A Travellerspoint blog

ISTANBUL, TURKEY

From the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia, to the bustling bazaars & souks, to the underground world of the Basilica Cistern ... Istanbul has it all!

sunny 20 °C

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Istanbul ... my favorite city! And I don't say that lightly ... I have been to many countries, even more cities, and all continents but one ... so when I say Istanbul is my favorite city, I truly mean it! And I don't even like cities! I grew up in a small town of about 1500 people; the nearest city was only 150,000 (now grown to 250,000). So skyscrapers, metro systems, and millions of people are all intimidating to me. My city has exactly 0 skyscrapers and no metro system. And when you are at a crosswalk waiting to cross the street, more times than not, you will be the only person at the crosswalk ... on both sides, lol! For real!

Back to Istanbul ... I arrived late at night and took a taxi to my hotel, Askin Hotel Boutique. It was literally 1/2 block from the Blue Mosque (which is why I chose it)!! The photo above is the view from the rooftop terrace! In one direction I could see the Blue Mosque, in the other I could see the Bosphorus River. I had 2 days in Istanbul; my first day in Turkey, and my last day. The first day I had about 1hr of cloudiness before it started raining and didn't stop. But thankfully my last day was perfectly sunny :) So this post will be filled with photos from both days ... some will be sunny, some will not, lol! Thankfully Istanbul is a great city to be in on a rainy day, as it has tons of indoor things to do/see.

First up, the Blue Mosque :) It was WAY bigger than I ever imagined it to be!! MASSIVE! It is absolutely gorgeous ... and free to go inside ;) All ladies have to cover their heads (scarves are provided if you don't have one), everyone (even men) have to have their legs covered, and everyone has to remove their shoes.
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It has 6 minarets (towers) each 210ft tall, and has the biggest courtyard of all the Ottoman mosques. Inside there were aerial photos of what the mosque looks like at full capacity ... below is a photo of that photo.
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The outer dome is 141ft tall, and the inner dome is 77ft tall.
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The inside was amazing! Way fancier than any cathedral I've visited that's for sure! Four baobab-sized pillars held up the domed ceiling, and every inch was covered in mosaic tiles!
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Across the street / other side of the fountain, is the Hagia Sofia mosque.
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On the other side of the Hagia Sofia, is the Topkapi Palace, which I never did make it to :( All 3 are pretty much in a row.

By now it was pouring rain, so I ran over to the underground Basilica Cistern (across the street in the other direction from the Hagia Sofia). So many great things to see all close together!
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Admission is 20 Turkish Lira ($10CAD). This incredible underground 'basilica' was built in 532. It is 65m wide, 143m long, and its arched roof is held up by 336 pillars arranged in 12 rows. It used to hold the city's water, up to 80,000 cubic meters, and was pumped through nearly 20km of aquaducts!
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Now there is only about 1.5ft of water in it, and there are fat fish living in it! Its quite an eerie feeling down there in the dark, hearing the ceiling drip with water, the echoes, the fat creepy fish ... but well worth a visit! I have never seen anything like it anywhere else!

If you are looking for street food, it will be everywhere! Be sure to try the fresh squeezed orange juice :)
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Next up was a visit to the Grand Bazaar. Its completely covered, so its great on a rainy day. You can find absolutely everything under the sun for sale here! From carpets to gold jewelry, from slippers to handpainted dishes, from belly dancing costumes to perfumes! My favorite were the lantern/lamp shops! Lanterns were hanging & lit from every wall, plus the ceiling, and some were standing on the floor. So colorful, like Christmas :)
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Carpets for sale around every corner!
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Beautiful hand painted dishes.
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Perfumes
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Turkish Delight of every flavor imaginable, plus some things that I had no idea what they were.
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All kinds of souvenirs!
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Like I said at the beginning, My last day in Turkey was a sunny, clear day in Istanbul, so the sunset on my last day was perfect :) If your hotel is located anywhere in the vicinity of the Blue Mosque, and has a rooftop terrace, be sure to go up top to watch the sunset! You wont be disappointed!
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As the sun was setting, the call to prayer began. The muezzins of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia take turns, each saying a line, back and forth. I'm not muslim, but I was completely moved & overwhelmed by this! Add in the setting sun silhouetting the Blue Mosque's minarets ... I love Istanbul :D There are still so many things I would like to see/do in Istanbul, like take a ferry down the Bosphorus River, visit the Rumeli Hisari fort, go inside the Topkapi Palace & Hagia Sofia, walk on the city walls, watch a twirling dervish show, etc. I truly hope I will be back one day!
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Posted by ChantelleS 12:33 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosque basilica turkey muslim europe asia cistern souk bazzar Comments (0)

