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12 Months of Simple Living: End of Year Thoughts

It’s been a year of this transformation journey and as January 2018 arrived, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on each month and what impact, if any, it has had on the way I live my life now.

1. | January – Vegetarian |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Vegetarian Recipes

If there was ever going to be a controversial challenge it was this one. With opinions and beliefs splitting people world wide on the subject, it was always going to be harder for a previously strict carnivore to “try out” being Vegetarian for a month and then blog about the short lived and not hugely successful experience. But this journey is my own and now I can see this short lived month really did have an effect on my view, and now my lifestyle choices. However insignificant they might seem, they are still small steps toward a healthier life and a better world.

Since January, I’ve found myself increasingly choosing the vegetarian options whether it is in my work canteen, at home or out to eat with friends. I put this down to a change in my attitude towards meat as a result of understanding the vast amounts of waste, the damage to the environment and the inhumane treatment of animals all for the sake of corporate greed.

From a health point of view, I am so much more aware of the fats and greasiness of meat and how much heavier it sits in my stomach, I do tend to feel a little odd when I eat some types of meat now. It does make me wonder what sort of diseases we are potentially exposed to by eating meat.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the odd steak now and then but I am so much more aware of  trying to choose organic, free range, grass fed meat.

Having said that, I do want to aim to be even more veggie and I have concluded that being a full time vegetarian would be the ideal lifestyle choice and probably is how we were once meant to be. Not that any of my life choices are ideal- we’ll see!

Note: Spiralizers interest me now more than ever before!

 

2. | February – Forgiving |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This one has to be the hardest of all as it’s a continuous battle and a continuous cycle. Choosing to let people off the hook when they have wronged you seems unnatural to our human instincts and makes us feel like a doormat sometimes. But this doesn’t have to be so. I am continually reminding myself that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; if you are continually wronged, don’t let them wrong you again. But love them and show them kindness anyway.

I can definitely see improvements with the way I handle disagreements, knowing that just because we have differences of opinion doesn’t make us bad people, just unique individuals who handle things in different ways. I try to respect another’s perspective even if I disagree.

I still struggle with letting things go quickly, but I can usually get over it after taking a breather. And with my long term grievances, it will always be a battle to maintain forgiveness but I will keep trying.

 

3. | March – Positivity & Thankfulness |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
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This challenge is one that went beyond my natural disposition. I’ve grown up in an environment of complaining, from my family to the culture of the UK, so trying not to was a real difficulty. Being thankful for everything, including the bad times, just opens your eyes to how blessed you really are. Blessed you have arms and legs, and eyes and ears, blessed you are able to use them, blessed you have food, shelter and a job. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for!

I really struggle, still, to see the glass half full rather than half empty but I am working on it. A good way to start thinking a bit more positively is by writing a diary of your week noting, at various points of the day, how you felt – happy, sad, angry – and to what degree out of 100% you felt those emotions. When you look back, you will likely realise you have a much happier life than you initially thought. This is because our minds get conditioned just to remember the negative and not the positive.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

 

4. | April – Stick at It |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This challenge  actually made me realise that my problem wasn’t so much giving up on things, as feeling like giving up every time something gets tough. Also it was about believing in my ability to achieve what I set out to do.

Through going travelling, something I needed to do for myself but was afraid to, it helped me build confidence in myself. I’m trying to maintain this confidence now that I am back; it’s actually the mundane things in life that knock the confidence out of you.

I have found myself being a little braver and taking those risks even if I might fail, but there’s still work to be done!

 

5. | May – Exercise |

Navigate: Part One| Part Two | Part Three

This one’s gone out the window! Seriously, I don’t like doing any of it – classes annoy me, I don’t even know where to start in the gym, I HATE running, going for walks in the cold British weather is not up there on my fun list… so what can I do?!

I know I have to exercise, I know it’s very important for mental and physical health, but I just need to find something I actually enjoy doing.

I am working on it!!! The only classes I do quite enjoy are yoga classes, so I will try to keep those up at least. Any suggestions? Let me know!

 

6. | June – Meditation |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

A very interesting challenge, in that, I thought this would be the easiest, but it turned out to be much harder than I thought.

I enjoyed it when I did it, but I found that I had to make time for it, rather than try to fit it in my day.

I haven’t kept it up on a daily basis but have naturally found myself meditating on life, faith and positive thoughts when on my own and spending time enjoying the beauty of Nature.

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
― Amit Ray

 

7. | July – Water |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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A challenge that you either understood completely or didn’t get at all. Fellow water haters, I confess, I was doing so well and then I reverted… But I have a plan to get me back on track!

Drinking water has always been at the bottom of my to do list, and something happened when I realised, in my sugar free month, that (some) wines only had naturally occurring sugars; I started drinking more wine… And more… Not like an alcoholic, but just like with my dinner and in replacement for water…

Okay jokes aside (sort of), I just struggle in this already damp and wet, cold English weather to feel thirsty. I feel somehow I’m absorbing so much water just through breathing damp air. And even when thirsty, I’m so cold I opt for a dehydrating cup of tea (that’s right, tea is a diuretic so you ultimately lose more water than you take in).

But the plan? I bought this from Kikki.K and I intend to use it.
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New Year, new pee… I mean me.

8. | August – Say Yes |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
Climb every mountain

This challenge was certainly the most adventurous and the most rewarding, delivering me to exciting new places, giving me more out of life and connecting me with the best people the world has to offer!

