A glimpse into village life during a Balinese festival

The Balinese year (of 210 days) is rich with celebrations and ceremonies. Galungan is one of the most important of these and celebrates the victory of good over evil.

Gusti at temple gates

On the first day of Galungan, our friend, Gusti, took us to two local village temples to observe the ceremonies and rituals taking place.

Boys at the temple

It was utterly fascinating. I was worried we would be intruding but Gusti assured us we were not only not intruding but welcome. Such a beautiful, Balinese response.

Blessings at Sebali temple

We felt so very privileged to be able to see some of the blessings and rituals being performed and I was particularly thrilled to see this dukun at work.

Dukun (holy man) at Sebali temple

Dukun are holy men: spiritual healers, custodians of custom, tradition and ancestral knowledge, diviners, mediums and even sorcerers.

This is one of my favourite photos from our entire trip. My dad and Gusti : two fathers, two cultures, two friends.

Gusti and dad at the temple

Even the youngest members of the community participate in these rituals.

Kids getting blessings at the temple

That lifelong participation is, in part, what makes Bali such a cohesive society but also what feeds the almost tangible sense of spirituality on this island; a richness that seems to ripple in the atmosphere around you – unseen but palpable.

Leaving temple

Village streets are lined with penjor  – tapering bamboo poles adorned with elaborate palm leaf decorations –  and specially constructed bamboo altars.

Whole penjor

Just like the ubiquitous palm-leaf trays of offerings, each penjor is a work of art. And a much faster thing to put together since the arrival on Bali of the stapler! Before staples, each elaborate twist and turn of decoration was secured with little bamboo tooth picks. We were told that there is good-natured competition to prepare the most beautiful penjor although it turns out you can go too far. One penjor on the road to our villa was lit up with electric Christmas lights. According to Gusti that one “didn’t count”.

Penjors and offerings Sebali bud

This is Gusti’s gorgeous wife Narie, his two beautiful boys and his dad holding an offering they were taking to their family rice field.

Narie, Gusti's dad and the boys on motorbike_edited-1

That evening we sat on the edge of the street in our village (yes, I adopted it wholesale) and waited for the Barong (a lion-like creature from Balinese mythology) to come past.

There were no cars on the road and only the odd scooter every 15 minutes or so. So in between those  rare modern intrusions it was easy to pretend we had been transported back in time to a Bali of 100 years ago. All along the little street, in front of their houses, women and kids were dressed in their beautiful holiday finest awaiting the arrival of the Barong with the men of the village. As they waited they prepared offerings, lit incense, chatted.

Sate lilit offering

Occasionally the women sitting across the road from us would nod to us and smile gently.

Entering the Sebali temple

Then from the dim dark came the distant sound of drums and bells and laughter and slowly the village Barong snaked its way along the street in front of us.  it was gone almost in the blink of an eye but that half hour will stay with me forever.

I couldn’t get a decent shot in the darkness but I do want to show you how fearsome the Barong are. I found this beautiful photo on Flickr. Attribution below it.

Barong by Hoks on Flickr

(Above photo only: Balinese Barong Dancer by Hoks. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I took the next photo blind, i.e. literally just snapped it into the dark to see if I could capture any of the magic of the moment not only without the harsh effect from the burst of a flash but also so as not to intrude into the simple acts of devotion these women were making.

The resulting shot kind of made me draw breath. I know darkness and a long exposure makes for blur and distortion but  this has an especially other-wordly feel. Maybe blur accounts of much of it but there certainly seem to be more figures here than there were women. And so I keep coming back to the fact that Galungan is also when ancestral spirits return to earth.

For me, that evening was one of those moments that sinks deeply into your soul and reminds you, no matter what your fears, to keep travelling…keep striving for the moments.

Galungan women Sebali 1

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London, you blew my mind baby.

Union Jack flag flying

Everyone knows London rocks but in the most perfect of summer weather in July, it was going off like a frog in a sock. I have rarely experienced such joie de vivre and atmospheric buzz in a city. It was contagious.

Big Ben clock face close up

The city was spectacularly described in the sunlight – bright and blue by day, soft and golden in the long, light evenings. And it was  heaving with people.  And squirrels.

Squirrel London St James

Packed full of tourists (of course) but the bright young London things were out in droves too. It was a people-watcher’s dream.

