Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

After a few days of readjusting to life back in the US, we met Amy’s mom in New York. The three of us were first time visitors, and, man, there sure is a lot to see and do in the Big Apple! After spending two weeks in the city, we were able to put together a pretty good list of our favorite sights and activities. Just so happens that after we made the list, we realized that most of these are either free or pretty economic ways of keeping yourself busy in New York; which is a good thing after 15 months traveling the world.

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York City icon, and walking the bridge on a clear day from Brooklyn to Manhattan is awe-inspiring. It offers amazing views of Lower Manhattan, the Manhattan Bridge, Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. Walking has been one of our favorite activities while traveling, and crossing the bridge on foot was no exception.

Brooklyn Bridge

View of Manhattan Bridge

Grand Central Terminal
Another free site, this transit center is one of the oldest in the country and has been a landmark in New York City for the last 100 years, but Grand Central is so much more than just a place where journeys end and begin. It is home to amazing architecture, art exhibits, shops and one of the coolest classic oyster bars we have ever visited. We are not huge oyster lovers, but with over 30 different types on the menu, you can’t really go wrong.

Amy & Mom at Grand Central Terminal, NYC

Grand Central Terminal, NYC

Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, NYC

Chinatown

Out of all of the countries that we visited during our RTW trip, China was one of our favorites. The food, the smells, the language, the people – all were so foreign and intriguing. Going to NYC’s Chinatown felt quite a bit like stepping back into the real deal. If you are looking for a taste of China, but can’t make the flight across the Pacific, look no further than this little slice of heaven in Downtown Manhattan.

Chinatown, NYC

Corner of Mott and Canal, Chinatown NYC

Highline Park

One of the coolest things about visiting large cities is learning about how they have morphed over the years. Highline Park is just one of New York’s many revitalization projects. The elevated rail system that now makes up the park was built as a solution to the rapidly growing number of rail accidents in the 1930s. Towards the end of the century, the rail line was abandoned, in disrepair and on the verge of being demolished before community members came together to develop the idea of turning the Highline into a park. The park now runs for one mile through the Chelsea neighborhood.

The Highline NYC

Old Tracks at Highline Park

The Subway

NYC’s subway is one of the oldest systems in the world with 34 different lines and almost 500 stations. As public transportation enthusiasts, riding around the boroughs of NYC was like a dream. We know it seems kind of dorky, getting stoked about a subway system, but it really is an amazing public service. Although some of the stations are a bit run down, and it isn’t the cleanest transit system we have come across during our travels, it is probably the most impressive when you consider its age, the cost of a ride, and the extensive routes which it offers. Our tip: if you are going to be in NYC for more than 4 days, buy a 7-day pass. For just $30, it will take you everywhere you want to go for a fraction of what taxis will cost you.

Lorimer Subway Station, NYC

5 Train NYC

R line NYC

Staten Island Ferry

Want great views of NYC from the water? Forget the tour boats; take the free ferry from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan to Staten Island! The trip takes you along-side the Statue of Liberty and offers great views of the Downtown skyline, bridges, and Ellis Island. The Staten Island Ferry is definitely a MUST for any first time visitor to New York.

Statue of Liberty from Staten Island Ferry

Downtown view from Staten Island Ferry

Historic neighborhoods

While the NYC subway system is a sight to see in and of itself, to fully appreciate the city you have to do some serious walking as well. As one of the oldest cities in the US, New York has some wonderful historic neighborhoods which feature classic American architecture and were once home to the country’s founding fathers. Brooklyn Heights and Riverside Park were two of our favorites.

Historic Portland Avenue, Brooklyn

Brooklyn Heights

Easter Parade

Our visit to NYC happened to coincide with the annual Easter Parade, one of the only times when 5th Avenue is completely closed to traffic. We spent the morning wandering down the street checking out the creative hats and costumes people created to celebrate this 140 year old tradition.

NYC Easter Parade 2013

Hat at NYC Easter Parade 2013

Dogs at Easter Parade NYC

Brooklyn Museum

Sure, there are the big museums like MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim, but we most enjoyed the lesser known Brooklyn Museum. The exhibits are diverse, the crowds less overwhelming and the price (simply a donation in the amount of your choosing) makes it accessible for everyone.

