Italy in the summertime is about as close to a picture perfect holiday as you can get. Beautiful people, ancient ruins, tasty gelato and beaches of bronzed bodies, all of them talking with big hand gestures and oozing European cool. Wine, antipasto and long lazy evenings are the order of the day.
Life is always this fantastic in Italy – breadsticks, wine and beautiful people
As a last-minute birthday surprise in August, we headed to the Venezia region with two close friends, planning to indulge in some wine tasting, stroll the Piazzas of Venice and live the bella vita – what could be easier?
Ready to conquer Italian living
Turns out, everything. Everything could have been easier. We chose one of the wettest summers on record (according to our chatty cab driver) to visit. We ended up driving laps of the highway entrance to Venice. We lost €100 buying a single slice of Pizza.We got stuck in traffic trying to find Jesolo. We spent 1.5 hours on a local bus because we left it too late to get the direct connection to our hotel. We managed to visit Venice on possibly the greyest day I’ve ever seen there.
And every disastrous minute of it was wonderful.
They say travelling is a true test of a relationship, whether that be with your partner or your friends. I’ve seen some pretty epic bust-ups over my years of working in travel, especially when people are tired, hungry, confused and frustrated. All 4 of us were at one point suffering from a combination of those emotions, but managed to make it back to Vienna having not killed each other, which was a minor miracle.
The weekend started well:
Roadtrip selfies! Whoo!
The itinerary was Vienna – Padua – Venice. Padua was the exciting part for me, mostly because I’d never been, plus it appealed to my inner Shakespeare nerd (The Taming of the Shrew was set in Padua, I guess I was hoping for a theatrical bout of witty banter in the city square?). The icing on my nerdy cake was that Padua boasts the second largest city square in Europe and who can resist an architectural wonder? Not I. The square was so big in fact that I couldn’t fit it all in one photo:
Padova was classically Italian and beautiful. We even managed to find a favourite restaurant and time our visit with their epic fireworks display for the Festa di Ferragosta*. Although we got a bit lost at some points, we spent most of the afternoon discovering picturesque squares, attempting to speak Italian, taking the occasional ridiculous selfies and eating. Oh the eating.
This particular monstrosity could only exist in Italy as a legitimate dessert option
Day two was Venice discovery day and depending on your point of view, it was either an unmitigated disaster or an hilarious shambolic success. Despite losing €100, getting caught in the rain, killing my knees wearing stupid shoes and being frustrated by the fact that a group of 4 people on holiday take at least 15 minutes to make any kind of decision, I had a fantastic time.
Note ridiculous shoes, grey skies, the smudge of rain on camera lens…and us, blatantly ignoring it all.
I’d been to Venice so often as a tour guide that it was a delightful change to relax, go to the outlying islands and switch off my brain to meander like a tourist for once. Oh, and did I mention the wine and eating?
By Sunday we were ready to go home, having gorged ourselves on Italian life – I’m pretty sure my metabolism is not built for endless plates of pasta, bottomless wine glasses and prosciutto by the boatload. S had one last birthday surprise in store for me though. He talked us into a slight detour, which seemed like a disastrous decision when we were crawling through the Italian countryside, stuck behind campervans, geriatric Austrians and cars full of Italian families. The payoff was worth it though. After a 2.5 hour detour we arrived here:
That my friends is a beach. An honest to god, sand in my toes, 35 degrees in the sunshine, salty ocean water beach. My Australian heart leapt at the site – it had been a long, long time between beach visits and it’s the one thing that Austria can’t offer me. Family can visit, friends can Skype but Austria just doesn’t have the long sandy salt-water beaches of Australia. Except for this particular Sunday – we found Jesolo beach in Italy. On this Sunday, with my close friends, it was just about damn perfect.
*History nerd note: This festival allegedly began with Emperor Augusta from Roman times encouraging people to celebrate a ‘lazy summer break’ in reward for the hard work of harvesting agriculture. BONUS FACT in the Fascist era it was a 2 to 3 day holiday break where lower social classes could cheaply get access to the Italian mountains or seaside through Government organised trips. Nerd fact win!
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.
If you happen to find yourself in Vienna during a summer heat wave, let me share a little insiders secret trail to heavenly relaxation.
First, take yourself to the famous Schönbrunn Palace and marvel at the resilience of tourists who insist on sightseeing in 36°C and beating desert heat.
Its basically a desert wasteland – with a palace in the middle
Take a left away from the palace, away from the famous rose gardens and meander past the Marionette theatre until you reach these picturesque gates on the right hand side:
Habsburg gardens don’t do understatement
Pass through the gates and don’t be disheartened by the long, dry and dusty path ahead of you. The trees to the left and right will offer some slight relief from the heat.
The snazzy Austrian man in green pants will definitely outpace you
If you stroll at a relaxed and steady pace for ten minutes, you’ll soon reach the following staircase, which may look insurmountable to your heat addled brain, but quite ordinary afterwards…
Your trek up the stairs will be rewarded with this magnificent view over the Egyptian Obelisk monument, the back of the palace and the simmering city skyline.
Take your breather here and admire the view
At this point you will start to see children skipping and locals carrying what looks suspiciously like beach and bathing gear.
Ignore the overly dedicated runner on the right, and follow the family with the swimming bag!
Suddenly, like a mirage (because who could imagine a swimming pool inside the palace grounds??) the Schönbrunner Bad will appear on your right hand side, and it will be a revelation.
A rolling hillside of green, a bright, clean and cooling pool, big enough for lap swimming, the occassional divebomb and lots of poolside lounging. Most importantly, it is cold and wet and so so soothing after your trek to get here.
Simply pick your spot, splay your towel, and kick back for an afternoon of sunshine and relaxation. Of course because this is Austria, there’s options for activity available…
This particular round got very intense – volleyball is not for the faint of heart
…but more exciting is the fact that you can order a drink from the on-site cafe and enjoy it while kicking back on the grass.
A secret royal pool including drinks and summery vibes? I’ll take that option any day of the week!
Travelling to Bali was always going to be interesting. From the very beginning my Australian understanding of Bali and the Germanic/Austrian version were completely unrelated. Bali always seemed to me like an awful cross between hippie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ retreat and bogan party central. In Bali’s defense, I had years of being a travel agent in Melbourne to cultivate this blatantly unfair prejudice.
Julia has a lot to answer for….but can you blame her?
S on the other hand, was getting his version of Bali from German blogs, guidebooks and online forums. He assured me that Bali was a cultural paradise, filled with idyllic islands and delicious culinary delights. Although every blog told him to avoid Kuta beach and all the Australians there….bit too late for that now…
Can you spot the Austrian surrounded by Aussies?? He didn’t stand a chance!
Thankfully for both of us, Bali turned out to be paradise, we just had to know where to look….but more tips on where to stay in a later post.
On top of this divided understanding of Bali, it became clear that our individual ideas of what a ‘dream holiday’ entails were er, pretty different. Some may say extremely different! Austrians, as I’ve mentioned before, are super into exercise, fitness, movement and activity. They love a good walk. They love a good hike even more. A good long walk toward a mountain on which they can hike is pretty much heaven. Point being – this is an active culture.
S reliably informed me that at an Austrian holiday resort you’d find no end of beach volleyball courts, tennis courts, swimming pools for doing laps and of course, every Austrian would be up for 8am breakfast to make the most of their wonderfully healthy day. In my every day life I absolutely adore this attitude, it keeps everyone active into old age, but while on vacation??!!
My version of a holiday is the chance to sleep in to a leisurely hour, enjoy a long breakfast then relax on a sun-lounger with a good book, trying to tan without getting completely sunburnt. This seemed pretty in-line with what many other Aussies had planned for their stay at Legian beach, with the added benefit of drinks being delivered to your sun-lounger at super cheap Balinese prices.
My family, flat out on holiday
My perfect holiday view – note the nearby pool and sun lounger in shot
So, how do you take an Austrian abroad when we have these wildly opposing views on what a holiday should be? Our survival tactic was to mix an even balance of activities & island exploring with the required amount of sunbathing and book reading. So we did manage to venture out a little from the sunbed;
We snorkeled – the incredible fish & coral reef are sadly not in shot…
…we explored lookout points and rocky outcrops…
…and we got to ride this badass scooter all around Nusa Lembongan like locals!
I think on balance my relaxing idea of a holiday perfectly suited the quiet island of Nusa Lembongan. Unfortunately for my Austrian mister, the places we stayed just didn’t have any facilities to play sports, or hike, or generally be extremely fit while on holiday. The takeaway lesson was that an Austrian abroad needs some pre-arranged activities, no matter how ridiculous that may seem to an Aussie. To really drive this point home, when we landed back at Vienna Airport, it was full of Austrian families heading for their Spanish resort holidays – and they were literally playing volleyball in the airport halls. Dedicated to fitness?? Damn right they are!