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Bloody oath, did we just take an elevator up to heaven or what? Perth and its surrounding areas boast so much soul-kissing beauty that it can truly bring a tear or two to your eyes at times… I am not crying, you are!
Anyways, there are truly a lot of spots here that come close to what heaven might resemble, especially if that heaven was envisioned for Condé-Nast-travel-editors, National Geographic- wildlife-photographers or just intrepid travel lovers. Ok, now that the stage is set and your curiosity is sparked, let me introduce you to Rotto. Say what?
Western Australian wildlife at its best: The prettiest rats you´ll ever see
Rotto is local speak for Rottnest Island, an absolute chocolate-praline of an island located about a 25-minute ferry ride off Fremantle in Western Australia. Rotto is everything you think the Carribean might look like, plus quokkas. Say what again?
Well, imagine stepping off the ferry in Thomson Bay, being blinded by white sand beaches, greeted by incredibly clear blue waters sparkling invitingly in the sun and a sky the color of azure-blue confetti. Your gaze wanders around, your mood lifts from taking in all the picture-perfect impressions around you and then, something VERY unusual stops you in your tracks.
Is it an Instagrammed aka beautified rat? Is it a small kangaroo gone wrong? No! The small animals that like to wander around Rotto as if they own the place (which they kinda do) are called quokkas. If a zoologist would explain to you what they are, he would probably say that they are wallaby-like marsupials about the size of a cat.
Quokkas are a truly Western Australian wildlife phenomenon and make for an exceptional animal encounter, as they can only be found on some islands off the Western Australian coast and in the forest and coastal heath in the South-Western part of this vast state.
The quokka is a true trendsetter by the way, as he/she prefers vegan food, and is furthermore also very photogenic. It´s no wonder, then, that quokkas do fancy the occasional photo-shoot. Ah well, they might be slightly addicted. But who isn´t, in these times of social media mayhem? Sorry, I am wandering off. Back to your new-found animal friend.
No matter whether you choose to explore the Rottnest Island nature reserve on foot or on a bike, you´ll see quokkas all around. They will approach you if you stick around for a bit, so get that selfie-stick ready and put a smile on your dial. The quokka usually already has one, that´s why it´s often called “the happiest animal ever” by its admirers. I would be happy, too, if a whole island was named after me!
The rat´s nest real deal: How to effortlessly make a quokka selfie happen
Yep, the name ´Rottnest´ is actually a weird sort of love declaration to the fun-loving furry marsupials, because, just like you, 17th century Dutch explorers didn´t know what hit them when they saw these cuties for the first time. They accordingly named the island after their perception of the quokkas as cat-sized rats – Rottnest Island literally means rat´s nest.
Alright, let´s assume you are waiting for your quokka-friends on this car-free island playground, ideally around the main settlement area in the late afternoon. Your new photo-co-stars love green spaces and grass (ahem, no comment), so they often hang out around the green space where the bakery is, according to insider sources on the island.,,,
Read the full post at www.agypsyatheart.com from Dec 6th, 2019
My skin registers dry and warm sensations, telling me that, once again, I have landed in a new world begging to be explored. Inhaling the dry desert air is unusual for me, though, even after having lived in Western Australia for quite a while. The desert-dust-infused air seems more intense here, more demanding, more fierce. My throat feels a little scratchy from it and I pull my water bottle out of my hand luggage, which is packed to the brim as usual, and take a longing sip of the lukewarm, life-giving water.
What is travel, if not the conscious decision to throw yourself in the deep end, to taste the waters of change, may they be spicy, bitter, sweet, pungent or, ahem, warm? My mind wanders off, which comes especially easy after a long overnight flight from Singapore with too many snoring guests aboard. Juggling a myriad of unknown sights, scents, and sweet nothings, I wearily step out of the bus and smack out into a crowd of industrious businessman, ladies in traditional Burka attire and a colorful melange of tourists.
“Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you.” – Shams Tabrizi, Persian spiritual teacher
Truly, it does take surrender to travel, I continue my train of thought because you never know what´s around the corner - but that´s also what makes it so pretty damn exciting, right? The thrill of not knowing what to expect, who you´ll encounter, and which challenge you´ll have to (or have the blessing to) embrace next…. Talking of challenges: Here´s one - can you picture a mall with a gigantic ice-rink in it?
Give it a go while you walk with me into the Dubai mall, which showed itself very unimpressed by my (our?) silly little doubts as to its unfailing grandeur. Bear with me, friends, malls are normally not my favorite place to hang out either - but this one can really not be categorized as a mere mortal mall.