Brooklyn Museum

Mike at Brooklyn Museum

Central Park

Last but certainly not least, Central Park. What an amazing place to have at the heart of a city. We developed an appreciation of its vast size by walking the park from end to end one afternoon, which took us three hours!

Central Park

Amy and Michele at Central Park

View of Central Park from the Mandarin Oriental

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

We’re Back!

We are back from our writing hiatus and back in the USA where the Chamborres Expedition began 15 months ago. Following its usual form, time has condensed itself and the long weeks away from home now seem like just the blink of an eye. As our plane landed in Florida, Amy voiced her feeling that it seemed as though our travels never happened. The human brain has an amazingly odd way of perceiving time. So what does it feel like returning to our home country after traveling for so long?

January 15, 2012 - On our way to Spain (photo on left)March 19, 2013 - Back in the USA (photo on right)

January 15, 2012 – On our way to Spain (photo on left)
March 19, 2013 – Back in the USA (photo on right)

Since our first stop back in the States is New York, an international destination and a new city to us, it honestly feels like we are still exploring the world. In addition to that sensation, we are excited to catch up with our family and friends. We had butterflies of anticipation the night before leaving Panama. Mike’s dad, step-mom and siblings met us in Fort Lauderdale for our layover which was the perfect way to feel welcomed back home. We have been staying with friends in NYC, another way to have a “soft” introduction back to life here and yet continue to ride out the adventure. However, there are a few things that have caught our eye so far.

The Williamsburg Bridge in NYC.

The Williamsburg Bridge in NYC.

Our first observation was that despite many people’s image of the US, our country is not so “vanilla” after all. Standing in the line for US citizens & residents at the Customs and Immigration check, we were pleasantly reminded about the diversity of our country. The mix of people in line was as eclectic and varied as any international youth hostel that we stayed in, and it was even more diverse than the line for foreigners. The last few days in NYC have only further amplified this notion with the many different languages we have heard spoken on the streets. We may take a second trip “around-the-world” later this week by visiting each of the countless ethnic communities that make-up this enormous city.

We needed a few more lines here for the "countries you've visited" questions

We needed a few more lines here for the “countries you’ve visited” questions

The next thing we noticed is that Americans are loud. Perhaps it’s that we’re back in an English-speaking country which means we can again understand most conversations happening around us, therefore making it seems loud. And we are in NYC where people may in fact be more boisterous than the West coasters we grew-up with. Regardless, it’s something that caught our eye (and ears) almost instantly.

We’ve also become aware that people are glued to their “smart” devices. Americans, more than any other culture we have witnessed, are unequivocally addicted to technology (Japan comes in close second). People are constantly on computers in coffee shops, staring at cell phones on the subway, clicking photos with iPads, headphones glued to their ears. Is this constant connectivity a bad thing? We’re not sure, but it is something that has really stuck out to us during the past few days. When we tell people that we don’t have a cell phone where they can reach us, they look at us in astonishment. Some people comment on how liberating it must be, and others get a touch of fear in their eye as they imagine life without their phone.

It is glorious to be back in a country where we can get our hands on any cheese, any wine and any international food that our hearts desire. We have been seeking out our favorite dishes from our trip, have had wine and cheese nights, and enjoyed delicious American-made microbrews. For food and beverage lovers, the US has to be one of the best places to achieve a varied palate via international fare.

We found a phở place in NYC that rivaled the real deal from Vietnam.

We found a phở place in NYC that rivaled the real deal from Vietnam.

Although we’re back, in a way it still feels like we’re on the road. It is exciting to see friends and family, and challenging to begin processing the past 15 months. There is a lot of uncertainty in our future and endless possibilities. We want to remain conscious of our journey and continue to incorporate positive changes into our lives that we learned on the road. If there is just one thing that we have brought back from our travels, it’s the idea that you don’t have to separate your “life” from your “adventures” by taking a vacation. Life is an adventure; a different expedition for each of us, but all ending in the same place.

Read Full Post »

We couldn’t help but to extend our days in Salento. It is like summer camp for adults. At the beginning of our stay, we had reserved only three nights, and then we added a few more, and then a few more, and before we knew it, we’d been there for more than a week. It is the perfect place to slow down and relax. If it weren’t for the flight we’d booked from Cali to the northern coast of Colombia, we may have stayed forever.

