We flew MAS to Kuala Lumpur from Denpasar on the last day of the Grand Prix.    The flight from Denpasar to KL was only 2 1/2 hours but it seemed to take all day to finally arrive at the hotel with all the hanging around at both airports with long queues at security and  immigration.We intended to leave most of our luggage at the left luggage counter but this was overflowing so we had to wait until someone had picked up their baggage and we had to pay $40 for 2 bags, two carry on bags and a pillow to be left for 24hours.   I thought that this was a bit steep especially as Malaysia is trying to attract tourists for their “Visit Malaysia 2014″.

The train trip into the city was very efficient costing about $25 each return and it only took 25minutes to the “Nu Sentral” station and shopping complex which was celebrating it’s “soft” opening.  Some of the shops had several layers of floral wreaths on large stands given by their customers to welcome the new shops.  This was a common sight in India also. We had been in Kuala Lumpur about 5years previously and were not really impressed by the city and lack of infrastructure apart from the monorail but that has all changed with many new walkways, shopping centres, cafes and  a much tidied up Bukit Bintang area.  It seemed as though KL was now quickly catching up to Singapore with an enormous amount of contruction work everywhere. We were extremely lucky to arrive at the “Royal Hotel” just as the afternoon torrential monsoon rain started.  Malaysia had experienced a drought recently but the rain had now started in the previous couple of weeks.  I remember that years ago in Bali you could almost set your watch for when the downpours started in the afternoons but now that had changed  with rain overnight or in the morning or afternoon.  There seemed to be no set pattern. The hotel was right next to the monorail station at Bukit Bintang and which was very well located in the main shopping/eating area of the city.

The next day we walked to the Australian High Commision to vote for the third time since we had been away.  First was the state election when we voted in Bali, then the Federal election when in London and then the Senate election in KL.  The security in both Bali and KL was very tight but London was a breeze by comparison.  We hoped that this was the last time that we needed to vote for anything for a while.

We went by train in the afternoon back to the airport to collect our bags and catch the shuttle bus to the “Concorde Inn” a very handy 5minutes from the airport for the last night before our early morning departure to Chennai.

This MAS flight was very light with onlyabout 60 passengers on board for the 3 1/2 hour flight. We stayed one night in Chennai at the “GRT Grand hotel”about 20minutes from the airport which was in the process of being renovated  and we ate another wonderful Indian meal at their “Copper Pot” restaurant.

The Emirates flight from Chennai to Dubai was full  with a lot of passengers going to Mecca.  This was a four hour flight and Alan was kindly there to pick us up at Dubai airport.  He departed 36hours later for India so we had a brief but nice couple of days with him and his  daughter Samantha. I had picked up a sore throat (seemed to happen every time I flew anywhere where there were large crowds of people) so it was nice to just relax, do a bit of walking and swimming and visit the vast “Mall of the Emirates” one of hundreds of malls in the city.  We couldn’t believe the amount of construction in Dubai in the six months since we had been there. I managed to meet briefly with Salim (my emirati university friend from Hangzhou) at a local coffee shop before he flew for work to London the next day. He very sweetly had brought a coffee pot full of coffee flavoured with cardamom and two lots of dates which were delicious. He had got a good job based in Abu Dhabi (an hour and a half away from Dubai) working for the political advisor to the Crown Prince of the UAE.  He wanted us to have his car and leave it somewhere for his return but as the licence had expired a couple of days before and everyone drives like a maniac here in Dubai, we declined the offer.  A few days before we arrived Dubai had had a torrential day of rain and there were over 500 accidents on that one day.  We also read of an Canadian who allegedly gave the finger to an Emirati driver (who was trying to get past him and was becoming irate) and he was surprisingly let off the charge as the Emiraties usually won every case.  He avoided 6months jail!

The alcohol laws are different too.  If you drink in your own house or anyone else’s house you have to apply for an alcohol licence.  If you have an accident or the  police find alcohol in your car, you must have this licence or be prosecuted.

Maurice and I walked one evening to a very popular eatery near the beach which served only marinated whole fish and peeled prawns.   We had been warned to get there early 5.45pm and we were glad we did.  At first there is nothing set up and as more people arrive, out come the plastic tables and small stools on the dirt at the front of the small kitchen.  The meal was simple and wonderful.

The next night we walked for an hour and a half to the Dubai Sailing club to find it was only for private members so we went around the corner to the “Seaview” restaurant in front of the marina and had fresh sea bream, a fish called “Sheri” and one called “Hamour” which were all delicious. We caught a taxi home as our feet had had enough and they are very resonably priced here in Dubai.

On two days it was unusually cool even during the day with strong onshore winds blowing and cool enough for a cardigan at night.

It is hard to get used to the weekend here being Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a normal working day. We headed off for Rome on Qatar Airways on the 7th April.

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This was the third time that we stayed at Pondok Bambu and there is something nice about revisiting somewhere you have stayed previously especially as the staff welcome you like family (although like friends is proably more appropriate, depending on your family).  They even gave us the same room so was a bit like going home.  After driving the van around for nearly 7months exploring Europe it was nice to relax in familiar surroundings at the hotel especially one right on the ocean at Candi Dasa.

There are only 12 rooms at Pondok Bambu and there were only between 4 and 7 rooms occupied while we were there and two of those were for our friends Robert and Gay and Robert and Renate from Sydney who joined us there.

We had a nice relaxing time sitting and chatting and eating and drinking for a lot of  our time there but we also hired a local boat for about $10 each to take us down the coast to the “Pasir Putih” or white sand beach where we spend a few hours lazing and taking dips in the beautiful clear water of the bay.  Lots of  little fish were interested in us and followed us around.  We literally had to shoo them away.  Just behind the sun lounges and umbrellas were small open air restaurants serving fresh fish for lunch.

