Tag Archives: bucket list

Last-Minute Getaway to Indonesia: Bali & the Gili Islands in 10 days

It’s not often that the stars align for a last-minute bucket-list adventure, but in October, we hit jackpot with the winning combination of last-minute time-off and award-points availability. And just like that, we were off on a last-minute ten-day trip to Indonesia.

For many, the name “Bali” conjures the images of a tropical paradise made famous 20+ years ago. However, we had been amply forewarned that undiscovered waters are far in the past. Now, only a three-hour flight from Australia, Bali’s southern beach areas are over-developed and over-crowded with tourists that never leave the resort towns to explore or experience the rest of the island. It’s akin to an Australian Miami. There are plenty of snobs who have claimed that “Bali is spoilt.” Equipped with that warning, we planned an itinerary to find the oasis beneath the tourist façade. And Bali did not disappoint.

Knowing we’d be fresh off of 27+ hours of flights/layovers, we laid out the following game plan: unwind with a few days of relaxation, get active with a few days of exploration, and finish with a few more days of relaxing before journeying back to the NYC hustle.

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Nusa Dua

First stop: unwind and relax after too many hours of flying to Indonesia. Luckily, there is no shortage of beaches within 20-30 minutes of the Denpasar International airport. However, we’d been warned about the beaches in Bali. As all Bali beaches are technically public beaches, most are over-packed with throngs of holiday goers and an increasing amount of garbage. So we did our research and realized we had two options: find a great resort with a secluded beachfront or go to one of Bali’s off-the-beaten path options. We ended up doing both, starting with the first option so as not to add additional driving hours after a long-international haul.

We can’t say enough good things about the St. Regis Bali Resort in Nusa Dua. It was, in fact, the most luxurious stay either of us has had, and an indulgently relaxing place to kick off our trip. When we landed at the International Airport, the St. Regis had arranged for the airport staff to pick us up at our gate and whisk us through both immigration and customs, so that we didn’t have to wait in the hours-long arrival lines for foreigners. The resort is beautiful – with a large open lobby that shows off the manicured resort property all the way to the ocean. The service is second-to-none. The beachfront is kept immaculate and the staff from the swim-up pool bar also serve beach guests. There are two giant pools that snake through the property – a regular pool with giant billowy cabanas and a swim-up bar adjacent to the beach – and a salt-water pool “river” that snakes through the property. The on-property restaurants were good, the cocktails were excellent, and the staff can arrange for any type of activity – we went parasailing. We spent a very-out-of-character two days not stepping foot off the property and loved every minute of it.

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Pool & Daybeds at the St. Regis Nusa Dua

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Parasailing in Nusa Dua

Ubud: Bali’s cultural center

After settling into vacation mode in Nusa Dua, we made our way to Ubud. Ubud is known as the cultural center of Bali, and is also central geographically, so we decided to use this jungled city as our base for the middle part of our trip.

Our very first impression of Ubud was…not great. We were dropped off in the center of town, and we were absolutely taken aback by how touristy the city felt. The narrow, decrepit streets (and even more narrow sidewalks) were crammed with backpackers and trinket shops. Our first-impression was uninspired. But, after a few days, we realized that the city’s notorious beauty was quite literally behind the tourist exterior. Once we stepped off the streets, even into a restaurant, the shop would open to the back revealing serene backdrops of rice paddies. Do yourself a favor, when you see the Starbucks, walk through it – the back opens up to the most gorgeous temple on a pond of lotus flowers – almost completely hidden from the view from the street.

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Lotus Temple hidden behind the Starbucks…

What to do in Ubud:

  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces – breathtakingly lush and green

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  • Go on an extreme swing over the rice terraces – not for the faint of heart!
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Totally terrified on this swing!

  • Campuhan Ridge Walk – a ~15-20 minute light hike/walk with lush, sweeping hilltop views, that will take you right into town. Artisan shops and cafes dot the path, so give yourself time to meander and shop. Our favorite was Wayan Rana, whose minitature paintings were a must- and he gives art classes from his studio. We loved this!

