I’m jumping around a bit in my posts – I’ve been on so many little trips recently that I still need to fill you in on, from Venice, to Valencia, London, Oktoberfest and a few little side trips around Austria still to come – so I hope you’ll forgive the broken timelines. Despite all these wonderful little jaunts, my heart right now keeps returning to memories of Bali. Perhaps because the weather here in Vienna is turning grey and the daylight hours are getting shorter, or maybe because we’ve had enough distance from the after-effects of Bali-belly (yes, its real, and no, you don’t want the details). Whatever the reason my brain keeps skipping to snippets of our little paradise island and the incredible start to our summer break. So, to make my daydreams more useful, I thought I’d share a few insider tips for travelling to Bali, in particular, Nusa Lembongan.
I straight up loved Nusa Lembongan. It was the perfect mix of a small-scale touristy development and rough island escape, just off the east coast of the main island, between Bali & Lombok.
Our main reason for visiting Bali was a wedding, so we had a lovely first week filled with family, cocktails, friends and celebrating on the mainland of Bali. However, after a week of Aussie-style partying and touristy resort-style holidaying in Legian we were ready for a change of gears, which Nusa Lembongan certainly delivered.
The easiest way to get there is via little local boats, as there’s a number of companies that run transfers direct from Sanur. We went with Scoot because the internetz assured us it was the most reliable and well priced cruise line, but we later found out any one of the 6 or so major operators would be cheaper and just as reliable. It can be a rough ride over if the weather is a little choppy, so if you’re not great with small boat transfers, brace yourself to look like this after a 45 minute ride:
Arriving on the island felt like stepping back to how Bali might have been 20-odd years ago. Before the mega clubs, the Aussie influx and ‘investment properties boom’, before super-hotels and McDonalds and Starbucks and KFC and cheap surf-shops and Eat, Pray, Love tours. Nusa Lembongan is still a touristy spot, but I actually saw locals in the streets, grilling fish, working, riding mopeds and going about their daily lives that weren’t wholly focussed on servicing tourists. Speaking of streets – there’s one. Just one, single street. It consists wholly of broken up bitumen, gravel and dirt – suitable only for mopeds.
There’s also only one ATM on the whole island – which can cut out for days at a time depending on the power supply, so come to the island cashed up and make sure you have credit cards to pay at hotels and some restaurants. The warungs where locals eat will most definitely not have EFTPOS machines, but the bigger, regular restaurants will.
In terms of food there’s only really two restaurants I would wholeheartedly recommend:
Bali Hai Located on Mushroom Bay, right where a lot of day-transfer boats do drop-offs, this restaurant was connected to the Hai Tide Beach Resort and had reliably, deliciously good food. Toward our second week on the island both S and I were struggling with the delicate Bali-belly, so Bali Hai became one of our go-to restaurants, as we knew the food quality was good, nothing was going to make us sick(er) and most of all, the views were to die for. You are literally sat on the beach-front watching the waves roll in as the sun sets. It’s open seating so you can stroll up in your thongs (flip flops for you non-Aussies) straight from the beach and enjoy their excellent service and drinks list. There’s even little bean bags out the front on the sand so you can sit and relax in a group. I really enjoyed my steak here and the creme brûlée is excellent – but you could stay for the views alone…..
Sand and ocean are RIGHT THERE, behind the cute boy’s head
Sandy Beach Resort: This was our brunch lifesaver. I’m all about eating local and enjoying the culture of a place i’m visiting, but when it comes to brunch, all bets are off. Sandy Beach Resort has been designed exactly for the likes of me – a traveller who enjoys their home-style good coffee, likes to indulge in breakfasts and cannot pass up a beautiful beachfront seat. While dinner here is superb, it’s a lot pricier than anywhere else on the island. We tended to visit here in the mornings to mix up the monotony of our hotel brekkie. Sandy Bay is best when it’s near-to-empty, quiet and you can be guaranteed a table right on the sand to luxuriate over breakfast. The bliss of waking up early, jumping on a moped with your lover to enjoy a relaxed brunch overlooking the surf is as close to heaven as it gets for me. This place also hosts weddings and is jam packed at night – you’re best to book a table in advance. The restaurant will also organise a shuttle to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Otherwise the moped journey home in the dark can be treacherous!
We loved it over coffee in the morning….