ROME, ITALY

One day in Rome - Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill

sunny 22 °C

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I had only one day in Rome, and not even a full day. My train from Naples arrived at 1:30pm, and my flight to Istanbul departed at 9pm. But in between those hours I kept busy sightseeing. I purchased a metro day pass for 6E, hopped on the B line, and got off at Colosseo. When I exited the metro station and walked outside, BAM, the Colosseum was right in front of me!! No need to go looking for it, as its literally across the street from the metro station!
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Its currently undergoing restorations, but thankfully only half of it was covered in scaffolding, leaving the other half looking nice for photos.
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I was hoping to get some photos taken with some sexy gladiators ... but was hugely disappointed. They were all old guys wearing plastic abs LOL!! So I just took photos from afar when they weren't looking.
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The lineup to get into the Colosseum was LONG! I knew it would be, as I'm sure its everyone's #1 thing to see in Rome.
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I decided to skip the Colosseum and visit the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill first. One ticket of 12E gives you entry to both the Colosseum & the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill.
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Arco di Constantino
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If you don't plan on going inside the Colosseum, then (unless you are really into Roman history) don't bother with the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill. As it turns out (I found out after I had already bought my ticket and spent hours wandering around) there is a free lookout point over the Roman Forum along the road Via dei Fori Imperiali. You can see a bit of Palatine Hill from that viewpoint as well. The part of Palatine Hill that cannot be seen from the viewpoint isn't really worth it anyways. Its huge, but in the end, its a bunch of crumbled walls badly labeled, so most of the time you don't know what you're looking at anyways.

The following photos are from inside the Roman Forum.
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The following photos are from inside Palatine Hill. You be the judge as to whether its worth 12E or not.
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If you opt out of entering, then farther along Via dei Fori Imperiali, is the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.
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I didn't have time to go inside (I had to head to the airport), but there is an elevator inside that takes you tp the rooftop for 360 degree views of Rome. Its 7E.
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Across the street from Vittorio are these 2 cathedrals.
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I only had time to snap a photo before heading back to the metro. The sun was setting by this time, and Via dei Fori Imperiali was now packed with street vendors, musicians, horse & carriage rides, painters, etc.

I looked around at some souvenirs, and had a quick bite to eat while watching the sunset over the Colosseum, then hopped on the metro and headed to the airport for my flight to Turkey :)
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Posted by ChantelleS 12:26 Archived in Italy Tagged ruins italy rome europe colesseum Comments (0)

VENICE, ITALY

Wandering Venice's alleys and crossing its many bridges, riding ferries, trying every gelato flavor I could, and gazing down at Basilica San Marco from atop the Campanile.

overcast 17 °C

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Italy!! Beautiful, beautiful Italy! This was my first time to Europe and it didn't disappoint. One of the easiest countries I've ever traveled in. I landed in Rome, found the Trenitalia kiosk in the airport, purchased my one-way ticket to Venice for $127CAD (make sure you know which terminal in Venice you want to arrive in - there is more than one. Stazione Santa Lucia is the terminal that brings you right to the Grand Canal), then hopped on the train from the airport to Rome's main terminal, and transferred to my train to Venice. Sounds complicated, but it was actually quite easy. Jet lag knocked me out for the 3.5hr ride. But when I arrived in Venice and walked out of the train station, BAM, I was right on the Grand Canal! You will see a ferry terminal in front of you. This is where you buy ferry passes. There are no buses, no cars, not even bikes cuz theres too many stairs and bridges everywhere. Ferries are like buses here - they ply the Grand Canal in both directions, all day long, stopping at various points along the way.

Below is a photo of the ferry terminal near San Marco.
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I purchased a 1 day pass (24hrs from the time you validate your pass) for 20E (euros). Single rides cost 7E each, so if you plan on doing any sightseeing, it is worth it to get a pass. There were also 3 day and 5 day passes available. The best way to get to know the area is to hop on a ferry and stay on it for a full circuit, about 1hr, around the whole Grand Canal. Use it as a cheap sightseeing cruise, but also pay attention to where it stops and what there is to see at each stop.