It’s an attitude that takes courage and takes self-belief. You need to be a risk taker, taking chances when there may be disappointment. Worst, you need to be prepared to be disappointed.

I have definitely carried on with this type of attitude, but I have to remind myself. I am naturally cautious and if left to my instincts, I would let opportunities pass me by. I struggle with disappointment and so when I am let down it hurts, a lot! But life is not going to get more interesting, fun or exciting if you don’t take risks.

I hope 2018 will be a year that I don’t hold myself back with my own self-doubt, but a year which I open my eyes to opportunities and take them with both hands!

 

9. | September – Slow Down |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

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Image Credit: ryangoggin.com

This one is harder to keep up when life just gives you busy schedules week on week. Certainly, my technology diet assisted with this and I naturally slowed down in most aspects of my life.

I have since had to remind myself to enjoy beautiful moments, the first full moon of 2018 for example, and a stunning sunrise the following morning.

Slowing down ties in with meditation, with reducing social media and other time fillers and many other parts of my yearly challenges.

I hope to carry on a slightly slower, more purposeful pace into 2018.

 

10. | October – Sugar Free |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner | Dessert
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This is the challenge I am most proud of. It was complex and required a lot of effort; cooking, reading ALL labels, turning down tasty office junk food etc. But I smashed it!

I honestly saw the health benefits (especially when I returned to sugar), I realised the effect that sugar had on my asthma!

Sadly, the return to sugar has been a full submersion due to the time of year, but I would like that to change in the new year and I’d like to greatly reduce my intake. If not for my overall health, for my asthma (which has suffered greatly due to the return to sugar and all the other factors that trigger it).

I will proudly say though, that I have not returned to putting sugar in my tea!

 

11. | November – Technology Diet |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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Being cut off from the world of social media came with mixed feelings… It was strangely freeing but at the same time isolating.

Yes, I missed out on social events, life updates from all my 900+ facebook “friends” (ha! I have more than you! JK) and ultra-hilarious memes, BUT I gained an independence, learned a new language (slash carried on learning Spanish from all my years of dabbling) and met people in more organic ways.

Being back on social media, I actually am not as bothered anymore… It’s sort of an effort to post so I’m doing it less. And I’m only really scrolling through facebook for the “12 times you failed at life” style posts, because … they make me giggle.

So, although I won’t keep off social media, I think I have struck a balance along the way.

 

12. | December – Volunteer |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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What a feel-good way to end the year; by volunteering! I honestly got such a sense of achievement by helping these charities in the skills that I had to offer. I really cannot urge you enough, if you have any spare time, to give some of it to a charity of your choice. You will form new friendships, new connections and it can even help you gain more skills.

One thing that is overlooked when people are looking for jobs but lack the experience, is volunteering. The way I gained my administrative experience was by volunteering for the Lifetrain Trust. So if this is where you find yourself, just go for it – if not to help, then to look better on your CV. But you will feel good when you see the contribution you have made to these charities.

Charities do amazing work, and I will be more than happy to give more of my time to volunteer during 2018!

 

So that’s it, my end of year update! Let me know how you have found my challenges and if you have a resolution for 2018!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao!

X


12 Months of Simple Living

Welcome to my Blog!

A massive welcome to you and thank you for taking the time to read my little memos about life and mostly how I fail at it!

In a nutshell: 12 challenges over the course of a year and 13 weeks to see the world!

Look out for my blog posts tracking my progress on each of my challenges and updating you on my “13 Weeks of Wandering“. Hopefully they will be informative and humorous, but inspiring as well as thought-provoking.

Join me as I show you a new way to challenge yourself and live simply. Don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page!

 

If you have done or are thinking of doing a similar challenge, I would love to hear about it so let me know in the comments below or contact me.

Love,

Mary-Daisy x

 


Profile

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Mary Porter
Age 25

Currently residing in Surrey, but have been blessed to have lived in many different places across the UK, and in Ghana before that. I would describe myself as an introvert with extrovert qualities (confusing much?!!).
There are lots of things I love and these include spa days, dancing, writing, organising & finding bargains. Obsessed with avocados and edamame beans, have two odd phobias… if you can guess what they are I will be impressed.


 

13 Weeks of Wandering: New York

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? New York
How long? 3 days
Mode of Transport? Subway


13WoW – New York

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New York, New York! The inspiration of many; sung about by the likes of Alicia Keys and Frank Sinatra, the subject of many a story, the choice location of countless movies, programmes and TV shows, Home Alone, Friends and the Wolf of Wall Street to name a few.

I thought I knew what to expect when I arrived in New York, in reality I had no idea!

I landed in the evening and collected my backpack from the conveyor belt with the idea to connect to airport wifi & order an uber/lyft. I didn’t expect to be looking at around $60 from Newark airport to Manhattan and the public transport wasn’t looking promising either. After much deliberation, a man on the information desk offered a minivan transfer service that would drop me, and a number of other passengers, off at our hotels.

On the minivan, I took the front seat and enjoyed some great nighttime views and some interesting conversation from the driver, a strong New York accent bouncing off his tongue. He pointed out every landmark and point of interest as we passed and gave me a full history lesson which I’m pretty sure wasn’t part of the package but I enjoyed none the less.