One of the Roberts wanted to go fishing so I joined him and we left at 6am in the local boat which rests on the sand down the steps from the hotel.  It was lovely being on the ocean early in the morning to see the sunrise and although we only caught a few small fish – the smaller ones we threw back – we enjoyed our few hours on the calm sea.

Another day most of us struggled up “Gumang Hill” with a guide to get the most beautiful panoramic views of the coast and of “Mt Agung”.  The hill had been terraced years before for peanut cultivation but was now disused and only a few cows grazed the area.  It was a lovely clear day and we had to leave at 6.30am so as to be at the top to see the sunrise and also as Mt Agung is often shrouded in cloud later in the morning.  Most of us looked as though we had had a shower in our clothes as we were wet through with perspiration (sweat really).

There were a lot of curious monkeys on the way up the hill and at the temple which is situated opposite Mt Agung.  There are some beautiful large trees and enormous old frangipani trees in the temple area.  Our guide blessed us before we proceeded to the temple and he laid offerings at several of the altars and prayed while we took in the scenery.  By the time we had walked down the hill – many steps and slopes – and three hours of hiking we didn’t feel like the 1/2 hour walk back to our hotel so the guide hailed us a local bus which stopped in front of our hotel to let us off.

The Ghandi Ashram is located next to the large lotus pond and we went to yoga there on a few occassions.  The yoga platform was located overlooking the ocean and “Kawi” the balinese yoga master was a good instructor.

One night we went to a local “warung”-restaurant, where there were only two tables so the owner said “no problem” and seated us under an umbrella in his front garden next door where we ate a nice home cooked meal of fresh fish, balinese fish curry, chicken curry and vegetables.  We finished with fried bananas which are a very common dessert in Bali.  Another one is “Dadar Gulung” which are bright green pancakes filled with grated coconut and palm sugar.  The colour comes from the  pandan leaves although it looks anything but a natural colour.

Indonesia is holding general elections on the 7th of April and as a result of this we saw many black cars and trucks full of people  with colourful flags and many young men on motorbikes holding flags as they raced along to their political rallys.

Our friends left us for a few days in Ubud in the hills and we joined them the next day after Maurice and I had been to our little hairdresser there where I had a cut, colour and blow dry and Maurice had a haircut – all for $20.  We all went to Cafe Wayan (a very typical Balinese restaurant) which has been there since 1986.  Their gardens are beautiful and the staff are dressed in traditional clothes and are very efficient and friendly.   Maurice and I continued (after farewelling our friends and our other local friends in Ubud) on to Seminyak (about 1 1/2 hours away) to stay for our last few days to do our last bits of shopping and have our last wonderful inexpensive massages and treatments and to catch up with a couple of friends from Perth who had just arrived in Bali.  Seminyak is a lot more commercialised than Candi Dasa with lots of boutiques, cafes and a myriad of upmarket hotels, resorts, shopping centres and restaurants.  As you move further south towards Legian and Kuta beach areas the upmarket shops give way to open shop fronts with more or less the same rayon clothes, cheap sunglasses, hats, watches etc,etc,etc.

We went for a 2hour walk along the  Seminyak, Legian, Kuta beachfront where the hawkers are still to be found and the little ladies give massages on the beach for $5.  We saw a truck with a load of styrofoam boxes which were full of live prawns and shellfish.  An airpump aerated the water.   As the driver stopped next to a restaurant we saw him scoop up the live prawns into a bucket which were then delivered inside.

We had booked a few weeks before into Mamasan’s restaurant which had been recommended to us.   We had a wonderful meal and the entree portions of finger food were so large that we had enough for lunch the next day.  The place was buzzing and packed and the food was very innovative and delicious.

We were not happy to be back in the chaos of  traffic and loud motorbikes again and were glad it was only for a couple of days.  Maurice had a chat to an older taxi driver who told him that he was glad that he was near the end of his working life as everyone today was in a hurry and didn’t have time to chat or ( like in the old days) invite him to have a cup of coffee.

We left Bali on the 30th March to avoid Nyepi Day of Silence which this year fell on 31st March.  The Balinese New Year is 78years behind our calendar so it was going to be 1936.  We saw hundreds of people who had brought their offerings to the beach and were then transferred by trucks to the temple for their “Melasti” ceremony.  There was another large gathering around the corner from our hotel where they cordoned off the road and the people in their traditional ceremony white clothes sat on the road in front of the temple and listened to the priest drone on for hours.  It is not  a very uplifting sound by the priest but a very long wailing type of praying.

Bye Bye Bali for another year.

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We arranged with a local company (Bery from Wanen Wisata)for our transfer by boat to Bangsal harbour and then by car from there to Batu Bolong near the Senggigi area where most of the hotels are to be found. We did not want to take the public ferry leaving at 8.30am and arranged for a boat at 10am and were asked to be there by 9.45am. The cost was 300,000 rupiah about $30 for the entire transfer which I thought was reasonable. We part paid for the trip and arrived as planned. By 10.30am there was no boat in sight so I walked back to our accommodation and they finally found Mr Bery who then informed us that the boat would leave when there were enough people to fill it. This he omitted to tell us previously. We didn’t however have to wait too long and with some help from a very nice trekking
guide from Lombok we found our driver and arrived at “Sunset House” where we were greeted warmly by the staff who remembered us from previous years.
One of the nice waiters Ryan had died of an illness the previous year which was very sad as he was only 28 years old and his wife had given birth to their first child after he died and had gone home to her family in Java. Another waiter Charles had moved on and started his own transport business so we were able to give him some business during our week’s stay.