Horse Guards London

I was last in London some 25 years ago. I was all of 11 and I flew over on my own (WHAT were my parents thinking?) to spend a month staying with my beloved cousin, aunt and uncle over Christmas.

Buckingham Palace exterior with guard

It was a complete revelation for me, a bush-raised child, and I fell utterly and irrevocably in love. So much so that when I returned I couldn’t even read the glossy brochures I had brought back as souvenirs; it was too painful to be so very far away. This was back in the olden days when long-distance phone calls cost a bomb and  snail mail was the only other alternative.

St James Park

The first thing I noticed about London, even at that tender age, was the way in which each and every atom of it seemed to exude its history. It felt so wonderfully old.  London’s history sang me a siren song and I absorbed it, if not the details then the atmosphere it created,  into my pores. I used to bore my cousin silly crapping on about how beautiful a small stone shop on the high street was. Or a street lamp (which was no doubt reproduction but that didn’t detract from its magic on a misty night).  I couldn’t get enough.

Georgian tea lady Mason and Fortnum London

My aunt and uncle introduced me to Indian food, Tetley’s tea, washing your hair in the bath, Selfridges, The Body Shop and Aled Jones singing “Walking on the Air” on Christmas Eve as we peered out the tiny casement window from my cousin’s bedroom watching fat, sparkling snowflakes slowly blanket the backyard. We had prayed fervently for snow and when it arrived, I had my first travelling “moment”.

St Paul's Catherdral facade London

My aunt and uncle owned a fine china shop literally just around the corner from Covent Garden. My cousin and I would spend countless hours walking around the cobbled streets and covered markets, sniffing Body Shop products ( it had just opened), looking with longing in shop windows at cute fimo bear brooches (it was the 80s and we were young) and trying to scrounge enough pence together for a bag  o’ crisps (we were pre-teens and we were ravenous).

Unicorn on Buckingham Palace Gates

Then, exhausted and freezing, we would go back to the shop and curl up in its toasty-warm bowels  below the showroom floor and snooze on vast squeaky clouds of packing peanuts.

Summer berries Marlyebone Farmers' Market

All of these memories came flooding back as I walked around London. I even managed to find my way from Covent Garden market to where my aunt and uncle’s shop was. It’s now a bodybuilding supplement shop. Not quite as atmospheric.

Norfolk Samphire

The heat wave made everyone crazy – in a good way. It was such a pleasure to see people dipping their feet in fountains and spilling out of quaint pubs, chatting to friends and enjoying a drink in the golden twilight at 10pm.

London pub with flowers

There were so many highlights on this trip. It was all one big highlight really. The Tower of London blew my mind (especially in light of watching The Tudors and reading Wolf Hall). Traitors’ Gate with the murky Thames seeping in underneath and the fierce – looking portcullis ready to slam shut behind as a prisoner was rowed inside was particular moving.

Porticullis Tower of LondonPoor Anne Boleyn. Poor all Henry VIII’s wives.

Cherries Marlyebone farmer's market

This is Boudica. We are obsessed with her at our house. She wouldn’t have stood for any of  Henry’s shite.

Boudicea statue Westminster London

There are no words for just how incredible the British Museum is. As a language-lover, the Rosetta Stone just blew me completely away. Not least because I hadn’t known it was even there and so just wandered up to it and read the plaque. When I realised what I was looking at, I nearly fell over with excitement. Nerd.

This is the bust of a statue of Ramses II that, among others, inspired Shelley’s “Ozymandias“. Yaaaah, no biggie.

Ramses II statue British Museum

These Roman helmets – one from a soldier and one a venatores (net-wielding gladiator) were particularly awesome. Even in Rome it’s rare to see such well-preserved specimens.

Roman soldier's helmet British MuseumVenatores gladiator helmet British Museum

Another highlight for me was the National Gallery. It was just a 5 minute stroll from our fabulously situated hotel (the Sofitel St James). Whenever I had an hour or two to kill I would spend time just drifting from one spectacular work of art to another. Such a treat. I visited 5 times in 6 days. And I may or may not have shed a little tear over the sheer beauty of a painting and my good fortune to be viewing it in one of the National Gallery’s light-filled rooms. I spent a lot of time in front of this: the Hay Wain by Constable.

