Fernweh

The Dalmar, Ft Lauderdale

A  Midcentury South Florida Lifestyle Hotel

 

I felt as if I was transported into a Slim Aarons photo at The Dalmar complete with midcentury breeze blocks, references from both Florida and California during the Golden Age of Travel, and of course, a champagne vending machine giving me these vibes….

Getty Images: Leisure and Fashion. Slim Aarons, 1961

 

Several restaurants were closed while we were there due to COVID, but I wanted to share what was open and the spectacular design details, so you can add it to your Ft Lauderdale list.

Lobby and check-in

The open, lattice work work behind the check-in mimics a large scale breeze block pattern tying it to the adjoining lobby bar and seating area. The gold linework detail in the terrazzo and mother of pearl floor creates runway affect, which subconsciously adds to the wayfinding, drawing you to the desk. It also helps define the two seating areas on either side and adds another beautiful, subtle material to the mix. Check out this muted teal slab wall, and they lined the seam up with the doors. So beautiful.

Lobby Bar

This material nesting we see on the corner edge, built up countertop with contrasting piping, and the lowered server station make this an outstanding bar design. This material looks like it might be an onyx and a view of the front (without barstools) shows downlight washing a beautiful book matching of the material. Lovely details.

 

Lobby Bar Seating

An excellent, one-size-does-not-fit-all, approach was taken here, as we see multiple seating options for varying types of bodies, sizes, functions, and needs. An array of conversational areas and communal tables means creating social areas for people to meet or smaller tables for private discussions. An overall orange and blue (and shades of a minty teal) guides the palette, rich woods warm up the space, white breeze blocks take us back to a specific era, and a casual collection of images creates a sense of place and sparks memory.

 

Rose’s Coffee Bar

One the ground floor as you enter, this outdoor space off the coffee bar with geometric tile and living wall feel like a garden in the middle of the city. Perfect spot for coffee with a little buffer from street noise. Love the coffee bar lighting, too.

 

When I share a blog, I consider three readers: The person who knows nothing about design but is interested in beautiful spaces, places and travel. My fellow designers, to show ideas and how other designers have treated each space and situation, and lastly the potential future client who reads this to educate themselves, because maybe, they are thinking about a project of their own someday. I tell you this because you might fit into one of these categories, and while the next pictures may be of little interest to you, they might be for someone else in this group.

 

Transition spaces

While these seem unimportant, corridors, vestibules and other transition spaces support the experience. I find in some projects, clients want to spend less on these spaces, and I understand that, but these spaces are important to continue the vibe. They also receive a lot of abuse with high traffic and things like careless people in a rush or weary travelers with suitcases. The vertical, stack bond, blue tile is like a gorgeous ocean blue in varying shades highlighted by indirect lighting originating from the ceiling cloud above and uplighting from the floor. Lighting is absolutely everything for mood. Don’t skimp on it. These 3-diminesional tiles in the second photo add a graphic detail and play tricks on the eyes making you question if they are in fact 2-D or 3-D. I love tactile materials that begged to be touched, and a mirror in a vestibule at a hotel is a necessity. We need one last look before we dash out.

 

Although I couldn’t get great shots of the rooftop pool overlooking downtown, I wanted to share these two images from their Instagram page. And because I have this little obsession with carts.

Oh, and that vending machine I mentioned. We all love full service, but sometimes grab and go is just easier when we want a little more speed and less interaction with folks.

 

 

Hope you loved this destination!! Looking forward to everything being back open!

XO,

Cassandra

 

 

 

 

1 Hotel Miami Beach

Material Matters

I have been wanting to share the interior of this hotel since we returned last month. If you were to ask me what my style is, this would be it. I’m becoming more and more minimal as I age and have decided I need less and less around me to make me happy.

 

I always enjoy it when people go to my website and see the projects I have worked on and say, “I see you really like color.” For me, that means I’m doing my job. My projects are a reflection of my client’s homes and businesses, design aesthetics, tastes, styles, colors, products, and demographic we are trying to capture. Not mine. Working with clients gives me the opportunity to explore a variety of design aesthetics, color and styles different from my own personal tastes. I like to say,” I love coloring with all the crayons in the box, but I want to come home to something visually quiet.” This hotel is the silence and texture I crave.