 

  • Try the famous Kopi Luwak, the most expensive cup of coffee in the world (definitely worth a taste) on a coffee plantation. Also known as “cat shit” coffee by my family, it’s made from coffee cherries eaten by wild civet cats…whose digestive systems remove the acidity. A pound of these beans goes for $100-500!
  • Go to the gorgeous Yoga Barn property for a yoga, meditation, or other holistic wellness class (or stop at the café for some delicious food & great ambiance)
  • Shop! There are dozens of artisans – painters, wood carvers, batik printmakers, sculptors, jewelers, kite makers, etc. – we recommended having a driver (there are no shortage of taxis everywhere!) take you to a few of the crafts villages outside of downtown, where you’ll get to see the craft process (and get better prices).
  • We hiked up Batur, the volcano ~2 hours drive from Ubud. While the sunrise views were beautiful, each of us had done enough sunrise hikes to note that this would be one we might skip. Be forewarned, you’ll have to leave at 2am to arrive in time for sunrise. Bring serious sneakers or hiking shoes – and LOTS of layers, it gets seriously cold. It’s a real hike, but doable. If you’re short on time in Bali (or have done other sunrise hikes in your travels), you’re not missing much by skipping this one.
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Sunrise atop Mr. Batur

  • We also went to a Balinese healer in a nearby village. It was a unique experience. Definitely do your research before you go – this is a good place to start.

 

Eats!

Ubud has no shortage of great restaurants. A few of our favorites:

  • Balinese Home Cooking is a must. Balinese people live in compounds made up of multiple family homes for various generations of kin and several gardens centered around a family temple. None of this is visible from the street, as these compounds are behind high-walled fences. The family-run Balinese Home Cooking invites you into the family compound, where you’ll get a rare glimpse into modern traditional Balinese life, set in the family’s beautiful gardens. The food is incredible and the prices are unbeatable. The owners are keen on encouraging cultural exchange and will come by and answer questions about how Balinese families live.
  • Waring Babi Guling Ibu Oka 3. Made famous by a raving Anthony Bourdain, this roasted suckling pig joint is an Ubud institution. Just the best. Go early as they run out quickly. Once you’ve visited the original, which is sparse, try out Ibu Oka’s sister’s ambient downtown restaurant, Rai Pastis, which opens up to rice paddies, and gets Ibu Oka’s pig daily as well.
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Christian beyond excited for this roast pig

  • Mozaic. Everyone told us about Mozaic, and it did not disappoint. This was fine-dining at it’s best. The restaurant tops Restaurant Magazine’s Top 50 restaurants in Asia and is rumored to be gunning for Indonesia’s first Michelin Star. We ordered from the multi-course pan-Asian menu, made from local ingredients, and sat in the heavenly twinkle-lit garden. The cocktails were inventive, the food was the best we had the entire trip, the service was top-notch. And while expensive relative to the rest of our meals in Bali, it was worth every rupiah (and let’s be honest, it wasn’t any more wallet damage than a meal in NYC).

Where to Stay in Ubud

Do yourself a favor and stay just outside the city, avoiding the noise and traffic of downtown. We stayed at Villa Saraswati a mile north of downtown and located along the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Owned by a retired Australian couple, Villa Saraswati was heaven – and they thought of everything. It’s a 5-room, adults-only villa, and has won Trip Advisor’s best hotel every single year. The rooms all have outdoor showers, the pool is beautiful, and the staff is helpful and lovely. They provide rides into town or to the top of the ridge walk and were extremely helpful with restaurant reservations. I’ll admit that we daydreamed about buying and living in the property more than once – it’s that wonderful. Couldn’t recommend it any more highly.

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The pool at Villa Saraswati – perfect after a long day of touring in the sun

Up North: Amed

The Gili islands are only accessible from Bali by boat – and so we knew we’d need to get to one of the coastal towns to make the trip. We spent an evening in Amed, in Northeast Bali, which has world-renowned diving – and is especially famous for a Japanese WWII shipwreck, only a few meters from shore – one of the only wrecks accessible for beginner divers. If you’re going through Amed, we recommend the 25-minute drive to the Lempuyang Temple to see the Gates of Heaven, an awe-inspiring “split gate” style of Hindu Balinese architecture. We stayed and ate at Baliku Dive Resort, which was clean and well-appointed, with terraces that overlook a magnificent sunset over the sea. Be warned: there are dozens of steps to get to any of the rooms – not for the faint of heart.

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Gates of Heaven at Lempuyang Temple

The Gili Islands

We settled into the last leg of vacation in the picturesque Gili Islands, situated just off the coast of Lombok Island, Indonesia. There are three islands in total: Gili T (the largest and party island full of young backpackers), Gili Air (quieter with a mix of nice bars and restaurants) and Gili Meno (the smallest and quietest of the three). We choose Gili Air to get a mix of seclusion with options for grabbing a bite or a drink. The speedboat took ~1.5 hours from NE Bali to the Gilis, which are only about 3-5 minute boat one from the other.

Gili Air was off-the-grid paradise. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed. No cars – and no motorbikes. To get around the island, your options are a bicycle or horse-drawn cart. The island itself is tiny – it took us about 10 minutes to bike the diameter from one side to the other – and would’ve only been about 45 minutes to go around the entire perimeter.

In Gili Air, we found the white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters that many mistakenly attribute to Bali. And while it took a little additional traveling, it was absolutely worth it.

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Gili Air is off-the-grid paradise (and see how close it is to Lombok in the background?)

Where to stay in Gili:

The Mandana Suites and Villas is Gili’s only boutique hotel. Newly constructed, it was a breath-taking accommodation. We took full advantage of our room’s private plunge pool and outdoor shower. The Mandana also had the best breakfast we had the entire trip.

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The Mandana was a gem

Where to Eat & Drink:

  • Warung Sunny – the best Indonesian food we had on the Island, and different from the Indonesian food we had in Bali (like the rest of Indonesia, the Gilis are Muslim, and so the food traditions are slightly different). The chef also does cooking classes here!
  • Mowie’s Bar for sunset drinks and live music
  • Pockets & Pints – if you need a break from Indonesian food, this new pita-pocket sandwicherie is a must. They also have dozens of fun games to borrow during your meal.
  • Musa Cookery – Baja-California-style vegan café, perfect for coffee, bowls, and light fare
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Sunset drinks in Gili Air

What to do in Gili

We mostly took this time to recharge but if you are into SCUBA diving or interested in getting your license, being in Gali is the perfect place and time to do it. We recommend 3WDive; the highly professional instructors were lovely, helpful, and just a lot of fun (I had no interest in doing scuba and ended up LOVING it!). The diving here is spectacular and this is a fairly inexpensive place to get your PADI. While we didn’t get certified we were able to go on a few dives to “discover SCUBA diving.” We spent an afternoon under the sea with a dozen giant turtles. Simply incredible.

 

Final stop: Seminyak

We spent a full day traveling from Gili to Seminyak (speedboat to a bus…that gets caught in a LOT of traffic near the coast), but we wanted to stay near the airport our final night to break-up the traveling. Seminyak, one of the more luxurious resort-towns, is filled with great restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. We had no shortage of recommendations from friends. As our luck would have it, I came down with a virus, and so we did none of the aforementioned. The silver lining is that we were staying at the majestic Oberoi Hotel & Resort. If ever there was a place to spend your final 24 hours doing nothing but unwinding and relaxing before a long international flight, that hotel would be a top contender. Not quite what we had planned, but no complaints from me (And if you’re looking for Seminyak recommendations, send me a note and I can pass them along!).

All in all, our 10-day itinerary had just a little bit of everything from relaxing to exploration- and we got to explore Bali & the Gilis beyond the standard resort-only trip.  While Bali wasn’t entirely what we expected, we fell in love with some of its more-hidden charms, and were so thankful for this last-minute escape.

 

 

 

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The End-of-Summer Recap & 15,000 Views!

For me, the advent of autumn ushers in nostalgia alongside sweater season; perhaps it is a combination of back-to-school (another year older!) + the Jewish holidays (another year over!).  This fall is no different, and with a big birthday looming on the horizon, I could wax poetic for a while.

But I won’t.  Instead, I’ll acknowledge that A Broad Abroad hit 15K viewers last week (!?) and publish the results of my Top 20 NYC Summer Bucket List:

GO & DO

 Sleep No More:  The immersive, highly-interactive theater experience loosely based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in several stories of an old warehouse in West Chelsea theatrically redone as an abandoned hotel, the McKittrick.  Our group of 12, separated from the start, all had intensely different experiences following different actors throughout the evening, which we then recounted over incredible live-music and cocktails at the bar after.  Highly recommended.  Wear sneakers.

sleep no more

Imran Qureshi installation on Met Roofdeck – this large-scale installation consisted, essentially, of red acrylic splattered on the Met Roofdeck to represent recent bombings in Lahore, Pakistan.  Needless to say, I didn’t quite “get” the art part of it.  However the Pakistani cocktails (oxymoron?) were delicious and the views of Central Park and the city skylines as awe-inspiring as ever. Below, Liz with what essentially was a vodka sno-cone.  Yum.

Met Roofdeck

Met Roofdeck

Liz & a vodka sno-cone

Liz & a vodka sno-cone

Moma – Rain Room – “A field of falling water that pauses wherever a human body is detected, Rain Room offers visitors the experience of controlling the rain.” (MoMA website).  And yes, we waited for hours for this.  Totally awesome, totally worth it.

MoMA Rain Room

MoMA Rain Room

Punk Costume Exhibit @ The Met – An interesting look at the history of “Punk” through fashion, both high and low-brow. 20 minutes start to finish, making it my kind of museum exhibit

EAT

DiFaras – On an unsuspecting corner in the ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Midwood, Brooklyn, is what The New York Times, Anthony Bourdain, Zagat, and Frommers call “the best pizza” in NYC.  Each pie is handmade by the 78 year old owner, Domenico DeMarco.  It can be a 1-2 hour wait from the time you put in your order with his daughter (more if he takes a nap!), which makes for great people-watching as your explore the neighborhood.  The entire place smells of fresh basil and the pizza is worth.the.wait.  Tip: Go early, not hungry.

DiFara's pizza

DiFara’s pizza

Hester Nights @ the Eventi Hotel – this weekly summer gathering of artisinal food vendors in the  former food wasteland surrounding Penn Station is a welcome change of pace.  Live music, streaming movies, and several great options including Portuguese pao de queijo, asian dumplings, inventive tacos, and Filipino desserts.  Every Thursdays, Summertime only.

Hester Nights at the Eventi Hotel

Hester Nights at the Eventi Hotel

Cronuts @ Dominique Ansel Bakery – Is any explanation needed for this one?  Worth.the.wait. YUM.   Tip:  Also get the incredible DKA pastry and enjoy breakfast in the garden in the back of the bakery.

"coconut cream filling with a little lime, cinnamon sugar, and coconut frosting with toasted coconut."

“coconut cream filling with a little lime, cinnamon sugar, and coconut frosting with toasted coconut.”

ABC Kitchen – your standard farm-to-table concept executed perfectly.  Nothing not to love.

Smorgasburg – More options to choose from than room in my stomach, which only means that I’ll need to go back.  The DUMBO market had the added benefit of sitting outside by the carousel and enjoying the view of the water and the bridge.

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DRINK

Select summer fridays @ Le Bain – a great way to kick off the weekend on a roof bar (on top of the Standard hotel) that looks out onto the Hudon & lower Manhattan.  Kick back on a lawn chair in astroturf and enjoy the DJ and the people watching.  One caveat: drinks were slowwww to arrive.   

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La Birreria roof deck @ Eataly – cold beer, hot day – need I say more?  This roof deck on top of Flatiron’s Eataly would’ve been better had it not been the middle of the July heatwave (no fault of it’s own), but the house beers were excellent and the staff jovial (or was it heat-stroked delirium?).  Tip:  Come early to beat the throngs of after-work drinkers.

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Gallow Green roof bar @ the Mckittrick hotel – far and away one of the most enchanting places in NYC, this rooftop bar (with live gypsy-jazz-esque music on the weekends) serves up incredible cocktails in a transportive atmosphere with a speakeasy feel.  So wonderful, I went back again and again and again all summer.  Perfect for a date.  Tip:  make a reservation online ahead of time.

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TOTAL:  12 of the 20 places on the wish list (see the entire list here)

Now…to write a Fall To-Do List?  What should be on it?  

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Abroad @ Home – My Top 20 List for NYC this Summer

Summer in the City + List making.  Could there be a better combination for a type-A adventurer like me?

The inspiration for this comes from one of my best friends who publishes an annual list of the 100 things he’d like to do in NYC each summer  (Follow his adventures  here).   Given that the recovery from spinal surgery  will somewhat truncate my summer in the city, 100 items seemed too ambitious, so I decided on a Top 20.

Shakespeare in the Park (photo credit: NYHabitat)

Shakespeare in the Park (photo credit: NYHabitat)

In no particular order:

Do
Governor’s Island (did summer 2014)
Brooklyn Flea

Moondance at Hudson River Park

MoMA PS1: Warm Up
MoMA – Rain Room
The Met – Punk Costume Exhibit
Sleep No More
Imran Qureshi installation on Met Roofdeck

X Shakespeare in the Park X

Eat
L’artusi

Hester Nights at the Eventi Hotel

DiFara’s 

Cronuts @ Dominique Ansel Bakery

ABC Kitchen
Smorgasburg

Drink
Select Summer Fridays at Le Bain
Gallow Green Roofbar at the McKittrick Hotel
La Birreria Roof Bar at Eataly

The Dead Rabbit

Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club

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A Revolutionary Trip to Cuba

On December 11th, 15 of us from Columbia Business School traveled (legally) to Cuba for what ended up as one of my all-time favorite trips.

Prior to starting graduate school, I had read that travel to Cuba was legal for American graduate school students provided they travel under a specific university license and jump through a number of other administrative hoops.  And just like that, I decided that my pre-graduation bucket list needed to include “visit Cuba.”