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I had booked a little hotel in the San Marco area. So I took the ferry there, and then walked to my hotel. If you are expecting streets in a grid-like fashion with well marked street signs, think again! Thankfully Venezians are friendly and helpful. Not all speak English, so have the name of your hotel & address written down. If your hotel is located right on a canal, it is possible to hire a very expensive water taxi to take right to your hotel.

The beautiful Doge's Palace in the San Marco area overlooking the Grand Canal
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I spent my first day wandering around the San Marco area, seeing the Doge's Palace, Basilica San Marco, Piazza San Marco, and the Campanile (bell tower).
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This is the view from atop the Campanile, overlooking the Piazza San Marco. It costs 8E for the elevator ride to the top, and you can stay up there for as long as you want. I unfortunately had a foggy day :(
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The huge bell! Being in the piazza when it is rung is awesome!
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View over Venice and the domes of the basilica.
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The Campanile
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Basilica San Marco was sadly covered in scaffolding, plus the fog, so I didn't get any photos of it that I like.
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Once a day the tide comes in and floods the piazza. These walkways are set out for people to walk on without getting wet shoes. But they are crowded and slow going.
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Then I wandered the maze of alleys, canals, and bridges. I tried using a map but its pointless. Just wander. You're never really lost cuz theres always someone to ask, and you will eventually come out at some point on the Grand Canal ( from there just hop a ferry to where you want to go). Venice is made up of 117 islands all connected by bridges! It is such a pretty, picturesque place, with bridges, canals, old doors & windows, cathedrals, and boats around every corner.

All the alleys/streets are this narrow, except a few of the more main alleys, but not by much!
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The canals can be quite crowded, not at all like movies make it seem!
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Overpriced street-side cafes can be found everywhere.
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Delicious gelato can also be found everywhere, and only 1.50E for a small :)
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This one is carmello e amaretto, yum yum yum!
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I stumbled upon the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.
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I couldn't resist taking a photo of this cutie :)
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The water comes right to the doors. Locals park their boats along side their homes.
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Its such a different way of life here without proper streets and cars/buses. Everything is done by boat! Below are photos of a garbage boat, and a delivery boat. I also saw a boat ambulance!
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Souvenir stands were mostly found in the San Marco area, and Rialto area ... the 2 most touristy areas.
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Then I took a ferry over to the Rialto Bridge. What a gong show! I had to fight for a spot on the bridge to get a photo. Worst place ever, so over-rated.
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View from atop the Rialto Bridge - not even worth it. Even the canal is crowded here!
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Gondeliers awaiting customers. You'll never see a local taking one of these, as they are insanely overpriced and basically for tourists only. Approx $150 for 30min!!!
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Although overpriced, they are very photogenic, as they are Venice's icon :)
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SO MANY PEOPLE! Get up and out the door well before 9am. 9am is when tour groups start arriving in hordes and overtaking the place. Prior to 9am you'll have the place to yourself.
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This is Piazza San Marco at 7am ... peaceful compared to 2hrs later.
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The basilica in the early morning
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The Bridge of Sighs was within walking distance from my hotel ... and the lookout point was ... you guessed it ... always crowded with people taking turns posing in front of it, or trying to capture a photo of a gondola passing beneath it.
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On my 2nd day in Venice I walked over to the Ponte dell'Accademia (the wooden bridge) for this iconic view over the Grand Canal and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
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I took one more circuit of the Grand Canal before getting off at the train station and heading to Naples.
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That's all for Venice! Although crowded and overpriced, I absolutely loved it! No matter what time of year you go there will always be tourists. Why? Cuz its Venice, that's why!

