Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Today's Weekly Travel Tip: Climbing Gloves, A Girl's Best Friend

This week's travel tip is one that I really stand behind. I never go anywhere outdoors without my climbing gloves close by. They're so handy when trekking and naturally have a lot of give.

Check out my favorite use for them, here...



Now, the ad below is for the best climbing gloves I could find on Google Ads, but my actual gloves are made by Metolius. They're leather, fingerless, the only gloves I ever use for trekking, and they're under $40!

Feel free to click directly through to YouTube and subscribe for all of our newest video updates. Though, we'll keep posting here, as well!

On Belay,

Ilana


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today's Weekly Travel Tip: Obey Signs When Hiking

Well, today's travel tip reminds you to do as I say -- not as I do -- and always respect posted travel signs while hiking.

Check it out and feel free to tell me just what a blockhead I was in the comments!


I hope you are all smarter than this and stay safe, so you may live to trek another day!
(Not to mention, dead folks don't read travel blogs.)

Feel free to click directly through to YouTube and subscribe for all of our newest video updates. Though, we'll keep posting here, as well!

On Belay,

Ilana


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Today's Weekly Travel Tip: How to NOT Plummet to Your Death

For a little something different, today's travel tip features Ed!

Here, he stealthily navigates the crossing of a terrifying suspension bridge and stares his future squarely in the nads. (Okay, okay...it's a tiny bamboo bridge...in paradise, but it sounded pretty slick for a minute there!)



Feel free to click directly through to YouTube and subscribe for all of our newest video updates. Though, we'll keep posting here, as well!

 Ilana


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Today's Weekly Travel Tip: How to Plant Rice

This week's travel tip is geared for anyone who loves rice ... or farmers ... or mud ... or Bali!
(That should just about cover all of you!)


 Even better is when the rice is ready to eat and the Balinese steam it with shredded pandan leaves and lemongrass!

Feel free to click directly through to YouTube and subscribe for all of our newest video updates. Though, we'll keep posting here, as well!

Who's Hungry? 

Ilana


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Today's Weekly Travel Trip: How to NOT Fall Off a Cliff

Today's travel tip is definitely geared toward adventure seekers -- or those that want to look adventurous, at the very least!


That's right, you can never be too careful near the edge of a cliff!

Feel free to click directly through to YouTube and subscribe for all of our newest video updates. Though, we'll keep posting here, as well!

Until Next Week, 

Ilana


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:



Friday, November 9, 2012

All Roads Lead to Foam

I hope all of you have the chance to see Rome at least once in your lifetime. There is something disarming about a modern city dressed in the architectural clothing of its forebears. The first time you spot the Colosseum from down a cobblestone lane, it will take your breath away. You can walk up to the Pantheon and touch it. And, depending on the museums you choose to visit, you can have your choice of standing in the presence of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, or Caravaggio.






But, even the most amazing cities on the planet take a little know-how to make the most of your time in them. So, here is my list of the top 7 things to keep under your traveling hat -- when in Rome.

Uno. Drink a cappuccino whenever you damn well please.
I can't tell you how many times I've read about the "rules of cappuccino" in Italian guidebooks. Basically, this most delicious of coffee libations is not to be consumed after breakfast, lest the person drinking be considered a hideous tourist unfit for holding a passport. After breakfast hours, it's more appropriate to ask for an espresso.

Now, I love coffee. Luh-uv. I will drink an entire bowl of coffee. If you've visited the blog before, you might even think Ed and I are crazy for itThat said, I don't like espresso. At all. So what about me, Rome?! Huh? What about ME?!

Espresso tastes like a punishment, with a little lemon peel on the side. It's coffee's angry step-child. Bitter. Rushed. Those little cups make me feel like I'm playing tea party. Sip, sip, gone. InappropriateIf only espresso was served with a dollop of delightful milk foam to make it more palatable. Well, there's an inspired idea! 

Truthfully, I drank cappuccino at all hours of the day whilst in Rome and never experienced a sideways glance from locals, waiters, or other travelers. From what I can tell, all of the 'no foam' hype has been overinflated. So, if you enjoy a little steamed milk in your coffee, drink on.