Constable's The Hay Wain

We ate elderflower jelly on a deck chair in St James Park, and browsed through the beautiful farmers’ market just off Marylebone High Street. We spent lots of time in the oldest bookshop in London where I bought Sophia an Enid Blyton book (she is obsessed with Ms Blyton at the mo) Paddington Bear for Olive Enid Blyton used to read excerpts from her books to children at the store so that all felt very fitting. We also loved this beautiful bookshop in Marylebone.

Buckingham Palace Coat of Arms and Union Jack

It was in Marylebone I spied this beautiful private garden. I wanted to jump the fence and roll on the grass.  I restrained myself. Much to my handsome husband’s relief.

Private Garden Marylebone

I loved the soft, green grass of England so much I took photos of patches of grass. Just an ordinary patch of grass. About 3 times. You know, I do nothing to dispel my husband’s fears that I am insane in the membrane. In the best possible way.

Gooseberries Marlyebone Farmer's Market

The food scene in London is phenomenal at the moment. Utterly amazing. Highlights of our dinners out were here, here and here.  For quick lunches on the go during the day, I became obsessed with Itsu. Healthy, utterly delicious food. I so deeply wish we had a chain like this in Melbourne.

Apple and blackberry slice Marylebone Farmer's Market

I had some boxes I wanted to tick this trip, among which: climb a country stile, have kippers and a  hot, strong cup of tea for breakfast, stroll through extra green and pleasant bits of the land, eat great Indian food, eat great British food, have a Pimms in the English summer sun. I ticked all those boxes and more. It really was an extraordinary trip.

Can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get this posted that I am about to embark on my next trip…

The Roman baths at Bath

Roman baths at Bath with statue and abbey

I totally nerded out in Bath. My great love for and obsession with all things Roman (including my first born child!) is well-documented.  So I was in heaven.

View-through-an-arch-Bath

We had the most fleeting of visits – really just enough to do the Roman baths –  but driving in and catching the train out also gave me a sense of the beautiful Georgian terracing the town is famous for.

Bath from the train

Because Sophia was born in Rome I always feel the need to buy her anything even vaguely Rome-related.

Roman jewellery from Bath Roman baths

So I was in heaven in the gift shop here – replica coins, bracelets, necklaces (above – love their simple elegance), spoons and soap. Yes, now you too can smell like a Roman. A heady scent of horse shit and blood in the dust. Actually, it’s lavender.

Main-Roman-bath-in-Bath

These ruins are so spectacular and the display that forms part of the site is a collection of the most fascinating things discovered on the site. Including the complete skeleton of an inhabitant and a perfectly preserved original lead pipe that still carries the waters around the complex and looks as though it was laid last year, not 2000 years ago.

Balustrade and arch at Roman baths

This is me, lovin’ it. Holding a gun.  Oh no, hang on, it’s an audio guide. That’s a relief.

Met at Bath

An idyllic weekend in the Cotswolds complete with English summer fete

Arlington Way Bibury

A few Saturdays ago I was somewhat shocked to find myself sipping Pimms by a stream in the sunshine in the English countryside.  Shocked because I felt as though I had left Melbourne just a few hours before and yet here I was; ensconced in a vignette of Cotswold life so achingly beautiful and perfect and seemingly quintessential that I truly felt as though I had stumbled onto a movie set.

Bibury house and garden

It had been, in fact, some 35 hours earlier that we had left Melbourne for this most green and pleasant of lands . But long-haul flights do funny things to your perception of time. Cocooned in the warmth and half-light of an aeroplane cabin dimmed for sleep, time seems to compress as you fly from afternoon into an ocean-crossing night that stretches for 20 odd hours.

Cotswold-road

The trip started brilliantly before we had even touched down. The sun was rising just as we flew in to land at Heathrow. Out of the window the first thing that came into view as we pierced  through the clouds was green farmland with the Thames, gleaming a dark olive in the weak dawn light, snaking in a thick band through the countryside.

Bibury Lane

I’m somewhat obsessed with rivers. Especially rivers so old and venerable as the Thames so it was miraculous for me to be able to follow this vast waterway virtually from its mouth, up through green fields until it glittered below in its familiar loop in the very centre of London itself. As the sun rose higher and gave bright colour to the landscape below, we cruised over Hyde Park and began to circle.

