and get your bike ready for the next weekend tour!

Enjoy the ride!

Bike Tour Hamburg

Boys on the way to the ceremony

Ubud – Bali: My favorite places to spoil yourself

By | Indonesia | No Comments

 

SLEEP

I found Lady Bamboo Villa through my Stefan Loose Guide book and can highly recommend it. Although it is in the center of Ubud, you will not feel the rush of the city as the villa has a beautiful and quiet garden with a pool. The rooms are very nice, comfortable and individually designed, the food is great and the staff is really sweet. The German owner, Lambert, has been living in Ubud for over 20 years, so he knows many places and can give great recommendations on what to do. I booked various tours at the place, which I felt was very handy.

There are incredible resorts and yoga retreat centers around Ubud. They offer a very different experience and if you have a limitless budget you will have an incredible stay for sure. The downside of these places is, that they are usually a bit remote. So it really depends on what you are looking for.

EAT

There are uncountable lovely places to eat in Ubud, many of them focussing on organic food. However, there was one place I ended up eating every night as it was so delicious – no matter which dish I picked from the menu. It is called Spice and is run by an award winning chef, who combines Indonesian dishes with Western food styling and cooking techniques. Make sure, you try their nutmeg sorbet – the ice cream of my life!

For lunch or late afternoon time there is a beautiful outdoor place just a little walk out of town called Sari Organic Farm. The meals are cooked from the food grown at organic farm. The beauty of the place is it’s tranquility and high quality of food. We were lying on some sofa beds for hours, enjoying amazing food, overlooking the rice fields. The little shop has some great products from jam to soap and tee, which I loved to bring home as souvenirs.

FREE TIME IN UBUD

Ubud is all about Yoga and I had probably the best classes ever at Radiantly Alive Yoga. It is a beautiful open place with amazing teachers. From beginners to privat classes and teacher trainings you will find whatever you are looking for.

Also you may not miss the various massage offers! I cannot tell, the best place and it is hard to know, where the girls are payed respectfully. I had a 4 hour treatment, which was amazing at Sang Spa.

Before planning your trip, try to find out, when they have temple ceremonies in Ubud. There are many opportunities as there are celebrations for many many things and people dress up so nicely, it would be a pity to miss it just by a day or two. It is probably the easiest to ask the place you plan to stay.

FREE TIME OUTSIDE UBUD

Apart from shopping, which you can impossibly avoid during the first days, I highly recommend to get out of town. Ubud is very busy and touristic, so very soon, I felt I needed some nature and a good breeze. E-biking was a perfect thing to discover the surrounding in the heat with getting up and down hill. It was my first time on an E-Bike and I was really hesitant as I considered it for people, who are try to avoid the extra sweat. But – I really loved it. As you are able to move fast, you can discover easily how – just a few kilometers away from Ubud center – people live and work in the rice fields and get an idea, what Ubud felt like years ago. The hotel Lady Bamboo offers various different bike tours for different levels – not only to people staying at the place.

Also, as touristic as it is, I highly recommend to climb the Batur Volcano. It is tough for people, who do not like touristic things, but I promise, you will have a true morning workout in the dark as you start hiking at 4am and you will be rewarded with an amazing sunrise at the top. Make sure you do not stop at the first sunrise level, but keep on going. We saw the sunrise at the first  platform and I felt, I had seen it and could probably go down again. But we decided as a group to keep going and as always – that was the true experience. We climbed along the crater on tiny paths and had an outstanding view and hike. It is a tour for experienced hikers! It can be booked through many tourist offices or your hotel.

Raja Ampat

Only plan these few things for your dream trip

By | Travel Tips | No Comments

Raja Ampat

When I travel, I prefer to not plan the entire trip in advance, but to be open to whatever comes across along the way. Usually I have an idea about the “best” spots and “must sees” and have an idea of where I might go. I feel traveling this way gives me the freedom to chose “moment by moment” what to do next and allows to go with the flow of meeting people and discovering places once I am there. Also it is a great contrast to a scheduled life back home.

In my experience of extensive traveling it has always been worthy to not book any tour in advance. There were very few instances, when a booking would have been smart, but I could still find a way how things worked, organizing it once I was there. So simply get a local sim card to be able to organize some things at a low costs with some phone calls or even internet access.