….and over cocktails at sunset
Which brings us to my final tip for Nusa Lembongan. Beware where you stay. Although looking at the map on Booking.com you will notice most hotels are situated on the main central strip of Jungut Batu Beach, do not stay there. You’ll be close to the sometimes-working ATM, but the hotels and restaurants and beachfront here are not great. They were some of the earliest built accommodations and the area is more designed for the serious surfers who want a cheap place to stay that’s super close to the surf breaks. If you want a proper island getaway resort, find a place in and around Mushroom Bay, Tamarind Beach or Dream Beach, all of which have very reasonably priced options. Or if you really want to get away from the world then there’s a few special places on the connected island of Nusa Cenigan – slightly further removed from the ‘town centre’ but completely idyllic and quiet. There’ll be more about my favourite beach there in a later post….
We stayed at the lovely Nanuk’s Beach Bungalows in traditional thatch-roof huts and enjoyed the extremely friendly staff (Jacob is the BEST) and laid-back atmosphere. Most accommodations will rent you out a moped to get around easily. For about €4 a day its an absolute must-do to explore the wilds of the tiny island and really feel like a local.
There’s a lot of reasons to visit Nusa Lembongan. For the cheesy photos, for the authentic Balinese atmosphere (even though tourism is clearly taking hold of the place) for the views, for the slower pace of daily life that forces you to relax, for the stories you’ll bring back. But mostly, you should go there to strong-arm your mister into taking freckle-faced selfies, to run around barefoot in a sarong all day and to feel completely young and free on the back of a moped, no matter what age you are.
When on holiday, I always manage to eat way more food than usual. I’m not talking about eating to fuel your body, but eating as the main – and sometimes only – activity of the day. Serious food dedication. With nothing else pressing on the agenda, eating exotically can become the sole focus of holiday activities. A dangerous and delicious slippery slope! This was the unavoidable situation I found myself in when I travelled back home to Melbourne for a short visit late last year.
S pondering his next meal choice…
Luckily, Melbourne has a massive foodie scene, and the restaurants you trip across down back alleys (literally) are usually gourmet delights. I could (and have) spent days trying out different cafe’s, brunch spots, hidden bars, hipster hangouts and lush restaurants. Food art is taken very, very seriously and the atmosphere of the restaurant is nearly as important as the food itself. So, what rocked my boat?? Read on…
I miss brunch. I yearn for poached eggs and wilted spinach on a sourdough toast when in Vienna. Brunch used to be my Sunday habit when I lived in Carlton. Meeting friends at a cosy cafe to debrief about the weekends shenanigans was our own kind of religion. What seemed like half of Melbourne would be doing the same. Naturally then, my first port of call on landing in town was catch up brunch:
We went to the adorable and airy John Gorilla‘s to get my my poached egg craving satisfied. Good service, great coffees and most importantly they allowed us to while away over two hours of catch up chats. Despite the place being near full, we weren’t hurried along or made to feel uncomfortable. Brilliant!
Happy brunch fans
So thrilled to be eating good brunch!!
However my favourite brunch spot of the week has to go Annoying Brother on Nicholson Street. A short stroll from buzzy Lygon Street, this place was adorable, with great spins on classic brunch items, service was chatty and friendly but not too in your face. Their coffee was so great I had one pre and post meal and the smashed avocado with feta and a poached egg was scrumptious. Plus, look how cute this place is!!
They even speak my adopted language!
I was in town for my sisters birthday, so our family had multiple excuses to go out for meals all week. The first place we went was a surprisingly lush and high end Indian Restaurant, hidden (where else?) down an alleyway in central Melbourne. I vaugely remember the site used to be a nightclub, and walking down there you almost believe you’ll be entering a dingy bar.
Melbourne’s famous alleyway street art
Shoes hanging from what I hope are not electricity lines outside the restaurant!
Once you find Tonka, it is a surprisingly gorgeous open and airy restaurant looking over Flinders Street. Completely unexpected at the bottom of an alleyway! We were there for lunch so the place was soon filled with well dressed Melburnians enjoying the extraordinarily good food.
The views before the mad lunch rush
This is not your average Indian curry and korma, this is beautifully infused, delicious and high quality Indian. An absolute highlight of the week. Service was impeccable, and the wine and cocktails were… well, lets just say our ‘lunch’ ended at 5pm, so we thoroughly enjoyed it all!!