Hemlock

I literally had my nose pressed against the glass of the window as I drank in the scenes below me. Deeply green fields, mist lying in the lowest depressions and occasionally something truly spectacular like a castle with its own lake. A lake so large it had formed its own weather system and two small clouds were reflected in its mill pond-still surface. Or a small town with cathedral on a river, the white points of which reached skyward in gothic peaks.

summer-flowers-in-a-garden

But back to terra firma.

Cotswold's wall

By 6am, my handsome husband and I were in our rental car and headed straight from Heathrow out into the English countryside. Cotswold's meadow

Walk in Bibury

By 7am the dulcet tones of our GPS had guided us to Bibury, a charming Cotswold village. We did a three hour loop walk through the town, the nearby woods and fields. It was utterly beautiful.

Ash copse

English countryside. There. is. nothing. like. it.

Stone manor bibury

I confess that I cried. About 6 times. I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and a deep-seated sense of being so ridiculously fortunate.

Sheep in field in Bibury

Feeling pretty tired after that we decided to head for the place we were staying: Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter. When you are saying “Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter” you have to do so in a Penelope Keith-type accent. It’s the law.

Stone wall in meadow

On our way we saw a sign to the remains of a Roman villa from the 3rd century. We detoured. I was in heaven:  nerding out on Roman history in the middle of an Elysian setting.

Roman ruins - Chedworth Villa

Continuing on along tiny country lanes lined with stone walls and flower-filled hedgerows we arrived in Upper Slaughter.

Cotsewold's wall and road

It is a tiny little town.

Sign-to-Upper-Slaughter

As we turned into the main street  a sign read “Upper Slaughter summer fete – today 3-6pm.” I looked at Andrew in disbelief. It was too good to be true. “If there is British bunting and a church jumble sale, I will die” I said.

Then I died.

Upper Slaugher fair river view View-from-slope-to-Upper-Slaughter-fair

And then I died again because in addition to the above there were rubber duck races along the rush-lined stream, a Pimms stall AND Morris dancers.

Morris dancer

Duck race on the River Eye

So you’d forgive a lass for sitting in the sun with her Pimms and pinching herself. And you’d forgive her if she shed another little tear at the sheer perfection of it all.

Andrew-drinking-Pimms-in-Upper-Slaughter

Fete Upper Slaughter

The next afternoon we wandered down to the stream again. In Australia you would see the grass strewn with cigarette butts and crushed beer cans. Of course in Upper Slaughter, all that remained was this:

Pyramid of Pimms bottles

a neat pyramid of empty Pimms bottles.  LOVE.

I have a few more UK posts coming up. Stay tuned to see whether Loooords of the Manor was as frightfully as it sounds, a little more of the stunning Cotties plus a quick trip to Bath (where I again totally nerd out on all things Roman),  and then on to London.

But first, tomorrow I’ll be posting a quick craft tutorial. It’s been a long time between crafty drinks hasn’t it?

An adventurous soul.

Ohdarling3

I made this canvas just before Christmas to decorate a bare spot on our wall.

I just bought wooden letters and then painted them and glued them on.

I used a different paint for the “DARLING” so it would stand out, but subtly. Loving that neon pop.

Oh darling horizontal_edited-1

This is a phrase that is dear to my heart. It’s what I want to do. What I must do for the nourishment of my soul. One of the things I derive most pleasure in life from.

Only thing is, sometimes my soul feels a little bit more like wrapping my darlings in multiple layers of cotton wool and hiding under the bed than gallivanting off on an adventure – near or far.

Oh darling1_edited-1

Sometimes this internal conflict exhausts me and fear nearly overwhelms me, destroying that wonderful anticipation in the lead up to a trip.

But I still go. With my darling or darlings. And I’m always so elated that I did.

I imagine the woman who uttered this phrase (and I just know it was a chick) was one of those irrepressibly curious, sensible but adventurous types: a kind of Katharine Hepburn on the back of a camel in the Gobi desert one week, flying over Luxor in a hot air balloon the next, equally at home at a cocktail soiree as in a Bornean long house.

When I get really anxious I think about that girl. Her plane didn’t crash, she wasn’t robbed at knifepoint, didn’t contract rabies or perish in an earthquake. Nope, she died old and satisfied at the end of a long and fulfilling life.

But she wouldn’t have, if she hadn’t grabbed her husband by the hand and headed out into the world.