That's my niece, Kelley. A fellow lover of beans.

Due. Most of the hotels that you can afford are crap.
They are often very tiny and far from the center of town with iffy food at inflated prices. Get used to this idea. Opt for a place that at least has breakfast included and a free shuttle into the city center.
(If you can afford a nice place, make sure that you specify a double bed...not two twin beds pushed together. Also, I dislike you. Mainly because I'm irrationally jealous of your giant piles of money.)

Tre. Steer clear of the Pope on Mondays.
While it's true that St. Peter's Basilica is open every day and that is absolutely something you should try and include in your Roman itinerary, the Vatican museum is closed on Sundays. For this reason, we extended our trip in Rome an extra day and decided to hit Vatican City on a Monday. Packed doesn't even begin to to describe our time in the museum. Wall. To. Wall. We were a continuous, slow-moving, international, noisy herd.



Prior to your visit, I'd definitely recommend purchasing the timed museum tickets online. Additionally, plan to start with the Basilica and plan to take all day. Wear comfortable shoes. The audio guides are fantastic. Definitely spring for one, if you don't have a tour guide. While in the museum, you will naturally get excited and start to pick up the pace as you get closer to the Sistine Chapel. Do yourself a solid and slow it down when you get to the modern art section. It's transcendent. 

Quattro. The Early Bird does not get the bucatini.
No doubt about it, Italians know food. There is nothing more stylish than slapping on your best leather boots, curling those eyelashes, and ordering up some apertivo (small bites and cocktails that precede dinner). Sounds great, doesn't it? What a lovely concept! Why did Italians think up this genius art, you ask? Because they were STARVING!

Splitting a portion of cacio e pepe is perfect for apertivo.

Here's the deal. Lunch in Italy starts right after breakfast and goes until around 3pm. Dinner, however, does not usually start until close to 8pm. Therefore, between those hours, you will invariably become ravenous and want to eat anything you find that's open. Don't do that. Trust me. Time your meals out. Eat lunch. As late as possible. And, plan on a late dinner. Then, if you absolutely cannot wait another moment, grab some apertivo around 7pm; but, resist the urge to order more than a small bite. Or, if you grew up in my family, you'd skip appies altogether and plan a gelato break for about 6pm...or maybe one at 5pm and one at 7pm. Speaking of gelato...

Cinque. I'll have the one with all the sparkly, crunchy, fruity bits on top.
Okay, this is not a perfect science; but, there are definitely a couple of things to consider when selecting a spot for brain freeze. If the gelato isn't displayed with impressive toppings garnishing each flavor, keep walking. Make sure you see some traditional flavors, such as frutti di bosco, pistachio, or zabaglione. Lastly, ask to sample a flavor or two. The consistency should be lush and velvety. Never thin, course, or icy.

Most importantly, wherever you decide to stop for the frozen treat, do yourselves a favor and DO NOT make it anywhere near the Vatican. You're welcome.


Seriously, the worst gelato of my life.
And, I don't kick many ice cream desserts out of bed.
(I actually tossed it right after this picture and found a better gelateria.)


Sei. Apologies, Anderson, but just say NO to wine and leather if you're not a Vanderbilt.
If you are branching out during your Italy stay and planning on visiting any part of Tuscany, do not try and buy wine or leather in Rome. You will definitely find a lot more value as you move toward the more rural areas of Italy. I perused boots and purses in Rome that were marked up 300% from what I had seen further north and many had a 'Made in Tuscany' stamp. Um, hello?! If you want to purchase the perfect distressed leather bag or Brunello di Montalcino, why wouldn't you go directly to the source?




Sette. When you just need to eat anything other than pizza, risotto, or carbonara.
Now, I know you are already rolling your eyes thinking that this day will never come; but, the truth is that a person can only eat so much traditional Italian food before they start to develop bolognese belly.

