Alys Beach

Those unmistakable Bermuda butteries form the entrance gates and visual markers to Alys Beach. Rooted in architecture from Bermuda, Antigua, and Central America, Alys Beach adheres to strict design guidelines and construction principles, which gives it a cohesive, distinctive look and design vocabulary throughout.

Originally, butteries in Bermuda were constructed to store perishable food like butter and milk. Made completely of stone, with a wooden door, these structures were detached from the main house, just a few stone steps away. The stepped minaret roof shape was made of limestone and many have found new use on the island as studios, tool sheds, etc. Since Bermuda has no fresh water source, the stepped roof had other functional reasons, too, like collecting rain water. Below is a picture of one from Bermuda and the ones at Alys Beach.

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Key West

Island Heart

Vernacular architecture, charming colorful cottages, narrow streets, warm weather, tropical flora and fauna and tough people who deal with mother nature’s constant threat by land or sea, my favorite places are islands.

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about Key West, there is just so much to love on this tiny island.

And so many historic homes desperately needing to be restored. I need one of these to restore and preserve, either as a personal home or as a design project. The ceramic star on the outside of homes and businesses in Key West is given to properties that have displayed excellence in restoration and preservation. The designer, architect, contractors and craftsman who’ve worked on the project are given a certificate showing their involvement in the success of the project. Hoping one day to have a star myself.

 

You have to wander in Key West. The best finds are in the neighborhoods, tucked away from the crowds. The gingerbread in Key West is some of the most personal. Three of my favorite finds this trip are these below. I love it when I know a little something about the homeowner before I even meet them.

Southernmost House Hotel

Although this place is no secret, and in fact is one of the most well-known structures in Key West, the Southernmost House Hotel has the best beach view and cocktails by the pool. It’s the only beachfront, adult only property in Key West. The bar is open to the public, and it provides a quiet spot on the opposite end of noisy Duval St for a drink. This was the first home in Key West to have electricity, and Thomas Edison oversaw the electrical design and installation of the house himself. Built as a private home, during the prohibition, the mansion was used as a speakeasy with a restaurant and casino. Several gangsters on their way to Cuba and celebrities like Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Louis Armstrong and Tennessee Williams could be found here in the 1940s when it was a nightclub called Cafe Cayo Hueso. This tiny cottage on property sits right next to the old house, and I’m requesting this one next time we visit. The house is painted in aqua and a coral peach color with beautiful iron gates and tiny little decorative tiles set in the stone. Seems fitting that a colorful castle like mansion such as this would have some decorative castle tiles as an accent.

That morning an iguana fell out of a tree and in the pool at our hotel. The staff said they had never seen that happen. Everyone heard a loud smack, looked over and he was in the pool. Startled momentarily, he didn’t move immediately, then swam over to the stairs, got out and climbed right back up in the tree. In all my visits I have never seen such large iguanas in Key West- the Caribbean islands yes. I had my eyes in the trees for falling iguanas since that morning (remember that weird movie with Tom Cruise and the falling frogs- that’s what I thought of) and saw this guy. Look at how big he is. And, since we were there at Christmas, I had to snap a pic of their island Christmas tree with pink flamingos.

The Saint

Currently, my favorite place to stay in Key West is The Saint. Cool and contemporary, this hotel occupies the old Key West Hospital. Newly renovated, with dark woods walls and floors, contrasted by this large blue velvet tufted banquette in the lobby, The Saint feels dark, cozy and enveloping with all the wood, reminiscent of the inside of a Cuban cigar box you’d see on Duval, sheltering you from the island heat, with a signature smell that grabs your attention when you walk in. It was so good in fact, I had to order it from the company who makes it when I got home. The hotel has a bar and restaurant onsite, and even if you’re not staying there, you need to go have a drink or grab a bite to eat. In addition to that signature scent, the hotel’s signature color is obviously blue, as it is present throughout the entire property. Even that signature scent is called Blue, a beautiful blend of amber, sandalwood, mandarin, lemon and bergamot. Located on Eaton St, with a sister property in New Orleans, you have to check it out.

Grace on Frances

I have also written about Grace on Frances before. It’s my personal favorite in Key West, and I can’t rave about it enough. As I mentioned in a previous post, this secret little gem is part gallery, part shop, has rotating art of all types, and has mastered the art of display. This time I purchased this ceramic french press. I have a single cup press, but this one makes about three cups of tea, has that toothy, un-glazed pottery feel, copper top, clean simple shape, and if you take out the strainer, it can double as a carafe.

The Green Pineapple

This combo yoga studio, cafe, and shop is lovely. Offering an assortment of gluten free, healthy options, this shop/studio is on Duval closer to the beach end, away from the craziness.  Bohemian style fashion, jewelry and a quick grab and go snack, if you don’t have time for a class, are perfect in the morning before exploring.

Vignette

Easy, breezy style in a darling little cottage on Southard St. One of my new favorites for fashion, jewelry and a few small gift items.

The saddest part is most people never get off Duval St when they visit, and with the exception of a few places, most places are cheap souvenir stores. Do you have a favorite in Key West or have you stayed at a great place I need to know about? Let me know. I’d love to add it my list next time.

Thanks for reading!

Xo,

Cass

 

Southern Bali

Seminyak | Uluwatu

When people talk about visiting Bali, it’s usually the southern region. This area is dotted with luxurious, high-end hotels, restaurants and shops. This fast paced resort area is congested with traffic, many westerners and offers another view of life on the island than my previous posts.

Royal Seminyak

We stayed at the Royal Seminyak, which was walking distance to shops and restaurants, as well as, right on the beach. We stayed in their largest villa, and I was most blown away by the designs of each of the villa entrances. You can see below how they were inspired by the doors around Bali, and I love a design that gives a sense of place. Each had their own temple offering box built in outside of the door for daily offerings. If you’ve been to Bali, you know doors are a thing all over the island, from hand carved to hand painted. My greatest regret was not bringing a carved wood door back, but we had two plumbing leaks in our house we were dealing with at the time of our travel, so I wasn’t about to add anymore construction or renovating to the house. Most of all, I knew I’d return to Bali someday, so that will be for my next trip. The villa we stayed in had two houses, a black pool, hot tub, and an entire upstairs for outdoor entertaining. Our friends stayed in one house, and we stayed in the other one with the two stories. Basically, we could have lived in this house alone, it was that big. I practiced yoga and meditation upstairs overlooking the grounds, pool and ocean each morning.  As I mentioned in my previous post about Amed, these round, smooth, decorative stones are everywhere, and the Balinese get very creative with the shapes, patterns and layouts they make. Use of local materials and resources is one of the greatest things about observing design in other destinations. Aren’t these doors beautiful? And if only I could have bought these chairs and brought them back, too. Adding these to my list for next time, also.