Hiking, coffee fincas, mystical clouds swirling around the green hills, great meals with great people, hammocks, games of tejo, delicious trucha con patacones, rainy days, campfires, fireflies, card games, movie nights & popcorn, humming birds, wax palms, hot springs…what is more to love?

We were lucky to catch this view of the Cocora Valley from the mirador in Salento, as clear days are few and far between.

We don’t normally advertise the places we stay on our blog, but La Serrana Eco Farm & Hostel was a big part of the reason that we chose to slow down our travel pace and just soak it all in. It is about a 20 minute walk from the town center and provide peace and serenity, especially on foggy mornings like this. We truly enjoyed our quiet walks through the country side.  To be clear, La Serrana offered us nothing to mention their name, we just loved the place.

Hiking through el Valle de Cocora is likely Salento’s biggest tourist activity. These towering wax palm trees cover the valley floor and are stunningly beautiful.

After hours hiking, we stopped at a humming bird sanctuary, which was really more of a rustic lodge run by an elderly couple. Who said humming birds can’t be captured mid-wing flap? One Croatian traveler hiking the trail with us said it couldn’t be done without a tripod and special camera. Mike begged to differ and got this shot in just a matter of minutes.

Divine chocolate caliente con queso served at the humming bird sanctuary.

As we descended back down the trail and out of the fog, we found ourselves once again surrounded by wax palms reaching towards the sky.

Have you ever had avacado flan? We hadn’t either before the incredible 8-course tasting menu prepared for us by Chef Michael Neff, a fellow guest at our hostel in Salento. Communal meals in the dinning hall added to the summer camp feel.

Hot springs Colombian style: pumping music, back flips, party time. Not exactly the relaxing day that we had envisioned for ourselves, but enjoyable nonetheless.

This chicken bus to the termales in Santa Rosa de Cabal made our day! Riding this bus turned out to be better than the hot springs themselves. The salsa music was blaring, and the driver slowed down to holler at every señorita in town.

The weather in Salento seemed to rotate between rain and shine. We took advantage of the sun one day to hike down to a nearby coffee finca. With views like this all around, you can imagine why we chose to stay for a while.

We took a tour of Don Elias’s coffee finca not far from our hostel. When these arabica beans are bright red, they are ripe and ready to pick.

Don Elias and his family run a very small operation.  This peeler is the only one they use to remove the skins from all of their beans. Our tour guide, Juan, walked us through the entire process from planting the crop to brewing a cup. It was some of the best coffee we have ever tasted.

One last look at our misty retreat, La Serrana, and the loyal house dog, Pablo.

Read Full Post »

Poor Lima gets used, abused and taken out with the trash. Travelers stop through the city for one or two days on their way to and from Cusco, the entry point to Machu Picchu, and don’t give it the time of day. When we told others that we were visiting Lima for a week, the responses were along the lines of “A whole week, and you’re not going to Machu Picchu? You might want to re-think your itinerary. That is way too much time in Lima.” We are writing this blog post on our last of seven days in Lima, and can now say that we wish we had more time. Why do we love this city? It boils down to nothing more than the diversity of its neighborhoods, the fresh food and the stunning coastline.

Lima, Peru

Lima is a massive metropolitan area that is home to over 8 million Peruvians. The city itself is actually an amalgamation of 30 distinct barrios, or neighborhoods. Most tourists will only visit the Central Historic district, which includes the Plaza del Toros and many important government buildings and cathedrals, and Miraflores, the sea-front neighborhood that boasts pristine parks, high-rise condos and fancy restaurants. While these are indeed two must-see areas, it would be a shame to miss out on Lima’s other barrios. Granted, we were not able to see them all, which is why we wish we had more time here, but we were able to give Lima pretty good run.

After more than a year of traveling abroad, we can say with a pretty high level of confidence that the best way to see a city is not on an open-top, double-decker, tourist bus. The best way to really get a feel for the pulse of a city is to walk. The staff at our hostel thought we were crazy when we told them that we walked the entire coast from Miraflores to Chorrillos one day. What really threw them for a loop was when we finish the story, and they learned that we walked all the way back as well. As we made our way south along the coast, we witnessed the transformation from well-polished Miraflores to bohemian Barranco to Chorrillos, home to pescadores and the where locals go to have a day at the beach.