After he dropped off the last passengers, he took the “scenic” route and pointed out some more significant buildings and streets before heading up towards northern Manhattan. He was silent for a while before he decided to let me know that it was a good thing I wasn’t getting the subway on my own at this time of night. He then proceeded to tell me all about how dangerous the neighbourhood that I’d be staying in was. What a comforting feeling when he dropped me off and I couldn’t quite figure out where my hostel was. But I wasn’t long lost on 103rd & Broadway before I spotted the “HI NYC Hostel”.

 

HI NYC Hostel

I had booked 3 nights in this Hostel but totally forgot that it wasn’t already paid for, and being used to Asia prices of around $5 a night, it came as a shock when it all came to $170 with an extra $7 a night charge just for not being a member of the YHA (Youth Hostel Association).  Shocked, I pulled out my debit card and entered my pin.

The room I shared with two other girls from Brazil was comfortable and clean, with plenty of locker room, a socket and light by the bed and a pretty snazzy key card to enter and exit the room. It also contained excessive amounts of air con which I wasn’t so keen on.

Waking up refreshed, I decided to join the free tour of Central Park that was being offered by the Hostel that morning. I had my walking shoes on and had decided, to save money, that I was going to walk the whole of Manhattan to see the sights of New York! It has been done before, and is estimated to take around 4-6 hours but here’s the map of the most efficient route to take on foot:

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Thankfully I did no such hike, as by chance I came across a gentleman who was giving away a number of subway passes that would last the 3 days I was in New York, free of charge! #winning

 

So What are the Main Sights?

Central Park

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Central park could easily be a day or even weekend trip in itself, there is so much to see in this area of around 843 acres that you could easily get lost. Unsurprisingly, I regretted choosing this location to meet my best friend and his new girlfriend (who I was going to be meeting for the first time- eek!).

But getting lost in Central Park meant an unplanned adventure as a youtube prankster asked me to feature in one of his pranks… it was worth the slight delay!

Aside from youtube pranksters and lost best friends, you can also expect to see cyclists, runners, horse and carriage tours, buskers and many other people in the park. There are a number of large lakes where you will see tourists with rowboats and if you look closely, you will see turtles swimming in the lake! One beautiful spot to enjoy a great view by the water is the Belvedere Castle.

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If you appreciate talented musicians, you can pay your respects to the esteemed John Lennon by visiting his “Strawberry Fields” where you will also find the “Imagine” mosaic. If you enjoy a piece of history you can visit Cleopatra’s needle dating as far back as 1475 BC, it’s twin can also be found in the city of Westminster in London.

For the performers, the Public Theatre hosts open-air theatre productions for free, and if you are lucky you may spot a well-known actor starring in the show. This in itself is a whole day event, with New Yorkers starting to queue for these shows at 6am when the show is due to start at 7pm.

I enjoyed a mini production without the queue when I spotted a busking family singing underneath the arches in the Bethesda terrace & fountain. A stunning performance that I’m glad I didn’t miss.

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Finally, for those die hard F.R.I.E.N.D.S fans, although Central Perk isn’t a real cafe (although word on the street is that a replica pop up will be around in NY until October 18) there is something you can visit to remind you of the popular TV series; the Friends fountain! Okay, so it’s not the actual fountain, but the actual fountain is a replica of this fountain and it lives in a studio somewhere.

Museums

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Attached to the park is the famous Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), known as one of the largest in the world, which showcases a collection of modern art from the likes of Vincent Van Gough and Pablo Picasso. Also famous for being one of the largest and most visited museums worldwide is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or the Met) where you will find more from Van Gough as well as many other esteemed artist’s work.

Empire State Building & the Rockefeller Center

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Two of the most iconic buildings of New York, they are both must-sees if you visit the city. Take my advice, don’t go up the Empire State Building, instead take a trip up to the Top of the Rock and that way you can have an amazing view of the Empire State Building. It does cost top dolla but it’s worth it for the 360 degree views of the concrete jungle that is New York!

Radio City Music Hall

This famous hall hosts a number of concerts, shows and even TV programmes. Pop here for a very New York show-biz feel or just to see the illuminated “Radio City” sign, strangely, you can also find a number of artworks here.

Times Square

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Next up, the most famous square in the world (it must be right?!)! Times Square! Think bright lights, think sky-rise buildings, think oceans of faces – both commuter and tourist. Enormous screens advertising the latest movie, song or show. Illuminated signs advertising big label companies.

Don’t waste your time coming here during the daytime, it’s overcrowded and you can’t afford to shop here anyway (unless you are Beyonce), instead come here when it’s dark for the magical atmosphere and unique experience.

The High Line

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In this city of purely man-made structures, it couldn’t be more refreshing to take a walk along the High Line. The blurb on the website explains what it is beautifully; “The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues.”

So now you know where to go when you want to escape the concrete and grab a breath of fresh air!

National September 11 Memorial

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A memorial built in place of the former Twin Towers, this commemorates the attacks on 11th September 2011 which killed many New York citizens. A non-profit institution runs the museum and memorials and they use them to raise funds for operating and running both the memorial and museum at the World Trade Center.

Staten Island Ferry & the Statue of Liberty

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Not being willing to pay big bucks to actually visit the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, I was let into a little secret by my friends. Instead of getting a ferry to Liberty Island, get the FREE Staten Island ferry which takes you past the statue of Liberty! It’s a half an hour journey there and the same back but you get fantastic views of Lady Liberty herself and also the famous Brooklyn Bridge.

