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Batu Karas, Indonesia

This place was amazing.  I can’t say that enough so I’ll only say it once.  When I was researching where to go in Indonesia, an important requirement for me was giving Grace a week in a place where she could surf.  I know you can surf in a ton of places in various parts of the world, but this had to be affordable and uncrowded! I came across a small review about a very small village called Batu Karas along the coast in Indonesia.  It sounded perfect so we booked at a hotel that was right on the beginner surfing beach!

In order to get to Batu Karas, you either have to fly in from Jakarta on a 6 seater plane, or take a van for about 9 hours.  We were coming in from Yogyakarta so we had to book the van.  It was a LONG day, but completely worth it when we saw this….

IMG_4100This was the beach which is directly across from the JavaCove hotel.  It was literally thirty steps across the road and onto the sand.  Perfect.

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We spent the majority of our days surfing or swimming, either in the ocean or the pool.  The surfing lessons were with a local man….the surfers just hang out at the beach or at one of the (few) diners.  You just head out and ask for an instructor and set up the days/times you want to surf.  We ended up taking lessons from an extremely friendly man named Ramed.  Grace loved him and he did an excellent job teaching her to surf!

IMG_4376Grace was up before 6 every morning to head out and check the surf and set up her daily lesson.  I’m fairly certain she surfed 6 out of the 7 days we were there.

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By the end of the week, she was up far more than she was down!  I am amazed at how well she did :)

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I, on the other hand, took two days worth of lessons and then took a nasty spill that damaged my knee.  We are 6 weeks out and it’s still causing me problems :(  But I can see why she loves it so much….it’s like an addiction….just one more wave!!

I know by now you have a picture in your mind of how this place looked…but it’s difficult to describe.  It was small….like one street right on the beach with a few hotels and cafes.  That’s it.  There was ONE shop, very small, that sold a few tshirts and sandals.  The only thing to do was surf, swim, eat and repeat!

On the weekends there was an amazing fresh seafood restaurant.  It was run by a fisherman and his family.  They caught the fish during the week and the restaurant was open for the weekend cooking and selling the weekly catch.  It was the best seafood I’ve had in a very long time.  We tried so much and it was so good that I completely forgot to take pictures!  We ate grilled fish, calamari, veggies, shrimp and fresh fruit for dessert.  The only one I remembered to take was at the end!

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Bayview Seafood Restaurant.

IMG_4233Amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ate SO much we almost asked for a wheelbarrow to get home!

 

I did go into town once to pick up some fresh fruit to have in our room to snack on.  Ramed took me on his scooter…..over this crazy bamboo bridge!!  It was a bit exhilarating!

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you have to stay in the middle because the bridge slants off on the edges…and it’s wet because it rains a little every day.  Ramed took it slow for me but usually they zip right over this at full speed!

 

 

All in all it was an amazing week full of too much sun and lots of yummy food.

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We hopped in the van for our full day drive back to Yogyakarta….but with scenery like this, it was worth it!

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The best fresh market ever!

One of the highlights of our trip to Istanbul was our fortunate timing that allowed us to experience the weekly bazaar!  I was a little unclear to begin with when our landlady told us there would be a bazaar.  To me that means old trinkets and clothes and other miscellaneous items….however, to them, it meant a fresh market.  A HUGE fresh market. (with a smattering of clothes and trinkets here and there). And it was right outside our apartment!!

The men started setting up quite early the next morning.  It was cloudy and rainy so they were busy setting up tarps to cover their tables and offer protection to the shoppers.  I don’t know if they did this every week (the tarps) but it was cool to see them line the streets with them.

IMG_4836After peeking out the window for part of the morning, we finally decided to head up and check it out.  It was awesome.  We had to force ourselves to stop buying fruit even though we made a pit stop at home to drop off the first few bags!  It was  a feast for the eyes and eventually the taste buds.  The market went on and on and it was overflowing with fruits, vegetables, breads and cheeses.  And the best part was that all of the produce and other items were local and fresh.

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We spent most of the day wandering and eating.  We ate almost 2kg of strawberries that first day. (that’s almost 4.5 lbs!)  Markets like this make me want to live there.  I could just imagine myself doing weekly shopping at the bazaar and getting fresh bread daily…..however, I’m not moving to Turkey, so I guess I’ll just have to make my own bread and plant a garden!