Coast of Lima

We normally don’t plan to set off on these epic treks; we just end up in a sort of Forrest Gump type mindset. We walk around one neighborhood, sit on a bench, then walk some more, grab a snack or drink, and we just keep on walking until we feel tired and turn around. That is exactly what happened when we ended up exploring more of Lima’s coastal neighborhoods on another day. We journey all the way from San Miguel to San Isidro on another day. This section of the coastline was a different experience altogether; it has some rougher areas and has yet to become a tourist hotspot, which may change once the ongoing land reclamation and greening project is complete.

Lima Coast from San Miguel to San Isidro

By the end of our week in Lima, we had seen the barrios of Pueblo Libre, San Miguel, Jesús María, Magdelena, San Isidro, Lima, Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos all on foot. If there is one item that we both wish we would have brought on this trip, it’s a pedometer. Fortunately, there is MapMyRun. While it is not an exact measurement, our best guess is that we walked about 44km in total while exploring Lima.

Lima

By far, the biggest tourism sector in Peru revolves around its ancient Incan ruins, but what many people don’t realize is that the country was home to various different civilizations which pre-date the Incan empire and lasted for greater periods of time. The Inca were great consolidators. They took many smaller civilizations and united them into one society; however, their reign that lasted for less than 70 years. A couple of our days in Lima were dedicated to learning more about ancient Peru and its pre-Incan inhabitants.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, most tourists fly into Lima and head to Cusco as soon as possible; little do they know that the ruins of Pachacamac are at their fingertips, and can be reached by bus in less than an hour from the city center of Lima. We will admit that to fully enjoy this enormous temple complex, it takes a bit of imagination because nearly all of the buildings, roads, temples and shrines were covered by hundreds of years’ worth of desert sand are still being excavated and restored, but the sheer size of the site and its location next to the ocean make for a fun few hours of exploring.  The first buildings in the area were constructed around 200 CE, (about 1,200 years before the Incan Empire) and beginning in 800 CE the great Wari civilization that controlled much of Peru for almost 500 years expanded the temple complex into a major pilgrimage site for worship of Pacha Kamaq, the god who they revered as the creator Earth.

mycollage-12 (2)

Within the city of Lima, visiting the Archeological Museum in Pueblo Libre is another great way to learn about the country’s ancient people. The museum walks you chronologically through the various civilizations that inhabited the area, from the first humans to reach the Americas, all the way to the nation’s independence from Spain. It took us a few hours to see all of the exhibits, and we found the museum to be well worthwhile. Tickets run about 10 Soles ($4 USD), but entrance is free on Thursdays.

While we would have loved to spend more time visiting other parts of Peru, we were thrilled to spend an entire week in Lima. The city is such a great place to visit. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic (especially the ceviche!), the architecture and history are there, and with all the improvements being made along the coast, we can see it becoming one of South America’s top tourist destinations in the coming years. Our suggestion: if you’re passing through Lima, ignore the naysayers and stay for a few extra days.

Read Full Post »

There is something special about Buenos Aires. In a similar fashion to our other favorite big cities (which include Istanbul and Tokyo) it plants a seed in your mind, making you slowly start to wonder, ‘maybe I should live here?’ We may have fallen so hard for the city because we spent most of our time there with family. It is easier to connect with a place when you have locals showing you the way; the way to make a proper parrillada, the way to drink mate, the way to enjoy homemade gnocchi on the 29th day of the month, the way to find the best slice of pizza with morrónes. We haven’t written in a while, but we haven’t just been sitting around either. Our last two weeks of 2012 were spent in Buenos Aires, and they flew by as quickly as the year itself.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Our bus from Bariloche arrived in Buenos Aires a week before Christmas, and we were greeted with a huge smile and hugs from one of Mike’s aunts. In true Latin American fashion, Mike has a family with countless tios, primos, and abuelos; it’s often difficult to explain connections between family members. Mike hadn’t seen his aunt in over a decade, and had never met her husband and children before, but we were welcomed into their home for a week and had an incredible time getting to know them better. For Amy, it was a long awaited immersion program for practicing lots of Castellano.