 

Food You HAVE to Eat in New York

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So New York has definitely made a name for itself in the food department for a number of different reasons. You won’t go far without spotting a food truck, cafe, restaurant or pop up! Many people claim that New York is the best city in all of the US for it’s food and with so many options, you can kind of see why.

Here are a couple of things you should make sure you try before you leave New York.

Bagels

New York bagels! I don’t know what it is about them but the whole world seems to talk about them. In every New York based programme or TV show you are sure to hear “Hey Joe, get me a cawfee and a bagel” or see a lazy police officer leaning on his car chewing on a bagel he grabbed for breakfast.

Another craze that has also made it’s way across the pond is the rainbow bagel, I didn’t get the chance to try one but have a bite for me if you spot a rainbow bagel cafe!

Pizza

Another typical food I expected to see in New York, and pizza places are everywhere! You can get a huge slice for $2 or you can find a real Italian spot and get a super tasty pizza as if you had ordered it straight from Napoli.

Being poor, I went for the cheap $2 slice that was bigger than my actual head but it was also tasty as so don’t knock it!

Cheesecake

You can’t tell me that you have never heard of the baked New York cheesecake, and I have the perfect spot for you to get a (rather large) slice.

Juniors Cheesecakes were some of the most delicious cheesecakes I have ever had, with the perfect consistency and a number of flavours to choose from.

Make sure you pop over and have a taste!

 

So that’s 3 days in New York, my next stop was to be Washington DC!

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Touring Bali

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I hope you enjoyed my last blog post where I showed you the work I was doing as a volunteer, but perhaps meeting with prisoners and playing football with street children isn’t on your travel agenda (though it really should be). So I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite spots in Bali that I got to visit on my days off.

I was really lucky to meet some amazing friends who were either volunteers like myself or full-time staff. Many were from Indonesia or had learned Bahasa Indonesia (the language of Indonesia) and had been in Bali a lot longer than I, so they knew all the local spots where the “cool kids” hang out… so to speak.

 

Transport

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Getting around was never going to be easy, or so I thought! Here’s the thing, getting around in a car tends to cut a chunk out of most of your day as you sit in traffic and bake (or freeze if your driver has the aircon on like mine did at times). So how else are you supposed to get around? Yeah, you guessed, scooter!

The scooter! Also known as a motorbike, bike, moped, or whatever. It has two wheels and it weaves in and out of traffic like magic. Everyone has one and everyone uses this method of transport unless you are like foreign and don’t know about Go-Jek.

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I’m going to tell you about Go-Jek, and Grab. These are apps you must download before you go to Bali. Must. This is your Asian version of Uber and it is suuuper cheap. Seriously. An hour’s journey cost me £0.45p. Although you can select the car option, I’m going to tell you to choose the motorbike option because your journey time will cut at least in half. You have to be prepared to wear their helmets which have been worn by who-knows-how-many but it’s a small price to pay for a cheap, fast ride.

 

Temples

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Bali has many notable temples, and being a majority Hindu country, you will see many people bringing their offerings and incense thrice daily and laying them all around their houses, businesses and the temples. These colourful offerings are supposed to give back to the gods and bring health and prosperity to their families.

There are many beautiful temples in Bali, but I only had time to visit one. Maybe I’m biased but I would definitely put the Uluwatu temple on your list of places to visit.

You are given a purple and orange sarong to wear around your waist before you enter and then you are nearly immediately faced with breath-taking cliff-top views. It doesn’t take long before you spot a monkey or two in the trees, and next thing you know you are surrounded by these cheeky creatures as you clutch tightly to your bags. And you should, these monkeys are well known for stealing sunglasses off your face and purses out of your hands so be careful!

 

Street Food

Having local Indonesian friends meant never being far from tasty treats from the streets (see what I did there?). I’ll try my best to describe some of these Balinese treats but you have to promise not to knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Fried Banana

So this is literally bananas that are dipped in some kind of batter, deep fried and topped with chocolate and cheese. And… it just works… somehow!

Martabak Manis

I also heard this referred to as a different name, but whatever you want to call it, it’s delicious. It’s a mix between an English crumpet and a pancake (so maybe call it a crumpcake?!) and this thick pancake is doubled up with a layer of chocolate and crushed peanuts sandwiched in between.

Deep Fried Pancakes with Egg & Leek

I don’t actually know the official name for this but it is a savoury snack you will definitely get an appetite for. Pastry is thinned out to a large circle and then placed in hot oil to start frying, then the egg/leek mix is added to the middle and encased within the pastry. This parcel is deep fried on both sides until it is ready, then sliced into squares for your consumption.

Satay

It’s just basically chicken (or other) kebab sticks marinated in a peanut sauce and cooked over a fire/grill.

Tempeh

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originating from Indonesia.It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form (source: wikipedia, cheers bro!). They love this stuff here, and it is often marinated in a sweet sauce and served with rice.

Nasi Goreng

Don’t get me started on how much Indonesians love their rice! They just love it! So it should come as no surprise to find the most famous Balinese meal is Nasi Goreng, or basically, fried rice. Now, it is good, and you can get it everywhere and it is cheap, so you can’t really not love it! #nasigorengforever

 

Cafés

Okay, so Bali is basically café heaven! Everywhere you go, you will find a gorgeous café selling really flipping tasty food and equally stunning smoothie bowls! For the vegan, the Canggu area is bliss! Here is a list of my top 12 cafés.