Designed with eco-friendly principles in mind, the hotel is LEED certified and built with reclaimed materials throughout. Both the hotel and operations are designed and run on the best sustainability practices by focusing on environmental impact, recycled building materials, local food sourcing, and things like water and air filtration systems. Even the hangers are made from 100% post consumer recycled materials. This philosophy touches every detail in the hotel like no plastic keys to enter your room and all natural bath products. They even use recycled chalkboards in the room for notes and doodles to cut down on paper waste.

Not only is the mindful approach practiced in the the physical nature of the building and daily practices of sustainability, but also in the spiritual. The hotel hosts full moon celebrations every month to celebrate the changing of the tides, cosmos and energy with the rise of the full moon, as well as, once a month observing something called Dark Sky. That evening, they dim the lights in the lobby and illuminate the area with candles to raise awareness of global brightening and consumption. Reminds me of Bali’s full moon celebrations and day of silence and darkness offering respect to our planet.

The colorless interior, white upholstery, organic and textural materials, concrete, stone, and wood provide visual silence and a place to rest the busy mind. One of the other spectacular things about this hotel is the lighting.

Little nooks and niches for chatting in hotels are a favorite of mine. It allows us to somewhat hide out yet still be somewhat in the middle of things. You get to decide who you want to chat with and how social you want to be. These are spaces that allow us opportunities to chat with those passing by but also discourages them from chatting with us, if we don’t want them to. Often people respect those in a niche or off by themselves, as if they are having a private, not-to-be-disturbed conversation. For me, it’s a non-committal space in a public environment, meaning, I can be around the action and hear the buzz of the lobby and see people, but not be forced into a social setting, if I choose not to be. Sometimes we just want to be a spectator and not a participant. Maybe we’ll be a participant the next night. 😉

The restaurant was closed while we were there, which wasn’t a bad thing for these photos. 😉 Notice all the lighting in the shelves, the cocktail tables, and that custom light fixture over the bar. Can’t wait to go back during the Dark Sky night and have dinner and drinks here by candlelight.

Little details everywhere: barnacles growing on the corners of walls, the heart shape engraved in the door, the weathered wood halls and doors to the rooms, candles and branches everywhere, and the entry to the gym which is incredible itself. As both a residential and commercial designer, it’s always interesting to see how other designers try to conceal or divert the eye away from mechanicals in commercial interiors. *rolls eyes* They are a necessary evil in our projects and seeing how they visually blocked them here with the candles and branches, yet kept it open for proper air flow, is probably something no one else would have noticed but another commercial designer.

The art installations on site also raise awareness and conversation about the philosophy the hotel carries and highlights what we are doing to our planet. These are all recycled items from the ocean. Recycled tv and computer monitors depict animals living inside, as if one day, that might be the only way we will see and remember some of them, because of the destruction we have caused. If it weren’t so sad, this whale might actually be beautiful. A closer look shows the random trash that went into making it. We must do better.

So I don’t leave you on a sad note, I’ll leave you with the best part, the roof!!! Aren’t these cabanas are glorious??

Hope you enjoyed it!! Have you stayed at a 1 Hotel before? Now I have to put the others on my list.

XO,

Cassandra

 

 

Design Destination ~The Eliza Jane, Nola

Not Too Pretty | Not Too Gritty

Design lovers headed to New Orleans have to make a stop at newly opened The Eliza Jane. Easily one of my new favorites. Located away from Bourbon St. in the Central Business District, for those who prefer a little something other than that scene, yet it’s still walking distance to the French Quarter. The hotel takes up several historic renovated warehouses and occupies what was previously Gulf Baking Soda, Paychaud Bitters Factory, and The Daily Picayune, and takes its namesake from the previous publisher of the newspaper, Eliza Jane. Jane was the country’s first female publisher, turning a small newspaper into a nationally recognized one. Next door you’ll find this old architectural treasure sharing similar round details on the columns as the the hotel itself but remains as just a facade today.

Original historic details were preserved when possible, exposing and restoring much of the brick archways and metal structural components, while opening up the multiple, adjacent warehouse spaces as much as possible. Upon arrival guests are greeted with red doors, mosaic tile floors and an original fireplace that remains behind the front desk painted the perfect blue with a calming seafoam color on the walls.

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Holiday Travels 2019

Christmastime in The Crescent City and The Conch Republic

There is nothing more I love than hotels and traveling around Christmastime. I love hotel Christmas decorations, because they usually have larger floral and decorative budgets than any of us, along with a full staff to make Christmas magic truly something special.  I love huge Christmas buffets (because who doesn’t like options), formal Christmas dinners, and special Christmas treats that trained pastry chefs take years learning to perfect. I love the sound of a piano playing Christmas music in the marble lobby of a grand hotel with a tree three times what I can fit in my house and hotels with the most memorable Christmas traditions, as you’ll see below. It reminds me of the little girl inside me who remembers going to the mall as a child and thinking how big and beautiful all the decorations were and wishing we could have that at home.