However, there are some things I do recommend to plan in advance, which have helped me to have a great and smooth experience.


Great hotel for the first night with airport pickup: I always spoil myself for the first one or two nights with a great hotel to recover from the long distant flight and time shift as well as the busy time I usually had before leaving work for vacation. Since most of the times I do not know the place I am going to, I always ask for an airport pickup, as I will arrive with all my valuables without knowing anything about distances, prices and good or bad taxis.


When no exit seats are available, book a seat in the back and enter the plane last person: This is for sure nothing everyone can do and not everyone will feel comfortable with. However, I love it ever since I started doing it. Very often all exit seats are already booked when I check in online. So many times, even after double checking at the counter, where I was again told no free seats, I found out that many times there were seats available in the airplane and very often I see a free row. So finally I came up with the habit of booking a seat in the back of the plane, so in order to get to it, I pass all rows. Entering the plane as last person, I can be sure, that these seats are really free. This way I about 50% of the times I found a full free row or even exit seat and enjoyed the flight with a huge smile on my face.


Double check hotel rates when booking via hotel booking sites: Booking sites like agoda.com or booking.com usually offer hotels at discounted rates. But, there are hotels, who do not like, that they have to give commission to these sites for bringing traffic. Therefore sometimes booking at the hotel directly is in fact cheaper!


Take photos of your bank cards and most important documents: Losing credit cards, passports or other documents is always a challenge and it takes time during your vacation to get them back. So, if you have a picture at hand it is much easier most times. So simply take a picture of front and backside of your bank cards, driver license, vaccination certificate and passport and send it to yourself via email. Also I would highly recommend to have several bank cards and store them at different places. So if one gets stolen or you lose it, you can have this card blocked and still get money from the other ones.


Research reliable and cheap transportation: In some countries there are great local websites to book local airlines at cheap prices. Make sure you research them upfront as the internet connection might be bad at the first destination of your stay and you will not want to waste time researching then. Some websites for example do not accept foreign credit cards. Also in terms of bus transportation, it helps to find out upfront, which companies are reliable and offer busses in good shape.


Bring your entire backpack to the laundry before flying back home: This is one of my favorites. I simply love getting back home with clean clothes. So I started bringing everything to the laundry before I leave, including my backpack, sleeping back etc. Basically everything which can be washed. Usually I “test” the place with just some items before to be sure, they are good. Especially in Asia it is really cheap and such a treat to simply have to unpack but not wash back home.

 

Jungle Fish Resort Bali

Spoil yourself: Most beautiful resorts at huge discounts

By | Travel Tips | No Comments

Jungle Fish Resort Bali

There are unbelievably beautiful places across the world, built with love, design expertise and dedication to its surrounding nature. Most of them are just not in my travel budget. But a great lunch or dinner is affordable and usually an unforgettable experience.

At the beginning I felt wired entering the places – but that is for no reason as I discovered. There are places, which are exclusive to the people staying, but most places are not. The staff is usually excited to welcome other guests, who are treating the place with respect and at best – start a nice conversation. Many times, the places were rather empty and quiet and the people working there, loved to engage in a conversation and learn about whatever I had to tell. Also, it gave me an opportunity to speak to locals and engage with them.

I love spoiling myself at these places with an incredible breakfast like I had at the Jungle Fish Bali Resort outside Ubud with the most amazing granola and fresh juices or an unforgettable exclusive dinner I had at Makanda Resort in Manual Antonio in Costa Rica, where I was even invited to hang out during the next day.

If you do not have to pay “entrance fee” to use the facilities and pool area, I would recommend to make sure, you use the opportunity to leave a great tip for the staff.

Enjoy spoiling yourself even more during your next trip on this lovely planet.

Foto: www.junglefishbali.com

Travel Tips

Ultimate extra items for backpacker’s packing list

By | Travel Tips | No Comments

Packing List Items

Packing is the start of the vacation and I purely enjoy it. When focusing on what needs to get in the backpack or suitcase, it can actually be done within a couple of hours with joy. There are some things, which I figured are very useful during longer backpacking trips and make me feel spoiled when discovering new places on this lovely planet.