 

Uluwatu Temple

One of the six key temples on the island, said to protect Bali from evil sea spirits, is Uluwatu. It is one of the most beautiful ascension temples on Bali perched high above the Indian Ocean at the southernmost point of the island. There are several sea temples on Bali, all of which are said to form a protective barrier around the coastal areas of Bali and are visible reference points around the island. When translated, Uluwatu means “something divine at the end of the land.” The walk through the trees inhabited by monkeys, up the stone steps with sweeping views, 200 ft above the Indian Ocean, and this divine temple at the end of the land will surely take your breath away. These ascension temples and their placement in the natural world have sacred meaning and one has plenty of time to contemplate the Gods on your walk to the top of the top.

Shopping

Seminyak is a blast for shopping and probably the only reason I would ever go back, because I prefer the quieter areas of the island. Store, after store, after store. It’s an easy walk, and most things you’ll find are made in Bali, from the very inexpensive to the finest local quality.

Bali is full of feathers, beads, tassels, straw, poms poms, shells, and an array of organic materials adorn everything.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of this shop, but kaftans and kimonos are also everywhere on Bali. Isn’t this store fun? I got a bracelet from here which you’ll see down below. I’ll take one in every color please (well, almost every color). 😉 Truth be told, I’m tired of business clothes and could live in kaftans and kimonos.

Frangipani

Loved this store. The dress I have on above was handmade in Bali and purchased at Frangipani. You’ll remember in a couple posts back, I wrote about this flower called the frangipani and how it is used for everything. They just haven’t figured out how to bottle that sweet smell.

Biasa

Effortless, bold cuts, classy, sophisticated, simplistic, modern resort wear. I love this store, their philosophy and artistic approach. Made in Bali with ever expanding stores around the globe, the Biasa label is growing fast.

Tassels

Well, you would have thought my tassel obsession would have been cured here, but it wasn’t. 😉 It only managed to increase the desire to put them on everything! We were almost overwhelmed with tassels. There was every possible color, size and style you could imagine. She even custom made a pair of earrings for me while we waited.

Shoes

Handmade shoes are just like everything else in Bali, very inexpensive. These were less than $40. The lady offered to custom make me a pair of shoes if I didn’t see anything I liked, and I could pick them up in a couple days. I did end up leaving with a pair of simple handmade sandals you’ll see below, and like Thailand, I had to buy another piece of luggage to bring all this stuff back. Next time a need a container… and a shop in the States to sell it all. 😉

Rock Bar

Located at the Ayana Resort, Rock Bar is carved out of the cliff overlooking the beach. Make plans to go if you’re anywhere near the area. You have to get here early and wait, but there are shops on property you can spend some time in. They don’t open the bar until a certain time, and seats go fast. It’s like the running of the bulls once they allow you in and once the sun goes down to get out. But, it’s worth it to get a drink, people watch, and wait for the sun to set. It’s like an event all on its own. Servers pass out umbrellas for guests, because the sun is blazing hot, so wear light colored clothes and bring sunscreen. You take a cable car down to the seating area for an experience and view that is priceless.

La Plancha

Probably most famous for the umbrellas and bean bags (and now almost all the beach restaurants have them), La Plancha is a Spanish inspired restaurant which literally translates to “the grill.”  Serving tapas, sangria, mojitos and fresh seafood sourced from the seafood market each morning, this spot is one of the best for watching the sunset on the beach.

I got this gorgeous maxi dress from Flory Day, and paired with this bracelet I got from the no-name store above (lol), and the handmade sandals I purchased in Seminyak, isn’t this the perfect Bali outfit?

Hope you enjoyed my final blog post in this four part series on Bali. I’d love to know what you think, where you’re going next, and if have places you love in Bali that I need to add to my list for next time. Thanks for reading.

Xo,

Cass

Amed, Bali

Above the Clouds | Beneath the Sea

On the northeastern side of Bali lies Amed. This tiny fishing village is quickly attracting scuba divers and snorkelers from all over the world for the beautiful coral gardens and marine life in the Bali Sea.

Here in a Amed you won’t find the traffic, tourism, and the commercialism of other places in Bali. The streets are narrow, shops and restaurants are small and limited, but the black sand beach, clear water visibility, coral gardens, dive shops, and the hospitality of local Balinese in this growing town, along with the price to stay here, are charming and affordable.

Villa Paradiso

Built in the traditional Balinese style with teak wood doors and windows and tile floors, the villa had all the amenities. Doors opened on all sides to allow the breeze to blow in, the private pool was in the front courtyard, and the one room cottage in the back had an open-air shower. We chose to stay in the cottage in back of the villa, which we loved, instead of the main villa with our friends. I practiced yoga and meditation of the porch every morning overlooking the garden. There are stone and pebble designs are all over Bali, similar to our shower, and volcanic rock is a main building materiel on the island. Black and white represents the balance of opposites (happy and sad, good and evil, etc) and you’ll see black and white buffalo check fabric all over the island at temples and around trees. This pattern is seen as sacred and usually means the spirit resides within. Balinese also incorporate Animism into their religion, and believe the spirit resides in trees, plants, animals, etc. As mentioned in the previous post about Bali, prior to cutting any part of a sacred tree, the priest will ask the tree spirit first. All of these sacred trees are wrapped in black and white fabric, which you’ll see more of below.

Offerings Basket

All over Bali you will see the offerings basket outside homes, businesses, etc. These baskets have different colored flowers, representing different Gods, dried rice, and are sprinkled with holy water. They are made from palm leaves and strips of bamboo, which act as straight pins to keep the leaves together. The villa has a full staff, and one of the ladies taught me how to make the baskets. They make offerings each day to the Gods thanking them for their many blessings, and the lady is the one to make the offering for the business each morning to bless the business, the workers and the customers. This day was the day of the full moon, so the Balinese have a special celebration for that (the Balinese celebrate everything) with offerings, a dance, and special decorations made from dried palm leaves that are folded. Everyone wears traditional Balinese attire, which is often mismatched in color.