My sage advice to you is to search out "new Italian" restaurants. Guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet, will have them listed in a separate category. We were starting to go out of our minds on this last trip, until we sought out the foodie haven, Il Grappolo d'Oro Zampano. Braised rabbit stuffed with potatoes and sausage. An octopus salad that still haunts my dreams. Definitely one of the top 5 meals of my life.

There you have it, folks. Now you're ready to hit the Roman streets. Just watch out for overzealous rose sellers -- trust me, they're everywhere. And, maybe study up on a couple of phrases to help you blend in. I strongly recommend the Travel Linguist's free videos on YouTube. I was surprised by how much Ed and I were able to absorb with just a week of pre-Italy study. Here's one to get you started. Try it over an *extra foamy* cappuccino!


I can't tell you how many times Ed and I told each other to stick it "up you tardy."
(Warning: Basic knowledge of Italian is required to get that bad joke.)

Davvero una vacanza Romana!

A piĆ¹ tardi,

Ilana


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Today's Weekly Travel Tip: When (Drinking) in Rome

Here's the first of our weekly travel tips! An excellent technique to hep you stay hydrated, when abroad -- or at least help you look like a local!


Also, feel free to click directly through to YouTube and subscribe for all of our newest video updates. Though, we'll keep posting here, as well!

Until Next Week, 

Ilana


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

*Pop* Goes the Culture

Well, I've been writing about our trip to Bali a lot lately; and, while there's still MUCH more to share, I thought I'd take a little departure to talk a bit about what I do.

It's probably the question asked of me most, "What does an anthropologist do?" A close second would definitely be, "What does a travel host do?" And, honestly, the answers to both questions are really the same. I study people and talk about them. I study their culture, mainly. But that includes a pretty giant swath of goodies...rituals, traditions, religions, stories, histories, etc...

Well, that all sounds noble enough; but, there is a also a dirty little secret involved with the more modern element of my chosen career. A side of anthropology that often had my classmates at Columbia rolling their eyes. And, oh how I love it so! I'm talking about pop(ular) culture.

I'm sure it would seem strange for one of you to spot me at the airport, walking away from the newsstand, not carrying the latest issue of Science News or the Economist; but, clutching my fix of People & US Weekly. (Especially when I've been abroad for weeks at a time.) The fact that most countries carry outdated issues makes no difference to me. It's about the ritual; it's about the familiarity of the story-telling; it's my touchstone to my country's immediate history.

Like it or not, we are currently writing our own history. And, this new form of a very old tradition -- this voracious consumption of 'who wore it best' and 'who lost the baby weight in time to walk the catwalk'  (I'm talking to you, Heidi Klum, you gorgeous freak of nature) -- is the general public's chance to weigh-in on a part of their culture with which they identify...or would desperately like to.

Now, more than ever before, we are all easy-chair scientists. Every time we tune-in regularly to view our guiltiest pleasure -- reality television -- we are essentially viewing 22 or 45 minutes of a modern-day field study, where we are viewing a sub-culture at length to better understand what makes them who they are. And that, my friends, is anthropology!

I think the label of being reality television watchers is the hardest part. I'm a travel television host and I don't even like the idea of the 'reality' distinction. I tell folks that I work in 'documentary television' simply to put more space between me and the dreaded turn of phrase. But, c'mon, if it quacks like a Real Housewife! However, when you really break down the types of shows that have never been more popular, you are left with some stark looks into the lives of people that we would otherwise never know. Tattoo artists in Los Angeles; Pageant-winning children in Georgia; Fashion designers in New York City; Angry dance instructors in Pittsburgh.

We've collected quite an interesting assortment of specimens in our reality zoo. We have had the opportunity to better understand disorders like pica and compulsive hoarding, thanks to shows like My Strange Addiction and Hoarders. We can move from sample to sample; case history to case history. Solving. Deducing. And, hopefully, concluding something that eventually allows us to move on.