A very close second was the much hyped Meatball & Wine Bar. Located in the alley-adjacent Flinders Lane, this place was brilliant. Who knew such wonderful things could come of eating meatballs?? We wandered in late on a Thursday evening after a hearty day of touristy shopping and were lucky enough to land a table. Apparently the wait times here can get out of control in the evening. Walking in, the place felt more like a hot-spot bar than restaurant, with dim sexy lighting, couples flirting at bench tables and a party vibe throughout. Once the food came out though, all that trendy, edgy stuff was irrelevant because man, are those meatballs good!
Alleyway restaurant must-have; artfully deconstructed brick walls.
It’s very simple really – you choose your meatball type (beef, pork, chicken or veg), select the ‘bed’ you want it to rest on (potato mash, pasta, vegies) and the sauce you want drizzled on top. Voila! It’s that straightforward, and so so delicious. My mum was telling people about her pesto mash potato for days and days afterwards. The extra fun part was the size and genius of their desserts. I can’t resist dessert – try as I might to be healthy – and I believe the Austrian love of sweet treats has only encouraged my weakness! Meatball & Wine bar did not disappoint on the dessert front, take a look at this delicious specimen:
Heaven. Or a heart attack.
That, my friends, is heavenly home made ice cream sandwiched between two cookies. The best bit is, you construct sandwich the same way you construct your main meal. By choosing from six flavours of cookies and three flavours of ice cream to create the perfect dream dessert. I went for a lemon shortbread cookie on the bottom and chocolate cookie on top with classic vanilla ice cream in between.
It. Was. Incredible.
I wish I had photographic evidence of my joy but we were so caught up in the frenzy of eating such deliciousness that there was no time for photos. We headed home in an overstuffed, satisfied food coma…but not before I noticed the drinks special on offer at the Bar:
It seems the Aussies have discovered the Austrians favourite summer cocktail. Aperol Spritzers are a must have on any self respecting Austrian menu, and finding a venue in Melbourne that sold spritzer’s by the carafe gave me a little bit of hope that maybe my two homes aren’t so far apart after all. Malzheit!
So, you’ve had a taste of Schönbrunn Palace, a swim on top of the city and enjoyed the heights of Prater Park. If you missed it, check here.
Now for the seriously cultured side of Vienna.
Head first to the Museums Quartier, or MQ as it’s known to the locals. A hub of Museums surround an enclave of cafes and comfy hang out spots within a gorgeous courtyard. This place is always energetic and inspiring.
Official photography from MQ site http://www.mqw.at/de/presse/pressefotos/das-mq/
To fuel the next few hours of looking at art, its imperative to indulge in good coffee. I’m sure that’s why MQ has so many funky cafes, the better to fortify yourself for artistic discoveries!
Artistic Prep time in the Leopold Cafe…good to go!!
The Leopold Museum is currently housing a magnificent exhibition of Schiele & Klimt, two big names of the Vienna Secession art movement. An artist friend of mine (http://sarahmasson.com.au/) was in town recently so it was the perfect excuse to finally check out the famous works.
Klimts art is pretty unavoidable in Vienna – he’s a hometown sensation, born and raised in the 14th District of Vienna. Consequently, all souvenir shops are plastered with cheap reproductions of his most famous paintings.
Pretty sure he never envisioned his work on Tins of Tea
The exhibition in the Leopold is a fascinating exploration of Klimt & Schiele’s lives, well worth spending a few hours exploring. Personally, the Schiele piece ‘Couple Embracing’ was my favourite, with Klimts ‘Life and Death’ a close second. If paintings aren’t your thing , MQ also has museums dedicated to Dance, Architecture, Musical Theatre, Modern Art and even a KinderMuseum for children.
After such a stretch of time inside, you’ll be in need of some sunshine & fresh air – head to the skies my friends. There is a wonderful rooftop cafe about 5 minutes walk from MQ where you can see across the entire Ringstrasse of Vienna. Dachboden comes with views over some of Vienna’s most famous monuments: the Natural & Art History Museums, the Rathaus, the spire of St Stephans, Hundertwassers’ Heating Tower, the WWII era Flak Towers…
Stunning blue skies not guaranteed daily!
The bar itself is very comfy, lots of cosy couches, big communal benches, the terrace is glorious (if you can get a seat) and they serve excellent local cocktails – try the Kaiser Spritz or a Hugo!