Bali Sea

Beach, snorkeling, and a sunset boat ride on a traditional Jukung are musts. We snorkeled off the beach in the coral gardens with a guide. If you’ve been on a black sand beach, you know how hot the sand can get, so take some shoes you can get wet and leave right by the water, so you can slip them on when you get out. The water is very clear and is easy to snorkel right off the beach with good visibility of the coral and fish. The jukung is a traditional fishing boat, so it’s not luxurious, but the sun setting behind Mt Agung (the volcano that has been erupting recently) is gorgeous, along with the view of all the villas and hotels from the water.

Pura Lempuyang

Pura in Balinese means temple. If you are anywhere near this side of the island, you have to go to Lempuyang. Also known as the temple of a thousand steps, this is one of the nine key directional temples in Bali, said to protect Bali from evil spirits. The location, position and layout is considered to be one of the most sacred structures and natural points on the island and marks each of the eight cardinal directions. There are three sections, each relating to Balinese cosmology and corresponding to the three Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Lumpuyang is sutiuated on Mt Lempuyang and consists of six temples ascending to the peak of the mountain. There are 1,700 plus steps, and it take 2 hours to climb to the top, 2,000 ft above sea level. It’s magical and spiritual. If you don’t find spirit here, I doubt you will. It is moving, jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. Below is the first temple where you are greeted by the giant Naga (dragon) heads, whose tail extends up the staircase to the top of the first temple. Red, black and white fabric represents the three Gods, and black and white covers the tail reminding us, this is a sacred place. Covered by that cloud behind me in the photo below at Lempuyang’s famous gate in the clouds is the towering volcano, Mt Agung. As we got to the top of this first temple, for a brief moment, the clouds parted and the volcano silhouette became visible. It’s hard to believe something so massive and almost menacing is just behind those clouds. Mystical and magical Bali will make you believe in Animism-that spirit resides in everything around us. The journey at Lemupyang will prove it to you.

Dining

We had coffee every morning at Pazzo Bali across the street from the villa. The service was excellent, and the restaurant overlooks the Pazzo Hotel pool. We were blown away to find out it was only $50 a night to stay here. If you’re on a tight budget, there are so many options in Bali.

We had dinner at Apa Kabar on the beach one night and the food was great, but with this kind of setting, I would have been fine with plain toast. 😉

The Balinese love their birds and flowers. Most all the homes have at least one bird cage outside, sometimes more, and as I’ve mentioned in my previous blogs, the marigold is everywhere in Bali. Marigolds are around all the statues in Bali, as offerings to the Gods, and many have frangipani flowers tucked behind their ears or in their hair, if there is room.

This is my third in the Bali series. I have one more blog post to share from another side of the island. I hope you have enjoyed it!

Xo,

Cass

 

Ubud, Bali

Enchanting, Ancient and Spiritual

Ubud is the cultural hub of Bali. Surrounded by verdant, undulating rice terraces, tropical rain forests, ancient temples and holy sites, Ubud is the center of traditional arts and dance in Bali, the creative epicenter and a jungle paradise.

Bali is one island in the Indonesian archipelago of roughly 15,000 islands (depending on which organization you ask). The capital is Jakarta on the neighboring island of Java directly to the west of Bali. Indonesia is the 4th largest populous country in the world, with a predominately Muslims population, and people in Bali speak both Balinese and Indonesian.

Bali, on the other hand, is Hindu with practices, celebrations, offerings, blessings and many other traditions honoring and protecting the culture. There were handmade decorations and offerings outside of temples, homes, and businesses everywhere we went. These are part of daily life. The Balinese are constantly celebrating something, expressing gratitude, and communing with the Gods through incense, daily offerings, flowers, rice and prayer. I’ve never seen a more grateful culture.

Here are some highlights from Ubud.

Sacred Monkey Forest

Oh, how I really want to like these guys.

First, I’m an animal lover-all of them. A fan of the macaque monkey, I am not. They are not cute, cuddly creatures. They are mean, aggressive, unpredictable, quick and strong. This was my second encounter with these monkeys, and it was just as unsettling. The first one was in Thailand, and the minute they saw us, they rushed onto our boat, creating complete and utter pandemonium looking for food. I learned my lesson then to keep my distance. Before entering the forest, our guide told us not to look the monkeys in the eyes. They see it as a challenge and will come after you. In fact, once inside the forest there were signs everywhere stating, “Do not make eye contact with the monkeys.” Ugh, these things freak me out, and rightly so. Our guide said not to let one jump on your head or shoulders, because they have scratched people’s eyes out before, and they are thieves, as well. Be sure you hold on to your sunglasses and phones. They are very curious, too.  Do not underestimate the strength and speed of this tiny creature. So, a word to the wise: definitely go to the forest, but beware of this little monster.

The forest itself is like something out of a storybook. The trees, vines, plants, Naga (dragon) bridge made of stone, and moss covered statues are simply enchanting. Try to go in the morning. Because of the light filtering through the trees in the morning, there is a misty light and spiritual quality in the forest. It’s a feeling you’ll find all over the island actually, thanks to incense burning everywhere, Balinese music, and offerings in front of nearly every building. There are three temples inside the forest that are still used today. One for transformation, one for purification and spiritual cleansing, and one for cremation. Many Hindus come here to pray to the Gods and a mass cremation is held every five years. There is a cemetery in the forest which is temporarily used while families wait for the mass cremation. There are over 100 different species of trees in the forest, and many are used for Balinese spiritual practices. The banyan tree in the middle is over 400 years old and many trees in the forest are considered holy. Balinese believe in maintaining harmony between humans, animals and nature, and the spirit world. Leaves and branches from the trees are used for spiritual activities and mask making for ceremonies that take place in forest. No trees are killed, and prior to cutting any parts of the tree, the priest will ask the tree spirit for permission to cut a small piece. It’s a culture that respects nature and shows immense gratitude for even the smallest things, like leaves and trees.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces

If you’ve seen pictures of Bali, you’ve probably seen Tegalalang. Any drive around Bali offers views of rice paddies and rice terraces that are simply gorgeous, but Tegalalang is unforgettable for it’s sheer size, depth and uninterrupted view. This undulating, terraced landscape maintains an irrigation system that has been handed down since the 8th century. The panoramic views sweeping across and down into valley are breathtaking. Farmers allow visitors to walk the terraces, which can be quite steep and slippery due the water irrigating the rice, and it’s quite common to see them working as you’re walking. Talk about back breaking work. Most farmers spend their entire day bent over, barefoot, in shin deep water. Once you see how many rice fields and terraces there are in Bali, it’s surprising to learn they still don’t produce enough rice and have to rely on imported rice to support their need. There is a bridge at the bottom to walk across to the other side of the valley, and restaurants and markets line the top with open-air dining overlooking Tegalalang. I had this wonderful curry and rice dish for lunch and this priceless view. The sky was covered in clouds, so I can’t imagine how green it is on a sunny day.