Given the direct flights from Perth we expected Senggigi to be busier than in previous years but this was not yet the case.
The Senggigi area had not changed a lot in a year with the same restaurants and bars and tour companies selling trekking trips to Mt Rinjani and trips to see the Komodo Dragons on another island.
Lombok is very rural in nature even near the towns and the main city of Mataram which has one large mall and a lot of government buildings.
We spent the week walking and swimming in the ocean and pool and made a couple of trips via the interior to the south coast where the most beautiful beaches are found especially one called “Tanjung An”. We saw only one upmarket resort and several home stays and a few restaurants in the vicinity.
There were apparently some foreign and local built structures built very close to the beach at Kuta Beach but these were not supposed to be constucted on the beachside of the road and so the authorities had them all demolished. Unfortunately the remnants and rubble from many of the buildings remain which is not such a pleasant sight.
The trip through the hills to the south coast was a quiet one with very little traffic of any kind on the road and villagers were harvesting and threshing rice. We stopped for coffee at a very high point with a spectacular view of the coastline at a yoga/restaurant centre called “Ashtari”.
There were bunches of soya beans and rice drying in the sun as well as bright yellow corn and in one area there was a small version of an open cut gold mine and many small holdings where the large rocks where being broken down by old hammermills.  We also passed many small brickworks along the roadside.   We were told that 10,000 bricks cost around 700,000 rupiah or about $68.

The burial structures in the Chinese cemetery are very ornate, some with figures in front of the “armchair” style graves.  Most are well tended and the cemetery is quite large and  on both sides of the road.

Another day Charles who is from Flores island suggested we take a trip to Gili Nanggu off the south western tip Lombok. We took a very nice lady Lisa (who was staying at the same hotel) with us who had been a few days previously and who had thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

The drive took us about an hour and a half and then Charles organised us a local boat to take us to the island.
We had snorkels and masks and we filled several empty plastic bottles with bread and sea water and took them into the shallows. When we squirted the mixture into the water the fish appeared from nowhere to eat the bread.
We then went snorkelling and saw a wonderful variety of colourful tropical fish and a fat, bright blue starfish. The coral there was largely dessimated but there were a few patches colour still to be seen. The island has one small bungalow hotel but they had a good outdoor area and for 5000rupiah (50cents”) we could have a fresh water shower and change before we went back to Lombok. We saw several pearl farms in the distance on the way back.

The taxi ride from Senggigi to Lembar harbour took about an hour and before the taxi had stopped the porters clammered around the vehicle to try and carry our bags. We gladly obliged them for 20,000 rupiah because the steps up to the passenger deck on the ferries were very steep. The hawkers also come on board selling everything from rice meals and snacks to t-shirts and pearls. They all scurry off the ferry once the horn sounds three times. There is an area where you can hire a canvas covered
mattress and sleep for the entire journey which a lot of the locals seem to do. There is also a snack bar on board selling mainly crisps and cool drinks.
We departed from Lembar harbout at 9.10am (precisely) for the 4-5hour ferryride back to Padang Bai and Candi Dasa on the east coast of Bali. The ferries are not the Queen Mary and there is no airconditioning however for only $4 it is a leisurely trip. We sat in the shade on one side of the boat and there was a lovely breeze all the way. There was a bit of a swell for some of the trip and we rolled a bit but it was a lovely day and the ocean was sparkling.
Several of the locals had fishing lines trawling behind the boat but we didn’t see any fish caught. We did see a very large pod of dolphins on the way.
I used the time productively writing the blog and sorting photos and the trip went surprisingly quickly and we arrived in Padang Bai harbouron the east coast of Bali four and a half hours after we had left Lombok. We were picked up by our friend Wayan who broughtour larger bags which we had left in storage in Ubud and he took us to “Pondok Bambu” in Candi Dasa for our 10day stay.

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We took the public boat (2 a day at 9.30am and 4pm) costing $2.70 to Gili Air after dropping passengers off at Gili Meno (the island in the middle of the  three islands)

gili islands

Gili Air is the island closest to the mainland of Lombok and the only island with some fresh water. This is running low so they also cart water over from the mainlan.

There are as on Gili Trawangan no cars or loud motorbikes on the island and it is a much quieter island so very tranquil especially in low season with fewer tourists.

Luckily (or rather on a recommendation) we chose a place to stay (the Chill Out bungalows) which had fresh and hot water showers although here you need very little or no hot water as it is much hotter and more humid than in Ubud.   There was also a lovely yoga centre on the island 15minutes walk or a 5minute horse and cart ride inland from where we stayed so we went either at 10am or 5.30pm in the evening which was more comfortable as it was not so hot then.  We had 5 sessions of yoga  and the yoga masters were excellent.
There is an abundance of fish and shellfish on offer and the prices are very reasonable. A very large tuna and vegetable kebab including baked potato and two salads was only 45,000 rupiah or $4.30.
Breakfast which was included is very generous and consists of 3courses (if you want it all) with any combination of muesli, fruit, honey and yoghurt followed by two eggs any style and then a banana or pineapple pancake. We made do with two options.

The coffee is not espresso so we opted for ginger tea which was delicious.
Gili Air has a much more back to nature feel about it and most of the path around the island is sand. There are not so many “cidomos” horse drawn carts so it tends to be very much quieter around the island.  The first bungalow had a very musty odour about it and after telling the friendly staff they obliged the next morning and we were given a much larger bungalow.
There are few tourists on Gili Air and most that visit the island are either diving or snorkelling during the day so the island feels almost deserted. The nice thing also about the island is that you are not constantly being asked if you want this that or the other all the time and even the few hawkers on the beach selling sarongs and jewellery were very polite and not insistent.