For some of us, it also may simply be about the fairy tale. Say what you will about certain magazines and television shows and the celebutantes and pop-tresses we invite into our living rooms; but, anthropologically speaking, it's all story-telling -- a tradition so old that it predates the written record. It can be a nice break from the rigors of hunting and gathering to fantasize about having a Kardashian bank account or Lohan sense of entitlement. Or perhaps, we see it as more of a morality play, wherein we can sit back and judge the ladies and gents who are happily destroying their livers and professional connections. Either way, we have an opinion.
(Heck, even the general public that swears-off reality television has a pretty loud and specific opinion about the Kims, Lindsays, and Britneys of the moment.)

And, I would argue that's a good thing. You SHOULD have an opinion. If this is, in fact, a historical imprint we are leaving of ourselves, then we should all know how we feel about it.

When I think of the anthropologists that forged the social sciences. I visualize Margaret Mead and Franz Boas flying for countless hours, boldly charging into the midst of unknown and potentially aggressive communities, penning tomes about a culture so foreign and new that it would certainly change the course of modern history.

And, those journals...all of that sweat and dust...they sit...deep in the lowest level...of the nicest libraries...in the most beautiful universities. My Arctic Expedition; Devil & Commodity Fetishism in South America; A Land of Ghosts; Coming of Age in Somoa. And, the more I think about those beautiful findings, the more they start to resemble their tiny ancestors on my cable channel guide. Ice Road Truckers, Amish: Out of Order; Ghost Hunters...

So, say what you will about the scourge that is reality television; but, hear me when I counter with -- Margaret Mead never had it so good!

The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

You Dirty, Dirty Duck!


When I'm home, in the States, I tend to eat a mostly vegetarian diet. I try and keep things healthy, avoid dairy as much as possible, watch out for preservatives and practice yoga pretty regularly.

When I'm traveling, I don't do any of those things.

It started out mainly as a part of the job -- producers and directors wanted me to eat giant worms or raw crocodile; but, I also felt strongly that I would probably not have another go at most of my crazy travel scenarios, so I should make the most of them and try anything once.

And, somewhere in between, my love of ALL things weird and wonderful about travel morphed into my current philosophy of not denying myself anything that looks different, daring, and delicious whilst abroad!

It's this version of myself that brought me and Ed to the best crispy duck joint in Ubud, Bali -- Bebek Bengil.

Pre Duck-Sweats.

And, how did it go, you ask? Well, see for yourself:


And, for you fellow foodies who simply MUST try making your own magical Balinese sambal -- and who could blame you? -- then check out THIS FANTASTIC RECIPE from Casa Luna Cooking School.
(Our cooking lesson with Casa Luna will definitely have a full blog dedicated to it in the near future.)

Here's to deep-fried anything, especially things that quack!

Ilana


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bean There, Drank What?


Oh coffee! Sweet nectar of the caffeinated gods! We’ve had so many fantastic times together -- I don’t even get mad that you make me go through Crest Whitestrips like Chiclets.
(Which, due to my coffee breath, you also make me go through like, well, Chiclets!)

So, imagine my surprise upon at arriving in Ubud, Bali (having already had a cup of Bali’s finest at our first resort) and heading out to find some beautiful locales – such as the Water Palace nestled among its ponds full of lily pads lotus flowers – and what do I find in its footprint? A Starbucks?!? Really? In Indonesia? Home to THE ISLAND OF JAVA?!?


For bean’s sake, you can’t just put an Asian looking gong in front of a place and think that it suddenly blends. There weren’t even any other gongs to be had on our entire trip.

Well, this sad treatment of my most treasured morning tradition didn’t stop there. At every accommodation in which we stayed, we were given the option of Balinese coffee or Italian. (I won’t even begin to discuss how ludicrous the idea of shipping coffee to Bali is…no matter where it’s from.) Now, I’m all for choices; but, when you are in paradise, I don’t think it it’s odd to suppose that whatever fantastic local tonic is on hand should more than suffice. More so, if you’re truly a lover of coffee…like me.