 

Titra Empul

By far, the most fascinating place I have been in the world is Titra Empul.  This Hindu water temple is fed by the sacred waters of an underground spring found around 900 A.D. The water from the spring is collected in a pond and flows through 30 fountains, all representing different aspects of life. Balinese come to this temple to cleanse and purify their mind, body and spirit and perform ceremonial rituals at each fountain. Outside the temple you purchase an offerings basket with flowers, rice, and incense, and a sarong to wear, if you don’t have one. I highly recommend you bring your own. They are all over Bali and all sacred sites require them. You don’t want to wrap yourself in a wet sarong someone just took off after getting out of the pools. Sarongs are required for everyone entering a temple in Bali (including men). Our guide explained, Balinese believe the lower portion of the body (the legs) to be unclean and should be covered at all times in holy places.

Before entering the water, you sit across from the altar on a platform with others and follow along as you are led through a Hindu blessing. As the incense are burning, you place different colored flowers from your offerings basket in the tips of your fingers as you pray, behind your ears, on top of your head, and rice on your forehead at different points during the blessing. Each represent different things and different offerings to the Gods. The Gods are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer). They represent the trinity and the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance and destruction in Hinduism. After the blessing, you place your offerings basket on the altar and make your way to the pools and fountains.

Be sure you bring a change of clothes to get in the water, like a t-shirt and swimsuit, and a towel to dry off. You wear one sarong around the temple grounds over whatever you wore that day and wear a second one in the water with your t-shirt and swimsuit. Lockers are provided. Our hotel provided sarongs and flip flops for us to wear to temple. You should not point your feet towards the priest or altar. Oh, and thankfully, the Gods don’t care about completely flat, hat hair as you’re praying. 😉

The water is freezing, the bottom is pebbly (no shoes are allowed in the water), and it took me several minutes to get over the fish swimming around. The tickling feeling on my legs every time my sarong brushed my legs as it floated around in the water had me freaked out the fish were biting me. Uneasy we all entered the water having no idea if we were doing any of it right, shivering, and trying to walk as softly as possible on the rocks so we didn’t hurt our feet. The water is crystal clear and really beautiful with all the flowers blowing in it from the offerings baskets placed over the fountains.

There are several pools with a number of fountains in each. You progress down the line repeating the ritual at each fountain. There are certain fountains you skip, and although our guide tried to give us all the instructions before we got in, it was a lot to take in and remember, and there were too many fountains, too many gods and too many things to remember to do. Haha. I was first in the water, and thankfully, in front of me was a local Hindu couple whispering to me which fountains we were supposed to skip. The first fountain in the pool is for the local villagers only, there were two fountains for deceased and a few others skipped for various reasons. We quietly laughed at ourselves as we waited to get to the first fountain and reviewed with each other what we were supposed to do.  Do we splash our face first, pray first, drink first or dunk our heads first? Again, thankful for our Hindu neighbors in the line in front of us, we followed along carefully. They could tell we were trying really hard and were being as respectful as we could and wanted to learn.

First, you stand in front of the fountain. You place your hands in prayer, thumbs at your third eye and say a prayer. You splash your face three times with water, then cup your hands and take three sips of water. Lastly you drop down under the fountain and dunk your head allowing the water to wash over you, rinsing and purifying you. Once finished, you move to the fountain to your right until you have finished all the fountains in all the pools. Did I mention how cold the water is? Ughhh! Although we aren’t Hindu, there is a personal moment of reflection and private prayer at each fountain for yourself. All of the symbolic gestures of the rituals can be viewed anyway you like, based on your own religion and intention for the experience. It was highly spiritual day for us, and we saw all faiths and people in the water that day.

The outer courtyard and inner courtyards of the temple are beautiful. There are several pools throughout with koi and statues, and trees line the grounds around the temple. It’s a deeply spiritual and beautiful experience. The inner courtyard is only for those of the Hindu faith, but you do get to see the pool where the spring water is contained as it flows up from the ground, before running through the fountains.

The offerings baskets pictured above are everywhere, and in a future blog, I’ll show you how they are made.

There are two other places worth mentioning, Ubud Palace and Ubud Market. Both are within walking distance from each other and if you’ve seen Eat Pray Love, you’ll remember the market scene. You will also see in a later blog post how the hotel we stayed at in Seminyak used the doors at Ubud Palace (pictured below) for inspiration in their design.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you get to Bali at some point. It’s worth visit.

Xo,

Cassandra

John Hardy ~ Bali

Luxury and Sustainability

Usually these two words aren’t used in the same sentence, especially when describing high-end goods. So often, it seems things are either sustainable and lack the quality, beauty and durability we expect, or they are luxurious and seem wasteful, expensive and extravagant.  I was blown away by the mindful presence of both at John Hardy’s workshop in Bali. Follow me down the bamboo lined path to the creative world of John Hardy.

Like Jim Thompson in Thailand, John Hardy has made a profound, legendary impact in Bali, while creating a luxury brand known worldwide. Canadian born John Hardy established his workshop in Bali in 1975 after visiting the island and being inspired by the Balinese culture and tradition of jewelry-making. He spent time learning the methods and techniques and applied a new approach to those age-old traditions.

