“Paradise, is exactly like …

…where you are right now, only much, much better.” Or so says the Laurie Anderson song. I think I had a good preview of paradise though on my recent trip to Bali.

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

My idea of travel typically is going to a major metropolitan area, staying in a hotel, and going out to various sites and taking in all the city has to offer. The idea that going to a resort can be fun, just hanging out, seemed like a colossal waste of money. As Tomo said a friend of his would say, “If I just wanted to sit around and read a book I could do that at home.”

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

I never thought I would enjoy an isolated resort. Just like I’ve never really liked the idea of a cruise. But, I guess I’m getting older or opening my mind a little bit. I still haven’t been on a cruise since I was 14 years old, but I have ended up hitting various resorts. Since I’ve moved to Japan, I’ve been to a resort in Karuizawa (Hoshinoya), a resort at Hakone, a visit to a resort in Thailand, a ryokan in Matsumoto, and recently a resort in Bali.

This past weekend was spent at the BVLGARI Hotel and Resort in Bali. I’m almost embarrassed to say that, because it seems so over-the-top. I don’t really even like much that Bulgari has to offer as a brand. But the resort looked really, really nice and we were not disappointed.

The trip from Japan is a lot easier than trying to get to Bali from the US. And the best part of all – there is a one hour time difference. That’s it! Interestingly, when I was still in Japan around Christmas time, freezing, Tomo and I made plans to come to Bali. We had tried to go in the past, but it didn’t work out. This time it did. We made reservations at the Bulgari, vowing to explore other options. We marginally explored.

I can’t say I had any experience about Bali while in Bali, and for that I have some regrets. In some respects, the resort could have been anywhere. But we did have Italian influenced Bali architecture, traditional Indonesian food available on the menu, and the warm Indonesian people as our hosts.

So what did we do? Relaxed, ate, went to the spa. The resort had about 70 individual villas nestled in rows on a cliff. But even with so many villas, each villa was very private. The villas were about 300 m2 of indoor and outdoor space, and consisted of 3 huts, two of them enclosed and connected, and one outside. The outside hut was where the living room was, and looked out to a sweeping view of the Indian Ocean. We had two lounge chairs in front of our own plunge pool. The plunge pool was clean, a great depth, and a nice temperature. Yes, we used it (as opposed to Thailand where we thought it looked a little scary).

The entry to our villa

 

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

 

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

 

The door to the interior space

 

The bedroom was completely windowed on three sides, with large sheers and heavy curtains. The roof was thatched grass, and did have a tendency to drop a few things at times. The colors were dark, the lines simple but still felt Indonesian-esque to me (whatever that means).

The bedroom

 

The bedroom

 

The bath area was the same hut style as the bedroom, and it too was completely windowed on three sides. But this has no curtains! It was wide open to the outdoors, although there were privacy walls to protect others from seeing in. I didn’t imagine that I would like the huge, open bathroom, but in the end I loved it. I was even able to take advantage of the outdoor shower.

The bathroom

 

The bathroom

 

Our neighbors were monkeys, and they stopped by for a visit.

Hey, hey!

 

The resort did have a private beach, but since it is situated high on a cliff (the resort, not the beach), accessing could have been difficult. To ease the burden, there was an incline rail to take you up and down. I had never seen a 6 person incline rail before, but there you go. We went to the beach twice – both times at high tide. The water was really rough and swimming is not allowed. We were still able to enjoy the view though.

Incline rail

 

The beach

 

Limited usage

 

The bar was well situated, and in the evening it was very peaceful to enjoy a drink and a snack. The staff was kind enough to offer to reserve a table for us for sunset on the first evening there, and that was good because it was the only night with a visible sunset.

The bar

 

Sunset

 

Sunset

 

At the spa, I had an exfoliation scrub, a foot massage, a facial scrub, a scalp massage, and then a long stroke hot stone oil massage. Although I’ve grown to like shiatsu massages, it’s hard to top a hot stone massage. Basically, the massage incorporates palmed hot stones as part of the massage stroke. We were in an open air hut with waves crashing below and a really nice breeze blowing though.

The spa

 

The spa

 

The spa

 

The pool was very beautiful, and never crowded. I think people were hanging out in their villas.

The pool

 

The pool

 

The pool

 

The pool

 

The pool

 

The Indonesian Rupiah has suffered from inflation over the years, so now, as a rough order of magnitude, 1 USD = 10000 IDR (actually around 8600), and 100 JPY = 10000 IDR (ish). I had a lot of zeros floating around in my head, and prices were often listed in 1000s of IDR. When I got my massage, I wanted to leave a tip. Afterwards, I was fuzzy as I often am after a massage and had to write in the tip. I wanted to leave about a $30 tip for the two therapists, and so I wrote 30000 IDR. Later, as I was looking at the price of something on the menu, I wondered to myself, “Did I really just leave a $3 tip?” That’s almost an insult! The next day we went back to the spa, checked out my bill, and sure enough, I had given them a $3 tip. Ooops. I made it easy and handed over some cash and offered my apologies.

I can go on and on, but I’ve been reminded more than once that nobody really wants to read that much in a blog. If the entry is too long, people will be bored and skip it. Or just look at the pictures, which is what I figure actually happens with this blog.

But if people are reading the whole thing, I do have a few more comments. When we were checking out this resort, I read some really negative reviews. People complaining about the beach, about bugs in the room, about it being too dark, about the restaurants being expensive compared to other places in Bali. I guess if I wanted to, I could complain about things. Yes, there were bugs here and there (it is the tropics, after all), yes you can’t swim on the beach, and yes you are paying premium prices at the bar, restaurant, and spa. I’m not sure how to measure value, but I felt that I got great service, I wasn’t “nickel and dimed” on every service provided, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe since I am now calibrated to Japanese prices, even the high prices didn’t seem THAT high. So I highly recommend the place if you are not going to stress out over the money you are spending. If you are going to stress out about it, then don’t go.

Moss on a wall

 

It is important to be serious

I’ve found that when working with some of my younger Japanese colleagues, it is important to be serious. And as you can see from the pictures, I’m always all work and no play.

A fan of the Chubu Dragons

 

Otsuka-san as Donald Duck

Thanks to Araki-san for providing the ears and coming up with the perfect angle (except for clearly capturing the effects of gravity on my neck), and thanks to Donald Duck (AKA Otsuka-san) and Tigger for posing with me.

Without getting into detail, this was a Saturday work event I attended.

Japan 1 – 0 Australia

Although it is old news, Japan won the AFC Asian Cup on January 29.

Kanamori-san and I planned to meet to watch the finals together. I thought it started at 10:00 pm, but actually it started at Midnight. We were planning on going to a sports bar, but all sports bars were packed by the time we arrived. Really packed. The first one actually wasn’t so crowded, but there was a cover charge of 3000 yen (over $30) and since Kanamori-san wasn’t drinking, it was deemed to pricey. We went from bar to bar, only to learn that we couldn’t enter. I guess others thought that going to a bar was a good idea as well.

We watched a lot of the first half standing outside of a bar called Mexigan (I have no idea why it is called Mexigan with a Mexican theme). It was a very cold night, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to stand the whole time. Kanamori-san warmed up with a hot tea while I had a beer.

Watching the match, on the outside looking in

 

We decided to head back to my place for the second half. I felt bad, since Kanamori-san had driven and wasn’t planning on crashing at my place, he couldn’t drink. Apparently he also has a much bigger TV at home, so instead of watching the match with a bunch of really excited Japanese in a bar, we were watching from my living room, drinking tea (well, I was still drinking beer), on a smaller TV.

In the end, I had a good time. The match was really good, and the room was a lot warmer than standing outside a bar. The game went to extra time, and an amazing goal by Tadanari Lee sealed the cup for Japan.

“Hey, I’m wearing a kimono”

What do you do when someone contacts you and says, “Hey, I’m wearing a kimono tomorrow. Do you want to have lunch?” You say, “Sure, can I take pictures?”

That’s exactly what happened. A few weekends ago I had absolutely no plans other than a work nomikai (drinking party) on Friday night, and it looked like my weekend was going to be spent pretending not to be lonely. Then I made plans to meet a friend to watch the Asian Cup finals. And then a friend emailed with the kimono invitation. And then another friend emailed for a hiking / onsen / dinner adventure. It turned in to a perfect weekend.

Kaoru-san wanted to practice putting on a kimono. Apparently, it isn’t so easy to do. I’ve never tried it. I guess it is a waste to practice putting it on without going out in it. So Kaoru-san and Haru-san invited me to lunch and coffee. Cool. We went to Kakuozan for lunch, and then walked up to the Nittaiji temple. I had never been to Kakuozan, and really enjoyed it. The street heading up to the temple is full of interesting little shops.

On the street in Kakuozan

 

Modeling kimono

 

We ate at Zarame Nagoya, which is a doughnut shop in Nagoya. But we had hamburgers. Really? Yup. It is a shame they were sold out of doughnuts, especially for the little girl that marched in and proudly ordered doughnuts, only to learn they were out. She was NOT happy.

We were quite happy though and enjoyed a nice lunch.

In Zarame

 

Careful!

 

In Zarame

 

Although it was cold outside, we walked up to the Nittaiji temple for some pictures.

Kaoru-san.

Kaoru-san

 

Haru-san.

Haru-san

 

Enjoying a good fortune.

Perhaps a kimono brought good fortune

 

Unfortunately, Kaoru-san’s sandals experienced mechanical failures, so she could not walk forwards in them. Here are Kaoru-san and Haru-san walking the same direction as we leave the temple.

Heading the same direction

 

What a great afternoon.

A glimpse of Hokkaido

Where does the time go? A couple of weeks ago I went to Hokkaido for the first time. It’s not really accurate to say I visited Hokkaido. I went to ニセコ (Niseko) in Hokkaido to go skiing. To say I had a feeling for Hokkaido would be a bit of an overstatement.

I’ve wanted to get to a snowy place in Japan, and certainly there are closer places than Hokkaido to see snow. However, a few colleagues from Tokyo were going, I was invited, and it seemed like a great opportunity. The only difficulty was that the tour was arranged out of Tokyo so I had to get to and from Tokyo.

At first, I really had no intent to even ski – I was planning on just enjoying the ambiance of a ski area and resort town. However, the more I looked into where we were going, the more I realized that maybe there wasn’t much else to do except for skiing. It had been at least 10 years, maybe closer to 15 years since I last went skiing. I would say the last time I went skiing was when I was living in Europe and had a weekend getaway to Wengen. 15 years is a long time ago.

Our flight was from Tokyo to Sapporo (Chitose) and then we took a bus to ニセコ. Although it was dark once we got properly on the road, it was become increasingly obvious that it was snowing. Hard. Looking out the front of the bus, I was mesmerized by the snowflakes in the lights. I love when it snows, and I don’t often get to see it in Nagoya, and definitely don’t see it much in LA.

The obligatory rest stop / shop.

The obligatory shop

 

And some dangerous icicles waiting to impale someone.

watch for falling objects

 

We checked in to the Hilton Niseko VIllage and picked up our pre-arranged rentals. It was great that we could rent everything, including pants, jacket, goggles, helmet, and gloves. I had my own gloves, actually, but everything else was welcomed. I rented a helmet for the first time. Things have changed a lot since the last time I skied and helmets are a lot more common. All I could think of before skiing was totally tweeking my knees, and the Natasha Richardson accident. I couldn’t do anything to protect my knees, but I figured a helmet was a good idea.

Our first night we just ate in the hotel as we all were keen to eat and be relaxed for a full day of skiing the next day. I really can’t remember what we did the first night, but I know that I visited the onsen. It had a rotenburo as well (outside bath), that was unfortunately covered and only open at one end. There is nothing like sitting in an pool of hot water, surrounded by snow, and watching it snow. I will never tire of that. And although it was cold enough to snow, it wasn’t SO cold. One of the cool things about this ski area is that it is not really at a high elevation. It has a ton of snow, but is maybe at 1000 m. That’s it. So it isn’t like skiing Winter Park at 10,000 feet, freezing and getting winded just picking up your skis.

Fresh for the day.

watch for falling objects

 

The resort we were staying at was a ski-in resort. We walked out the ski valet area and hopped on a gondola. That’s the way to do it. My colleagues seemed like they were much better skiers and one had been at the resort for a few days and was telemarking. Yikes. I was glad to send them on their own way and decided to ski on my own. Admittedly, I was pretty nervous on my first run. Would I remember how to ski? The answer is … mostly. On the first run I had one of those falls where my skis ended uphill from me, one attached and one detached, and I kept sliding. Oops. I made it up to my ejected ski and spent the next 20 minutes trying to re-engage the binding. That’s so frustrating, and I probably ended up 20 feet down the hill by the time I got the ski on. It turns out I was on an intermediate run anyway. Oh cool.

The view from the top of the gondola.

Before the snow got heavy

 

And a picture after my first fall. Notice the snow on my goggles.

After the first fall

 

I have a tendency to do the same run multiple times – the first time I’m rather timid because I don’t know the run, the proper way, what is over the next ridge, etc. On subsequent runs I can ski a little more confidently, and that confidence translates to more aggressive skiing. I had plenty of tumbles, and I did tweek both my knees and I really hit my head. I was glad I had my helmet on.

Coincidently, the whole crew met up at lunch, and so we decided to ski together in the afternoon. It turns out that most of the rest of the crew was better than me, but not all, and not significantly better. In the afternoon though it was snowing really hard, my knee was hurting, and I could feel myself making mistakes and I figured the opportunity for further injury was increasing, so I forfeited my last run and called it a day (and headed straight for the onsen).

I didn’t know The Village People had a restaurant in Niseko.

Go West!

 

A picture towards the end of the day. The snow was heavy at that time.

At the end of the day

 

We were able to find the village and enjoyed a little nightlife. We went to a great seafood restaurant run by an Australian bloke and ended up at a bar / hostel / ryokan called the Half Note which appeared to have been taken over by gaijin. The proprietor and his wife and two others performed jazz standards while guests watched, played pool, or just hung out (check out the website). Eventually our team left, went back to the hotel, and closed down the karaoke room. Then I went to onsen again. Hey, I was treating my knee.

I think I was pretty tired.

Enjoying a nice meal

 

Dinner pictures of oysters, crab, sashimi. Yum.

Oysters

 

Crab

 

Sashimi

 

Enjoying the local pub.

The Half Note

 

The Half Note

 

Unfortunately, I had to leave the next morning due to flight constraints, while 3/5 of the crew remained and skied another day. I couldn’t have skied very well anyway, as my knee was very tender. I bought the requisite omiyage at the airport (a ton!) and headed home.

Tomo met me at Haneda, we checked out the new International terminal, and then I headed back to Nagoya.

A great weekend – full of fun from start to finish. Do I know Hokkaido? Not really. Maybe I’ll make it back sometime to see more than a single ski area. But what I saw was beautiful and I have great memories of my weekend there.

The view at breakfast