Well, thank you for joining me on that rant. Now to the good stuff…

While we were in Ubud, which is often referred to as the main culinary destination of Indonesia, we couldn’t resist the idea of a Balinese coffee and tea tasting. We had booked a cycling tour with Bali Budaya Tours (more on that awesome day to follow in another post) and our tour included a trip to a local plantation. It was tremendous! On our way onto the grounds, we were able to sample cinnamon leaves (which taste exactly like you think they would) right off the tree. Our guide helped us to spot a lot of other local plants, including the many cococa pods hanging above our heads. Ed tried mangosteen for the first time – one of my absolute favs! And, we both got to sample snake fruit.


Cinnamon Leaves.
Cocoa Pods.
Roasting Coffee Beans.

But the highlight of our time on the plantation definitely had to be the tasting.


Now, Ed’s tasting was a little more controversial. He had decided to spring for the expensive cup of Kopi Luwak, which is a simper way of saying: "the dude payed the equivalent of $6 USD for half a cup of coffee that was made by beans that had been eaten and crapped out by a Asian Palm Civet (a Southeast Asian fox-like mammal)."

Check out the brave fellow’s findings:


The science behind this is actually pretty interesting. Basically, the civet has a pretty discerning palate and will only eat the ripest coffee cherries, so that is kind of a phase 1 filter in the process. Once ingested, the stomach enzymes of the civet start to transform the beans, mellowing the flavor and aroma and even slightly lessening the caffeine. Once the beans have been passed all the way through our trusty pooping jungle weasel, they are collected (and hopefully cleaned very well)! In some parts of the world, a cup of Kopi Luwak can go for as much as $100.

One thing that surprised me, having heard of Kopi Luwak prior to visiting the plantation, was that the civets were caged. I had imagined this entire process to be akin to dogs and pigs hunting truffles -- I thought these "poo hunters" trekked through the jungle to look for distinctive civet droppings and thus the high sticker price and exotic draw.


Civet, in his cage, on the plantation.

However, I was sad to see that this process looks to have been reduced to feeding the civets a steady diet of coffee beans; and, that certainly took most of the magic out of the experience. To be clear, it didn't look like the animals were mistreated in any way -- it just brought up a lot of thoughts about the commoditization of cash crops and how important it is to know what larger concept you're supporting when you buy items, like coffee. 

So, pour another cup and leave your thoughts below!

Buzzzzzz,

Ilana

postscript: In Vietnam, Kopi Luwak is called caphe cut chon (fox-dung coffee). Yum!
post postscript: If you regularly drink coffee and eat chocolate, try and make sure your brands are shade-grown, so they don't promote deforestation. And, definitely make sure they're fair trade!




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ubud Hanging Gardens, A Love Letter



I have a confession to make. I first discovered this resort years ago when I was combing the internet for the most potentially memorable places to which Ed and I could venture at some point in our lives. Then, when we decided to register for our honeymoon (and only that), Bali seemed fitting for our first monumental trip together. The endeavor wasn't budget. Not only did we give puppy dog eyes to every wedding attendee, in the hopes that they would throw some extra pennies at us and we could actually pull this voyage off; but, we even took an additional year to save before heading into the great Southeast Asian unknown.


Unknown? Who am I kidding? I'm a professional traveler! This thing was researched to the teeth! Many spreadsheets were made. And what I can say with absolute certainty is that Ubud Hanging Gardens was the very first thing I put down on every list, sheet, post-it, napkin, and coaster.


It had been built up so much in my mind by the time we arrived, I wondered if any property could meet the mammoth expectations I had squeezed into my luggage (along with a honeymoon wardrobe of which I was particularly proud).


To say that they didn't disappoint falls so flat. To mention that every need was masterfully anticipated is better, but still ordinary. To tell you that that staying at this Orient-Express property is an experience you will never forget is true, but still seems so unrefined and basic. The truth is, the richness of a stay at this Balinese oasis is one you have to see to believe. Luckily, that's what we're here for...


Located in Buahan Village, about 25 minutes outside the center of Ubud, the Ubud Hanging Gardens is built into the hillside of the Ayung River valley.


Ubud Hanging Gardens from across the valley
The property has a total of 38 pool villas of various types and sizes as well as 2 main pools that sit in the middle of the resort. The main pools are stacked one atop the other for an impressive waterfall effect.