The John Hardy complex, including the workshop, showroom and outdoor dining room, was built in 1996 and is a beautiful testament to his mission and philosophy and stands as a model for conscious living and working. If the company were to ever fold, the buildings could easily be removed, recycled and consciously disposed of, and the land could continue to provide food for the people without damage to the environment. Set amidst farms and rice paddies, thought has gone into everything from the jewelry, to the buildings, to the environment, to the people. It is hard to wrap your head around how much intention and inspiration has gone into creating this superior brand, building this low-impact business, caring about the people who create and buy the jewelry and conserving the land. I have never seen a more earth conscious, quality conscious, people conscious brand.

Everything is made by hand from design through final production. The eight-step process begins in the design studio where artists and designers create design sketches for new pieces. Not a single computer is used. The final designs are even painted by hand with gouache or watercolor.  Wax molds are made and then carved by hand, absolutely no machinery is involved at John Hardy. It’s an example and display of the cultivation, protection and beauty of pure human talent and skill at work, and it’s surprising they have held to this model with the amount of volume that comes from the workshop. And yes, it is so hard to believe, every single piece comes from this humble looking workshop in the rice paddies. In fact, when we pulled up, aside from the security guards protecting the property, I thought, is this it? They haven’t compromised or cut corners to shave time off the process to speed up production, and it was refreshing to see humans creating with their hands, instead of computers or machines. For this reason, each piece is essentially a one of a kind, with tiny differences created by the human hands that have made them, while maintaining the brand consistency.

There are no goals for the artisans to meet at John Hardy, except pure quality, and there aren’t a set number of pieces they must turn out each month, no deadlines, etc. John Hardy doesn’t want the process rushed. Each piece takes however long it takes for the artisans to make, to insure the quality isn’t rushed. Each piece is painstakingly critiqued by individuals in quality control who look for imperfections before the piece is ready to be sold. The entire workshop is a testament to John Hardy’s belief in the quality and craftsmanship of each piece by the artisans. The company believes in the transfer of creative energy from the artisans during design and creation passed down to the wearer. All the silver used is reclaimed and comes mostly from the inside of discarded electronics. All the gemstones are ethically sourced and are set by expert gemologists in Thailand. The creative process and production are simply mesmerizing. Photo credit: John Hardy

 

Steeped in history and ancient cultural beliefs, each piece reflects life in Bali from the spiritual to the everyday. The classic chain, which you have most likely seen, is 100% woven, recycled metal, inspired by the art of weaving seen all over Bali as decoration for celebrations, baskets, etc. It takes one hour to make one inch of chain by hand. You can see below, the bamboo column is decorated with woven strips of leaves like the bracelets they make, spiraling up like a serpent (there is also a serpent collection at John Hardy). One of the artists wove the palm leaf greenery around that column pictured with our host we spent the morning touring the property with. The Balinese dress is so beautiful. Below is one the design sketches of the classic chain weave.

 

The Legends of the Naga collection is inspired by the Naga, the mythical water dragon, that lives in the mountains of Bali and descends the mountain to find his love the pearl. The Naga represents love, protection and prosperity in Bali. Watch this video with adorable illustrations depicting the story of the Naga. If you’ve been anywhere in Asia, you know the Naga, or some story of the dragon, is a positive, powerful creature in many Asian cultures. Below is a design sketch for a Naga piece with sapphire eyes and a special bracelet with a golden pearl from Lombok, an island off Bali. A love story expressed in jewelry, the Naga pieces that include pearls are very special, as this completes the entire story of the Naga and his love the pearl. It is said if you wear the Naga facing you, it will attract love. If you wear the Naga facing away from you, it serves to protect you. I even love the Naga Dome Ring which looks like the texture of the scales of the dragon’s skin. The black piece below is highly-prized, black mother of pearl.

One of my other favorite collections is the bamboo collection. Not only is it the main building material used around the property, for each piece sold, the company plants a certain number of bamboo seedlings. If you look very closely inside each bamboo piece, the company has etched how many seedlings were planted from the purchase of that piece. You can clearly see the bamboo seedling stamp inside the silver piece. I almost bought the yellow gold bangle below but decided on the classic chain in the picture above in a silver and yellow gold combination. Because I love the design sketches so much, I’ve included a couple from the bamboo collection.

One of the other details that makes a John Hardy piece so special is the Ukian etching or carving on the inside of many of his pieces. These depict secret mythical stories that only the wearer sees and knows. Ukian is a traditional carving method in Bali, and you can see a similar method was used on the wall in the entrance hall picture below.

Upon arriving at John Hardy, one is greeted by the beautiful Balinese people and a refreshing lemongrass cooler in a bamboo cup with a lemongrass straw. Whenever possible, everything is natural at John Hardy.

Design Studio

This building was also reclaimed and brought to the property. The designers work here in this light-filled space surrounded by rice and lemongrass. Pictures were not allowed inside the design studio to protect the designs they were currently working on. Each designer sits at a communal type work space, drawing and sketching new concepts.

Lunch Pavillion

Each day the company provides lunch for all the employees in this outdoor bamboo dining room and has a kitchen onsite where they prepare rice and food from the land surrounding the workshop. They eat in two shifts, and guests are invited to dine on traditional Balinese fare with the designers and artisans.

Workshop

You are not allowed to take pictures in the workshop to protect the production process, but having heard so many horrible stories about the treatment of people in workshops in Southeast Asia, we asked every question regarding their welfare. They work a standard 8-hour day, are paid a fair wage, get an hour for lunch, which the company provides, and so many people enjoy working there. We met two generations, a mother and daughter, currently working there together. Most are skilled in one step of the process and are masters at it, so that’s all they do, all day long. Seemed really tough to me. In the workshop, you have the opportunity to stand by the artisans, looking over their shoulders, while they work. The attention to detail is astonishing really. Later in the trip, we were told this is considered an excellent job for Balinese people, and they are treated very well here. I found this picture on DestinAsian of the inside of the workshop.

Showroom

The showroom, called the Kapal Bambu, is located in the building below. It’s highly sculptural and inspired by bamboo ships. The floor is open on each side and rice grows under the building inside the showroom. You can hear the trickle sound of water softly flowing all around the property, irrigating the rice and other plants.  All the cases are built of bamboo and glass, and the bamboo roof shingles in the shape of a turtle shell were really interesting. With the light pouring in from the glass, the entire building had a spiritual quality to it. Love that bamboo bubble chair. too.