The water  was crystal clear and a lovely refreshing temperature and even without a mask and snorkel you could see the fish and the ocassional turtle in the water. I spent a lot of time in the water while Maurice had a quick dip then stayed out of the sun so as not to get burnt.
We decided to try out the “Vista Mare” Italian restaurant which had been very well written up on trip advisor with glowing reports about the Italians running the place.
After missing the place after walking for an hour we had to retrace our steps and finally found it to be told that they had left four months previously and the new owner/chef was Balinese.  Just our luck! Again we assured that the chef knew how to cook Italian food so we stayed, mainly because of the sunset which was beautiful but we were disappointed with the food.
After three efforts to eat other than Indonesian fare just for a change we decided to stick to the BBQ’D fish and local fare which was delicious.
We had a great meal at a new restaurant on Gili Air called “Caballito de Mar” which was excellent and another good meal at the “Waterfront” restaurant. All other meals we ate at our “Chill Out” restaurant which was so reasonably priced and excellent food and value.  For 7main meals, 12 fresh juices,4 soda waters, 3 icecreams, 3lots of prawn crackers and a coffee the bill came to $74 for the week.

The weather was wonderful for the whole week with no rain and
having swims in the beautiful aqua water and seeing all sorts of tropical fish without even a snorkel was wonderful.
We just hope that this island does not get overdeveloped like Bali did and although only three small islands it could easily be ruined in time especially with the new airport on Lombok and direct flights from Perth to Lombok which are very reasonably priced.  There was plenty of accommodation and many cafe/restaurants but very little else apart from a few small shops selling water and biscuits and a few clothes or otherwise dive shops with snorkels and masks and bicycles to rent. Most people seemed happy to walk around the island as we did.  We found one of the many tours and travel booths selling tickets for transfers to and from the island.  We didn’t want to leave on the public boat at 8.30am so we arranged to go by boat at 10am to Bangsal harbour and then by car to our hotel “Sunset House” in Senggigi on Lombok.

We arrived at the small harbour as arranged at 9.45am and by 10.30am there was no sign of a boat for us and after several phone calls, the chap we booked with turned up and said that we would have to get the public boat which leaves when it is full.  I gave him a mouthful about not telling us the truth but it all turned out alright in the end with us going on the public boat about 15minutes later and a very nice trekking organiser from Lombok helped us to find our car when we stepped ashore.  We were prepared and I wore my crocs as you get onto and off the boat and into the water.  Our faith in human nature was restored!

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We secured our second visa extension and set off for Gili Trawangan on the 1st March on the fast boat “the Gili Cat” for the 1 1/2 hour trip to the island via Lombok.

It was a beautiful clear day with a very calm ocean which made for a very pleasant trip for the ten of us on board.
Gili T is the largest of the islands and known as the party island – no not why Maurice and I are there.  The east coast where most of the accommodation and restaurants are found has almost clearly defined areas. The bulk of the cheaper bars/restaurants and bungalows are near the night market and go to the left and right of the main jetty. The further you walk to the  south west of the island is where you find more paved areas and swanker restaurants, bars and accommodation.
It is still low season and therefore there are not many tourists on the island which makes it very pleasant. The “Beach House” bungalows where we stayed was nice and quiet as the rooms/bungalows are at the back of the property away from the main drag where you nearly get high with the smell of “pot” as you walk along in the evening.

There is an abundance of fresh fish and many restaurants have BBQ’s fired up to entice the tourists.

We found a yoga class and attended one evening and one morning session while  we were on the island.  There were 20 odd younger people in the evening class but only Maurice and I made it to the 7am class in the morning and so had a personalised session.
We also found a lovely beach area offering very comfortable sun lounges with attractive bamboo constructions to offer maximun shade overlooking the the water with Lombok in the background. These cost us nothing as long as we spent 100,000 Rupiah each($9.50) for the day and surprisingly the drinks and food were very tasty and reasonably priced.

We walked half way around the island taking the inland path out to the beach on the west coast of the island to see the sunset which was worth doing.

There are many cats on the island (haven’t seen a dog) and a few volunteers offered their services as part of the “Gili eco trust” in December to spay and sterilise over two hundred cats and return them to where they found them. All the cats we have seen have looked in reasonable shape unlike many of the poor dogs in Bali.

We hired bikes on our second day ($7.50 for 2bikes for the day) and road around the island.  You have to watch where you are cycling as the paved paths are rather uneven with bits missing.  There are also some areas with a lot of sand and we had to walk the bikes to the next lot of paving.  It was a very humid and hot day so we were glad to find a nice beach with not so much broken coral near the shore.  The water was crystal clear and even without a mask I could see the fish and a turtle  swam right in front of me.

On the 4th March we had leisurely breakfast, checked out and left our luggage at reception to wander down and have a swim before heading on to Gili Air for a week (the island closest to Lombok) on the public ferry at 4pm which cost all of 30,000 rupiah.  The trip took about 20 minutes after stopping to let some passengers off at Gili Meno.

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We had a pleasant and quick 2 1/2hour flight from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur, an overnight stay there and then a morning flight to Denpasar arriving there on the 2nd January.

The new airport is operational (of sorts) with sporadic power outages and our arrival time of 3pm coincided with about three other planeloads and few immigration staff which resulted in a 2hour wait in line.  We felt sorry for our poor driver who had been waiting for us and who told us that with the increased traffic everywhere in Bali, a trip from the airport up to Ubud (even with the new toll road out into the ocean) can take up to 3hours.  In the middle of the night this trip takes 40minutes.  Wayan (our driver) told us that there are 45 new transport drivers (with 45 new cars-most on hire purchase) on the road in the Penestanan area which makes for less work for everyone, increased traffic and more noise especially the modified exhausts on some of the motorbikes which makes you wish you owned a gun!  We hate to think what it will be like in another year.

We are glad that we are in our little villa away from the road and we can walk to the supermarket, yoga or just have a walk through the rice paddies away from it all.

We had four lovely days with our friends Tony and Michelle from Perth and the day they left Maurice’s sister Maura and her husband Tony arrived for 2 weeks.  We only have a 1bedroom villa this time so unfortunately our guests had to stay elsewhere but we made use of our private pool and lounge.  Maura and I did a cooking course at “Laka Leke” restaurant which is located close to the Monkey Forest and in a lovely garden setting.  We made marinated chicken salad, Nasi Goreng, Balinese style prawns, chicken curry and black sticky rice.  It was all delicious and two days later we bought all the ingredients and made most of it again.

It has rained a few times and sometimes the rain has been torrential with a lot of thunder and lightning but no fierce storms.

We have a great coffee shop down the road as well as many organic and non organic restaurants in Penestanan, Ubud where we are staying.  We are spoilt for choice.  The “Bridges” restaurant which we have visited already twice and the “Beduur” restaurant at the Hanging Gardens hotel in the hills north of Ubud are exceptionally good with wonderful food and service and many little extras which you rarely get at home.

You can still get good, safe food at the little restaurants in Penestanan for
between $3-$5 for a meal (as long as you don’t have wine) which makes it very economical (given we are staying a couple of months)to eat out and we can treat ourselves occasionally with more expensive meals at fancier restaurants or cook ourselves if we feel like it.

We don’t have a washing machine at the villa this time but as a large bag of
returned washing ironed and wrapped in plastic only cost between $3-$4 dollars we have resorted to using this wonderful service.  The washing is dropped off by our lovely houseboy Lopo and delivered back.  He arrives every morning gives us fruit and toast breakfast, makes the bed and cleans the whole place every day including the small garden and the pool.  All this for $52 a day.  No complaints!

I had my credit card hacked (from the USA)and wondered why I could no longer use my card. The bank had cancelled it. They sent me a new card and a few days later a new pin number which I could still not use as they (ANZ) had omittted to tell me that I then had to be identified?! so we trekked down to the Australian consulate in Denpasar (where they treat you like a criminal even after showing Australian ID) Before you can walk to the main office you have to give up your mobile phone, camera, USB sticks and advise where you are staying. They then took $35 for taking a photocopy of my ID and stamped the form we had filled out already which took all of 2minutes.

We had a slight change of plans.  I flew down to Perth on the 21st January to have an endoscopy/colonoscopy.  My lower abdomen had been feeling strange for  a few months and after several other tests in Ireland and Bali decided it needed to be investigated.  Maurice stayed in Bali and I went and stayed with Maurice’s sister and brother in law who had only left Bali a couple of days beforehand.  Luckily it turned out to be a diverticular pocket and it has given me no problem since so I was very relieved and glad to get back to Maurice in Bali after catching up with as many friends as possible over the 5days before and after hospital procedures and it was nice seeing the gum trees against the blue sky, the Swan River and the lovely clean blue ocean at City Beach .

We had to make a day trip to Singapore on the 31st January for us to have another month in Indonesia. The new airport in Bali is so much better than the old one and thank goodness we didn’t have a 2hour wait at immigration when we flew back from Singapore.  There is however only one rubbish coffee shop called “grand canyon” and they have used very low quality carpet on the floor which is already badly stained after only a few months.

Our next lot of friends (Colin and Kandy) arrived on the 1st February for a few days and now we are back to our normal routine of breakfast followed by a good coffee down the road, browsing the internet (planning of this years’ travels) followed by lunch, yoga and a light dinner.  There are dozens of videos in our villa so we have watched a few of these.

The lovely spa is just across our driveway so we have had a number of treatments.   Manicures ($8 for an hour) and $14 for an hour and a half massage.  Prices we only dream about in Australia.

One important event when we arrived back from Singapore was that my English passport arrived so now we will both have no grief with Australian passports and the Schengen agreement – relief.

We have another 3 weeks here in Ubud before heading on the fast boat 1 1/2 hours to Gili Trawangan and Gili Ayer (islands off Lombok) for 10days before spending a week on Lombok and then back to Candi Dasa on the east coast of Bali to catch up with friends from Sydney for a week.

We will spend our last three days in Bali in Seminyak before flying to Kuala Lumpur for 2days and then Dubai for a few days before heading back to Rome and Roccamandolfi to pick up the campervan and continuing our European travels.

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After a hair raising taxi ride from Chennai airport in the dark with most oncoming vehicles having their lights continuously on high beam, we arrived at the Gratitude boutique hotel in Pondicherry.  It’s name now is Puducherry but none of the locals call it that.  It is the same with the people you meet from Mumbai – they all still call it Bombay.  The two owners of the Gratitude hotel Kakoli and Madame Jhoti from Delhi were staying at the hotel also and gave us some good tips for restaurants in the area as well as catering to my post treatment breakfasts with ginger or tulsi tea. We have not had a coffee in more than a month and I think the time is getting close to having one especially when we go past the coffee shops and smell the aroma.

Gratitude is a very calm oasis and the staff are most obliging. It is an old French heritage building which has been lovingly restored by
the two owners. All the guests (there are only seven rooms) have breakfast together (either Indian or western) and it is a nice way of meeting the other guests. The major coincidence there was that there were four of us staying there who were from Perth. Maurice and I have come across a few people from Australia on our travels but none were from Perth.
We went for a 5hour walk on the 23rd and managed to get all that we wanted to do – done. We went to a tailor who had previously altered a couple of things very sucessfully to get some more alterations done on several items of clothing. We also ordered replacement lenses for my sunglasses and had my Nokia phone fixed.  Everywhere else
in Europe everyone said that they would have to keep the phone for days as it is not easy to access the battery etc. The repair centre here had it opened, a new speaker inserted and ready in an hour for $9!
We dodged the autorickshaws, motorbikes and bicycles down Mission St. I took a picture of a cow (which are normally very placid) and as we walked by it, the cow butted me in the leg with it’s horns. I got a fright as it was quite unexpected but luckily the horns were not sharp and it just gave me a bruise.
There is a great contrast between the French side of the canal and the Tamil side of the canal. The French side is much quieter and neater with not so much traffic however the Tamil side is buzzing with activity day and night with many kinds of vehicles –  suvs.auto rickshaws, carts,motorbikes, bicycles and then the occassional cow wandering along the road.
Anto our lovely receptionist gave us the name of a restaurant where we had a delicious meal. We have just been eating  vegetarian meals here but they are all tasty dishes.
On Christmas Day I heated the plum pudding that I brought from Perth and made custard to go with it. I also made my first batch of meringues and the staff and other guests enjoyed them. I abstained but the other 3 Perthites enjoyed the plum pudding and custard.
Most of the streets have a French name and an Indian name. We went to a charming Tamil hotel called “Maison Perumal” in the Tamil quarter for dinner and enjoyed the food very much.
Walking around there are so many wonderful aromas of Tamil street food as well as some not so pleasant drain odours. All part of the experience. Most of the Autowallahs drive their Autorickshaws at breakneck speed and have clownlike rubber horns which they constantly squeeze which make a high pitched squeak.
Maurice and I went to the Aurobindo paper factory again and this time saw the processes of making, marbling the paper with colour and the manufacture of some of their products.  They have a great range of paper products – everything from diaries and photo frames, greeting cards to paper earrings.

We have only eaten in Tamil restaurants in town and they have delicious vegetarian fare with tasty breads – roti, parathas and chappattis. We have chosen to be vegetarian while in India and will probably stay that way in Indonesia also.
We splurged while we were here and bought a lovely silk carpet and a beautiful small cupboard with tile inserts which was extremely
reasonable even with shipping it back home.
On the 29th December Pondicherry had a competition of pavement drawings called “Kolam”  They are geometrical line drawings composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. In South India, it is widely practised by female Hindu  family members.  There were over 200 pictures on the road by the seaside promenade. There were some beautiful pictures made from coloured sand,ground rice, rock powders, flowers and seeds. They were very colourful and some very inventive.
Some of the locals speaks good French (a left over from the colonial days)and there is a very active Alliance Francaise here in Pondicherry.
There are a few French guests at Gratitude so I have been practising my very rusty French but I can understand most of it.

We visited the “Art colony” shop where we bought our cupboard and watched while the manager sat on the ground and packaged everything to go into the cupboard (other purchases) in a lot of bubble wrap. He then asked us to come back the next day after telling us that
a lock would be fixed on the cupboard and it would be dusted and polished. He assured us that everything would be “pukka madam” and ready for us to see the next day which is was.  He and an assitant duly wrapped the whole thing in heavy cardboard while we were asked to sit and watch them do it.
Our last full day in Pondicherry was spent visiting the Botanical gardens. The gardens had some interesting trees and contrary to reports we had read the large area was clean and there was a lot of work being done.
We met up with three young boys who wanted to go on the train trip so we paid for them (the large sum of 15cents each).
Two of them looked very poor so we bought them an icecream afterwards and they were very happy with that.
We took an autorickshaw down to an old abandoned distillery on the waterfront where an Indian photographer was displaying very
large black and white photographs on the old walls. It was very innovative and the setting seemed very appropriate.
We had our last massages and tried another restaurant the “Surguru” for dinner in the Tamil quarter.  Three dishes and chappatis for $8 total.  One can eat very cheaply here.

We were again sad to leave a place.  The owners, guests and ambience of the Gratitude made you feel as though you were at home and we had a very relaxing 9days there.   On the 31st we left at 9.30am for the three hour trip to Chennai with a driver who kept taking his foot slightly off the accelerator and then pressing it again.  I nearly asked if I could drive.

We stopped briefly at Mahabalipuram to see the beautiful bas-relief, life size carvings on the rock.  We arrived three hours later in Chennai and stayed at the GRT Grand hotel in T. Nagar where we spent New Year’s eve night at the “Copper Pot” Indian restaurant.  Little did we know that the hotel would have four bands playing ear splitting techno and other such music.  We did complain and they did turn it down for a few seconds so we endured it through our meal and then we went out to the front of the hotel where other young and older people were trying to get away from the din.  We then waited in our room until midnight (where the music? was still very loud and it was pointless to try and sleep) and then we saw in the New Year.  Luckily the music stopped promptly at 12.30am so we could get some sleep before leaving the hotel at 8.45am for the airport for our flight to Kuala Lumpur and on the next day to Bali.  We have had a wonderful 2013 and hope that 2014 will be just as enjoyable an adventure.

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It is a month since we left a cold and rainy Rome.  We saw all the relatives there, also a cousin of my fathers who I hadn’t seen for 40years since I went the first time with my dad.  I just hope that I am as sharp and knowledgable as he is when I’m 83!

Our arrival to Dubai via Doha was delayed by over two hours because of  a rescheduling of a flight ex Doha which got us in at about 11pm and our friend Alan who had been given the wrong flight number {by someone who shall remain anonymous} was there waiting for us.  What a friend!

We were  impressed the service offered by the filipino staff in cafes, shops and restaurants.  There is also a huge number of Indian and Pakistani workers and business owners in Dubai but the filipinos always have a smile for you and they all greet you on entering an establishment which is very refreshing. We also saw a sign on a shop window which stated “Only Filipino workers wanted”. I don’t think that would go down well in a lot of countries.  The Italians also greet everyone on entering a shop as do the Germans but it seems more perfunctionary when most of them greet you.

The attention to detail in a lot of cafes and restaurants with little extras  or suggestions is much appreciated and it is nice to receive such service. It does make a difference when you know that this is the person’s permanent job and it isn’t just a fill in job while they attend university or school and actually show an interest in what they are doing.

The back/white and green flags were up for the UAE’s 42nd anniversary. It is hard to believe it is two years since I went up with Salim from Hangzhou to Shanghai for their 40year party celebration. Some flags were enormous which matched the size of some of the houses there.
When we booked our flight from Dubai to Calicut we didn’t realize that it was a four day holiday in Dubai for their National Day so the airport (the largest one for floor size in the world Alan told us) was chock a block with people and it took us an age to get through security and immigration.
The flight was smooth and Maurice made a couple of small friends who were well behaved and very sweet.

The contrasts between some countries appear more acute especially when arriving from an extremely clean and crisp Dubai to a not so clean city like Calicut. It was an hour and a half wait for our baggage and our transport which we booked was there to take us to the Park Residency near the airport.
In the morning we luckily phoned the Ayurveda villa who informed us that their car had broken down and would be arriving late.
As we were meeting Marianne and Franz (who had just spent 3weeks at the Ayurveda villa) we took a taxi to the “Metro Manor” restaurant where we had a nice catch up lunch together. We said our goodbyes and the driver picked us up there and we were taken to the Ayurveda villa at Udayagiri.
Much had changed at Udayagiri with new retaining walls, a new carved entrance and new paths. Some trees had been lopped to allow for a better view of the plain below.
The temperature was pleasant and it was quite cool and windy early in the morning and at night. There was a mix of people – Russian, Norwegian, Finish, French Canadians, Austrian and German there but only six other people which was pleasant.
Reading the Indian newspapers in English is very different from an English newspaper in Australia or the UK. The terminology used is quite different and sometimes quite direct.
A crime is described as “heinous” and a missing person at home would be described as having a “solid build” – here it is just “fat”. At home someone dies but here they “expire” and have a “sad demise”.
The staff made us a special delicious rice cake for our 22nd wedding anniversary on the 7th December and they had blown up many balloons and adorned us with leis made out of a medicinal plant called Tulsi. It was lovely of them.
The 11th was Jithin (the manager’s) birthday so we clubbed together and bought him a nice shirt. The nearest medium sized town is about 45minutes away if one needs the ATM or bank so Maurice and Lena went off to get the shirt and use the ATM.
The weeding women (a group of about ten local women who come on there day off from the coffee plantation )were here every Tuesday to take the weeds out of the cooch grass. The temperature wasn’t that high but they do work at a very leisurely pace.   The coffee trees were full of their red and black beans ready for picking in January.

Vincent the night watchman came every night to fog our room with coals sprinkiled with a  special powder  against insects but we had two little skinks who were very interested in us and who kept wanting to come into our room. We kept having to shoo them away. Maurice and I have had a variety of treatments – some nice some not so nice and some awful but we know they will all do us good in the end as we have experienced the last couple of times here.

There is not a lot of wildlife up on the mountain because of all the coffee plantations where the ground around the trees has been cleared but the birds are wonderful to listen to early in the morning and the cute squirrels rush up and down the trees.  One day I saw the goat herder out with his flock of goats urging them along lightly with his stick. His wife was doing the hard work carrying a large log on her head.
The monkeys have been active in a wild fig tree down the road. They seem to take a bite and then drop the figs on the ground. You have to watch when you walk underneath as the figs come down like stones. On a drive through the nature park the other day (when I didn’t have my camera of course) we saw a group of four elephants, a huge wild buffalo that they call a bison here and several langur monkeys with their faces surrounded by white fur.
The treatments for us have been rather taxing but they will have the desired effect on Maurice’s arthritis and me with my weight management (loss!). I have lost 5kilos in the two and a half weeks and the massage treatments together with poundings have had the desired effect. Our yoga master Sunil was excellent and explained everything very well and was a mine of knowledge. He gave some wonderful meditation sessions too. We really felt revived.
We made friends with Guido,Ksenia, Lena, Janatte and Katy and we were sad to leave Udayagiri on the 22nd December. Sunil our yoga master became a good friend and we will miss him. The head doctor there Dr Vipin was very thorough and gave Maurice a lot of tips about caring for his arthritis
We had a long day on the 22nd December when we had the 3 1/2 hour trip to Calicut down and around the mountains and then a 1 1/2 hour plane trip to Chennai arriving at 5pm. Our driver was there to meet us and we then had another 3hour’s drive to Pondicherry.

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We left the chilterns for Hitchin to pick up our van cover and then headed for Harwich and the ferry at 11.15pm on the 2nd of November. We were apprehensive about getting on the ferry as I was not legally able to travel back to Europe before 20th November but we needn’t have worried as the officer hardly looked at my passport before handing it back. Maurice of course used his new Irish passport. The customs officers were obviously looking for something or someone as every vehicle was being searched and an officer came into the van and asked if we had been asked to transport anyone.
We were able to board the Stena line ferry by 8.30pm so we were tucked up in bed long before the ferry left Harwich. Despite the strong winds we had a very smooth crossing and were woken at 6.30am for diembarkation at 7.45am.
We wondered what would happen at the Dutch border control but again they hardly glanced at my passport before stamping it. Relief!
We wanted to break the back of the journey so we headed for Garmisch. The trip from Hoek von Holland should have taken us about 8 1/2 hours and being a Sunday we did not have to fight with the trucks as they are not allowed to travel on Sundays unless they have a special permit. We however were held up with a couple
of accidents on the Autobahn where we had lengthy stops or crawled along for up to 5kilometres.
We unfortunately got to the camping site after 8pm which ended up being a 12hour journey and there was a sign on the door of the reception to say that we could chose a site and come at 8am when the office opened to get power. It was already 4 degrees so we
were in for a cold night! We drove to the lovely restaurant accross the road where we had eaten in Summer.
We had a few drinks and a delicious meal of roast pork and wiener schnitzel followed by a delicious plum tart and apple strudel.
We returned to the camping site where we discovered that there was a power connection point but we needed coins to operate it and
those we didn’t yet have so we put an extra rug on the bed and hopped into bed.

It got down to -2 degrees overnight but we were very warm until we got up in the morning and we felt as though we were in a fridge where everything was freezing to touch. Luckily it warmed to 1 degree by the time we got up and we found we were only one of two campers
there and they had already started construction on the upgrade of the whole site. There was frost on the wooden posts and when
we started up the van, the computer gave us the warning that there could be ice on the road. Luckily there wasn’t any. The tops of the Zugspitze and Alpspitze were covered in snow. At least the pristine shower complex was It was lovely to see Garmisch and I always think of my mother who lived there during and afterthe war and who was happiest there in the mountains.  It was such a contrast from when we were there in July where it was hot and sunny and all the trees were green to November when it was cold and the trees were changing colour or had lost their leaves completely.
After a good German breakfast we headed for Italy via the secondary roads through Innsbruck and the Brenner pass. The temperature
ranged from 2degrees when we left to a heady 10degrees then back to 2degrees through the pass and then into Italy and up to 11degrees.
The scenery of the mountains on our way through Austria and into Italy was spectacular and we then passed through lower mountains
with no snow on their peaks and kilometres of vineyards on the mountain slopes which had turned yellow and orange. We travelled on the Italian Autostrada for most of the day and the toll charge was a reasonable 33euros.
We arrived in Greve in Chianti after driving for six hours in pouring rain for most of the day for a couple of nights with our friend Mary and one of her carers Judy.
We had a couple of relaxing days in Chianti playing scrabble and chatting.  We also managed to change a bag I bought in Modena for a better quality one in Reggello where it happened to be made.
On the 6th November we left Greve in Chianti on a lovely sunny and warmish 19degrees for the 5 hours to get us back to Roccamandolfi.
We stayed for a few days to empty most of the contents of the campervan in readiness for a spring clean and polish.

After a nice week with my relatives we left for Roccamandolfi for 6days to get the van ready to winter it. We found a large garage that we could rent to store the van for nearly 5months. We had done all the necessary cleaning and emptying of all tanks of water etc. and on the Thursday we left it at Coste of Cantalupo (which is only about 4kms away) and in the care of the uncle of our friend Joe so we know it will be safe there.
On Friday 22nd we got the bus to Isernia and train to Rome to catch up with my aunt and then on Monday 25th November we will fly to our friend Alan in Dubai for 5days before heading to Udayagiri in Kerala again for three weeks. Then on to Pondicherry again for Christmas and Chennai for New Year before flying to Indonesia for three months. We will return to Italy in April when it is again warmer – we hope.
It has been nice to see the seasons in Europe too from Spring to Autumn but it is just too cold for us to stay any longer in those parts.  The day we left Roccamandolfi it snowed further up on the mountain and it was pouring with rain when we arrived in Rome.

A hot Summer few months will be very welcome!

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Our last fortnight in the UK was spent visiting friends and castles and awaiting Maurice’s Irish Passport, my British Citizenship ceremony and our Indian Visas.                                                                                   We could tell that winter was coming with the change in the temperature and the lovely autumnal colours of  trees and the carpets of leaves on the ground.

We decided to visit Windsor Castle before visiting Jennifer and Christian in Wokingham.
We were lucky and had a lovely sunny day and there were few tourists so we had a good look around the castle and St George’s chapel where Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are buried as well as George V and Queen Mary and George VI and the Queen Mother whose tomb is a very simple one.
After a lovely evening with Jennifer and family we left the next day to visit Karen who we had met 6 months previously in the Ayurvedic centre in Kerala. We walked into Clapham to the cinema and
saw the movie about the tenor Paul Potts, followed by a Thai meal and then home to watch the video the “Jazz Singer”.

In the morning we drove with strong winds and rain to Kent to see Leeds Castle and we managed to avoid getting wet and walked around the vast grounds and castle which was used by Henry VIII as a house for his first wife Catherine of Aragon.  It was laterly bought in 1926  by an American heiress “Mrs Baillie” who did a lot of restoration work to the castle.
It was interesting this year to see the change in the seasons in England from Spring with all the daffodils to the yellow, brown and red colours of Autumn. The temperatures dropped slowly and the end of Summer Time left the days shorter and dark by about 5.30pm.
Our last week we spent with Michael and Ruth in the Chilterns and I managed to pick up a nasty stomach bug which laid me up for
a couple of days but we had a nice week notwithstanding that and before that we did have a nice meal out at the “Five Arrows” on the Rothschild’s Waddesdon estate.

On Thursday 31st October we went to the Aylesbury Register office for my private citizenship ceremony which was well conducted and I had a nice ten minute ceremony by the deputy superindendant of Registers and all five of us stood at the completion to the National Anthem.  After a celebratory visit to my favourite shop TK MAXX we toasted the occasion with champagne and doghnuts.  I won’t forget the date – Halloween!
We were not going to be in the country for the general ceremony hence the private one for 105 pounds.  It was worth it to have my citizenship before we left England. Now I could apply for my British passport which will be applied for in Bali as we will be there for a long period.

The 1st November was Maurice’s big day when we went into London to pick up his Irish passport and our visas for India which all went smoothly.  We were ready now to leave the UK for Europe.

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