The first of many family rooftop reunions – even Dad is stoked!
From here you can round out the cultural day with a wander into the city centre, known as the 1st District. Stop by the historical Hofburg Palace en route for the must-have photo opportunity. The Hofburg was the winter palace and seat of power for the Habsburg dynasty, and the modern day President of Austria still has his residence here. Its grand, imposing and still as stunning today as when the Kaiser was in power
Spot the symbol of Imperial Austria up top – the double headed Eagle holding a crown
Maria Theresa – mother of modern Austria & Marie Antoinette – will give you her benediction on the way by
Then get up close with some statues, fountains and spectacular architecture in the 1st District
...looking at this view all day must be exhausting for him…
The 1st district is full of historical buildings, cobbled streets and ‘Fiaker’, the traditional horse & carriages of Vienna . Wandering up little alleys is the best way to find hidden treasure bookshops, cafe’s and artisan stores. More about my favourite stops to come in a future post! Wrapping up your short weekend in Vienna with a leisurely stroll through the historical centre is the best way to soak up the spirit of a city hundreds of years in the making.
I had a moment just now where I realised the things I’m taking as a given are quite strange if looked at objectively. I spent the last hour doing online Pilates classes from youtube with snow falling outside my window at the start of December. Living in an apartment that I couldn’t have imagined even if I tried to a year ago. December 5th marks my one year anniversary arrival into Austria. Obviously I’d travelled through here with Topdeck in 2011 on tours but December 5th was my arrival date in Munich, the start of my job with directski.com and the beginning of my winter in Soll and all the adventures that it bought me. The beginning of the rest of my Austrian influenced life if you want to be dramatic about it.
This is pretty much how Austrian I am now!
So much has changed since then that summarising it sounds like a movie script. I met S, got kicked out of Austria, travelled through 20-odd countries in Europe while struggling with the long distance relationship and missing him, quit my job, moved to Vienna, applied for my Visa, freaked out my parents and now live like a real live grown up in an apartment in central Europe. What the what. None of that was in my life plan. What’s interesting now, is that I can take this ridiculous life i’m living – exercising in a Viennese apartment, wearing a singlet from the 2011 Sziget festival in Hungary while watching snow fall and compiling xmas shopping lists for Australia – and its relatively normal. Does that make me strange or life crazy wonderful??
On Friday I went to the Girls Gone International Meetup and chatted with quite a few lovely women about their lives in Vienna without the meat-market feel of other Internations get-togethers. Ran into a friend again and am catching up tomorrow night for an English Book Swap. The beginnings of my own social circle. I have the capability to deal with the snowy weather now and, if this job I interviewed for on Friday comes through, I may be on the path to a ‘regular’ life and job.
This is both awesome and concerning. Awesome because god knows we need the income, even if I earn at the lower end of the pay-scale and pay 50% tax here, it will be a much needed supplement. Concerning because I left Melbourne and office work because it drove me mad. I’ve worked active jobs for the past two years and am used to a near-constantly changing environment. What i’m worried about is slipping into an unhealthy (i.e sedentary desk job) environment, and getting too comfortable within my relationship (i.e enjoying S cooking me delicious dinners nightly) to push myself into an active lifestyle. Now the good flipside of this is – I live in freakin’ Austria.
This place is like heaven to ‘active people’. I’ve never been one of those go get ’em hikers, trail walkers, outdoorsy types but this country is FULL of that attitude. If they’re not flinging themselves off mountains with off-piste skiing or Redbull challenges, they’re spending their summer days hiking in the woods, Nordic Walking around their neighbourhood parks or going for a family ‘walk’ that takes 4 hours and will probably involve a mountain. I am hoping by sheer association this healthy attitude will rub off on me. To offset the effects of schnitzels, strudels, schnapps and Christmas silliness I need to make 2013 the year I adapt the Austrian attitude to exercise!
Nordic walking is NOT this much fun
Enough of premature NYE pledges though, right now I’m happy to know that what is objectively bizarre to me – snow, in December, nice apartment, happy committed relationship- is becoming my normal. I guess normalising this bizarre stuff is all part of my expat experience and if the chats I had on Friday were anything to go by, it all gets better and better the longer you stay. To which I can only think – bring it on Vienna, I’m ready!