This year we spent Christmastime in New Orleans, St Pete (more on that in a different post) and Key West.  If you’ve always done the traditional thing at Christmas, I hope these images and places inspire you to try something different for Christmas in 2020, like take a trip with your family during the holidays, to create new memories and experiences. One day, I hope to visit some of the world’s most well-known Christmas markets. I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to survive the cold to get there. 😉

New Orleans, AKA The Crescent City

Roosevelt Hotel

So for the grandest of places, the Roosevelt ranks high on the list, and their beautiful trees and florals do not disappoint. The lighting of their decorations is almost as historic as the building itself and draws people annually to the event.

The interior lobby without the decorations is still nothing short of fabulous. The ceiling, moulding, mosaics, and lighting are a course of study in interior design alone. After a closing due to hurricane Katrina and reopening in 2009, the carpet that had previously covered the lobby was removed, everything was restored, and everything brought back to its original grandeur. I’ll save more of the details of that for a design details focused blog post later, but because I can’t resist, here are a few.

The Ritz Carlton

Another grand favorite going over the top is the Ritz. Their gingerbread display is probably the best I’ve seen so far, which includes a streetcar and a tugboat. The tugboat is a new addition this year and both are all made from gingerbread. A work of culinary art indeed and truly a labor of love. If you’ve ever built one from a kit, you know the amount of patience they take.

 

 

Step right outside the Ritz for these windows. Who doesn’t love a beautiful Christmas window to inspire child-like wonder?

The Hotel Monteleone

The Monteleone is always a must, especially if you’ve never seen the Carousel Bar. They also offer a Reveillion dinners throughout the month of December. Don’t know about this New Orleans tradition? Click here for an explanation.

The Royal Sonesta

This is probably one of the most photographed street corners in New Orleans, thanks to their quintessential New Orleans style architecture, iron balconies and their showstopping hanging planters. It’s a corner I often see used in tourism promotional photos. Pop in for a coffee at PJ’s and walk through their hall of trees. Oh, and here is their balcony with ferns, sweet potato vine and fig vine just pouring out of their planters.

Key West AKA The Conch Republic

Old Town

Mid-December we headed to Key West for the remainder of the year. The entire town was decorated, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on not having a tree or decorations this year. This little conch cottage is so classic Key West Christmas and who doesn’t love lighted palm trees? The lighted chicken is absolutely perfect considering the amount of gypsy chickens roaming the town. The big Victorian house did a blue, snowy theme with giant snowflakes hanging, and makes my favorite list just for carrying a concept throughout.  They did an outstanding job on it. The city must have a Christmas light competition, because we saw signs in yards saying, “vote for this house.” The tree below at the marina was all buoys and the lighted boats were always fun to see from shore.

America 2.0 Schooner

We sailed on an classic schooner for brunch on Christmas Day and saw Santa boarding his yacht for vacation after making all his deliveries. Haha. Just kidding. I’m sure he was paying the very lucky kids on board a visit to hand deliver their gifts.

This sweet little bakery, just a block away from our rental, was absolutely adorable and yummy, so we were there frequently. I think my husband walked there every single day for coffee, even if we didn’t get food from there. My favorite shop in Key West, Grace on Frances, did an all minimal, organic theme with their decorations, which I love. They used a Mexican straw garland seen above the windows, which I had to buy, and natural ornaments on their tree. I have blogged about them before and tell people all the time, you have to get off Duval St. for some of the best places in Key West.

And when you live on a tiny island with quirky houses, eclectic people, and chickens running loose, your mode of transportation should be anything but ordinary. This Moke wins my heart.

Hope you enjoyed reading and if you’ve never traveled during the holidays, I hope you’ll consider it this year.

Xo,

Cass

Jekyll Island Club

Slow Living

Just recently we returned from a lovely week at the Jekyll Island Club on the coast of Georgia. Not our first time, but each time I am struck. It is a course of study in architecture, design and fine living. Such an easy getaway from Atlanta, and it’s as if time slows at the Jekyll Club – a place where croquet is played on the front lawn, porches overlook the gardens and beautiful historic trees, and architectural masterpieces line the street to the Jekyll Island Club Resort – a once seasonal destination for the wealthiest people in the world.

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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.

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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