Two faced light sleeping bag: I love my Deuter sleeping bag! It is sized 205 x 75 x 48 cm, comes at 850 g weight and can be fully unzipped to be used as a blanket. The beauty of the “two faced” is not, that it is reversible, but that one side is made from a cozy fleece material, which feels lovely. Since it is so small, I always have it in my smaller bag pack when traveling and cover myself with it on busses and flights or even take it in a day pack, when trekking to villages for 2-3 night. When sleeping in lower budget places, I feel so much more comfortable with my own clean “blanket”, than using the ones I was offered at times. It can be washed easily in a washing machine or any laundry along the road.


Light and warm travel blanket: One of my favorite items is my travel blanket, which can be folded very compact in a small bag and helps on multiple purposes: blanket to keep warm on buses or airplanes; beach towel to sit on, sarong when entering holy places or blanket or pillow to feel more comfortable if you end up in a rather dirty place. It can also be washed easily and dries really quickly.


One elegant outfit: If you are an open minded traveler, you never know, what or who you might bump into. Whether you decide to go to the opera or you get invited to a birthday or a wedding it is much more respectful and fun to be dressed appropriate. So I always put a simple, light and beautiful silk dress in my backpack. For men it is a bit more difficult, but there also nice pieces, which come at a low weight.


Multiple country and device adapter: Only recently I found this great universal travel adapter, which reduces the amount of chargers I need significantly. It works for most countries and has next to a normal plug two USB ports. So valuable!!


Hard cases for electric items: For once, you do not want to show your great laptop, smartphone or tablet everywhere you go and secondly it helps a lot to protect it from scratches, heat and sweat. This hardcover I really love for my Mac Air as people usually do not even realize what it is.


Small cotton or plastic bags: The most annoying part to me when traveling for weeks or months, was chaos in my backpack as well as searching for things over and over. Also unpacking and packing frequently can be a hassle. So I figured it was very helpful to put my clothes in separate bags. So one for all tops, one for shorts and trousers, one for dresses, one for underwear, one for shoes etc. This way, I only had to pull out the bags once I arrived at a place and had an artificial drawer instead of a big mess. Also everything else I keep in little extra pouches not only medicine and toiletries, but also adapters, foto equipment and travel documents like passport and all sorts of certificates for vaccination, driving and diving, some portrait photos etc.

Yoga at the pool, Tunisia

Inspiring Workout: Yoga classes around the world

By | Costa Rica, Indonesia, USA | No Comments
Yoga at the pool, Tunisia

UBUD - BALI

Radiantly Alive

Radiantly Alive: This is the only Yoga studio I attended classes at in Yoga Mekka Ubud. I was told it was the best in town and all I can say is, that I had the best classes ever in this place. I was sweating like I had hardly ever sweat before and felt amazing afterwards. It is an open classroom facing the jungle with showers in the basement. The level of the classes are pretty high and many people get their yoga teacher license here. They offer a wide range of class passes form single class to week pass to privat classes.

Before or after make sure you drop by the famous Bali Buda Cafe, where I had the best cinnamon role of my life. It is a tranquil place to hang out, eat great food and meet tourists, long time travelers and dropouts.

NEW YORK - USA

Pure Yoga

Pure Yoga: This studio really has an unbeatable yoga schedule. Never ever had I to decide between two tempting classes at the same time! This luxurious studios offers everything from amazing teachers, to great facilities and even assistants, who help lesser experienced people to find their pose. Not only did I enjoy my own Ashtanga workout, but my heart jumped up and down, when I glanced over to some far more experienced people getting gently in crazy poses. Such a treat. You do not have to bring anything but your yoga clothes. Matt, Towls, Shampoo… everything is provided.

Rooftop Yoga NYC
Pure Yoga New York

SAN FRANCISCO - USA

Yoga Tree Hays Valley: I went to a couple of classes in this place, which were all great. It is a small and simple studio without showers. I tried my first hot Yoga class in this place. Yoga Tree has several studios across town.

Yoga to the People: All classes are donation based (10 USD is recommended) and therefore the courses are pretty crowded, which I did not mind. Big class room, no showers. Also great experience with any class I attended. They also have studios in New York and Berkeley.

Holis Spa

MANUEL ANTONIO - COSTA RICA

Holis Spa: A small place on the Manuel Antonio hill area with ventilators only, giving a great and absolutely bearable sweat in the costa rica heat. They offer a wide range of classes from Ariel to Ashtanga and Belly Dance, some classes are donation based. Before or after the class make sure you stop around the corner at Emilio’s Cafe. A dream place with the best coffee in the area.

Robinson Crusoe feeling

Raja Ampat: Staying with locals, diving the world’s richest waters

By | Indonesia | No Comments

If you are a keen diver with hundreds of dives, I am sure you have heard about Raja Ampat. If you are a rather unexperienced diver, like me, with way less than 30 dives, I might tell you a secret travel advice…

Raja Ampat, The Four Kings, is an area of 1500 islands northwest of the Bird’s Head Peninsula on New Guinea Island. It is one of the best diving spots on the globe as it has the world’s richest biodiversity. But not only will you find species under water, which you cannot find anywhere else in the world, even the world above the surface is stunning and unique. Robinson Crusoe islands with palm beaches touching turquoise water … miles away from civilization.

For sure, this place has been discovered by the diving industry and thus, you can stay in very expensive and supposedly beautiful resorts starting from 1800 USD per week including 2+ dives per day or even on liveaboards. But for a real Crusoe experience, you can stay in one of many homestays across the islands. Some families have started to offer rooms for travelers and some of them even have their own jetty and diving facilities.

I stayed in a place called Koranu Fyak on the Island Kri in a bamboo hut directly at the beach. It is a very basic stay without a possibility to lock your hut, shared bathrooms with other tourists and simple food with whatever the catch of the day is with some vegetables. The diving gear was in ok shape (not great) and the boats usually left late for diving since either the engine had difficulties starting or there wasn’t enough gas. You get great free lessons in living in the moment as well as patience.

To me this was the best way to truly calm down for a couple of days surrounded by pure nature (which for sure this included the dogs of the place, some big spiders and mosquitos…). I was staying at the place during full moon and it was incredible to walk at night in the bright white illuminated sand. The reef was just in front of the place and from the neighbors’ jetty, I had sharks strolling below me in the water when I did my early morning yoga session.

If you are an unexperienced diver, be aware, that there can be strong currents, meaning, we had to hold on to corals with both hands and the BCD was shaking in my mouth. So tell the diving instructors about your experience level and ask them to take care of you as well as to avoid strong currents.

The locals a great people and they are so used to diving, that they cannot understand, how it can be challenging to tourists. So they will not take care of you the way you are probably used to by a dive instructor. They usually never asked about the air or made sure we had hooks for the currents. But they have the best eyes to spot the tiniest things, like the rice corn sized sea horse, which only exists in Raja.

If you are interested staying at a homestay check out this very helpful website: www.stayrajaampat.com.

If you want to dive Raja Ampat from your couch at no cost, I recommend this great documentary below (in German).

Giant Manta Rays in Raja Ampat

Frangipani

Bali-Lesson: “Sweet present of the present”

By | Indonesia | No Comments

The first thing I experienced, when I landed in Bali, was the beautiful smell of fresh decorated flowers in the ladies’ bathroom at the airport – the last place where I expected to feel comfortable. It was just the start of a trip to floral beauty I had never imagined and experienced before.

Never ever have I seen and smelt such an abundance, variety and intensity of Frangipani, Hibiscus, Bougainvilleas and other tropical flowers. However, what touched me most, was the dedication of the Balinese decorating everything from doorsteps to buddhas and even motorbikes with offerings to the Gods or little bowls with the flowers’ petals.

The offerings, called “canang sari”, are little hand made baskets with flowers, candy, sticky rice and sometimes even some eggs – prepared freshly up to three times a day. Not to because people are afraid of the Gods anger, but because they want to give back, what has been given to them. A sharing, based on the gratitude for the richness of life.

When I saw people preparing the offerings, it did not seem to be a stupid duty they had to do. They did it with the fullest love and care and a gentle inner smile on their face. It was a perfect example to me for gratitude and appreciation of the current moment.  Even if the flowers will turn old within a couple of hours in the heat, putting them there NOW made this moment extremely beautiful.