Temple

There is also a Hindu temple on the property for daily prayers and offerings, which is usually done three times a day. Marigolds are one of the most used flowers around Bali. You can see them on the table at lunch and arranged in a cone shape flanking the temple steps.

Because of the philosophy of this brand, the quality and craftsmanship of the product, and the amount of love, detail and beautiful, conscious, human energy that goes into each piece, John Hardy has won me over.

If you’re in Bali, you have to put this on your list. It was on of the best experiences we had.

xo,

Cassandra

The Island of the Gods

Hanging Gardens Bali

The road to our hotel was as black as the night sky. There were no lights, no streets signs, no nothing. Just thick palm leaves, greenery on all sides and a canopy of hanging vines and flowers hitting the windshield from time to time. With just a few feet in front of the car visible by the headlights, and the constant, grinding, engine sound, indicating our bus might not make it up the next hill, this was turning out to be more of an adventure than I had expected or desired after such a long flight.

When our guide said, “They don’t send drivers to your hotel alone at night because of the road,” that made the limited visibility even worse. None of us said anything out loud, but by the look on our faces, it was obvious we all thought the same thing. What? What do you mean? Why not? “It’s too dangerous,” he replied. Instantly my mind flashed to all the stories I’d heard of tourists being carjacked, taken off back roads, robbed, raped and murdered, or their bus falling off a steep cliff on a single lane road, high in the jungle mountains at night. And since I have such a vivid imagination, I took that story a step further by envisioning we would be stuck at the bottom of a ravine in the jungle all night, possibly hurt, no lights, with the sound of jungle animals all around, and either no one would know we were there, or no one could get to us until morning.

I have friends who have visited Bali and raved about it, but that didn’t stop my mind from going to the darkest possible places. Every now and then, the trees broke, and with what little light illuminated the night sky and the thick, lush landscape, you could see the road dropped off on either side of the car. Exactly how far down it dropped off we couldn’t see, but we knew we were going higher and higher up into the jungle with every turn. We nervously laughed and joked to ease the silence. The first time I saw car lights coming at us on the road, I felt relieved we weren’t alone. I thought, “Oh good, there are other people out here.” And then the following conversation ran in my head:

Were they dropping off tourists they had murdered or were going to murder? Surely they were coming from our hotel. It’s fine. You’re being silly. You’ve checked out the hotel, all the reviews, all the pictures, read every blog post written about it. You’re overacting. Maybe so, but do you really know where you’re going?

The answer to that was, no. I had no idea where we were going. So much of travel is trusting reputable companies in foreign countries to help you get around, and that’s what we were doing now.

Then I realized the road at its widest part was at most, only one and a half lane widths wide, and we’d have to make room for the oncoming car. I went into a complete panic. There was no room for them to pass, and the road dropped off on the side we were on. Once I realized they were barely even going to slow down, and instead, planned on passing us at full speed, I ducked my head down in my arms, and almost as if we were in unison, we yelled out some sort of curse word together as they passed. Once again we all nervously (and thankfully) laughed, realizing we were still alive and somehow managed not to get knocked off the road and fall off the cliff, and questioned why the hell they didn’t slow down. It was a long, tense, nerve wracking drive up the mountain in the jungle that night, and each time a car passed there were audible gasps followed by heavy sighs of relief and nervous laughter. I thought we’d never get there.

As we came to a clearing in the trees, we could see lights flickering up and down the mountainside across a deep valley from the mountain we were on. “OMG, what’s that over there?” we said. That’s your hotel, our guide said. Eyes widened, jaws dropped and we knew then, we weren’t going to become dead tourist statistics. Instead, we were headed to the jungle paradise I had seen in the pictures. I wish I could have gotten a picture of the hotel from that vantage point, but there was no way we were stopping on that road. We would find out later, the hotel puts candles around the pool and property every night, and that’s what we saw lit up across the valley.

We saw our first sign for the hotel and turned, drove through a very small, very poor village, and then the lobby appeared. Bathed in a soft glow of light, with no walls, the lobby was visible from all sides and the car drove right under the roof. We all looked around in amazement at the integrated design of the driveway and the lobby. Lightly scented hand towels, refreshing lemongrass drinks, beautiful flowers and candles were everywhere. Bali smells like a combination of sandalwood incense, lemongrass and sweet frangipani flower. If I ever go back, I hope I arrive at night again. It was sensory paradise. The two story, centrally located, nautilus shell chandelier in the restaurant lit up at night was a stunning sight as we descended in the cable car from the lobby.

To get up and down the mountainside, there are a series of cable cars, starting at the top of the mountain where the lobby is, then another one down to the restaurant and bar, followed by a final one to get to the villas.

The main dining room and bar overlook the jungle and pool, and similar to other parts of Asia, flowers are everywhere. These orange ones reminded me of hollowed out pine cones.

The walkways to our villa were lined with moss covered everything: vases, statues, and walls and monkeys roam freely around the property.

Our room was the traditional Balinese style design with wood trim and details, thatch roof, and a private infinity pool overlooking the jungle. I could have stayed in our villa for the duration of our stay, but I knew I’d miss so much if I did that. The air in the jungle was soft, moist and cool. I needed a light scarf or something on my shoulders in the morning at breakfast, but by midday the weather was perfect. August is the best time to visit Bali weather wise, but for that very reason, it is also the busiest. Thankfully, there are sarongs everywhere in Bali, so if you get out and get chilly, there is always a sarong nearby. Each room has it’s own temple outside the front door with a statue of a Hindu god, and the staff make offerings and decorate them with marigolds each day, another flower commonly seen in Bali. Every detail in the architecture and design of the villas and hotel was thoroughly considered.

Treatment rooms, massage rooms and massage tables are all over the property. If you don’t like one room, just keep looking. There are several to choose from. All are open air and many massage tables are situated under open-air pavilions near the river that flows down through the valley. There are small outdoor platforms for yoga, and the entire property is about resting, relaxing and being away from everything. Now I know why it was so hard to get here. All the fears I had on the nighttime drive getting here about falling off the cliff and no one finding me, were all put to rest, because the no one finding me part was a huge plus at this point. The frangipani flower is all over Bali. It grows in parts of the Caribbean, too, but something about being in a new place makes us aware of things we never noticed before. Maybe it was the abundance of these flowers that brought them to the forefront, but I’ve never noticed or smelled them in the Caribbean like I did in Bali. Not only are the trees everywhere, but the Balinese use them to decorate everything. They also spread them out to dry in the sun, grind them into a fine powder and make a massage oil (among many other things) with them.