A close-up view of the restaurant, upper pool, and funicular.


The lower pool is set up to feel like a more intimate space than the upper pool. The water cascading down from above blankets everything with a wonderful sound. The flowers and plants are much closer to the poolside and make it feel like a secluded paradise just for you. And, the lounge chairs at the lower pool are simply cushions set directly on the deck floor. The entire poolside experience feels so effortless and organic in its execution that you would swear everything is exactly how you would do it at your house (if you could afford it). 

The upper pool deck is more traditional in its layout.
It bumps up against the breezy, open-air Bukit Becik Bar.

We had many conversations with the staff about how the Hanging Gardens was constructed. Since it's built into the side of a hill, stretching from the river at the bottom of the valley to the very top of the hillside slope, most of the building materials had to be carried up one stone at a time. And to get a sense for just what an undertaking that may have been, you should take a look at the preferred mode of transportation onsite.


Even with the grounds as impressive as they are, they had very little to do with why I was in love with the property from the first time Google laid my eyes on it. That honor lies completely within the following 4 words: Panoramic Deluxe Pool Villa.

Ed comprehends the sweeping views of the Ayung River Valley

There is no question. The star of our accommodations at Ubud Hanging Gardens was definitely our private, massive infinity pool and outdoor area. Frequented daily by humans and monkeys alike, we basked in our own personal paradise like no two people ever basked before! 



Truthfully, the accommodations are so fantastic, we had to fight some guilt over leaving the property to go exploring. And this might help to better explain why:


One thing that certainly made it a bit easier to leave our cloistered oasis was the fantastic food. Breakfast on the property is something to behold! A buffet to rival any I have seen before, with traditional Balinese and Indonesian foods represented along with all of the usual breakfast suspects. And, everything cooked to perfection. (Including the eggs made to order...about which Ed is very particular.) However, what I find to be most memorable were the simplest expressions of the local flavors. For example, every day there were new, fresh jams set out with the bread. Seriously, where have pineapple and banana jam been hiding all this time?

Well the lovely folks at Ubud Hanging Gardens were kind enough to let us nab a couple of recipes for your culinary edification and one of them is, indeed, for banana jam. The other is for Soto Ayam, a classic Indonesian chicken soup, made with turmeric, kefir lime, and lemongrass. (I had it at least 3 times during our stay. And the versions we tried elsewhere in Bali didn't come close to this one.) Enjoy!

And, then there's dinner! The Hanging Gardens' Beduur Restaurant is not only frequented by guests of the hotel, but it's also pretty popular among outside patrons simply looking for excellent fare and transcendent surroundings.

Cannelloni with Beef Cheeks
Fresh seafood from Jimbaran Bay

The food is progressive and deeply satisfying; and, the wine options, while pricey (as is all wine in Bali), are varied and excellent. Additionally, the bartenders are very adept at making a mean mixed drink. I had several caipirinhas as good as I've ever had.

Enjoying the after-dinner mood at the Bukit Becik Bar

And, all of this, mixed with the geckos chirping and the river rushing, makes for a pretty unforgettable evening.

So, after four bliss-filled days and nights in our Balinese sanctuary, I can proudly report that Ubud Hanging Gardens has been my favorite accommodation worldwide, thus far. Now that we've been home a month, I still can't help but see that amazing morning view every time I close my eyes. It's become my meditative place of calm...even from 10,000 miles away.

I highly recommend you click the picture on the right to enlarge.


And, if you still don't quite grasp the magic of this awe-inspiring accommodation, here's one last reminder of what's in store at the Hanging Gardens:


I'm thrilled that we were able to make our first resort stay in Bali such a memorable one. And, there was no other post that I would have wanted to start our tale with more! There is MUCH more to see in the coming weeks, as the holiDAYtrips blog takes you all around Bali. You can be sure we've got plenty of sambal, volcanoes, temples, shadow puppets, Arak, dancing, rice paddies, and many, many more monkeys!


I'm thrilled to take you on this journey,


Ilana



The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following: