Being Sattvic

I’ve signed up for the two week Sadhana Intensive course at the Sivananda ashram in Orleans in France this August. It is, by all accounts, quite intense (so much so that everyone I mention it to feels the need to tell me that).

You have to have a well established yoga practise to be allowed to do the course. And even if you do have a well established practise, there are a number of things you have to do in the lead up to it to prepare yourself for the course, so that you can get the full benefits of the exercises you will be doing.

Most of it I do already. No meat, no booze, no drugs, etc. That part’s easy. They also want you to do fifteen to twenty rounds of anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) every day. Ok, not a problem, provided I remember to do it that is. Where it gets tricky is the sattvic diet.

Trying to follow a sattvic diet, sometimes called the yoga diet, is hard because of the way most ready-made food is made (even the good stuff). To follow the sattvic diet you need to be vegetarian, but also cut out things like garlic, onion (including spring onion, shallots, leek, etc.), caffeine, and a few other things I didn’t even know about.

an unsattvic shopping bag

This is the bag of shopping I bought before going to teach last night. Now I’d been good in not buying veggie sausages. Pretty much all of them contain some form of garlic and onion. In fact most pre-prepared veggie foods have garlic and onion in, mostly because they’re cheap and they add a lot of flavour. But garlic and onion unsettle the mind and make meditation more difficult, so we need to cut them out apparently.

So I avoided the sausages, but what I didn’t think about was the ketchup and baked beans. They don’t have garlic and onion on their ingredients lists, but I’d be surprised if the catch-all term ‘spices’ didn’t include garlic and onion somewhere along the line. So, no ketchup and baked beans for me.

Ok, that’s fine. But where else did I go wrong? Well, mushrooms it seems are a bit of a no-no. I don’t know why? Perhaps it’s something to do with the cleansing quality they are considered to have in Chinese medicine, so much so that you’re meant to avoid them when ill, as they will rob your body of vital nutrients. Or perhaps it’s that they can be ‘gas inducing’, as I just read somewhere. Not what you need if you’re going to be doing lung cleansing exercises.

NB: Just so you know, I’m not saying I believe all or even any of this. This is just what people say.

So that’s half my shopping bag out. But what about the rest? Well, the chocolate pudding is no good because of the caffeine. And depending on who you ask I should probably be avoiding the bell peppers as well, because they’re a bit spicy. Which leaves me with the bread rolls. As far as I know, no one has a problem with bread, yet (though I’m sure someone would have something to say about yeast!).

Anyway…

For my purposes, a sattvic diet means vegetarian food, no garlic, no onion, no mushrooms, no caffeine. Fine. But what about the rest of your diet? What about what your mind consumes?

Swami Krishnadevananda used to tell a story about when he was at the Paris centre. He would spend all week meditating and trying to be sattvic, then on his day off he would go see all kinds of stuff at the movies. Not that he used to go see stuff that was deliberately violent or anything, I just think he wasn’t being too discerning in what he went to see. He eventually realised the pointlessness of doing all this hard work during the week, only to undo some of it on his day off. That’s why he quit going to the cinema.

That’s not to say moives can’t be sattvic. It’s just that the sattvic ones are few and far between. And often not good. When I was staff at the ashram in Austria we used to have movie nights. The films they chose to show that I can recall are Peaceful Warrior, some borderline TV movie with Nick Nolte as a zen master/warrior mechanic type thing, Stardust, a modern fairytale which has more famous faces in it than it deserves, and The Mahabarata, a six hour epic adaption of a nine hour stage play of which the less said about it the better.

Now while these films weren’t exactly bad (with the exception of The Mahabarata which was boring in the extreme!) they weren’t exactly good either. Take away the things that cause the biggest reactions in people – guns, violence, sex, etc. – and you’ve got to be pretty skillful in writing to come up with something that is both interesting and which moves people; in the same way that you’ve got to be a good cook to make nice food when some of the biggest flavours are taken away from you.

So what are good sattvic movies? Well, I’ve been wracking my brains, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Now it might seem a little obvious showing a film set in India to a bunch of yogis, but set that aside and what you have is a brilliant film about people being people, trying to come to terms with their own lives in the best way they know how. It’s a great film, and if you haven’t seen it I strongly recommend you give it a try.

I know it’s a kids movie but Pixar are the masters when it comes to making films the whole family can enjoy. And Finding Nemo is one of their absolute best. It’s surprisingly moving, and funny, and well worth your time. In fact I’d say pretty much anything by Pixar comes under the ‘Sattvic and worth seeing’ catagory, they’re just that good.

So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, being sattvic in todays world can be tough. They put garlic and onion in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to add flavour. They put sex and violence in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to get a reaction with. To be sattvic we need to be discerning about what we consume. We have to check the list of ingredients very carefully. And most important of all, if we’re not sure, we have to be strong enough to just put it down and walk away, and go find something more beneficial for us to enjoy.

The good stuff is out there people, it really is. You just have to but a bit more effort in to seek it out. But when you do, hopefully you’ll find that the effort has been worth your while.

It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. As the Stoics say

“Easy decisions, hard life. Hard decisions, easy life.”

I can give up garlic and onion. I can give up mushroom. I can even give up chocolate, though that’s going to be tough. But giving up tea, oh man! Now there’s a challenge and no mistake.

caffeine delivery system

Wish me luck! 😀

Oh, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall off the wagon every now and then. Even the best of us trip up on occasion. 😉

Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales, 2015

“Sometimes, life gets in the way.”

It’s one of my old Tai Chi instructor’s favourite sayings, and I tell you what, he wasn’t wrong about that. Despite your best intentions, sometimes your sadhana has to take a back seat to so called ‘real life’.

That’s the position I found myself in recently when it was all change in terms of pretty much every aspect of my life. I’ve had a lot to deal with over the past few weeks, many of which is ongoing, and so my spiritual practice had to take a back seat to the basic practicalities of life.

I found I had to do something to get things back on track, which is why I decided to do the five day Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales. If a steady diet of double yoga, double satsang, lectures and meditative walks didn’t do the trick, nothing would.

snowdonia mountain lodge

lodge 1

lodge 2

lodge 3

from the lawn, to the valley

The location for the retreat was a new one for me; the Snowdonia Mountain Lodge. It’s a little further than Gaunt’s House, the place I’ve been to previously with the Sivanadas, but I found the drive up fairly straight forward. Motorways and main roads most of the way in fact. From London it was a good four or five hour drive, but with the first yoga class on day one being at 4pm, that gives you plenty of time to get up there.

I actually had an unusual journey, in that I went up the day before – after having picked up a load of stuff from the yoga centre for transportation – and stayed nearby with a friend. It just broke things up nicely for me, and I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to dive into my sadhana.

Actually, my first bit of spiritual practice was, of course, karma yoga, lol. I helped set up the stuff I’d brought up from London, which turned out to be everything for the altar and things for the boutique.

the altar

yoga room

sivananda shop 1

sivananda shop 2

Our set up was actually in the corner of a much larger boutique that they have at the Mountain Lodge. The lodge itself has strong connections with the Dru Yoga organisation, so any visiting yogis will find their needs well catered for (check out those snacks!).

retreat shop 1

retreat shop 2

retreat shop 3

Karma yoga over with (for now) I got to have a wee scout about before everyone else turned up. I scoped out the Peace Flame,

peace flame

and the Peace Bridge,

lodge 4

peace bridge

by the peace bridge

not to mention the Peaceful Views of the surrounding valley (anybody spotting a theme yet?).

over from the lodge

We’d chosen a lovely day to arrive, and everyone kept telling us it wouldn’t last, but I’m glad to say the sunny weather lasted nearly the whole retreat long, with just the odd shower to liven things up now and then.

The program for the course ran the same as it does for the TTC:

6am – Morning Satsang (medtiation, chanting and short lecture)
8am – First Yoga Class
10am – Brunch
11:30-3:30pm(ish) – Lecture & Meditative Walk, alternating depending on weather, and of varying lengths and start times, with a break in between
4pm – Second Yoga Class
6pm – Evening Meal
8pm – Evening Satsang
9:30pm – Finish/Bed

Apart from meals, every event lasts about an hour and a half (except the lecture which is about an hour) so there’s time in between to relax a little bit, but not too much. The program is pretty full on, but such practice has great benefits, as it really brings you out of your daily life and makes you concentrate on your sadhana. And that, after all, was the main reason I was there.

Two full yoga classes a day really improves your asana practice quite quickly. I’m not saying I could touch my head to my knees within the five days, but I did end up being able to do a very rudimentary Pigeon which, whilst not pretty, is at least fully realised (and I’ll let you figure out what I mean by that for yourselves, lol).

There were two levels of class on offer, a beginners/intermediate class and an intermediate/advanced class. Tempted though I was to give myself a break now and then, I stuck with the more advanced class. I know I’m lazy, and I need to be pushed, and so it was the perfect one for me. The teaching was provided by Narada and Sundari, two of the staff members, and was excellent as always. Though I often went into a class a bit tired, I pretty much always came out more energised (and generally quite hungry, lol).

soup and salad

pasta

crumble

retreat lunch

crumble and custard

Food was provided by the staff at the Mountain Lodge, but cooked using Sivananda recipes and under guidance from the staff, and I must say they did an excellent job. Everything we had was tasty, and I had to literally restrain myself from having thirds (seconds was a foregone conclusion) a lot of the time.

And so many nice puddings too! Never had so much sweet stuff on a Sivananda retreat. Not only at the meals, but after the walks as well. From chocolate mousse to rice pud to crumble and custard, I dare say everybody’s sweet tooth was more than satisfied.

Thank goodness was had the walks to burn off those extra calories, lol. The region around the Lodge had lots of great walks we could go on. A couple we could do right from the front door, and a couple we had to jump in the cars to go do.

The first walk was to a nearby hillside lake (what I would call a Tarn, being from Oop Norf as I am).

A five minute drive up the valley and a short walk brought us to the lake. NB: The walks are done in silence so that you can concentrate on calming the mind, linking your breathing to your walking, or just enjoying the energy of the beautiful surroundings.

meditative walk to the lake

yogis contemplate by the lake

Here we had a short meditative contemplation before carrying on around the lake to the other side.

from the far side of the water

second meditation

at peace

From here we could see back down the valley to where we were staying. Our accommodation is one of the white dots near the road in the first picture, but I honestly can’t say which one anymore, lol.

back down the valley

a valley peak

As Swami Jyotimayananda said, it’s amazing how invigorating being in nature can be. You forget the stuff you do day to day, but walks and scenery like that stay with you for a long time.

The other big walk we did was to Newborough Beach on Anglesey. This was a new one for everybody so Swamiji asked me to drive out there in the morning to check out the route and see what was what. It meant missing the lecture, but since it was on Positive Thinking and I’d done the Positive Thinking Course at the London Centre with Swami Jyotimayananda, I really didn’t mind.

I felt the responsibility of getting everyone to the beach. We were a convoy of about seven cars all in all, and I had to pull over a couple of times to allow everyone to catch up. We lost two cars along the way, but thanks to sat nav, and making sure everyone had a nearby postcode, those two cars actually got there before the rest of us, lol.

The beach was gorgeous, and we walked the full length of it before heading out onto a spit of land for our meditation (and a bit of a lie down).

a meditative walk on the beach

newborough beach

in the footsteps of a swami

yogis at the water's edge

yogis by the beach

wales from anglesey

yogi at rest

As I said, and as you can see, we got really lucky with the weather. Lovely sunshine and gorgeous views; what more could you want?