Posted by ChantelleS 19:00 Archived in Italy Tagged venice boat italy bridge canal roman europe Comments (0)

TEMPLES OF BALI - INDONESIA

Tanah Lot Temple and Pura Taman Ayun

sunny 40 °C

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On my last day in Indonesia I visited 2 temples. One very touristy, and the other unknown (my taxi driver didnt even know how to get to it). First, I hit up Tanah Lot Temple. This is probably the most touristy temple in all of Bali. Every tour bus stops here. So if you're like me, and doing it on your own, you just gotta be patient while taking photos ... the tour groups do eventually leave / move on.
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The temple is built on a rock shelf out in the ocean. At low tide only, you can walk out to it.
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Now you probably assume you can walk up the stairs on the temple, and around to the other side like I assumed. But you cant. The 'holy men' guarding it have quite the scam going on. You wade across the water, stand in line, get a flower put behind your ear and a dot on your forehead by the holy men ... and then have to give a mandatory 'donation' to be let in. All 3 holy men were wearing fanny packs overflowing with money! I was about to pay when a guy that had just went in was back already ... apparently you can only go up about 7 stairs around the corner before its blocked off. But of course you can't see around the corner to know this until you've already paid, and they're sure not going to tell you. Its really not even worth it to walk across cuz you cant climb anywhere anyway. The crossing is actually quite dangerous. Strong waves come at you from both sides nearly knocking you over! The whole experience wasnt worth it. But the views from the cliffs across from it are worth it.
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The sand here is golden & black mixed
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Theres a couple trails you can follow along the cliffs for nice views of a natural arch.
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There was a couple getting their wedding photos taken atop the arch! I couldnt imagine wearing a big gown in +40C!!
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Yet another viewpoint ... can you see the waterfall?
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Then I got my taxi driver to take me to Pura Taman Ayun. Not only did my driver not know where it was, he'd never even heard of it. Perfect, my kinda place! After stopping for directions about 7 times along the way, we finally arrived. And there were only 2 other ppl there! Just the way I like it :)
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This absurd sign was posted before you could enter the temple!! No one actually asks, and even if they did, I'm not sure how they'd know if your telling the truth. A bit ridiculous if you ask me.
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Once inside the temple area there are these buildings that reminded me of Survivor's tribal council area, lol!
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That is all. Its small, but nice. I enjoyed it more than the first temple. But that might be cuz the first once was crowded. These photos were taken outside of the temple area.
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Well, thats all folks! Thats the last day of my 32 day trip to Indonesia & Borneo. Thanks for following along on my adventure! I just returned from Italy and the Middle East, so my next blog posts will be about that.

Posted by ChantelleS 20:36 Archived in Indonesia Tagged bali indonesia temple history asia Comments (0)

LOMBOK, INDONESIA

From my disaster in the village of Tetebatu, to the wonderful resort area of Senggigi.