 

 

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Istanbul Not Constantinople

Now you try to NOT sing that song all day!

Things really started to take a turn for the better when we got to Istanbul.  The weather was the best part (not really but it’s a good place to start).  It was sweater weather!  Of course, not true summer weather, just a week long fluke, but for us it was a Godsend!  It was so nice to walk around in pants because the weather was cool.

We rented a little two bedroom condo that was below street level keeping it extra cool.  Come to find out, picking blindly was the best thing we ever did.  We ended up in the perfect location for a week in Istanbul.  It was so perfect that we didn’t even venture out of our neighborhood!  It was located in a very non touristy part of the city where there were mom and pop markets on the corner and bread stores everywhere.  It was a short walk to shopping and coffee shops and yummy restaurants….it was heavenly.  Here is a picture of our first meal out.  I can’t even tell you what we had….kebabs I think and it was served with bread and veggies and dips…I miss it already!

IMG_4827Then, of course, we had to stop and try some baklava. Who knew there were so many varieties?!

IMG_4831In the shop we stopped at, they also made these sweet sticky donut things called tulumba tatlisi.  It means fried pastry with syrup (I think).  Sy was very interested in watching how they were made so of course we had to try some.  The kids liked them but I thought the texture was weird…kinda crunchy and sticky sweet but smushy in the middle.

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It wouldn’t have been a trip to Turkey without a morning at the turkish baths!  I convinced Grace to go with me and she ultimately agreed that it was a great experience.  I won’t go in to details and obviously won’t be sharing any photos.  But trust me when I say that if you are given the chance to visit one, you should go.  And if you’re lucky and are ever able to have a coffee with Grace and I then feel free to ask about our experience! It was a hoot!

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After our bath we stopped at Yuksel Cafe and Pastane, our favorite local coffee and pastry shop for a snack.  We tried something new called Borek.  It’s a flaky pastry filled with layers and layers of phyllo I think…it tasted almost like a pasta with cheese and butter.  And of course our coffee….

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Here’s a photo of Grace and Daddy enjoying a meal :)IMG_4880And last but not least, we asked our servers and cooks at our favorite local place for a photo and they ALL stopped and ran over so we could snap one!  It was awesome!!

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We stayed in a vacation rental in Bahçelievler.  If you’re going to Istanbul and are interested, we can put you in touch with the lady we rented from…she was a great hostess!

Stay tuned for the next post….the market day made me want to move there!

 

My take on Bali

Since we’re all honest here, I’ll try to say this with as much kindness as possible.

I really didn’t like Bali.

I know, I hate to destroy your dreams of a perfect beachy get away.  But really guys, Bali’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  The best thing we found there was our rental!

We had a three bedroom house with a private pool.  It was absolutely perfect!

IMG_4612While we mostly stayed there and frolicked, we DID go sightseeing and check out the town.  I walked over to the nearest beach and took a few photos.  It was a pretty beach but it was right by a big hotel so it was crowded with touristy stuff :)

IMG_4760Another thing we saw was Tirta Gangga water palace. It’s a garden full of ponds and statues and was a fun way to spend an hour.  The kids enjoyed hopping from stone to stone!

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We did some other fun things, like visit a rural Balinese village where they dye their chickens these brilliant colors! (we never did find out why but we suspect it’s for the cock fights)

IMG_4676We also enjoyed the antics of a 6 year old while waiting on dinner!IMG_4689On one of our day trips out, we came across a village ceremony called Pengerebongan that had blocked the street and we were forced to wait until it was over.  Our driver explained that it was a ritual where a chosen man would stab himself with a ceremonial knife in order to gain protection for the village.  You can read about it here, it’s a short article that sums it all up.  We chose to NOT get out and watch. But it just goes to show how very different we are from the Balinese even though Bali is a very first world city.

So even though we probably will not return to Bali, I’m glad to say that we’ve been there.  For those of you who want to go to the Ubud/Denspasar/Kuta area, remember, it’s a busy, touristy city with the price tags to match! Maybe head out to the west coast instead :)

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Borobudur and Prambanan

While we were in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, we went and saw the largest Buddhist monument in the world.  Borobudur.  It was stunning.

And hot.  Really really hot.