This was our first holiday season spent in the southern hemisphere, so it was a bit of an adjustment. We can’t complain about the sunny days and balmy nights, but must say that it is a lot more comfortable baking pies in the cold of winter. Hot ovens and hundred-degree weather just don’t mix. Christmas Eve tradition in Argentina includes the usual fare of family, food and gifts, with the added benefit of fireworks at midnight! The show far surpassed the size and sound of the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve in the States…combined. After a late night, we woke up “early” around 11am and headed over to another aunt’s house for a Christmas asado (BBQ). It was nice to get out of the city and explore the suburb of Escobar. It was a fantastic day relaxing in the backyard grilling, playing games, chatting and watching the children (more primos) enjoy the holiday. We were particularly excited about the number of different cuts of meat on the grill (seven!) plus provoleta cheese.

Christmas in Buenos Aires

In the days before and after Christmas, we took our time exploring the various neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Palermo, Puerto Madero, La Boca, San Isidro, Recoleta, San Telmo, Boedo – each one had something different to offer. La Boca, perhaps one of the most visited parts of the city, was a hub for many early immigrants to Buenos Aires and is known for its colorful buildings. While we could have done without the hordes of tourists and very pushy business owners, it was still fun to wander the streets and pick out our favorite houses. The neighborhoods of Boedo and Palermo were a pleasant surprise to us. Neither was on our radar before we arrived, but they turned out to be our favorite places to walk, visit parks and stop for café con leche and medialunas (croissants).

La Boca

We did a whirlwind, self-guided, walking tour one day from where we were staying in Boedo, through San Telmo, across the levees of Puerto Madero, along la Costanera Sur, past the Centro, down to la Boca, and over to Constitución, before making our way back to Boedo. It was a hell of a walk to say the least. We loved the antique shops in Mercado San Telmo, and think that the parrillada stands/carts that border the Ecological Reserve on the Costanera Sur are the perfect place to stop for an afternoon snack or cheap evening meal.

San Telmo y Puerto Madero

On another day, we made the long trek over to the Recoleta area. This part of town is filled with museums, plazas, and vast green parks. We enjoyed something very modern and something very old. The Floralis Generica, an enormous public art installation, is a giant flower in the middle of a reflecting pool, but what makes this particular piece so cool is that the petals open each morning and slowly close as the sun sets, just like a real flower. After scoping out the Floralis Generica, we walked a few blocks to the Cementerio de Recoleta. At first we weren’t sure how we felt about visiting a cemetery for purposes other than visiting a loved one, but once we arrived and saw the tour buses lined up, we knew that there would be many other tourists far more conspicuous than us wondering the grounds. The ancient Greek word Necropolis (meaning city of the dead) instantly came to mind as we entered the cemetery. The tombs, mausoleums and monuments to Argentina’s most famous and wealthy citizens are more like small houses than burial sites. Instead of a grassy space with crumbling headstones, Cementerio de Recoleta is a well-kept gated community with cobblestone walkways, polished marble structures and street lights. If ever there was a place to be buried in “style,” this is it, and following suit, it is the final resting place of Argentina’s iconic first-lady, Evita Duarte Perón.

Recoleta, Buenos Aires

After Christmas, one of our good friends from college, Adam, flew down to B.A. to travel with us for a few weeks. The three of us headed over to the Olivos area to stay with another one of Mike’s cousins. The next couple of days allowed us to see just a few of the areas outside of the city center. Olivos is a pretty quiet and quaint part of the city which is home to The Great Wall of Argentina. Never heard of it? That’s because most people refer to it as the Presidential Residence. We decided to go take a look at it one day, only to find that unlike the White House, the entire complex is surrounded by a three meter tall brick wall. We walked the entire length and couldn’t even get a peek at the place, so we dubbed it with a new name. On another afternoon, we took a bus to the neighborhood of San Isidro, where Mike’s cousin’s grandparents live, to celebrate the 29th day of the month. What is so special about the 29th? It’s gnocchi day! Argentinians, as well as Brazilians and Uruguayans, enjoy a meal of gnocchi on the 29th day of each month. We can’t tell you exactly where or why this tradition originated, but trust us that it’s fun. The homemade spinach and ricotta gnocchi that we ate were to die for. After stuffing ourselves, we hopped on the Tren de la Costa towards Tigre. Tigre is a small town at the mouth of the Río de la Plata and is the perfect place to walk along the water, soak in the sun, buy cheese and watch Porteños drink mate.

Tigre, Buenos Aires

After some crazy New Year’s festivities in the city, and a full day and a half of recuperating, our two weeks in Buenos Aires had come to an end. We haven’t stopped talking about how much fun we had, how much we love B.A. and when we can go back to visit next. It is an easy place to fall for, and we fell hard.

Read Full Post »

Prior to making the journey ourselves, we had heard horror stories about driving over the Andes Mountains. Curvy roads, bad weather conditions, reckless drivers, distracting scenery, lack of guardrails, etc. Luckily, we crossed over from Chile to Argentina during the most prime summer months, thus optimizing our chance of survival. We did, however, see a semi-truck toppled over on its side as we came down the mountains, which wasn’t very reassuring. All and all, the drive from Puerto Montt to Bariloche was spectacular. It was one of those times when we were snapping photos out of the bus window even though we knew the pictures wouldn’t even coming close to capturing the beauty.

Drive to Bariloche

The scenery only continued to get more stunning as we approached the town of Bariloche. Crystal clear lakes sit at the base of rugged mountains, and the waves make it seem like you’re on the seashore. It feels like the entryway to Patagonia, which it is. The sun had set by the time we arrived at the bus terminal, which only primed our anticipation to see more of the landscape in the morning. We made our way to our hostel, several kilometers down the road, and were excited to find it was a cute and cozy log cabin in a wooded neighborhood. We got “that feeling” instantly. A feeling that we rarely get and only at the most special hostels. It’s the feeling that makes you want to extend your stay another day, and then a few more days, and then just one more. Fellow travelers will know what we’re talking about.

Hostal Alaska

For many people, it’s easy to think that a trip around the world is just an extended vacation. We tend to disagree, as living out of a backpack and switching cities all the time isn’t always relaxing and stress-free, but once we got settled in Bariloche, it really did feel like a mountain getaway. On our first full day we decided to take it easy. We walked to the nearby Playa Bonita for a view of Lake Nahuel, ate a few empanadas for lunch, and bought supplies for the evening’s main event…asado. In the simplest of terms, an asado is a barbecue, but in actuality, it is much more than that. In Argentina, asados are a national pass-time. The fair extends far beyond the typical hamburgers, hotdogs, and bratwurst of an American barbecue. A few basic ingredients are needed for a proper asado:

  1. Parrilla (grill)
  2. Carbon de leña (charcoal – not Kingsford, but big chunks of charred wood)
  3. Carne (copious amounts of meat, featuring as many cuts and animals as possible)
  4. Provoleta (thick slices of provolone, melted in a pan on the grill)
  5. Vino Tinto (Argentine wine, preferably Malbec)

Since it was just the two of us, we went with a “small” asado. Just a kilo of beef, two chicken legs, blood sausage, provoleta and aji stuffed with Roquefort cheese. The magic touch was coarse salt that we brought with us from a salt mine in San Pedro de Atacama and ground by hand using a mortar and pestle.

Parrilla

Thanks to Mike’s asado skills, our protein and iron levels were way up and we were ready for some big hikes the next couple of days. It was difficult to choose where to visit first because Bariloche is so full of options for outdoors enthusiasts. We decided on the Llao Llao peninsula (pronounced zshao zshao by Argentines) for day #1 of hiking. The clouds rolled in and out and the rain came and went as we walked through the forest, to various viewpoints, and huffed our way up Cerro Llao Llao. Our best estimate is that we walked 10 kilometers, and we even picked up a pair of dog friends around kilometer 8 who hiked along with us for a while.

Parque Llao Llao

On our next day of hiking, we got a little more ballsy and aimed to climb a mountain called Cerro Cathedral. Having both recently finished the book Born to Run (we highly recommend it to fellow runners!) we were feeling an extra bounce in our step and started jogging the trail. Other hikers must have thought we were insane, watching us run along the rugged trail in our Chacos sandals, especially when we got to the top where it was snowing. We summited in half the time the trail signs predicted. At the top sat a cool little stone cabin next to a lake with stunning views of the surrounding peaks. After a rest with tuna sandwiches and chocolate, we began our descent. 23 kilometers later we were back at our comfy hostel resting our feet and drinking wine.

Cerro Cathedral Hike

While the hiking and hostel could have kept us lingering around in Bariloche for weeks, we booked tickets on an overnight bus to Buenos Aires. Christmas was just around the corner, and we had promised family we would be there for the holidays. But don’t worry, Bariloche, we’ll be back one day!

Read Full Post »

“What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” -Traveler

“You would have to ask God to know, because I have no control over it.” –Javi, Hostel Owner

We overheard this brief conversation the other day, and we loved Javi’s response. We hear travelers complaining all the time about wind and rain, about it being too hot or too cold, about the sweltering sun and the fog that just won’t lift. But in the end, Javi hit the nail right on the head; no one can control the weather. We were reminded of this when we visited Chiloé, an island in southern Chile, last week. We had high hopes of camping for a few nights and enjoying the ocean. But, it rained and rained and just wouldn’t stop raining. It rained so much and the wind was so relentless that our tent soaked through. Leaving us cold and wet. So what to do?

We made a plan. We learned the mantra “we’ll make a plan” while traveling with our friends in Australia, and it has become a common saying for us over the past few months. When something isn’t going our way, it is useful to vocalize the decision that we’re not going to sit around moping; we’ll figure something out one way or the other! In the case of Chiloé, the weather forced us to change our plans. We ended up spending our second night in an awesome little cabin instead of our tent. Rather than hike, we read our books, wrote a few blog posts, and played cards all day.

Chiloe National Park cabins

While God controls the weather, people control the bus schedules. Unfortunately, like God, those people don’t always give you what you hope for. In a perfect world, we would have spent three nights at the national park in Chiloé, but in order to make our bus connection over the border into Argentina, we had to spend our last night in Castro instead. The benefit of staying flexible with your traveling plans is that you often encounter unexpected things, like the incredible food scene in Castro. While trying to escape the rain (again) we ducked into a small restaurant, which ended up being a really fun lunch spot. We didn’t recognize the names of the daily specials, but decided to give them a try anyway. As a result, we accidentally ordered a hot seaweed salad and ceviche intestines, both of which turned out to be surprisingly delicious.

One of Chiloé’s most well-known features are palafitos (colorful shingled houses on stilts). There are clusters of palafitos all over Castro, and we spent the majority of one day exploring them. While many are old and sagging slowly into the water, it is obvious that tourism has sparked gentrification and restoration of these old buildings. For better or worse, they are a cool architectural piece of Chiloé.

Palafitos Castro

After our culinary and architectural explorations of Castro, we tried to find the most affordable place we could to stay for the night. We were looking forward to a good rest considering the long bus ride ahead of us to Argentina the next day. We did end up finding a place that suited our needs. It was simple, but the price was right. No sooner had we paid the bill, than we looked out the window  to discover that it was right next door to the local prison. Our bedroom wall doubled as the exterior fence. Awesome, huh?

Castro Prison Hotel

Our visit to Chiloé reminded us of that old saying “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” While we can’t control the weather, or bus schedules, or where inmates are kept in a city, we can control how much fun we have despite the circumstances!

Read Full Post »

We arrived in Chile on November 12th and spent the first few days hanging out and recharging our batteries while we waited for Amy’s dad, Dave (a.k.a. Big Dave; named not for his physical stature, but because of his magnanimous personality), to arrive from the U.S. Those first few days in Chile before Big Dave landed, we honestly didn’t do a whole lot; we mostly just walked around town and visited with friends who Mike studied abroad with in 2005. And then Dave arrived!

While we’re sure he would have been perfectly capable of finding his way from the airport in Santiago to Viña del Mar (a two hour bus journey), we worried like parents and promised to go pick him up. But alas, we were late. When we found Dave, he was wandering around looking a bit lost and wondering where we were. In our defense, his flight did land an hour early.

Once back in Viña, we settled into our apartment and made a rough plan for how we wanted to spend the next week. One of the nice things about visiting this region of Chile is that you get three very different cities all in one place. Steeped in history and art, the bustling port of Valparaíso is often described as the cultural heart of Chile. Its neighbor, Viña del Mar is a more suburban coastal city filled with numerous parks, plazas, and gardens. And just a bit further up the coast lie the smaller resort towns of Reñaca & Concón, with their sandy beaches, high-rise hotels, and seafood restaurants.