  1. NOOK, Denpasar |Rice Fields|Smoothie Bowls|Avocado Toast on point|Fresh
  2. Smoothie Shop, Uluwatu |Vegetarian|Organic|Takeaway smoothies in glass bottles
  3. Café Organic, Canggu |Organic|Fresh|Locally Sourced|Vegetarian
  4. Crumb & Coaster, Kuta |Fresh|Locally Sourced|Smoothie Bowls|Paper Straws|Coffee on point
  5. Revolver Espresso, Seminyak |Quirky|Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Locally Sourced
    Revolver Espresso
  6. Zeus Café & Secret Garden, Jimbaran |Bean Bags|Fresh Juices|Smoothies|Glass Straws|Relaxing Vibe
    Zeus Cafe & Secret Garden
  7. Mac Eleven Café & Roastery, Jimbaran |Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Relaxing Vibe
  8. Peekaboo, Canggu |Quirky|Good Vibes|Good Food|Totes Instagrammable
  9. Betelnut Cafe, Canggu |Airy Upstairs Seating|Healthy|Amazing Food
  10. Locas Waroeng, Keramas Beach |Beanbags|Smoothies|Great Ocean Views
    Locas Waroeng
  11. Kitchenette, Beachwalk, Kuta |Best Avocado Toast Ever|Beach|Shops
  12. J.Co, Bali |Best Doughnuts Ever|Free Doughnut with every Drink|Chill Vibe

 

Shopping

The Balinese Rupiah is not a strong currency which makes for dirt-cheap shopping and with the haggling culture, prices are rarely set. That in mind, please remember that what you earn in a year is probably more than some earn in a lifetime, so be generous- you can afford to be!

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One of my favourite shopping spots was Kuta, I didn’t really bother with the Beachwalk mall but in the streets surrounding the mall there are several unique shops and stalls all selling anything you could imagine from very large paintings (guilty) to super cute clothes. The other favourite spot was in Ubud, there is a huge outdoor market in Ubud with each stall packed closely to the next making a sea of merchandise before your eyes. It’s hard to know where to look, but the stunning silver jewellery may just catch your eye. Indonesia is famous for it’s silver so be sure you will find some great quality pieces, and with a set of earrings and two rings for 100 rupiah, it’s a steal.

A little more pricey but worth a visit was the Mal Bali Galleria in Kuta where you can find your typical high street shops but also some quirky and cute stalls. Lastly, and most expensively, is the Love Anchor in Canggu which has some of the most beautiful and unique jewellery I have seen but also gorgeous bags, clothes, shoes or souvenirs. Make sure you pay a visit to the shops upstairs too!

 

Beaches

The volunteer base just happened to be opposite the beach most famous for it’s sunsets and seafood restaurants. Jimbaran Beach has one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen and if you head there after hours, you can enjoy a seafood BBQ on the beachfront with the waves lapping at your toes (or in my case swallowing my ankles).

If you enjoy surfing then you will love Keramas Beach in Kuta, this black sand beach hosted a surf competition which I enjoyed under the shade of an umbrella (you definitely need one in the Bali heat). You get to see the surfers right up close and many photographers gather to get “the shot”, which my lovely friend Guia was lucky enough to get with the winning surfer!

Also great for beginner surfers is Echo Beach in Canggu, a great time to go is just before sunset as you can watch the surfers surfing and the sun setting at the same time, then head into Canggu for drinks in one of the quirky bars, or dinner at one of the vegetarian cafés.

A more touristic area is Nusa Dua with some stunning views and the famous Water Blow where the waves smash against the jagged rocks with their alien-like appearance. But a local gem was known as the “Secret Point” only ten minutes from Jimbaran where you have insane sunset views and you can cliff jump (permitting the tide is high enough)! To make it extra special, bring marshmallows and make a small fire to roast them whilst you watch the sun go down.

 

Waterfalls

Waterfall

You can’t visit Bali without visiting a waterfall, there are so many beautiful falls hidden away in the center of Bali. I can recommend a visit to Kantolampo Waterfall but I can’t recommend the route that I took to get there.

You see, a friend who I trusted, took me to visit this waterfall. Except, when we arrived, it wasn’t immediately obvious exactly where this waterfall was. But my friend insisted that he knew where it was and it wasn’t far, so I followed him into the jungle (never follow anyone into the jungle).

Several traumatic slips and slides later (including one where we both slipped and landed in decomposing fruit turning into mud – eeeek!) we found the water fall. But needless to say, on the other side of the river, there was a clean cut staircase that lead from the road directly to the waterfall.

So don’t go through the jungle kids, just don’t.

 

Night Life

There’s plenty to do in Bali during the day, but it’s worth staying up because you don’t want to miss some of these magical places.

Sunset Seafood BBQ @ Jimbaran Beach

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If you are looking for the perfect romantic setting, you will be hard pressed to find one that competes with this beautiful beach. This is the perfect spot for dinner before you head to the next destination.

Nav Karaoke

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So you’ve had a few drinks and you’re feeling like you’re meant to be famous, don’t just keep that thought to yourself; get your own private Karaoke booth! This colourful Karaoke “bar” allows you to rent a booth for a period of time with your friends so you can explore your inner Beyonce. You can order drinks, choose from a very large library of songs and artists and of course, sing your heart out!

Old Man’s Beachfront Bar

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Maybe you are feeling super chill and you want to sit with some friends simply chatting and sipping on some Bintang (local beer), take a seat in the open outside area. If you can tolerate bumping into the occasional celeb, and you can shake a leg with some stag and hen parties, you might also find yourself enjoying the more enclosed area near the bar.

La Laguna

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You haven’t seen magic until you’ve seen this place. Seriously. La Laguna had me at “wow” from the start. I stared at the magical lighting and medieval style wagons that lead down to the main restaurant. I crossed the stunning bridge, dimly lit, with vines drooping from above, wondering where it would end. I delightfully ran through the sand as I realised the bridge lead me to the sea, and played with photos around the teepee.
But, I couldn’t stay on the beach long because I had a date with my friends at the outdoor cinema where beanbags were lined up and blankets laid on the ground beneath us.

This. Was. Magic.

 

So I hope you have enjoyed following me on a short trip through Bali, keep following (and subscribe) for my future adventures.

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“Thank You Bali!” – Secret Point. Photo Credit: @totosamurai

Volunteering in Bali

Wow, 3 weeks have flown by and already I am sat in the Ngurah Rai airport eating a grilled falafel panini and waiting for my plane to Kuala Lumpur. It’s been a crazy, unique and unexpected few weeks and while I wait, I’ll take this opportunity to share with you some of the experiences I had as a volunteer here in Bali.

So after I arrived and settled in, I was given an orientation to let me know how things worked and where I could help. I also found out that there were several significant holidays happening for the people of Bali, which is fantastic for the Balinese, but for me it meant that several of the volunteering opportunities were not on for the weeks that I would be staying. That left me with limited options, but I was keen to be involved in any way that I could. I ended up getting involved with the following activities.

 

Cleaning and Meal Preparations

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For any voluntary organisation to operate, you need hands on deck to run it in every way. There are people who staff “full time” but they do not get paid to be there, actually they need to pay staff fees (and I volunteer fees) to be able to stay and these cover the cost of keeping the Bali base going.

We are provided with accommodation and three meals a day, so as you can imagine, somebody needs to maintain it and prepare it. So every volunteer is rota’d into cleaning and food preparations which would normally be around 3 times a week. It was a good opportunity to get to know the other volunteers/staff here at the base but also felt good to be able to contribute to keeping this amazing organisation running.

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In addition to this we would help with any other tasks needed for the voluntary work such as wrapping the gifts to be given out to the girls stuck in prostitution.

 

“Soccer” with Street Children

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Okay, yeah so maybe I was ill-equipped to facilitate the actual training in “soccer” (which is actually football, guys), but I really wanted a chance to meet and interact with these local children.

There were many children of various ages and they were split into groups according to age. Some children wore kit so big for them that they were pretty much being held up by the string that runs through the waistline. I helped one child tie the laces of his shoes that were falling apart, at the same time I peeled of part of his rubber sole that was flapping off to avoid him tripping and falling.

One girl in particular took my interest, she was the only girl who came to soccer but she didn’t let that fact put her off. She smiled and took my hand, then lifted it to her forehead as is the Balinese custom for showing respect to your elders and I was charmed! Though a very little girl, no more than 7 years old, she easily competed with the boys around her.

As we asked a very lighthearted question about a time when these little 7 year olds had made their parents annoyed, some of the children opened up to us about the abuse they suffer at home where some are beaten so badly that they have scars. They laughed about it, because for them it’s just normal life. But it really touched our hearts as we realised for these children, soccer may be the only escape from their tough situations at home and the only place they can really let loose and express themselves.

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At the end of soccer, they all sit down and we tell them a story which always has a life lesson for them to learn about how to behave or to deal with difficult situations. I watched as they got so involved in the story, laughing and shouting and my heart went out.

 

Prison

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Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

Unsure what to expect but eager to get stuck in, I desperately convinced one of the base staff to swap my cleaning day so I could visit the prisons of Bali.

I visited 3 prisons on different days and each had their own impact on my heart.

The first time I went, we visited two women and a man in one of the Bangli prisons. Not long before one of the inmates had committed suicide there. The two women particularly were so happy to see us and speak with us. We were able to share words of encouragement with these women, and one of them couldn’t stop crying- the other on the verge of tears also. One due to be free in 1 month and the other with a life sentence, the girls shared their struggles but also the times they were thankful for. The man, however, didn’t stay long to chat. We gave them gifts of food and toiletries and left feeling so thankful for the opportunity to get to know these women.

The second time I visited was a male-only drug prison also in Bangli. A very different prison with much tighter security, a larger group of us went to visit the prisoners. The organisation I went with had actually been invited to come to this prison because one of the inmates had transferred from another prison that they visited and told the officers of the work we do.

There was around 15 of us who went, including a 3 year old boy (who they absolutely love seeing), and we each brought the skills that we had to invest in the people here. The main purpose is to build relationships and support the inmates here in the hopes that they will turn their lives around and when released, leave the life of drugs behind. We also teach English, and train in football (or “soccer’). I initially planned to help with teaching English, but when one of the inmates stepped out of the team I was invited to fill in for football. You have no idea how excited the inmates were to see me playing soccer, I soon had a fan base who cheered loudly if I so much as tapped the ball.

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One thing that really stuck out to me here was how polite these men were, treating the women visiting with respect and generally behaving well. I can only imagine the type of behaviour that would take place in a British prison (having a friend who is a Prison officer in the UK, I have heard enough awful stories). The other thing was how accepting they were of the mistakes they had made and how keen they were to change when they eventually got out. I spoke to one man who desperately wanted to ensure he never went back to drugs, even asking me for advice on how to stay off when he’s free.

The prison sentences in Bali can be quite harsh; particularly for drugs. This may be because it’s one of the biggest drug trafficking routes. One man I spoke to had 6 years for possession of marijuana. The other sad thing to note is that due to corruption, those with money can often pay their way out of harsh sentences.

Kerobokan

The last prison I visited was the most secure and this was the Kerobokan prison in Denpasar. This time I visited a specific woman who told me she had a 16 year sentence and had had to leave a son behind. This woman amazed me with the positivity and hope that she had despite losing all that she had, believing even that maybe she was there for a reason; to help others in this place. I could barely keep my jaw from dropping as she passionately talked with me about the hope that she had and the faith she had in God to look after her little boy, and her.

Her face lit up when I showed her a selection of nail polishes that I had nearly not been allowed to take in, she looked at her battered nails and smiled at me saying “God knows what your heart desires”. Again, jaw dropped as I saw the pure gratitude of such a simple thing.

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Not the same woman who I met in Kerobokan but another very thankful woman after I did her nails. Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

In the end, I thought I was coming here to give to the people of Bali, but I didn’t realise how much they would give to me instead. My heart goes out to the amazing people that I’ve met, normal human beings who have just fallen on hard times. People who deserve to be loved and not forgotten. People who despite the odds still hold so much hope in their hearts.

I reflected on this one night with my sandals half on, vision blurred, riding in the dark on the back of a motorbike with no idea where I was going. My heart was full, and I only wanted to give more.

Maybe it’s not about the four walls that surround us, it’s about the souls within.

 

In my next post, I would love to also show you the sights of beautiful Bali that you shouldn’t miss!

Bali on a Mission

Selamat malam! I’m excited to say that I am writing this blog post from Bali having been here a week already, but what am I doing in Bali?!

Bali is the ultimate holiday destination for loved-up couples looking to honeymoon, or for yoga enthusiasts on a spiritual retreat. It has mountains, it has beaches, it has rice fields and temples, it’s famous for surfing and cheeky monkeys, for culture and beauty; Bali seems to be paradise! That is, for the tourists…

Okay so you may have guessed, I’m not here for a holiday, this isn’t just another solo travel episode; I’m here on a mission to serve the Balinese people!

 

Why Bali?

Watching the Waves roll in
Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

As you may know, last year I spent a month and a half in South East Asia and in that time I really came to know and love the culture and the people. Now, having been given the opportunity to volunteer abroad by my church, I really wanted to give something back to South East Asian community.

So here I am in Bali, volunteering with a group of people from all over the world; Japan, Brazil, Argentina, America, Germany and many other countries. A good number of the volunteers here are Indonesian from Bali and other islands nearby. Some have been here volunteering for more than 10 years, others are here on a short term trip like myself.

 

The Other Side of Bali

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So what is the need of the Balinese? Where tourists may benefit from the extremely low cost of living compared to the western world, the local people don’t always benefit from it. Here are some of the main issues the Balinese face.

Poverty

The average person here will earn less than $2 per day, but those are the lucky ones who have jobs. Many are unemployed and therefore struggle to make enough to live on, so it isn’t uncommon to see street children who are unable to go to school and get an education.

There are also many animals that wander the streets in the gutters, or in large piles of litter. Amongst poverty there tends to be outbreaks of diseases due to an inability to obtain medical care. A recent outbreak of rabies was reported across Indonesia which makes it dangerous with the stray animals that seem to be everywhere.

Prostitution

As a result of poverty, many young girls (and in some areas boys) are coerced and forced into a life of prostitution which they feel they can’t escape. It may have started as what they thought to be a job at the bar, but they rank up debts to the owner when they don’t hit certain “targets” and are forced to go with men to make enough money to pay back their debts. Those who resist are usually broken down until they comply. They don’t have anywhere to run, many don’t have family to go to. The majority of these girls are not educated and so do not have a full understanding of the consequences of unprotected sex and therefore catch HIV/AIDS or get pregnant and are not in a position to look after their children.

These girls rely on drugs and alcohol to get them through the nights, they have no sense of self worth and have become hardened to the world. Some at very young ages.

Education

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Poverty also means that getting an education is near enough impossible, causing a destructive circle that people don’t feel they can escape. Education would mean that opportunities would open up for the people and this means a chance to break the cycle of poverty. One of the main ways to make money is through tourism, so learning English is an essential skill that can become a way to make money.

Pollution

The beautiful shores of Bali are no exception to the hideous plastic problem that the world faces. Every January the stunning shorelines turn into dumpsters as tons and tons of litter pollutes the shores. But it isn’t just a problem on the shores, you don’t have to look far to see the pollution. In the gutters, by the sides of the road, across fields and even next to temples.

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The problem really hit home when I saw a tiny kitten lying amongst a pile of rubbish with flies on it’s back. I was so sad that I couldn’t do anything for the little guy as he mewed gently at me, but even a couple of steps past this kitten was a hen and her chicks in the gutter pecking at a plastic bag, and a couple of steps beyond that were some skinny cows in a bare field grazing amongst plastic bottles.

Plastic is a real problem, and I’m thankful many of us are starting to do something about it but let’s not stop until the problem is solved!

 

Volunteering

I’m here in Bali with a fantastic organisation that does some great work for the people here. One of the things they really like you to do is to know and respect the culture. That means dressing in a way that is respectful to the Balinese, behaving in a way that is becoming to their culture and even learning the language! We have some Indonesians here working with us who help us to connect to the culture and teach us the language and it’s been so great to see most of the people already here speaking in Bahasa with the locals!

The work that they do for the locals include: Teaching English, Teaching Maths and Science, Teaching Football with the street kids, visiting those in Prison, visiting local families, reaching out to the girls in prostitution and bringing them to a safe-house but there isn’t a limit to what you can do. Each person brings their skills and helps in whatever way they can.

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Whilst I am here I will be joining in with as many of these as I can, although some of these are limited at the moment due to the Hindu holidays.
Last night, the girls from my room were out until 2am giving gifts to the girls in prostitution and speaking with them, being my first week I was not allowed to join (due to the dangerous nature of this work) but I hope to join the next time they go.

I expect to go and visit some people in prison on Tuesday and possibly teach football to some of the street children later in the week (although I admit, I don’t have much to teach them)! In addition to the hands-on volunteering, people are needed to run the base by cooking, cleaning and other jobs which I have been involved with so far, as well as putting together the gifts for the girls in prostitution.

 

Exploring Bali

 

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I do get the weekends off and sometimes even a day in the week off (depending on what volunteer outreaches are happening that week) so I will be taking the opportunity to see as much of  Bali as I can.

Getting around in Bali is difficult if you can’t ride a motorbike, so I am relying on my lovely new friends to take me out and about on the back of their scooters!

So far the majority of my adventures have been in starbucks (volunteers love their coffee!) and in an amazing doughnut shop called J.Co! I also have the beautiful Jimberan beach right next to our base where we can sometimes play football with the street kids. And I’ve been to see a stunning temple full of monkeys, but more of that in my next post!

I look forward to being able to show you some of the sights on the amazing Island that is Bali, so keep an eye out for the upcoming blog posts.

 

 

Italy Bound; A Day in Pisa, San Gimignano & Siena

One of the great things about Florence was that it was so well connected to other parts of Italy. So, when we were approached by a tour salesman offering a day trip to Pisa, we readily agreed. The tour was to include a morning trip to Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa to see the leaning bell tower, Duomo and the Baptistery. Then we would be taken to the medieval town of San Gimignano to explore the wonderful views, have lunch and wine tasting in a local vineyard and finish with a tour of Siena.

 

Pisa

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“You can’t go all the way to Florence and not see the leaning tower of Pisa” is what my younger brother told me, and I have to agree. This famous symbol of Italy is a must-see if you visit this side of the world, only 1 hour 30 mins away from Florence by car.

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Aside from the iconic leaning tower shot that everyone will be getting (I include you, no matter how strong willed you are, you won’t be able to resist), you can actually go to the top of the bell tower for great views over Pisa. I warn you now, walking up will feel wonky!

After you have got your shots and climbed wonkily to the top, make sure you visit the Duomo next door and the baptistery. I didn’t feel like I needed more than a morning in Pisa to see the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of miracles) but there is more to Pisa than the tower if you do want to spend the day!

 

San Gimignano

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A magical town, built upon a hill, enclosed in medieval walls; this beautiful location happened to also be the place that my colleague and friend got engaged, in fact the friends whose wedding I attended the day before my very first solo adventure (read about it here… it was emosh).

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It’s easy to see why it is a popular romantic spot for many couples from all over the world when you approach the castle-like walls and wander through the inclining and declining walkways defined by the towering medieval stone shops and houses.

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Between buildings you may find winding alleys that lead you to magical views, history-infused sculptures, medieval buildings or local Italian restaurants, gelaterias and cafes.
Take your time and explore, you will certainly find something you love here.

 

Wine Tasting

We were taken to a local family vineyard, the vineyard of Famiglia Mazzarrini, for a tour of the winery, a taste of the Tuscan Italian wines and a delicious pasta for lunch. We enjoyed a selection of refreshing and rich red and white wines, as well as a sparkling, and this was a chance to really get to know others on our tour who were sat with us.

In addition to the wines, we were given a platter of meats and cheeses with breads to try a drop of the most expensive and potent truffle oil I’ve ever tried (probably the only truffle oil I’ve tried).

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Afterwards, we were also educated on real olive oil/balsamic vinegar; extra extra virgin olive oil comes with extra bullshit and if you buy balsamic vinegar that contains sugar or colourant then throw it in the bin. Consider yourself now also educated.

A few glasses later this was us…

Shout out to spinach boy and to the girl who got wasted on the wine tasting, fell asleep on the bus and then wandered off so we couldn’t find her. What a lad.

 

Siena

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So the final part of the excursion was a guided walking tour of Siena, by which time my feet were so sore it felt like I was wearing down the heel bone. But, I hobbled through the tour paying particular note to the bi-annual 90 second Palio horse race that takes place around the Piazza del Campo. They transform their main square into an arena by adding sand to the outer square whilst people gather in the centre by the thousands, or if they are lucky (rich) they can nab a balcony above one of the many shops and restaurants surrounding the square.

I also learned that there’s an equally weird reason for the weird breastfeeding wolf symbol of Siena and that’s all thanks to a legend of two brothers, Senius and Aschius, who were suposedly raised by wolves.
A final point worth noting is the Cathedral in the centre was built by the same architect who built the leaning tower of Pisa as well as Florence’s esteemed Duomo.

Thus ends my Italian mini adventure.

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