Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Change is in the Air..

Change is in the Air..

A spontaneous trip to Indonesia helped Actress Ali Bastian rediscover the true nature of relaxation.

The phone rang a few weeks back, it was my little brother Nick.  I say little. In my head he still is 6 years old and I can definitely beat him at a BMX race.  He is in fact 30 and despite my best efforts, he is no longer willing to race me.  (Secretly, I'm sure this is because he knows I'll win.)  I settle in for the usual. . . 'Are you going home this weekend?' 'What shall we do for Mum's Birthday?' 'Have you got time to go out and buy something... Because I haven't.' This was, however, a phone call with a difference. 'Al, it's happening.. I'm leaving my job and setting up my own advertising agency, I have two weeks break and I need to get away.  I'm thinking the Gili Islands. Are you in?'

I had never heard of the Gili Islands.  I had no idea where to find them.  After about 20 seconds on Google image, I knew one thing for certain.  I was in.

Indonesia was the destination, and the scatter of three Gili Islands are, in fact, a short boat ride from Lombok, which now has its own International airport.  Gili Meno is the smallest and most secluded, Gili Trawangan the largest and as I later discovered, the party Island for gap year students.  If you're over 30 they probably won't let you over the border. After a little research, we decided on Gili Air, and boy are we glad we did.  

Switch your phone off, leave your laptop at home and escape from it all on this beautiful, small but perfectly formed paradise island.  At a leisurely pace you can stroll around the island in about 90 minutes.  The only other ways to get around are by bike - Bicycles can be hired at most hotels or bungalows or you might choose to arrive at your hotel, as we did, by donkey and cart which certainly added to the sense of adventure!  

The picture perfect stretch of white sandy beaches are peppered with traditional home stays, backpackers Bungalows and boutique resorts. . . something for everyone.  We chose the Sunrise Bungalows, a group of traditional Indonesian villas nestled in lush green gardens with panoramic sea and mountain views.  Somewhere between luxury and backpacking accommodation, they offer a comfortable, rustic retreat that is both authentic and extremely inviting. For me, there is something about a return to this kind of simplicity that encourages another level of relaxation. Sleeping under mosquito nets, listening to the sound of the Geckos and the gentle lapping of the ocean, I soon feel a million miles away from everything and so very happy in the knowledge that my little brother, tucked up in his bungalow next door, is experiencing exactly the kind of head space required before he embarks upon his next exciting chapter.  

Stand alone restaurants are not a feature of the Island but you will find plenty of dining options at all the different hotels and a scatter of beach bars.  Le Cirque is
Sunrise and Gili Air`s "Piece de Resistance" for experential gastronomic dining.  Our favourite spot was the restaurant at Manta Dive serving the more traditional Indonesian dishes such as Nasi Goreng and a delicious Beef Rending.

Two weeks on a desert island moving between my hammock, with my nose in a good book, and a splash in the warm, tropical turquoise sea is all the activity I need but for the more active traveller there are endless opportunities.  The island boasts, by all accounts, some of the best diving on earth and there are a couple of diving schools offering Padi courses.  Snorkelling by the reef is breathtaking and if you're lucky you may find yourself having a magical swim with the turtles.  Paddle boarding and kitesurfing are other popular pursuits.  One of the more unusual options offered is a course in Free Diving.  A three day course promises to teach you breathing techniques to safely explore the ocean on a single breath up to 40 metres! I ran into a couple I'd met on the boat to Gili who had experienced the course and had absolutely loved it so I have promised myself I will do it next time I visit.  

As another cloudless day draws to a close on Gili, we hear the best spot for the evening to grab a bean bag and listen to some live local music is Safari Bar.  My brother and I leap onto our hire bikes to race up to the Northern tip of the island to witness the spectacular sunset.  He is 6 and I am 10 and we are pedalling as fast as our little legs can carry us, the cool breeze in our hair.  I win. . .(secretly, I know he let me.)

Friday, 11 November 2016

Walking along the Thames riverbank, my dog Molly jumped up at a passing elderly gentleman and muddied his smart trousers.  I apologised profusely, he smiled and said, ‘it’s ok.. I love all living beings,’ and patted her on the head.

I continued my walk, and on the way back, I found him looking out across the river.  He  told me how much it had all changed in the 40 years since he had been back there.  His walk that morning had been a spontaneous one.. a sudden urge to revisit the area. 

There were no trees lining the banks back then as the river was in constant use for deliveries.  He told me about the day he was walking home with his brother.. they felt the earth beneath them shake and saw a V2 bomb hit right by Chiswick bridge, no air raid warnings that day.. no one new they were coming.

He told me what life was like in the area during the war, that his father was so worried he would go out on patrol with the neighbour on the look out for air raids.  He told me White Hart Lane was bombed, right outside what was a fishmonger and is now Anni’s restaurant.  He told me he  had just missed being called up, but had to to his national service just after the War, where he ‘learnt to kill his fellow man.’ The look in his eye and the shake of his head said it all.

After sharing his trip down memory lane for a little while, I asked where he had lived.. he said the name of the road.. it was my road.  I asked what number flat.. it was my flat.  The place that has been my life raft for the past 10 years, had been his family’s safe harbour throughout the war and for many years after that.  He didn’t want to upset me.. but his father had sadly passed away in my front room.

We both cried together.  I told him, of all the rooms in the house.. that one has always felt the most peaceful and it’s true.  In the afternoons, it is bathed in the most beautiful golden light.. especially this time of year.  This is a place where I have felt incredibly safe and happy.  

I told him I’ll speak to his father sometimes, and I will.  His name was Ferdinand.  

We walked and talked. His family had grown vegetables in the garden for all the neighbours during rations.  They had an anderson bomb shelter.  Their closest neighbour lived in the flat which now belongs to my oldest and dearest friend here.  She regularly invites me down for dinner and wine.

He treated me to a bowl of soup. And then we played the lottery together.

He told me he felt like we had already known each other for years.. I felt the same.  

Life is crazy at the moment.. it is crazy and painful.. but above all, it is beautiful.  

Thank you Ferdinand. Your son is a kind man and he loves you very much.