Just like the Middle East has a tradition of outstanding poets and philosophers that gifted us with immortal poetry and wisdom, Dubai offers us its worldly counterpart and truly holds the title of global capital of superlatives. Want a little taste test of this?
Alright: Dubai, the city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates, home to 3,1 million people, is also the proud presenter of the largest man-made island, worth a whopping US$12.3 billion. Excuse me, I think I just choked on my cinnabon! Also: It´s shaped in the form of a palm-tree and subsequently called the Palm Jumeirah (link?). Dubai also cements its reputation as a global city of superlatives through the existence of the world´s only “7-star-hotel”, the sail-like Burj Al Arab, an iconic world landmark.
People who are willing and able to cough up the US$1,200 plus per night can expect private butlers, 24k-gold iPads in two-story suits, the world's largest chauffeur-driven fleet of Rolls Royce Phantom at their disposal, a helicopter-landing-place...and this pretty surreal list goes on!
If you currently can´t afford this, you can still enjoy the joys of the world´s longest automated metro system, when you hop on a Dubai Metro train. The theme song to this experience could be a rather futuristic one, as the Dubai Metro is fully automated, and no human drivers are present. At 46 miles/ 74 km long, it's the longest automated metro system in the world...
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melodious, tranquil and oh so inviting humming sounds move through the overwhelmingly beautiful temple entry and onto the street. They envelop you in a peaceful cloud, harmonizing every atom of your body and synchronizing your breath with your movement, your movement with your heartbeat, your heartbeat with your usually wandering and free-floating thoughts.
Chiang Mai: Regal capital of ever-present peace
This is the spirit of Chiang Mai, a place where over 300 Buddhist temples and a myriad of monks dictate the rhythm of the Northern Thai capital city, and where peace is much more than an abstract and removed concept - it becomes palpable as not just a theoretical idea, but as a tried-and-tested way of life.
Of course, there are the noises of countless motorbikes on the main roads of this city which has become a beloved expat haven and a thriving community for digital nomads. And there are the many visitors from all over the world who have come to explore Chiang Mai´s countless highlights. But notwithstanding, the lifeblood that pulses through Chiang Mai´s aesthetically pleasing veins is a deep and abiding peace, a peace that unceasingly cuts through the noise of daily life and to the heart of what the human mind is capable of - being completely at one with itself.
Maybe peace is the secret ingredient after all that connected all the dots and experiences of the 3-week- Chiang Mai stay I was blessed to experience a while ago.
Because there is peace even amidst the eclectic enthusiasm of a Muay Thay Boxing game, there is undeniable harmony in taking in the many vegetarian culinary delights the city has to offer. There is also peace´s cousin´s joy in experiencing the city´s vibrant and surprising night markets, and alas, there was even some peace to be discovered at the end of a 2 day Thai-massage-workshop led by a rather dominant She-Boss-Lady. And, of course, there was peace in communing with Leila, which is where we left off last time…
Walking with elephants: A dazzling day with Leila
Do you know/ remember that feeling when you´ve had a crush on someone for a while and then you finally get to go on a date with them? It´s exhilarating, intimidating, breathtaking, and inducing anxiety and euphoria in equal parts, I find. Palms are sweating, it gets a little harder to breathe, nervous butterflies have a tumultuous dance-party in your stomach… well, that pretty much captures all the feels I was feeling when meeting Leila! Plus a little concern she might, you know, stomp on me. Which she obviously didn´t - or is this a ghost, writing you this? Who knows :P
Anyways, our mahout-trainers were about to teach us some command-communications which we were very keen to try out. Up until that day, I had not heard anything about mahouts - these elephant keepers have quite an important place in Thailand´s story! They are called “kwan chang” in Thai, which translates to the poetic phrase “one who walks with an elephant”...
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Unusual melodies awaken you from your thoughts. Sounds that seem slightly disruptive, like speedy drivers on a silent road, suddenly envelop you. You might not know what to think of this music that´s at once exotic and bewitching.
Balinese performance art: Gamelan sounds and beauty abound
What you do know is that you simply can´t help but be intrigued by it all: the all-male Gamelan orchestra which elicits the traditional Indonesian sounds from xylophones, drums, gongs, and other percussive instruments. The stunning backdrop of the performance stage, with its intricately ornated angkul-angkul traditional gate and guardian statues. The gorgeous Balinese dancers, expressing the depth and versatility of their cultural stories and myths with such passion and precision.
There is grace in their movements, there is a pure embodiment of all that´s good, enticing and seductive about the Balinese culture. Theirs is the perfect blend of spirituality and sensuality, always offered up to the higher realms they so believe in.
The accompanying Gamelan-music roots lie in an even older past than the Hindu-Buddhist origins of the Balinese faith. They are a mesmerizing remnant of indigenous art forms that dominated the cultural expressions of Indonesia during its earliest records.
Barong and Legong Dance at Ubud royal palace: An artistic battleground
To get a taste of this very particular cultural phenomenon, head to Ubud royal palace at about 6:45 Pm as each night starting at 7:30 PM there´ll be a variety of rich dances shown there. The royal palace, known as Puri Saren Palace to the locals, is one of Ubud´s cultural hot-spots located along the town´s bustling main road Jalan Raya Ubud. The performances being shown there include Barong Dance, Mahabharata and Legong Dance… take your pick and expect to be wowed. To help you figure out which dance performance you might be most drawn to, here a little insight into two typical types of Balinese dance:
The Barong Dance is where Barong, a creature akin to a lion in the mythology of Bali, meets Rangda, badass-demon queen and mother of all spirit guarders. Sounds a bit like Game of Thrones, doesn´t it? Well, it´s not entirely the same, but there is an epic battle to behold, a war between good, mirrored in Barong, the king of the spirits, and evil, in the form of Rangda. I could go on a slightly feminist rant here due to “good” appearing in the form of a male figure and “bad” personified in a female. But fear not, I won´t. The dance is still an amazing sight to be enjoyed, after all!
The Legong Dance, traditionally performed by girls who have not reached puberty, enacts different traditional tales, one of them telling the story of the King of Lasem, a true heroic romance. Interestingly enough, according to legend, Legong dance came into being through a dream vision! The prince of Sukawati is said to have had a feverish dream in which two girls danced to Gamelan music. Subsequently, being the inspired guy he was, the prince arranged for such dream dances to be performed in real life.
Another story version of Legong´s possible origins states that it came into being through the sanghyang dedari, a ceremony involving voluntary possession of two little girls by beneficent spirits. Sounds kinda creepy, though, right? Again, fear not, the dance performances are absolutely mindblowing anyways, no matter where their origins really lie...
Read the full post from November 15th at www.agypsyatheart.com
"Hurry up, hurry up, we´re gonna miss that bloody train!" My travel companion is slightly out of it after a crazy Tuk Tuk ride through Bangkok´s buzzing concrete jungle. It did rather feel like a stroller ride on Speed, and it also did look rather funny of sorts with all our, or should I say my, mighty luggage squeezed into the Tuk Tuk´s modest space. And we squeezed right next to it like willing pieces of Tetris that somehow miraculously seemed to fit together.
Anyways, no time left for such silly musings while running through the Bangkok train station, desperately trying to catch the 12-hour-long jungle train ride to Chiang Mai, located 700 km north of Thailands´s capital Bangkok.
Boarding the train to Chiang Mai, the crown´s diamond
"This is it, this is it!" , I encouragingly mumble to myself while approaching the Thai-Railways-operated train. Better take up running again, I kinda lost my former almost-athlete-momentum - my thoughts ramble on as a smiling, composed train employee helps us to lift our suitcases onto the train. Did that vehicle already start moving while we were just jumping on board? Quite possibly!
We were not in safety-conscious Australia anymore, after all. Nor in rule-laden Europe. No, we were in spiritual, faith-full and for the most part royalty-revering Thailand, and on our intrepid way to Chiang Mai, the Northern capital of the province bearing the same name.
As indicated, any visitor to the land of the former kingdom of Siam should know that generally speaking, the Thais love and truly care for their king. The Thai constitution even emphasizes that "the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated". Let´s, therefore, remain royalty-positive and take in what former King Rama once said about our new travel destination:
Chiang Mai represents the prime diamond on the crown of Thailand, the crown cannot sparkle and be beauteous without the diamond...
King Rama V, 12 August 1883
Thai-train-training: Mind over matter
Friends, what can I say - if Chiang Mai was good enough for King Rama, it certainly would be good enough for us little munchkins. Whether King Rama would have diged that train-carriage, though - I guess that´s a completely different matter. In any case, we were booked in for the second class, which was quite alright. As was to be expected, the first class did look a fair bit nicer, and toilet amenities there were also more agreeable. A freaking lot more agreeable!
But our seats were clearly marked second class, and after my travel companion went on some train explorations and came back with his assessment of our current pee-possibilities ("Yeah, nah. It´s not good"), I decided to once again muster up all my courage and my iron strength of will and turn the train ride into a 12-hour-no-bladder-release-challenge.
While taking that almost heroic decision, I grimly clutched onto my "South-Eastern Asia on a shoestring" travel guide. Taking in as much well-researched information on impossibly alluring Thailand as feasible would be my best ally while defeating the lurking powers of down under.
And - taking in those views did its part in distracting me from the nether regions! Lush green landscapes moved past in a perfectly timed speed, allowing the eyes to be soothed after a week amidst the electric creative chaos of Bangkok. Humble shacks, built into the evergreen landscape, with beautiful Thai women carrying a child or two on their backs, passed us by...
Read the full article here: https://agypsyatheart.com/2016/05/04/a-monkey-kind-of-day-in-gibraltar/
It must be a special kind of place if over 30.000 people of many different religions live around and on a massive Rock that once upon a time, in antiquity and Greek mythology, was thought off as the End of the World and the Portal to Hades, the underworld.
We know better nowadays than to mistake this intriguing melting pot at the tip of the Spanish peninsula and just 14km off the Moroccan coast for the last inhabited place of mankind. Instead, and despite its rather tiny size of 6.7 km2 (2.6 sq mi), it is nowadays known for being a great tourist destination, one of the most densely populated territories in the world and a much fought over geographical hot spot, claimed by Britain as well as Spain.
For me as a half Spaniard, it was a very unusual experience to “travel” the few meters that separate the British Overseas territory from the Spanish town la Linea de la Concepcion, passing a border control with slightly angry seeming Spanish frontier policemen and suddenly being emerged in a completely different world.
A journey to a distinct world of its own – British and then some
I didn’t expect it but Gibraltar truly turned out to be an absolutely contrasting place to Andalusia, the Southern Spanish autonomous community surrounding it. A town with its own character, architecture, a very unique vibe, and an interesting population. I also got to experience the worst food and the best macaque shot I ever had…more on that later! Our adventure started with my friends and me hopping on the bus that conveniently stopped just off the entry point and brought us to the City Centre. Wherever I gazed upon: everything was suddenly labeled in English, and even the postboxes, yellow in Spain, denoted their British and in this case red identity.
When we got off the bus we were greeted by some canons pointing at us – well, not directly at us of course, but they were definitely showing off! Canons and other war memorabilia turned out to be an inherent part of the Gibraltarian cityscape – no wonder considering the role wars played in Gibraltar’s history.
Just to get a tiny insight: The origins of Gibraltar as we know it today lead back to 1704 when an Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession (little side – note for the History geeks: this happened on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne). The Spaniards did not realize in time how crucial Gibraltar’s extremely well-positioned geographical location was to their interests and subsequently ceded Gibraltar to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Furthermore, it served as an important base for the Royal Navy during World War II. Got it? Awesome, let’s continue our little tale then.
The potato crime or what happened to glorious backed potatoes
Once we had walked around the picturesque, and historic center of Gibraltariring its unique architecture, statues, and variety of churches – you can find everything from the Church of Scotland to Synagogues and mosques there-, we figured it would be interesting to try out some Gibraltarean food. It stands to reason that therefore we chose to eat in a British Pub close to the main square. Oh boy…I can just say these words: not -so – yum-at-freaking-all! Not knowing what a typical Gibraltarean food experience would be like, I helplessly ended up ordering a jacked potato. Little did I know then that it would be the completely massacred, tortured and unrecognizable potato cousin from hell, basically...
Read the full article here: http://agypsyatheart.com/2019/10/28/baden-baden-part-2-relax-and-relish-like-royalty/
Aaaah….the warm, gentle waters caress your skin and embrace you in their all-accepting ways. You basically feel like a quietly content yet massive baby in a heated cozy blanket. You step in further, and with the healing thermal waters enveloping your body almost completely now, you notice all your relentless thoughts and questions slowly melting away. You are fully immersing yourself in this roman bath experience, and you are pretty thankful indeed that you opted for the Caracalla spa instead of the Friedrichsbad spa after all. You are just not ready for full-frontal nudity from all those other spa-guests, for f* sake! And you might never be! You probably won´t.
Sanus per Aquam: The healing power of pretty darn hot thermal waters
Romans are rather awesome, though, you think to yourself. Not entirely awesome, obviously, because Gladiator-fights and stuff. And killing animals for spectator-fun – not cool! But good on the old Romans for remembering the old adage “Sanus per Aquam“, healthy through water, when they stumbled upon the curative Baden-Baden thermal waters 2000 years ago and continued to build the first thermal baths in town.
Daily, more than a whopping 800.000 liters of these waters at up to 68 degrees Celcius heat (154 degrees Fahrenheit) bubble upwards from twelve springs at a depth of about 2000 meters under the earth. On its adventurous journey to the earth´s surface, the water gets keen on making some housemates and so takes in minerals such as sodium, chloride, fluoride, lithium, and others. This is were the outstanding healing powers of the thermal waters originate.
Feeling dizzy? Looking rather pale? Achy joints at times? Off into the waters you go. The ones in the spa, not the 68 degree ones, that is. Otherwise, the ultimate relax factor might evaporate rather quickly…
The Caracalla Therme, a spa with a beautifully modern yet sophisticated feel, offers visitors a vast arrange of liquid-pleasure-pools, including but not limited to a rock grotto with hot and cold water, a sensual aromatic steam bath, and a saltwater inhalation room. But what am I telling you, you know exactly what I´m talking about, seeing that you are the narrator of this story! Let´s get back to your experience.
Swimming through a small exit in the outer wall of the indoor spa area, a 38 degree heated marble outdoor pool is awaiting you. It boasts a magnificent whirlpool at its center, in which a few people are leisurely enjoying their bathing experience. Getting a bit coy, you take a deep breath, dive under, and are suddenly submerged in calming quiet and comforting stillness. The rejuvenating power of the tranquility under the surface never ceases to amaze you somehow.
Seeing that you can´t hold your breath much longer, you reluctantly emerge from your Zen-like state only to realize that rain has begun to fall. Cooling raindrops are quickly moistening your skin, building a sensual contrast with the heated waters enveloping your body. You spot a peaceful corner of the pool underneath some lush plants and trees, swim over, and just let yourself float for a while. What a perfect moment to reminisce about your extraordinary day in Baden Baden, really!
Baden-Baden´s Black Forest: A vibrant fairytale in the making
The morning seems pretty far away now, but yeah, of course, you remember, how couldn´t you: that morning excursion to the mighty Black Forest was like something straight out of a fairytale...
Was that Queen Victoria of England just having a casual giggle while meandering along the gently flowing Oos-river? That can´t be right…or can it? You rub your eyes incredulously. Maybe that coffee wasn´t such a good idea after all if it makes one of the most influential women in history suddenly appear out of thin air. What´s more: If you peer really hard into the distance, you can spot Dostoyewsky´s silhouette just at the end of the street, heading into the majestic Casino. What the hell? You try to shake it off – what are these shenanigans, you ask yourself quietly and slightly nerve-wracked, just to turn to your left and find Tolstoy writing away on a napkin, right at the round elegant table next to yours. The great Tolstoy! Maybe you could quickly ask him a thing or two about War and Peace, or Anna Karenina? There´s gotta be some secrets to his magic writing sauce! How else could he come up with such meaningful phrases like
“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“Entschuldigen Sie bitte?” (Excuse me please?) You slowly register a gentle voice with a quietly determined undertone. “Mmh?” you reply, only gradually coming back to yourself. You must have dozed off, that must be it, you tell yourself decidedly while glancing wide-eyed at the elegantly dressed waitress. “Entschuldigen Sie, aber wir schliessen jetzt!” (Excuse me, but we are closing now!) , she explains slightly apologetic. “Ok, ok, kein Problem” (No problem) is all you can muster to say, while picking up your coat and purse and leaving a few coins Trinkgeld, tipps, on the black-and-white patterned table. “Bye Tolstoy”, you whisper ever so quietly and step out onto the imposing alleys of everyone´s favorite 19th-century German spa town. Well, maybe not everyone´s, but sophisticated Baden-Baden had its fair share of admirers among the rich and famous of the nineteenth century.
A spa-town like no other: Healing baths, cultural haven
Having been settled by the Romans, Baden-Baden had to brave a lot of obstacles throughout its history- yeah, the school of hard knocks named life, you know what I mean. People go through it, cities go through it, countries go through it. And animals. Maybe even ants? Anyway, there´s a time for everything, so at the end of the 18th century, it was finally Baden-Baden´s time to shine, and what a shine it was, ladies and gentlemen! Baden Baden was truly the stuff stories were made of back then. Elegant, rejuvenating, luxurious stories, that is!
The spa-town in south-western Germany, located only 10 kilometers from the border with la belle France, was and still is famed for its mild climate, its pristine air, and its high acclaimed thermal springs. Baden Baden, a name which translates to bathing bathing (no surprises there) takes great pride in its illustrious list of visitors. Want some gossip? Good old out-of-this-world novelist, essayist, journalist, and philosopher Dostoyewsky wrote his masterpiece The Gambler here…while gambling his money away at the town´s notorious casino. Maybe he was just doing some research? A writer/journalist gotta know what he´s writing about, after all! Other famous visitors who chose to vacation in bathing bathing include German composer Johannes Brahms or French composer Hector Berlioz...