If you look closely at the pictures, you can see behind the pasted on smiles that look lovely but are really saying hurry the heck up Mom it’s too hot to smile!  I have to give them credit though, they stuck it out with minimal complaining….what more can I ask for?  Oh yeah, sunshine and lollipops!

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Borobudur is a UNESCO Heritage sight and is absolutely massive.   The stone block levels rise up and represent different levels of enlightenment.  There is no inside to this monument.  Each level has a walkway around the edge that is full of carvings and statues up to the top.  Once you reach the top of the pyramid there is a massive bell shaped stupa which is empty but is believed to have held a historic idol at some point.

We really liked the top for two reasons…the view and the breeze :)

IMG_4515IMG_4539Here is an example of the carvings in the walls of the temple.

IMG_4508 Here’s a closer view of the temple.  You can see the pathway going up and each level has a walkway all the way around.  If you go there when there are a lot of tourists it’s difficult to navigate the stair ways.  They are very steep and the steps seem higher than normal. You definitely earn your dinner climbing those bad boys!

IMG_4493 Getting there was easy as we had hired a driver and car for the day which, in my opinion, is the way to go.  Its pretty cheap and you get a nice car with A/C and a guy who knows how to get around!

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We also went to a Hindu Temple called Prambanan.  I have to say I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed Borobudur, but it was impressive in its own right.  Instead of one temple there were multiple ones.

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There are intricate carvings on the outside of each temple, but there are also interior rooms that house statues that are dedicated to specific priests.  The one with the great story is the one about Lord Djonggrang.  You can read about it here.IMG_4572

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This is also the place where Sylar learned to grin and bear it.  There were multiple older women of Asian descent who grabbed him and yelled picture!  He was a great sport and smiled, grumbling the whole time about why they wanted his picture!!IMG_4592We really enjoyed our all day temple event….well, at least I enjoyed it.  And the kids didn’t complain much which means they enjoyed it too!

If you ever go, I suggest paying the package fee so you can see both temples for a cheaper price.  It’s a bit expensive for South East Asia, but so worth having pictures like these in the memory bank!

How I got taken in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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After leaving Batu Karas we decided to stay in Yogyakarta for a few days to search for some Batik paintings and visit the Sultans Palace.  There were also a few other temples we wanted to see, however, that will be for another time.  This post is more about how we ended up where we ended up and how I feel like we finally had an experience that we’ve only read about!!

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to stay in Yogyakarta was to search for Batik paintings.  It’s supposed to be the mecca of all things Batik.  However, I also read that it is a city full of crooked and dishonest Batik sellers.  I believe, after having experienced what we did, that the Batik sellers have their scheme so far down pat that it would take someone homegrown to recognize it for what it was.

To begin our crazy day, we started at the Sultans Palace taking a private guided tour by the music instructor at the palace.  He seemed very nice, but who wouldn’t when your payment depends on your personality!?  However, I’ve long since realized that taking tours with a guide is much better than just wandering around some place with NO idea what you are looking at.  It was nice to have some of the things we looked at explained to us.  For example, there are many pillars like this all over the palace grounds:

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They are used to signify the melding of three religions.  The green on the bottom signifies Muslim, the middle blue signifies Hindu and the top lotus signifies the Buddhist.  I do however find it amusing he felt the need to reinforce that Indonesian Muslims are not like the Muslims from the Middle East.  He wanted me to know that because of the Buddhist influence they are a kind and gentle Muslim.  He then proceeded to give a big hurrah to Obama.  On a side note, we ran into that a LOT there.   Obama’s mother married an Indonesian man and they lived in Yogyakarta for about 6 years, so they feel a great affinity for the current US President.  Anyway, we toured the grounds and he showed us the music building.  If you look close there are chickens in cages in front of the building.  They are placed in front of every building to ward off bad spirits.

IMG_4452We also saw the great coronation hall where the last coronation took place in 1989.  A new sultan is only made sultan upon the death of the last one.  Talk about a lifetime of work!