Across the valley and over the river is the temple. This Hindu temple has a relationship with the hotel and offers guests the opportunity to dine at the temple after a private Hindu blessing with the priest. We all sat on the ground in the temple with the priest and were led through the Hindu ritual. Each person has an individual ceremonial offerings basket, which contains flowers of different significance, rice, and other organic items. Some you put your head, behind your ears or hold in the tip of your fingers while you pray. Incense are used to cleanse you spiritually and burn all around in the ceremony. They are believed to send our prayers up to God and remove harmful spirits. Bali is the most culturally rich place I have ever been, and I learned so much that it’s hard to put to words. After the prayer, we had a candlelight dinner at the temple, under the light of the Moon, surrounded by flowers.

A gecko decided to join us at dinner (somewhere in the thatched roof above), and if you’ve been to Bali or Southeast Asia, you know how loud that critter can be. I swear they are nocturnal, too. The gecko is all over Bali, and I think his favorite pastime is to make as much noise as possible. Even the littlest ones are insanely loud for their size. If you ever wondered why they are called geckos, YouTube a gecko sound and you’ll understand. It sounds like they are saying GEC-KO or UH-OH repeatedly! Our first morning in Bali, I heard a strange noise outside our villa and went to breakfast and asked the staff what that noise was in the wee hours. They said, “It’s probably a gecko.” Thankfully, their second favorite pastime is eating mosquitoes, so aside from that annoyingly loud noise, they are harmless, and since mosquitoes love me, the gecko can stay. They are also seen as good luck in Southeast Asia and are believed to be descended from dragons. Later there was one in our room (again up in the thatch ceiling) in Amed, and that thing called out like clockwork at midnight every single night. I took this picture of the priest before we sat down for the ritual and blessing with him at the temple. Through the smoky incense and temple lighting, it looks like a column of God-light is shining on him. Pretty much how this entire experience seemed-surrounded by God-light. Now we know why Bali is called the Island of the Gods. The last picture I took from our hotel looking across at the temple.

The first picture I saw of Hanging Gardens in my research was the pool. It was the single most memorable image I saw while trying to figure out where to stay. It’s what initially sparked the desire to want to stay here. Bali has the most incredibly designed hotels I have ever seen in one destination. It’s as if each hotel is trying to outdo the other one. Consistently one of the top-rated pools in the world, it looks as if it was inspired by the undulating shape of the rice terraces found all over Bali-giving this design a sense of place. Every morning there was an enchanting layer of mist slowly rising from the treetops like a veil lifting away to reveal the jungle before our eyes, and the pool was like a mirror reflecting the clouds. It was magic.

Having been all over the world, it has always been hard to pick an absolute favorite place, that one specific hotel that has it all for me. Hanging Gardens is it, and surprisingly, it doesn’t have a beach. I love the secluded feel, the private villas with infinite pools, the food, fresh juices in the morning, the service, the quiet, exotic natural location. I love how close you feel to nature and how far away you feel from civilization. I don’t know if it’s called Hanging Gardens because of the flowers on vines that hang from the jungle trees, or if it’s because it’s literally hanging on the edge of the jungle, cantilevered out over the treetops. I found this aerial image on the internet, and unfortunately couldn’t find the photographer to give photo credit to, but you can see how it looks like it’s hanging on the edge of the mountain.

Hope you enjoyed it. I can’t wait to share more about Bali with you in the next blog.

xo,

Cassandra

Bondi Icebergs

Swim|Drink|Dine

Topping the list of my must-do places in Sydney is Bondi Icebergs. Nestled on a cliff above, or maybe I should say almost in the Pacific Ocean (see pics below), this historic location overlooking Sydney’s most iconic beach, Bondi Beach, has the most spectacular, panoramic views and equally spectacular food. And did I mentioned the lap pool? It’s probably one of the most notable and photographed lap pools by the sea.

Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club

The club itself dates back to 1928 when a few local lifeguards were looking to stay in shape during the colder months. They formed an all male, Winter Swimming Club, which to this day, remains the only licensed Winter Swimming Club in the world.  This history states this:

They formed the Bondi Icebergs Winter Swimming Club, drew up a constitution and elected office bearers. Included in the constitution was a rule that to maintain membership it was mandatory that swimmers compete on three Sundays out of four for a period of five years. This rule, known as the “15B rule” still exists and has been the source of much commentary over the years.

It wasn’t until 1995 women were permitted, and I love this old picture of all the men taken from their website. There are more swim club shots here. There’s one image where the swimmers are holding blocks of ice (icebergs) in the pool, which makes me wonder if this is some sort of initiation for new members, or maybe how they open the winter swimming season.

Here are some images I took of the waves crashing in the pool. The restaurant and club are in the white building.

It reminds me of this unforgettable shot by Slim Aarons.

 

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Sydney. When asked why it was so well-known, most locals said they really had no idea why it was so popular, that there were other beaches they felt were even more beautiful not too far from Bondi. Maybe so, but it was gorgeous as you can see. It reminded me of parts of California, especially Laguna Beach area. Along the cliff, there is a path you can easily walk from the restaurant out to the point with rock formations, flowers, and residences. I was thinking Airbnb at this point.

Icebergs Bar and Restaurant

Dinner, drinks, this view, organic, seasonal, modern Italian fare and an incredibly knowledgeable staff made this a top-notch dining experience. The service at Icebergs is outstanding. The interiors are perfectly suited for a location near the sea, where the harsh environment easily damages finishes and people might come in with wet clothes from swimming. It’s contemporary, functional, yet elegant.  If you take a look at their site, they give credit to nearly everyone involved in the meal, including their sea salt maker. If that isn’t proud of your growers, I don’t know what it is. Our server mentioned they had opened a restaurant in Bali, too (as many Australians are doing), but we couldn’t get there. Next time it will be on the list. Conveniently, we were the last to leave the lunch seating, because we took so much time asking so many questions about the food, wine, design and everything else, I was able to get pics without anyone around.

Definitely one of my most memorable meals ever. Put it on your list, you won’t be disappointed.

Xo,

Cassandra

 

Sydney, Australia

G’day Mate!