Getting the license, however, was not quite that easy.  My friend Hilary and I recruited an advising professor, created a course syllabus, obtained university approval, brought together a group of students, worked with the government and the school…and FINALLY, after 7.5 months of work, we obtained the final approval to proceed with our course studying the political economy of Cuba and, most importantly, spend a week 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

It was an adventure I will never forget, simultaneously like so many places I have been and unlike anyplace I have ever been.

Represented in photographs, here are the highlights:

Arriving in Havana, Cuba!

Arriving in Havana, Cuba!

The best mojitos (Hotel Nacional)

The best mojitos (Hotel Nacional)

Havana club rum

Havana club rum

Loving the old cars, downtown Havana

Loving the old cars, downtown Havana

Sunset on the Malecon (waterfront esplanade)

Sunset on the Malecon (waterfront esplanade)

Rooftop Drinks at one of Havana's best Paladars, Atelier

Rooftop Drinks at one of Havana’s best Paladars, Atelier

The Havana coastline and the Hotel Nacional in the forefront

The Havana coastline and the Hotel Nacional in the forefront

Aerial shot of Havana

Aerial shot of Havana

So many Cohibas

So many Cohibas

Cigar rolling station

Cigar rolling station

This man holds  the Guinness World Record for longest cigar

This man holds the Guinness World Record for longest cigar

Liz & I stop for a photo in Revolution Square with Che Guevara in the background

Liz & I stop for a photo in Revolution Square with Che Guevara in the background

The 1950s cars, like stepping out of a time warp

The 1950s cars, like stepping out of a time warp

Pride/Propaganda?

Pride/Propaganda?

Exploring old town Havana

Exploring old town Havana

The entire group in old town Havana

The entire group in old town Havana

One of the old town buildings under restoration

One of the old town buildings under restoration

Cafe in old town Havana

Cafe in old town Havana

Old town Havana (restored)

Old town Havana (restored)

The group enjoying an amazing dinner at the private restaurant (paladar) La Guarida

The group enjoying an amazing dinner at the private restaurant (paladar) La Guarida

Incredible live music at Casa de la music

Incredible live music at Casa de la music

Taylor & me enjoying the nightlife at Casa de la Musica

Taylor & me enjoying the nightlife at Casa de la Musica

The Industriales baseball field reminded us very much of our beloved Fenway

The Industriales baseball field reminded us very much of our beloved Fenway

At the Industriales baseball game

At the Industriales baseball game

Uno! Dos! Tres! Industriales!

Uno! Dos! Tres! Industriales!

Day trip to Vinales, Pinar del Rio (group photo!)

Day trip to Vinales, Pinar del Rio (group photo!)

Win & I are ready for our cave walk!

Win & I are ready for our cave walk!

Stalagmites and Stalagtites

Stalagmites and Stalagtites

A tobacco farmer rolling Cigars

A tobacco farmer rolling Cigars

Tobacco

Tobacco

Tobacco farm in Vinales, Pinar del Rio

Tobacco farm in Vinales, Pinar del Rio

Happy Hanukkah from the bathroom of the Hotel Presidente

Happy Hanukkah from the bathroom of the Hotel Presidente

Live Jazz

Live Jazz

Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana

Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana

Inside Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana

Inside Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana

Happy Hanukkah!  Feliz Januka!

Happy Hanukkah! Feliz Januka!

Letter to the Jewish community from Stephen Spielberg

Letter to the Jewish community from Steven Spielberg

Visiting the Havana Club Rum museum

Visiting the Havana Club Rum museum

Cuban flag in the old town

Cuban flag in the old town

So much Havana club rum

So much Havana club rum

On the water in Havana

On the water in Havana

What is a trip to Havana without going to the Tropicana?

What is a trip to Havana without going to the Tropicana?

Bringing school supplies to a local elementary school

Bringing school supplies to a local elementary school

The most poised 3rd grader explains his art on the life of Jose Marti

The most poised 3rd grader explains his art on the life of Jose Marti

Cigars rolled in front of us...$1 each!

Cigars rolled in front of us…$1 each!

Mariana & I visit the best/worst communist ice cream parlor in Havana

Mariana & I visit the best/worst communist ice cream parlor in Havana

The best/worst communist ice cream I've ever had (wishing Chavez a speedy recovery)

The best/worst communist ice cream I’ve ever had (wishing Chavez a speedy recovery)

Winning = convinced immigration to stamp my passport!

Winning = convinced immigration to stamp my passport!

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