I thoroughly enjoyed the summer retreat. I won’t lie to you, it was tough at times. You know me, I likes my sleep. But I persevered, and I certainly felt the benefits afterwards.

I was invigorated by my time in Wales, and that carried through into the following weeks. I keep getting up early and doing things, which is crazy for me. Getting everything you want to do done and then looking at your watch and finding out it’s still morning just blows my mind, lol. I mean it’s great, but with so much time in the day what do you do with yourself? 😉

I’d recommend giving the retreat a go if you haven’t been on one before. It’s not as far as it seems, and once you’re there the benefits you gain far outweigh the effort required in getting there (much like yoga itself, lol).

Mission To Berlin

My girlfriend and I love the Lord Of The Rings movies, as you probably noticed by our visit to Hobbiton and the Lord Of The Rings Tour that we did when we were in new Zealand.

We’ve also been enjoying the Hobbit movies, and have been to see them all at the cinema whenever they came out. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go see the last one when I was over at Christmas, and now that I’m back again Leipzig (where my girlfriend moved to a few months ago) no longer has it showing anywhere in English (you often get original language movies showing in German cinemas). So, what to do, what to do? Why, go to Berlin and see it of course!

That was how we found ourselves on a coach at 10am heading for the capital. The movie wasn’t til 5pm, but we planned on checking out a few sights as well while we were there. The only other time I’ve been to Berlin before was during a DB train strike, when I had to get a coach there and three buses across the city to catch my flight home. I missed out on all (indeed, any) of the sights then, so I felt like I had some catching up to do!

We got there around noon, went to grab the tickets, and then set off in search of something interesting. In fact we’d just got back onto Potsdamer Platz when we came across The Berlin Wall!

the wall at potsdamer platz

Obviously not the original wall, but parts of it set out along the old route of the wall as a sort of exhibition.

where the wall once was

If you look you can see a line on the ground going from the wall section up towards the top left corner behind the orange bin, which denotes where the wall used to go.

There’s even a map showing you where it used to be.

east and west

Strange to think how the Berlin Wall came down because of a bit of a misunderstanding, eh?

We were going to head to Checkpoint Charlie next but found that the Brandenburg Gate was nearer, so we headed there instead.

the brandenburg gate

As ‘gates’ go it’s pretty impressive. It was also the perfect opportunity for me to revive my Landmark Inversions headstand series, which has been a bit lacking of late.

Thankfully I had my trusted camerawoman along with me. Always ready to help out (and freeze her fingers off in the cold weather!). We just did a quick test shot to get the framing right,

headstand test shot

and then up I went for number 74.

74. brandenburg gate headstand

Round the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is the German parliament, the Reichstag.

the reichstag building

It’s quite a building as well, though Lena was far more excited to find some ‘west German’ and ‘east German’ traffic lights right next to each other, so that she could finally show me the difference between the two (east in front, west in back).

stop and go

By now it was getting really cold, so we hit the Underground rather than walk all the way back to go see Checkpoint Charlie.

lost?

There’s actually not lot there when you arrive. Lots of ‘museums’ and ‘experiences’, lots of places called things like ‘Checkpoint Charlie Curry’, as well as places selling Russian and American army hats. But the actual checkpoint itself is just a little nondescript hut in the middle of the road.

checkpoint charlie, looking into 'east' berlin

There’s also a sign warning you you’re “Leaving The American Sector” (as if you wouldn’t notice the armed guards!).

leaving america

Strangely, the other side doesn’t say you are ‘Leaving The Russian Sector’ but ‘Entering The American Sector’. Have a think on that for a moment if you will.

entering america

For me it was time for another headstand photo, and this is the only one where I have explicitly paid to be allowed to take it (I’ve paid to get in places but any photos I’ve taken within have always been free).

75. checkpoint charlie headstand

It’s also the only one where I’ve gotten a small round of applause from the twenty or so people who suddenly gathered there while I was standing on my head, so all in all I don’t begrudge the two euros it cost me.

By now we were getting hungry, so off we went on our burger mission!

I’d found a place on Happy Cow called Sun Day Burgers, which promised a tofu burger with lots of healthy stuff to go with it.

sun day burger

They only sell the tofu burger, smoothies, and raw cakes, so there wasn’t much choice. We both went for the burger with chilli sauce (as I personally didn’t like the sound of the peanut or mango sauces). When it came it looked very tasty.

sun day tofu burger

Sadly the chilli sauce was so hot that after a few bites that’s all you could taste. I tried washing it down with my smoothie, but it had so much ginger in, it was overpowering as well! Perhaps we are both too sensitive to strong flavours these days, since we eat so healthily all the time, but we both found it a bit much.

We had some cake afterwards (which wasn’t cheap!); a raw pineapple cheesecake and a lime and avocado concotion,

raw pineapple and lime cake

but they too were a but heavy on the flavouring as well. All told it was quite an experience!

We like fries with our burgers, and since they didn’t have any at Sun Day Burgers we came away a bit hungry still. Thankfully, just round the corner was salvation!

chips!

Boy did they taste good. 🙂

happy belly

Our bellies finally full it’s off to the movies we go.

cine star, sony centre, berlin

The Cine Star in the Sony Centre to be precise. One of the last places to be showing…

der hobbit, in english

(“Der Hobbit”, in English)

It’s been out long enough you’ve probably seen it by now, but for the next paragraph I’m saying:

*SPOILER ALERT*

We enjoyed the movie, but it was a little long, and definitely not enough dragon. The whole Smaug bit at the start should have come at the end of the second film. They obviously only tacked it on here to make us go watch this one. Without it it’s just a lot of dwarves, elves and orcs (and humans) going at each other hammer and tongs. I mean, don’t get me wrong, enjoyable enough, but still no justification for stretching one small book into three long movies.

*ALERT OVER*

All in all it was a very successful trip. We saw a lot, did a lot of new things, and got the photos to prove it. Last LOTR movie seen, a new burger tried, and two new headstand pictures created. Fell asleep on the train on the way home, which is always the sign of a good day I reckon.

All told I think it’s safe to say,

Mission To Berlin : Accomplished

Fun At 40 : The Aurora Borealis, part 1

Well my friends. I am officially forty! I have begun a new decade. I tick a different box on the census form. I can justifiably start referring to people younger than me as ‘Kid’ (not that I have any intention of doing that, lol).

I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. When I turned thirty I hired out a screening room in Soho and had a surprise showing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for all my friends, before going on to a pub to play pool all night (still officially the coolest thing I have ever done).

This time I wanted to do something off my bucket list, and since it only contains two items, and I’ve already ridden an elephant, it’s off to see the Northern Lights I go!

There are a number of ways you can do this. You can fly to Norway and take a dog sled ride from your log cabin out to the middle of nowhere where you will enjoy a majestic display against a backdrop of icy tundra, for which you will pay through the nose; or you can fly to Iceland where you will be picked up from your hotel in Reykjakvik in a 4×4 with seat warmers and driven out to the countryside to hopefully see something magical. I chose the latter.

aurora forecast

Checking the forecast a couple of days before everything looked good. There was a strong chance of there being some lights, and the cloud cover was low where we would be (Reykjavik is in the south west corner of Iceland, in case you were wondering). I was fairly confident of getting to see something, all I had to do was get there. That, though, would prove to be a close run thing!

Lena flew in the night before so that we could head out the next day from Gatwick. We stayed at a Travelodge nearby, which was quite comfy and even spacious enough for us both to do yoga at the same time.

travelodge yoga

It should have been a simple matter of jumping on the transfer shuttle, going to the airport, and going through security. But it seems the Gods had other plans.

I’d left some things I needed in the car – my book, trunks for the thermal pools, headphones for listening to Sigur Ros whilst viewing the lights – so I had to head back to the long term car park to get them before we left. Ok, perfectly do-able. But then the shuttle bus driver spent twenty minutes getting chatted up by some bloke at one of the hotels. I had to wait ages for the parking bus to come to take me to the car park. Going through security took a while as they decided they wanted to go through Lena’s entire bag. All in all we probably lost about an hour of free time just with faffing about.

But we still had time (I thought) for a bit of breakfast. After searching for somewhere that still did some kind of veggie fry up (it was past 11am and most places were on their lunch menu by now) we eventually found Armadillo, who could do something we both could enjoy.

NB: Our flight was at 12:30pm.

armadillos, gatwick airport

We told them we were in a hurry, and I’m sure they did their best, but it was getting close to noon by the time our food arrived.

gatwick brekkie

We got it down us, paid, and started sauntering towards the gate, confident of having a good half an hour or so before departure. Then I saw the departure board.

“Iceland Air to Reykjavik – Gate Closed”

Then I heard the announcement.

“Would Keith Dickinson and Lena Muh.. Mehr… Mary? Please make their way to Gate 57 as the flight is now ready to depart.”

Cue the two of us pelting through Gatwick Airport, luggage bouncing around behind us, weaving through the Duty Free section at full speed trying not to kill anyone along the way. Thank God our gate was right near the terminal and not one of those ones that’s miles away! We turned a corner and there it was. That was a relief, let me tell you.

As we apologetically gave them our boarding cards I saw one of them call down to another member of staff who was obviously on her way to close the doors. It was closer than I had thought. Still twenty minutes to our departure time mind you, but anyway. You can’t argue with them. Airlines have their own sense of time.

We got on the plane and, to save time, they gave us a mini upgrade to two standard seats right by the door with more legroom. Well, I say mini upgarde, it was more like, “These two are free. Sit here!” ..lol.. Either way, we weren’t complaining. We were just happy to be on the flight.

destination iceland

It’s three hours from Gatwick to Keflavik, a nifty little flight that starts off by taking you most the way up England before cutting through between Scotland and Ireland.

on our way

you are now passing...

scotland

We had fun monkeying around on the flight, discussing how nice it would be if you could jump out the window and bounce around on the clouds,

up in the clouds

and trying to take a selfie that wasn’t terrible.

my name is earl moment

It wasn’t long before we got our first look at Iceland.

first sight of iceland

And then we were coming in to land.

coming in to keflavik

The coach from the airport to Reykjavik took 45 minutes, and from the bus station to our hotel even longer. But finally we made it to the FossHotel Baron, which was right by the water, and which had a view ‘remarkably’ similar to the one we had in Queenstown, NZ.

checking the lists

sea views

the less remarkables

Check out the crazy geothermal hot water.

geothermal waters

They pump it up straight out of the ground straight to your home. No messing with it, nothing. Which is awesome, but does mean your shower will smell a bit eggy! Something which we never stopped finding amusing. If there was laughter coming from the bathroom that was usually why. 🙂

Daylight hours are short in Iceland in February, so once we were settled in we just had enough time for a bit of a walk before going to get some food.

Lena had printed out the listings from Happy Cow so we had plenty of places to choose from. We ate at Piccolo Italia, a lovely little place that did us some garlic bread, two pizzas, a tiramisu, and some delicious almond tea for just under 8000Kr.

almond tea

garlic bread

peasant pizza

vegetable pizza

tiramisu

The food was excellent, and a great way to start our stay. We took a few shots of Reykjavik at night on our circuitous way back to the hotel (I think we got a little lost, lol),

giant boat

reykjavik cathedral by night

and by the end I was happy to retire having had a very successful, if slightly frantic, last day as a thirty nine year old.

***

I started my forties as I mean to go on, with a long lie in!

yin yoga, bed style

Actually, that’s me doing some yin yoga on the bed because my back was acting up a bit.Talk about feeling your age, lol. Really did the trick though. I felt loads better after that.

While I was doing that Lena did some proper yoga.

hotel room yoga

Of course all that yoga meant we were too late for the hotel breakfast, but we consoled ourselves with a brunch type thing at the Laundromat Cafe.

I had pina colada tea,

I spy with my little eye...

Lena had a veggie burger,

laundromat veggie burger

and I had their ‘clean’ veggie brunch (the ‘dirty’ being full of meat).

laundromat big brekkie

It was pretty nice, and really set us up for the day.

chomp!

Because we would be out late that night we’d earmarked most of the day for wandering and shopping. Not that I bought much that day. I was more into looking around the city, checking out the cool architecture and the excellent views.

my house, reykjavik

the slightly more  remarkables

shades of new zealand

shades of queenstown

sunset mountain

The bit I was most looking forward to was my birthday cake at Cafe Babalu! 😀

cafe babalu

We’d seen there was a vegan carrot cake on the menu, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

Lena had brought a candle to stick on top, so I had to document the occasion,

capturing the cake

birthday carrot cake

before blowing it out and making a wish.

make a wish

The cake was excellent! As was the soy hot chocolate. And we really liked the cafe too. From it’s crazy decor,

fluffy moose

babalu art

to it’s Star Wars themed bathroom, we enjoyed being there so much we decided to come right back after walking off the cake to have have something to eat before the evening’s main attraction – the Northern Lights.

babalu veggie chilli

babalu veggie lasagna

I’d booked a Northern Lights 4×4 tour because I didn’t want to be stuck on a big coach with loads of other people. I thought it would be more personal, and that we’d go to more out of the way places, and hence have a better chance of a good show. I was partly right.

fun

We were picked up from our hotel and driven out to a kind of lay-by, where we waited for the other two vehicles in our group to arrive.

4x4xfun

the gathering

off to see the lights

Our first attempt at seeing anything involved a bumpy off road drive up this icy valley.

off road

It became apparent quite early on that it was too cloudy up that way and we probably wouldn’t have much luck. So instead our guides decided to hit the road and do a sprint north to try and find clearer skies.

This involved a 6km drive under the sea.

6km of tunnel

Emerging on the other side of the bay, we had a quick pit-stop,

quiznos pit-stop

then we were off again into the middle of nowhere.

We ended up parked up this dirt road in what was basically some farmland. There’d been some activity along the way, so we were hoping for some light. Unfortunately, the cloud, which had been moving off, came in again. And though we saw a bit through the gaps, it wasn’t what we were hoping for.

Here’s the pics I took. Let me tell you, it looks more impressive on camera than it did in real life.

aurora 1, long exposure

aurora 1.2

aurora 1.3

aurora 1.4

aurora 1.5

As you can see, there’s something, but nothing amazing. I had hoped that the tour company’s guarantee meant they would take us out again the next night, but that was it apparently (one of the reasons I’m not advertising them here). I mean it was an ok tour, and we did see some light, but I was hoping for so much more, and I certainly didn’t feel like I’d got my money’s worth.

It was 1am by the time we got back, and we were so tired after standing out in the cold for hours that we just passed out in the warmth of our room and got ourselves some well earned rest.

Flying Through Singapore

Well, my fellow yogis, it’s a new year and time for a new beginning. Time to make new plans, do new things, and go new places. But in order to do that properly we need to put the old to rest. 🙂

So here’s the last post from my travels of last year. This is what I got up to on my week in Singapore, as I waited to fly back to London. And since it was so long ago, and my memory ain’t what it used to be (I’m getting old y’know – I’ll be forty in February!), it’ll mostly be a post in pictures, with a few comments on the side.

I flew out from Bali. I love flying, even if I get a bit nervous over open water, and I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the take off.

fascinated

I finally got to have a good look at Bali,

bali from the air

tips

bye bye bali

but as we left it’s beautiful countryside behind,

islands in the sky

it was time to get down to business.

singapore reserves the right to kill you

It’s unnerving to read that a country reserves the right to kill you! Only when I read that did I remember that Singapore is the country that imprisons you for spitting (though when I was there I saw at least on person do it and get away with it). Made me a little uncertain about what lay ahead.

I was staying at the YHA, which was in fact part of a Butlins type resort. Meant it was full of people and noisy a lot of the time. And there was no kitchen so you had to eat out. But at least there was a bit of space in the room to do yoga.

singapore yha yoga

There wasn’t actually much I wanted to do in Singapore. It was just a stop-over on my way back to London. I planned on visiting the Raffles Hotel, and when I found out there was a Universal Studios there I wanted to go there too!, but apart from that the only other thing I was interested in seeing was the Singapore Flyer.

the singapore flyer

It was a bit rainy in Singapore when I was there, like thundery rainy, so I had to pick the least wet day to go. Even so it still ended up being a bit gray and miserable. Still, wotcha gonna do?

Here’s the whole thing in pictures. They’re fairly self explanatory so I won’t bore you with too many words. Not that I knew what I was looking at anyway, lol. It’s was just a load of stuff to me.

Boarding.

ready to board

The view.

the hub

coming in to land

A city of constant construction,

constant construction

and occasional Formula 1 races.

formula 1 pits

A shipping hub.

I see no ships!

metal and grass

A centre for commerce.

singapore 2

pod

we've peaked!

up top

Of course I did a headstand at the top, taken by one of these two gentlemen.

what's that?

It was a tough shoot, with the flat gray light. The out-takes were good,

right exposure, wrong angle

but this is the ‘official’ headstand shot. Number 68 in the series.

68. singapore flyer headstand

(I plan on reaching 100 this year! ;))

singa-ore flyer

buddies

the harbour

singapore

so much going on

Coming in to land.

shapes

wires

Disembarking.

off and on

While I was there I went to have a look at some of the crazy buildings they have round there.

unique construction

On the left is a hotel with a garden on the roof, and on the right is an art gallery. I was interested in visiting both, but they were too expensive, so i just hung around outside soaking up the atmosphere.

singapore 3

lillies and sky scrapers

water lillies

By this time I was hungry, so I used my Happy Cow app to find the Loving Hut which I knew was round there somewhere.

loving hut lunch, singapore

Delicious!

A couple of days later it was time for something I was really looking forward to; Universal Studios!

universal studios, singapore

I was keen to see how it compared to the one in LA. Of course it wouldn’t be the same, but I wanted to see the differences.

welcome to hollywood singapore

new york public library

I started off easy, with a stand and watch experience.

spielberg's movie set show

But it wasn’t long before I was strapping myself in for the ride! 😀

sci fi city

The Transformers ride was the same as in LA, which isn’t a bad thing. I loved the one in LA, and i loved the one here too.

The Battlestar Gallactica ride would have been awesome I reckon, but it was raining too much for the outdoor rides to be open unfortunately. 😦

dampened enthusiasm

I did the Revenge of the Mummy,

revenge of the mummy

which I forgot how scary it was, lol. And I did a couple of Jurassic Park rides.

jurassic park!

The Rapids Adventure,

jurassic rapids ride

at which I took distinct advantage of their Single Rider queue jumping policy! 😀

lone rider queue jump

The ride ends with a big drop into water at the end,

splash down

one film, two rides

the survivors

end of the ride

at which I got absolutely soaked! ..lol..

soaked!

After a very disappointing bit of food I hit the Madagascar ride.

madagascar ride

It was more for kids but I was on a roll and wanted to do as many rides as I could.

The best laugh was when I came out to find these guys knocking about.

madagascar

penguins!

a stranger encounter

Of course I had to finish off with the Waterworld show.

waterworld set

I really enjoyed the one in LA, so would this one be any different?

First up, the guys did a great job of warming the audience up, even going as far as having a bit of audience participation.

Then the real show began.

waterworld  2

waterworld 1

waterworld 3

waterworld 4

Ending of course with the grand finale!

And a smoky finale it was too!

waterworld, after the finale

After all that excitement there was just time for a cup of tea and a slice of cake,

end of day cake

and a quick stroll along the fake walk of fame,

(half) my name on the (fake) hollywood walk of fame

before it was time to head home.

dusk by the island

sentosa island

My last day in Singapore I headed back to the Loving Hut in Suntec City for a final good meal (almost, the airport would hold a nice surprise for me later).

loving hut, singapore

loving hut burger

Yup, that’s another burger, lol.

loving hut cheesecake

Then it was time to check out the Raffles Hotel.

raffles hotel sign

raffle ote

hotel fountain detail

raffles hotel fountain

I was tempted to have a Singapore Sling, but the place was so rammed with tourists, and I don’t drink anyway, that I decided to give it a miss.

the raffles hotel

And that was it really. I headed out the next day. There were a few other things I did, like some nice food I had,

komala's curry

and some rather un-yogic amusement I got from the funny shop names, lol,

wanko

heavenly wang

but mostly that’s what I got up to when it wasn’t raining.

I had one final amazing meal at the airport,

meal at ananda bhavan, singapore airport

which I thought was a real bargain!

cheap as chips!

Really sorted me out for the long flight home. Thanks again Happy Cow.

And with that I boarded the plane,

coming home 1

boarded a train,

coming home 2

and hopped on Shank’s Pony,

coming home 3

to wend my way back home. 🙂

And that concludes the post for my epic trip around the world. There’ll be another post coming soon outlining what I’m up to now (back at work) and what my plans are (Iceland, Germany, France), but for now I’ll just say Happy New Year and have a great 2014! 🙂

Om Om!

Vegan Ubud

I’m currently bombing around the south of England, staying in hostels, and doing the odd bit of TV work here and there, so there’s not much interesting to report at the moment (but maybe soon…!).

So anyway, it’s time for a little bit of retro blogging. And as the nights draw in, and the air turns cold, what better thing to contemplate than good, tasty food in warmer, sunnier climes?

grub's up!

I really didn’t expect Bali to be a haven for vegan food, but to my delight I was more than pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it was the fact that I was in Ubud, the more hippy part of the island, but when it came to vegan places to eat (and vegan options) I was spoilt for choice!

I won’t go into the many pizza places and curry houses that could and would easily, and happily, make minor adjustments to their vegetarian options to make them vegan. Instead I’m going to highlight the best three vegan eateries I came across on my many bimbles around Ubud.

The Yoga Barn Cafe

Naturally, this place I came across after doing a bit of yoga at the yoga barn below. Actually, from where you sit you get a nice view of the Yoga Barn itself, and the so-called ‘amphitheatre’ space in front of it.

amphitheatre, from the cafe

It’s a nice place to sit, but though there seems to be plenty of room, I went there twice to eat only to find two of the big tables were reserved and all the rest were full, and so I had to abandon the idea. With that in mind, if you do fancy giving it a go, time your arrival for at least five minutes before one of the yoga classes turfs out.

yoga barn cafe

As is often the way when I am somewhere new (and when there’s the possibility) I plumped for the burger. In my year of traveling I’ve had them in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Toodyay, Perth (twice), Pemberton, Adelaide, Byron Bay, New Plymouth and Queenstown, so why should Ubud be any different? 🙂

yoga barn veggie burger

It didn’t come in a bun, but in a kind of pitta bread, which makes it more of a lentil patty than a burger in my book. But anyway…

Actually, the pitta proved useful, as the ‘burger’ – as so many other lentil burgers do – tended to fall to pieces when you bit into it. So having a pocket of bread to catch it in was kind of handy.

Integrity aside, the burger itself was pretty tasty. One of those ones that you can tell was put together from healthy ingredients, and so is good for you. I can’t complain about the quality of what I actually managed to get in my mouth.

iced mint thingy

I washed it down with a mint smoothie that was, as advertised, just a big bunch of mint blended with a lot of ice. It did the trick, not only quenching my thirst, but garnering the admiration of those around me, lol. To be admired for your choice of beverage is an odd thing indeed!

For dessert (and let’s be honest, the real reason I was there!) I had a raw mixed berry ‘cheesecake’; one of the many delicious desserts they had on offer.

mixed berry raw vegan cheesecake

It was, quite simply, excellent. I’d have it again and again. Then I’d have some more, and probably regret it. But then I’d take some home as well. It’s a good cake.

yoga barn lunch

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the sort of place for you to indulge too much. Unlike a lot of Ubud, they know their clientele has money, and they set their prices accordingly. I’d say their prices were a good twenty percent above everywhere else. That’s not to say they weren’t serving quality food, and probably paid extra for good ingredients, but just so you know there’s cheaper places to go.

The Vegan Warung

The Loving Hut is one of those chain restaurants that I seek out wherever I am. The politics of their ‘religion’ might be a bit… unorthodox, but you can’t deny they do a nice bit of scran; if a little heavy on the mock meats.

So far I’ve been to the ones in Hong Kong, Camden (London), San Francisco (three of them), Los Angeles, Auckland, New Plymouth, and Singapore (to come in a future post). So with such a variety of locations, it should be no surprise they’ve made it to Bali as well.

'loving hut' ubud, bali

Actually, the place I went to wasn’t called The Loving Hut, but the Vegan Warung (‘warung’ basically meaning cafe). Not that they were any different from the others. Same choice of menu – being vegan food; the actual options vary greatly depending on what country you’re in – and the ubiquitous TV in the corner playing often off-putting programs.

a nice place to relax

I liked it better than some of the other Loving Huts I’ve been in to be honest. It had it’s own low-key style, and thanks to that it was nice and comfy being there.

go veg, go green

I had the nasi goreng, which is a kind of noodley thing. It was so good it barely touched the sides going down. I was absolutely starving when I went there! Thankfully, by the time I left, I was quite satiated.

tasty close up

I washed it down with a bit of green tea, a pot of which put out a good three cups or so.

nasi goreng and green tea

It was a good, simple meal, that cost me about 39,000 IDR (that’s £2:10 to you and me! – 2:50 EUR, 3:35 USD, 3:60 AUD).

I was glad I’d stuck with the walking mission to get there, along Jalan Raya Ubud (east, away from the Palace). It’s further out than any of the maps make out. Not a million miles, but enough to make you doubt yourself. It’s worth the effort, but I’d be sure to pop to the loo before you head back: Not because of the distances involved though, but because it’s so darn cute. 😉

loving loo

Sari Organik

Sari Organik was recommended by the two American girls I met doing the elephant ride, and with it’s mix of vegan food and out of the way location amongst the rice paddies of Bali how could I stay away? I’d been itching to get amongst the terraces all week, and if I could walk there myself, well all the better.

The walk itself would test my navigation skills to their utmost. With no Google Maps to rely on (not that it’s the most reliable for Ubud anyway) I was reduced to doing it old school; scribbling things on freebie maps.

getting there is half the fun

X marks the spot I was trying to get to, up near the top of the map, and my start point was somewhere off the bottom of the page, just below the Yoga Barn (the green blob near the bottom right corner). It’s a heck of a walk, but I had all day and nothing else to do, so I was in no rush.

Thankfully, my old orienteering skills kicked in. You’ll see on the left I’ve marked Campuan Bridge. I was confident of getting to Jalan Raya Ubud, the main road, and so I knew that if I headed along there and got as far as a bridge I’d gone too far. That gave me a small selection of turnings to choose from. One of them would be the one I wanted for sure. Would that life were so simple, lol. 🙂

I wandered past the turning I needed to take at least once. That’s because it wasn’t so much a proper road as a bit of a semi-private side street. I only investigated it as the two girls had said that the path to Sari Organik as a bit obscure, but if it wasn’t for this sign up near the end of the ‘street’

rice fields this way

I doubt I would have ventured much further.

But now I was on the right path, and with a lack of deviations (thank God), all I had to do was walk and I was there.

Despite being hungry, I actually didn’t mind not knowing if I’d find it or not. I was also there to see rice paddies, and there was certainly no shortage of them!

what I'd been looking for

paddies along the way

growth

I could live here

palms and waterways

many levels

It was a good 5-10 minute walk up the narrow path to Sari Organik, and not only were there fascinating views to enjoy, but there were many scooters whizzing past to keep you on your toes!

watch out for the mopeds

Scooters are a primary form of transport in Bali, and they’re also quite popular with visiting foreigners, but I’ve no idea why? Honestly, walking round Ubud, I’ve never seen so many people with scrapes and breaks on their knees and elbows. Seems like a lethal occupation to me.

Anyway, it wasn’t long until I reached Sari Organik.

sari organik

The sign and gigantic rock were fairly obvious, but just in case you weren’t paying attention they even had their name written on the path itself.

welcome

Inside was lovely and open,

sari organik interior

and even though the balcony (the place to be!) was all full,

sari organik balcony

I managed to get myself a prime spot in the corner with some excellent views.

triumphant!

view 1

view 2

view 3

view 5

view 4

Now here’s where I show my Bad Blogger habits (and we get an abject lesson in taking notes). I can’t for the life of me remember what it was I ate! I mean I got a photo. This is it:

what did I eat?

But I can’t tell you what it was called? I just can’t remember. I think it was something beginning with C, but that’s the best I can do. I mean you can see from the picture, there’s some tofu stuff in yellow stuff, some tempura vegetables, some rice, a fried veggie patty thing, and some nutty creation (the brown stuff at the back), but that’s the best I can do I’m afraid.

I can tell you it was lovely though. A nice mix of food, very fresh, and very tasty. I approve of my random choice, even if I can’t remember what it was called. 🙂

What wasn’t so tasty was the chocolate sorbet I had.

chocolate sorbet

I treated myself to a dessert after the mission to get there, but I wish I hadn’t. It was just plain nasty. I tried a few bits and then shoved it aside, utterly convinced that chocolate was not meant to be a sorbet, ever!, and whoever was responsible for this monstrosity should be punished. Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little, but the fact remains: Don’t eat the chocolate sorbet!

minty drink thing

Thankfully I had another minty green drink to wash the taste away. Similar to the one I had at Yoga Barn, this had some other green stuff in it besides mint, but what it was I couldn’t say. It too escapes me. It was good though, that much I do remember.

Of the three meals I’m outlining in this post this was the middle priced of the three. Value for money, and not just because of the walk, I’d recommend going there any time.

***

COMPETITION TIME: How many chicks can you spot in this picture?

bali chicks

No prize other than your own smug self-satisfaction. Answers in the comments section below please. 🙂

***

After the meal I went for a wander further up the track, just to see what was there. And, in no particular order, here’s a few of the shots I took that you might like.

into the fields

uniform rows

greens

for rent

bali butterfly

pedal power

waterway

yellow and green

climbing vine

worked by hand

And my favourite three pics I took on my long, nay epic, walk along the Sari Organik path:

rice

home sweet home

silhouettes and reflections

😀

Ubud And The Sacred Monkey Forest

Ah, Bali.

I really had no idea what to expect going there. All I knew about the place is that it’s where Elizabeth Gilbert went at the end of her big spiritual journey, and you can ride elephants there. So I kind of expected it to be full or pachyderms, and middle aged women on bicycles clutching well thumbed copies of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. I was wrong on both counts.

I flew in to Denpasar airport,

denpasar airport

and paid the princely sum of 250,000 Indonesian rupiah (IDR) – about £13:80 – for the one hour taxi ride from there to Ubud, near the centre of the island.

The first thing I noticed was the Balinese love of statues. They were many and varied.

statue 1

statue 2

The second thing I noticed was the crazy random vehicles you got on the road. Never mind all the scooters, I saw a forklift heading down the main road,

forklift

and this turned out to be a police pick-up transporting prisoners.

bored copper

At one point my driver, who wasn’t the most approachable chap, announced he needed a drink. So he just pulled over, hopped out, and left me there with the engine running.

abandoned!

I was glad when the busy, warehouse lined, dual-carriageway started winding it’s way out of the city and into more open country.

countryside

a glimpse of rice paddies

rice paddy postcard

And I was very glad to finally get to my hotel in Ubud (my one hour taxi ride taking a good two hours because of all the crazy traffic).

I’d splashed out a bit, and was staying at the Casa Ganesha Hotel, for just under 3,000,000 IDR (£181) for the week. It looked very promising as I walked in,

casa ganesha

entranceway and restaurant

the pool

ganesha's courtyard

our ganesha

and I had no complaints about the room.

my room

the balcony

the view from my balcony

The main road was crazy busy with traffic (constantly) so I was happy to be at the back away from all that. The facilities were excellent – air-con, TV, free wifi – and you even got a choice of free breakfasts each morning. Check this out!

breakfast, pt 1

breakfast, pt 2

I was quite partial to the fruit salad and banana pancake combo, and had that more than once. But I wasn’t averse to the cinnamon toast as well, and both were an excellent way to start your day.

The first couple of days I just wandered about a bit, got my bearings. The pavements were a bit haphazard,

mind your step

so you had to keep your wits about you (I tripped several times as I was walking while gaping into shop windows, but thankfully I didn’t fall down any holes).

But everywhere there were glimpses of Ganesha; the Remover of Obstacles,

a glimpse of gansha

so I wasn’t too concerned.

There were also offerings everywhere – outside every shop, gateway, by every statue, and anywhere else they could think to put them;

an offering

though who they were to and what they were for I never found out.

And there was yoga. All kinds of yoga stuff all over the place.

yoga laundry

I was looking forward to some of that (though that’s a subject for a post of it’s own).

Apart from yoga and riding elephants, a little research came up with two things you could do in Ubud that were meant to be good; visit the Ubud Palace, and visit the Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

I gave the palace a go first, and was woefully disappointed. You couldn’t go inside (as far as I could see anyway), they had these ‘STOP’ signs everywhere,

stop!

so you just got to wander around a small part of the grounds a bit looking at a few stone carvings.

palace doorway

just plain weird

doorway detail

wall carving

By far the superior of the two options was the Monkey Forest.

The monkeys were awesome. Crazy, cheeky, and a little bit sneaky, you had to keep your eye on them or they’d be away with whatever you had!

popping the cap

taking a swig

The forest itself had some beautiful and unexpected architecture,

monkey forest 1

monkey forest 2

sacred spring lizard statues

moss covered lizard

as well as some less architectural man-made enhancements,

bamboo bridge

monkey forest 3

forest offering

big bamboo bridge

monkey forest 4

but of course the best bit was the monkeys. 😀

You had lone monkeys just hanging out,

feeling lazy

monkey, lion

families of monkeys just doing their thing,

monkey family

baby monkey, baby monkey...

just sittin' on a wall

tackling a banana

mum

and cheeky monkeys just being cheeky.

nyah!

A monkeys life is a simple one. When you’re not begging for bananas, or trying to steal stuff off tourist, most of your time is spent laying around grooming or being groomed (so it seems).

grooming

that's not right!

great fun!

I can’t say I don’t envy them that, lol.

The monkeys may be crazy, but what drove me nuts was I couldn’t stop singing the song from the following video as I wandered around the place. And I bet you’ll be singing it too by the end of it. 😉