Yes, they really say that, along with all sorts of other charming little slang phrases. And that accent is so wonderful to listen to, but of course, they thought our accent was, too. 🙂

Shangri-La

We stayed at the Shangri-la in Sydney, which is situated overlooking the harbor, with perfect views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I love the Shangri-La brand and enjoyed staying at the one in Bangkok, too. There’s always a huge assortment for breakfast, the rooms are spacious and beautifully done, the cost considering they are a 5-star hotel is actually not over-the-top, and the spa always incorporates everything I love about Eastern healing methods and philosophies. Since I didn’t plan anything the day we arrived, as I wasn’t sure how we would feel coming off that flight, we had time to relax. We took a little walk outside the hotel and while we waited for our rooms, we booked our spa treatments. All of us desperately needed a massage after that flight. Chi, the spa at the Shangri-la, is dark, cozy, and dimly lit with wood walls and subtle Eastern accents. We did the couples massage, which worked out all the kinks from that long flight.

 

Our room had a great view of the Opera House, and each window has built-in window seats, perfect for room service and watching the boats come in and out of the harbor snuggled in the robe the hotel provides.

We had dinner at the highly awarded restaurant Altitude, located at the top of the hotel. Serving Australian cuisine, with floor to ceiling windows, this has to be the best dinner view in the city. It made this list of 39 Restaurants Where the Food is as Good as the View. My new favorite, one shoulder LBD I got at Treehouse before I left (a new cute boutique in Smyrna, if you’e headed that way), was perfectly flowy, didn’t wrinkle in my suitcase and was zero fuss -throw it on and go.

 

Sydney Opera House

The next day we toured the Opera House. I have studied a lot of architecture and design in college and traveled all over the world and experienced it firsthand. This and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona have to be my two favorites in the world. Both are mind blowingly creative, and show the pure genius of these two architects. Each are like nothing else in the world. Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect, submitted the design for a competition and out of over 200 entries, his design won. Completely different from any of the other designs and shapes of the typical modernist architecture of the time, and obviously influenced by growing up with a father who was a navel architect, the multiple sail shape design was perfect to sit out on Bennelong Point, welcoming the many ships coming into the harbor. Baffling engineers for quite some time as to how to actually build the design, it was Utzon who would end up coming up with the spherical solution to build his project. Problems arose and he was forced to withdraw from the project, and locals began protesting in the the streets to have him reinstated. Utzon never returned to Sydney to see his masterpiece completed, and another architect stepped in to see the project through its final stages. Many years after completion, he was asked to come back on the project and develop a set of design principles that could be used for years to come through many renovations the Opera House would need. Utzon’s son, also an architect, would oversee many of the renovations and changes in his father’s passing.

The combination of wood, glass and concrete is breathtaking. In every picture I had ever seen, I always though it was one building. While they are connected and sitting on top of an ancient ziggurat, except for the sails that are nesting within one another, the cluster of sails don’t touch. As you can see in the first picture, there are three separate nesting sails. There is also a specific point outside, where you can stand and look down the center axis of both halls. Design drawings along with a page illustrating this axis are here. On another the note, the tiles on the shells of the building are not white. Utzon wanted the building to photograph white but wanted it to change with the different lights of the sun. He also wanted it to be bright without causing glare. He used a special ceramic from Japan and laid the tiles in a chevron pattern. The tiles are actually a combination of beige tiles and white tiles, which allows the sails to change colors. In the evening, the sunlight renders the roof a warm beige tone which you can see below. There is so much to say about this building that requires more space and time, so if you want to read more, you can visit the website here, which includes the entire history, process, details on the solution to building it, and more.

 

 

Harbour Walk

There are walking paths all around the harbor and the views are stunning. You can even climb the top of the bridge, like these brave souls pictured below.

The Rocks

This historic district is full of character. Restaurants, bars and shops line the streets with the bridge towering in the background. Tap Rooms, the brewery I blogged about previously, is on the corner in the last picture. If you missed that blog, you can find it here. This is Sydney’s first settlement and was once a place of prostitutes and sailors but has transformed into a modern destination with art galleries, creative shops and a market with over 100 stalls on Saturdays and Sundays.

While in The Rocks, you have to check out Denham, the jeanmaker.

And Hat World

Sunset Harbour Cruise

Watching the sun go down behind the bridge and seeing the Opera House change colors in evening light on a harbor cruise is a must. Before heading out, stop and get a drink at Opera Bar at the base of the Opera House overlooking the harbor. You get great views of the Opera House, Fort Dennison, Darling Harbor and even a pass under the bridge.

Love this city! Since everything is clustered together by the harbor, it’s easy to see a lot in a short amount of time. Can’t wait to go back!

Xo,

Cassandra

Beer on the Rocks

Beer Lovers + Design Lovers

Endeavour Tap Rooms, located in Sydney’s oldest, colonial hotel building in the Rocks District (Sydney’s first settlement), called me from across the street when I saw the aqua colored tiles, casement windows and burgundy trim on the facade of this architectural, historic gem. This quaint, almost pretty without being feminine, brewery feels nothing like your standard brewpub. Don’t let the botanicals and birds on the walls, flowers at each table, and beautiful wallpaper fool you, its more than just a pretty place.

Serving only seasonally harvested, Australian ingredients with no preservatives, along with seasonal libations, and the star of the show, of course, the vintage beer, this little corner spot has a 600-liter brewery, eight tanks, four key lines, four rotating taps and a lot of knowledgeable people behind it, in both the hospitality and brewing industries in Australia. There are 10 different beers to sample by Endeavour Vintage Beer Co with an interior that has just as earthy of a palette as the beer.

With the classic, barrel back, wood pub chairs and colonial style print wallpaper, this space hearkens back to its original iteration as Seaman’s hotel. With a lighthearted, contemporary British pub feel, thanks mostly to all the wood tones, this space feels airy and bright with all the whites and greens, but also grounded with the dark wood floors, railing and brown geometric tiles. I loved the special surprise of finding the original fireplace in the ladies restroom, the logo design on the coasters and the built-in, self-serve water faucet in the dining room. And what is that beautiful pink flower that looks like a pinecone?

 

 

 

The beer was wonderfully refreshing and light after day of exploring the Opera House and Rocks District. Definitely a must visit next time you’re in Sydney.

Xo,

Cass