IMG_4450So here is where it gets interesting.  I had heard that there was a ‘school’ for Batik painting near the palace and our guide offered to show us where it was after our tour was over.  Upon arrival, we were shown how Batik was made and it was explained that there were students that learned there and then put their pieces up for sale. (batik is done by outlining the painting in special wax and then allowing the cloth to absorb the color to create the design.  then the cloth is washed to remove the wax.  the paintings can then be washed and ironed, used as art or cloth)  The more expensive ones were made by masters and the least by the novices.  It seemed straightforward even though the sales person was hovering and talking about how his father was a master and a very well known artist.  And of course how the pictures we were leaning towards were done either by him or his father.  After about an hour of looking we had narrowed our choices down to about 5 paintings and ended up taking them all.  The total price for our ‘original-one-of-a-kind’ batik paintings was about $300 USD.  Here is the one Grace picked out.

IMG_4454We all found one we liked and then we bought another one that all of us liked.  I’m still happy with our purchases even after what ensued.

Once done with our purchasing, we headed out to take a tour of Taman Sari ~the water castle.  It has underground tunnels that were used as secret passageways by the Sultan.  There are also pools that were once used as a way to show the Sultan the women that were being offered to become part of his harem.IMG_4459 IMG_4475 IMG_4478 IMG_4480This by the way, this crazy boy child of mine, decided to walk along the top wall and then jump across the corner to another wall scaring the crap out of me.  The drop along the back of the wall ends in concrete.  My heart still leaps thinking about it!

So the guy who was walking around with us started talking about Batik painting and asked us to come see the ones in his shop because he believed the ones we bought were fakes.  He suggested that the artist whose name was on ours altered the paintings, which he bought from the original artist, to reflect a different signature and sold them off as his own original works.  He actually showed me another painting, very similar to one I purchased, that had another artists signature on it, insisting that this was the original artist.  It was also significantly cheaper that the one I had purchased.  At this point, after spending so much money and feeling like I’d been had, I bought that look alike painting and headed back to the original shop.  I was on a mission to get either a return or at least a partial refund.  You would think at this point I would have realized the ENTIRE thing was part of a city wide scam.  The guy, the ‘friend’, the one who enlightened us as to the authenticity of our paintings?  yeah…he asked for a tip for his guide services.  It’s so seamless here you don’t even realize you’re getting taken.  And just so you know at this point I had already figured out we were knee deep in the hoopla!

Of course you can probably guess where this went.  Absolutely nowhere.  The manager I spoke to said he was allowed to give no refunds.  I told him that this entire business was shady and I wanted nothing to do with it.  He said his work and the work of the artists was original and if I was willing to bring that other man to the store he’d then return my money.  Huh?  Didn’t he just say he wasn’t allowed to do that?  Also, when I was purchasing, they told me they would be closed the next day because of some show or some such in another part of town….but this manager said I should bring the lying man back the next day…..but weren’t you going to be closed?  I outright called this man and his employee liars.  This whole scenario was a great big fabrication to gain the money of people who know nothing about Batik painting.  Man he jumped on my ignorance of Batik too….I told him this wasn’t about art, it was about integrity and honesty while running a business, which he had none of.  I also told him that if he wouldn’t give me at least a partial refund I would file a report with the tourist commission about the shady business dealings with his ‘school’.  He laughed.

So I walked myself and my three kiddos to the police station where they listened to what I had to say and then, after chatting so I couldn’t understand, escorted me back to the shop in the hope that their presence would force us to find a compromise.  Ultimately I ended up meeting the artist and after chatting with him felt a bit more comfortable about the authenticity of the pieces we bought.  I was still very disappointed in regards to the business end and they gave me a 25% refund. (this was after he offered to give me a few pieces of free art….in hindsight I should have taken that and given them out at Christmas!)  From what I gathered from the police, there is a lot of lying going on in regards to tourism here.  Lots of he said she said and it’s all done in the hopes that they will sway the tourists pocketbook in their direction.  I left with an ugly feeling about that whole day.  However, here is a picture of the police escort I had!

IMG_4484And you know something?  As we were leaving, the owner/artist slipped the police money on the way out.  Just padding the pockets of those that serve and protect.

That experience really turned me off to Yogyakarta.  I’m sure it’s a lovely city, but we did no more in the city sightseeing after that.  It just goes to show that crooks will be crooks and you can’t always believe people to be as honest as you are.

In the end, we chose to not allow the experience to color our views of our paintings.  They are real Batik paintings done by artists  in Indonesia.  We love them.  And when we get a home I’ll frame and hang them.

After all, it’s all about the story right?

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