A couple of days later, I saw a carving in the streets, which seemed to be a headline to this experience and it was eye opening to me. It said: “Sweet present of the present”. I have never been aware, that in English, the words “gift” and “now” are united in the word “present”.

The present is a present in the sense, that it is the only thing, we can influence directly – moment after moment.

Trekking Papua

Trekking Papua: Finding a guide for a remote & wild experience

By | Indonesia | No Comments

It’s been a long dream to go trekking in Papua to meet the local tribes. When I had finally decided to travel Papua and to go trekking in the Baliem Valley, I did not find much on the internet to get a feeling about the safety in Wamena or how to find a trustworthy guide. Also, it was really hard to figure out what a reasonable price for a trekking tour including over night stays in the villages is. After some exciting days in the beautiful Baliem Valley, I want to share my experience and encourage experienced travelers & trekkers to go and see this remote place.

Baliem Valley is famous for its ancient tribes like the Dani People, where the elderly men are not wearing anything but a „koteka“ covering their penis and the women wear nothing but grass skirts. Wamena is the only city in Baliem Valley, which you can easily fly to from Jayapura several times a day. From there you can do all kind of trekking tours reaching from one day to several weeks to meet the Yali , Lani and Korowai tribes, which live several days walking away. These longer trekking tours are much more of an adventure and you should be experienced in both trekking and jungle tours plus you really need a trustworthy guide for such a long trek.

Getting there

When flying to Wamena, make sure you buy your return ticket upfront, as I was told locals sometimes buy all tickets to resell then at crazy prices at the airport (booking tickets via www.tiket.com worked well for me allover Indonesia. When booking directly at some local airlines, non Indonesian credit cards are sometimes not accepted). Wamena is basic and it took me some hours to feel safe, as it is very different from the rest of Indonesia. When arriving at the tiny airport, all sorts of betle nut chewing men stared at me and I felt relieved my guide picked me up. However, after a couple of days in Wamena and the Baliem Valley, I felt really safe and saw the beauty in the people.

Where to stay

There is a resort „The Baliem Valley Resort“, which is placed beautifully in the highlands. To me, the prices where really high and when communicating via email with the owners, I did not experience the hospitality I would have expected from a premium place. The cheepest alternative are homestays, which you can look up on Tripadvisor. I decided to stay at the Hotel Baliem Pilamo and found it a great choice. It is a „3 star“ hotel, not perfectly clean, but safe and a good place to recover after some days of trekking including a good launry service.

Trekking

Around Wamena you will be walking in the highlands, which makes it an easy trek compared to jungle tours. However, since it is a mountainous area, trekking up and down is still challenging and depending on the distances you plan to walk per day, you should be in shape and feel ok with some scary and steep paths. Staying in the village was also rather comfy and easy, as I slept in a tent in a separate Hut for myself. Some guides do not bring tents, but you can also just sleep in your own hut on a mattress and your own sleeping bag.

How to find a guide and what to expect to pay

If you are an experienced traveler and trekker, I would highly recommend to NOT book a guide upfront through a travel agency. These are usually really expensive ranging, from what I found 200 € to 300 € per day including car, porter, cook, food and village fee. I would recommend to go to Wamena without any plans, check in the Baliem Hotel Pilamo and then use the first day to find your guide. You can get good recommendation from either „Mr. Fuji“ the Japanese owner of the Papua.com Internet Café or ask at the Hotel Baliem Pilamo. Do not ask one of the guys waiting for you at the airport when you arrive. Or you can contact Itung Weya my guide, which I was happy with (itungweya@gmail.com, +62-812-48222599). I ended up paying 135 EUR for a day trip (including car, guide, porter, lunch to see the Mummie and to do a 3 hour trek to a salt lake). After feeling safe with the guide and porter I booked a 2 day one night trekking tour from Wamena to Kilisie (lunch break), Wamarek (overnight stay) and back at 135 EUR a day including everything (car, guide, porter, cook, food, village fee). Although Wamena is much more expensive, then most places in Indonesia, the price still seemed too high to me, but I could not negotiate any better as I was probably too lazy to search for another guide to compare to.