sunny 40 °C

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I am about to tell you about the worst hotel I have ever stayed in! Ironically I can't remember the name of it, nor did I write it down in my journal, lol! Its located in the little village of Tetebatu, on the island of Lombok (the island next to Bali). Upon arriving the hotel looks nice (pictured above). Cute little cottages overlooking rice fields & Mt Rinjani. What could go wrong, right?
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So like I said, it looked great upon arriving, so I immediately booked myself in for 3 nights. That was was first mistake. Then I went for supper at the hotel's restaurant. Turns out the front desk clerk who is also the bell boy, is also the waiter ... and would be my guide the following day, lol! After supper I headed back to my room for a hot shower. In addition to a nice, hot shower at the end of a long day, I also need wifi (I travel solo and my mom fears for my life when I'm gone, so she demands to hear from me daily or else assumes I've been kidnapped or am dead), and free breakfast in the morning. I already gave up the wifi upon checking into this hotel (the entire village is without internet - so this is a good place to come and relax and get away from the world), and I discovered they had lied about the hot water! It was FREEZING cold!! I cant do cold showers, I just cant! How's a girl supposed to shave when she's shivering and covered in goose bumps?! Later on as I'm laying in bed writing in my journal I noticed big turds on the floor! At first I thought it was a bug, so I flicked it away, only for it to stick to my finger!!! OMG! Then I started noticing those little turds everywhere in my room. What on earth is living in here??!! Was is a mouse? A rat? A gecko? I had no idea! I continue writing, trying not to think about what could possibly be living in my room, when a GIANT moth starts fluttering around my lamp! And by giant, I mean like the size of a bird! I am deathly afraid of moths, and grasshoppers, frogs ... basically anything that jumps at me. I know moths are harmless, but I cant help but freak out! Since I'm traveling solo, I have to deal with this intruder on my own. I grab a flip flop and smack that bastard to death! But now I have a giant moth carcass smeared across my wall, and I know the Indonesian ant army will appear in no time, so I have to clean that hot mess up! Puke. Once again I go back to writing. Now I notice that the toilet is making a noise. So I get up to go check it out, I flick on the bathroom light, and freeze! There, on the shower wall, is the biggest !@%#!! spider I've ever seen in my life! Open your hand ... Its THAT big! (the next day I saw the same kind of spider thats now in my shower and took this photo below)
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Just the body was the length & thickness of my thumb! Its legs were so long it had knees! If it has knees it can jump, right?! I think that spider and I stared at eachother forever, both not knowing what to do! I couldnt let him get away, deeper into my room, so I bent down to take off my flip flop, aka killing machine ... and it scurried across the wall and down the shower drain! Oh thank God! The shower had a bucket of water & a scoop to 'sponge bathe' yourself with, so I quickly moved that heavy bucket of water over top the drain so it couldnt get out! Giant moths, mysterious turds, AND a giant spider?! For real?! I cant even deal with this. I plop myself down on the toilet, head in hands, wondering how I'm gonna be able to get any sleep knowing all of what is in my room (Oh, did I mention there's holes all over my screened windows? Some are 'fixed' with bandaids, but others are still wide open for more giants moths to invade, along with malaria carrying misquitos), when what do my eyes see .... a freaking toad the size of my fist blocking my exit from the bathroom!!!!!!!!!
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HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GET IT OUT???!!! I cant smack it with a flip flop or step on it, it would explode all over the place! And I dont want to get anywhere near it, for fear of it jumping at me and sticking to my leg!!!!!!!!!!!! So here I am, on a toilet with my pants down, and a toad blocking my way. I want to cry! I stared at is for so long, and it didnt move ... to the point of me thinking 'maybe its a ornamental door-stopper', cuz it was sitting in just the right place. No such luck. On closer inspection I saw his throat move. Was it sleeping? Do toads sleep with their eyes open? I pulled up my pants , and in one big leap, I jumped over & past the toad and into my bedroom. Phew! It's still not moving. I have come up with a plan: trap it under the water scoop, and use my umbrella as a shield in case it jumps at me. Take a moment and envision this: me with open umbrella in hand, defending myself from a stupid toad, little red scoop in the other hand, like I'm going to war ... with a toad. It was so ridiculous I nearly started laughing at myself. I hesitated over & over again, so worried that I'd miss and he'd jump past me into my bedroom ... then what would I do?! But I needn't worry, I somehow managed to capture it on my first try! OMG I did it! Yay me, lol! But as soon as I had it trapped, it started jumping and trying to make an escape. The water scoop wasnt heavy enough to hold him down! So I put a full 2L bottle of water on top of the scoop and that held it down. But all night long I heard it jumping and bonking its head. Over & over ... all night long. Sigh. Well I guess that explains the giant turds all over my room! Needless to say, I didnt sleep at all. I had my sheet wrapped around my head covering my ears cuz I was so afraid something would crawl into my ears while I slept and give birth. Blech!

Ok, new day. Breath. I awoke with a migraine. Probably from stress and lack of sleep. I went straight to the front desk and complained. The lack of english here is infuriating! They had NO idea what I was saying/asking/complaining about. And remember, I booked in & prepaid for THREE nights!!! After nearly an hour of trying to explain my self in different ways to make them understand, I think they finally got it. I wanted my money back. But they didnt want to give it. Seriously?! I work part time at a hotel in Canada, and if you are unhappy with your room, not only do you get a discount/refund, you get a voucher for a free night. Not in Indonesia. Ugh, lesson learnt. But I at least convinced them to transfer the $ I had paid towards the room, to a guided day hike and a hired car to take me to Senggigi.

Day hike commence. I was first taken through the rice fields and village.
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Rice
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Mt Rinjani in the distance - Indonesia's 2nd largest active volcano!
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Thats not 2 peaks ... its one giant volcano with a crater in the middle!
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This is how red hot chilis are grown
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My favorite part of the hot, sweaty hike that confirmed my lack of fitness, was seeing the locals go about their daily life. Whenever I've gone on an excursion to a village its seems very fake. Like they know tourists are coming, so they are putting on a show. Showing us how to do this, and how to make that. But this was real!
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The whole point of me signing up for this guided hike was to see Black Monkeys. I was expecting it to be like Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali ... monkeys absolutely everywhere. But that was not the case. These were actually wild monkeys, unlike the super tame ones in Bali. My guide had a machete and was hacking us a path through the trees! The problem with that was the monkeys could hear us coming from a mile away. We couldnt get anywhere near them. So after hours of hiking & hacking, all i got was one lousy photo.
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We emerged from the hot jungle at a dam just in time to see all the little kids getting out from school and racing over to said dam, strip down to their birthday suits, and jump in the water, lol!
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Then we headed over to my guide's brother's house for a home cooked meal of chicken, eggs, noodles, rice, veggies, and tempe. These are his boys.
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After the meal he led me down a steep & slippery trail to a waterfall. As my guide nibbly leapt from rock to slippery rock, I blundered along like the uncoordinated fool I am. We came to a 'staircase' of slippery mud and wet bamboo that led through a bamboo forest, before finally arriving at the waterfall.
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After some time enjoyed here, I had to climb that same slippery 'staircase' back up. From there I was whisked away on a scooter back to the hotel. And from there I grabbed my backpack and said 'good riddance' to the worst hotel stay of my life, and got in a car headed to the resort area of Senggigi. I assumed my bad luck had ended. But no, it hadnt. About halfway we stopped for gas, so I bought myself some ice cream. The kind dipped in chocolate and on a stick. I attempted to eat it in the back seat of the car. But its so dang hot at the equator that ice cream melts faster than you can eat it. Chunks of the chocolate shell kept melting/falling off. And since the window was open (cuz the car had no a/c), the wind from driving fast caused the melting chocolate pieces to fall all over me! One fell on my shorts and melted on contact, making it look like I shit myself. Another hit my face and then slid down my chin and fell into my shirt, and continued to melt and slide into my bra. In the meantime I'm still holding my ice cream on a stick and its melting at an insane rate. I have melted ice cream to my elbows! At this point I look like a 2yr old trying to eat ice cream for the first time, LOL! My driver glanced at me in his rear view mirror and just burst out laughing! FML. We stopped somewhere so I could clean myself up & change, and then continued on our way.

The drive along the coast towards Senggigi is incredibly scenic! My driver was nice enough to stop half a dozen times so I could take photos.
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See, I told you! Its stunning isnt it?!
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My driver stopped and bought us a bag of lychee fruit still on the branch ... and full of ants. And all warm & gross from sitting in the sun. Fail.
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The inside of the fruit looks all fleshy & gross, but if you get a good one, they are quite tasty.
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If you dont have a trailer, just pile it on top & tie it on!
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I stayed at the Holiday Resort for the rest of my time on Lombok. It was 700,000 Rupiah compared to only 200,000 Rupiah for the dump last night, but SO worth it!
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It had a pool that didnt end. It just kept twisting & turning throughout the resort. It also had a jacuzzi area & a swim-up bar.
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Upon checking in I was given 2 vouchers for free 'Welcome Drinks'. So I went to redeem them at the pool bar and received Iced Melon Tea. The best invention ever!!!
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I ordered a 'hotdog' at the restaurant and got this thing.
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This resort was great! Clean, luxurious (or was it that I was used to staying in crappy hotels and just finally got a good one?), and beachfront.
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The sand was half white and half black! I've never seen a beach so completely divided 50/50 like that before!
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Here's the awesome view from my resort looking across the ocean to Bali's volcano!
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I went for a walk down the beach. Black sand is HOT people! HOT! Like it scalds the bottom of your feet! I came across this little beach restaurant. I was just gonna buy some cheap bottled water (only 3000 Rupiah here, opposed to 12,000 at the resort!), but ended up staying for supper and watching the sunset over Bali's volcano.
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Table in the sand :)
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For $3 I had this delicious plate of food (not sure why, but Indonesians place a fried egg on top of every meal), 2 bottles of water, and 1 can of Coke! Steal of a deal!
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Amazing sunset :)
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So Lombok started out horrible, but ended well ... thank goodness!

Posted by ChantelleS 17:46 Archived in Indonesia Tagged ocean wildlife beach indonesia monkey jungle waterfall terrace asia lombok Comments (1)

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