Being that the apartment we rented was centrally located in Viña, we decided to begin our exploration there. First up was a local market known as a “feria.” Most cities in Chile have some sort of mercado central that operates daily, but they also have rotating markets that take place several days a week in various locations around town. We visited the Sunday Gomez Careño feria in the hills above Viña del Mar. Big Dave loves to cook and is damn good at it too, so we went all out stocking up on produce for our kitchen and fixings for a Thanksgiving feast. The place was absolutely packed with locals buying veggies and fruit. This isn’t the type of market where you buy individual pieces of produce; you buy things by the kilo! Fortunately, Chile’s diverse climate makes it an ideal place for growing many different crops, so the prices can be unbelievably cheap. A whole kilo of kiwis, for instance, will run you less than $1 USD.

We devoted the next two days to seeing as much of Viña as we could. Covering most of the city on foot or by micro (small bus), we definitely hit the main tourist attractions like the Museo Fonck & Flower Clock, but also visited the house where Mike lived during his study abroad and some of the places where he hung out. We walked the coast along Cerro Castillo and Avenida Peru, and we even stopped for completos along the way (a completo is the Chilean style of a hotdog). Dave was particularly excited about trying one at that the restaurant we visited, because it was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Eating a completo is a major undertaking: a foot-long hotdog, topped with copious amounts of diced tomatoes, a hearty smearing of mashed avocado, and at least a half cup of mayonnaise. Amy tried them twice, and said that was enough.

After a couple of days of walking around and sightseeing, we were ready to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. This year it fell on Amy’s birthday, which was part of the reason why Dave came to visit when he did. There was no way that the three of us could stomach a whole turkey, but we did cook up a pretty good feast including roasted chicken, artichokes, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and a surprise birthday cake from Mike. We can now confirm that Thanksgiving tiredness is not because of the tryptophan in turkey, it is from eating way too much.

One morning we set off to explore Valparaíso, and it turned into an all-day endeavor. The metro, which coincidentally opened on the last day of Mike’s study abroad program, is now fully operational, making it easy to commute between the two cities. Valpo’s most noticeable and beloved feature are the hills of jumbled, colorful, tin houses. You can easily get lost wandering through the winding streets and admiring the buildings and unique graffiti. We made our way into the hills to visit the home of Pablo Neruda, a renowned Chilean poet and national icon. He named his house in Valparaíso “La Sebastiana.” The funky architecture and décor made us long for a home of our own that reflects our personalities in the same way that La Sebastiana does Neruda. After that, we walked through the Open Air Museum which is a “typical neighborhood” of Valparaíso. The path led us down to the base of the hills where we ate at the Casino Social J. Cruz. This famous restaurant serves only one dish called chorrillana; another classic Chilean specialty that is just about as healthy as a completo. Chorrillana starts with a heap of French fries, topped with sauteed onions, fried egg, and beef.  While it is impossible to prove, local legend has it that J. Cruz was the birthplace of this tasty treat. After such a gut bomb of a meal, hiking back up another hill would have been too hard, so we took the ascensor up to Cerro Concepción. Before heading back to Viña, we stopped at the brightly colored Café Brighton for an afternoon coffee and incredible views of Valparaíso and its port.

On the morning of our visit to Valpo, we stopped for a brief look at the central market. As we mentioned before, Dave loves to cook. So missing the market was simply not an option. Located just two blocks from the shore, one would expect the market to be filled with fish and seafood, but it wasn’t. In Valpo, there is a separate market for that, so we assured Dave that the next day we would go see “El Tunel.” As promised, the next morning we set-off down la Avenida de España to the fish market that sits right on the border between Viña and Valpo, near the Diego Portales Metro station. Before going into the market itself, we ate an early lunch of fried fish. The market is named El Tunel because it is exactly that, seafood stalls lined up one after another in a narrow, tunnel-like, corridor. When we visited Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan, we thought we had seen every kind of seafood imaginable, but El Tunel still had a surprise in store: the larges barnacles we have ever seen! These things were about the size of a Coca-Cola can and you could see the crabs living inside. After checking out the day’s catch, we headed out back to watch the fishermen feed scraps to hoards of sea lions, pelicans, and a menagerie of other sea birds. It was hilarious watching them swim/fly in mass back and forth between the two piers as fishermen dumped huge buckets of fish guts into the sea.

By this point in Big Dave’s trip to Chile, we had tackled Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and Thanksgiving, but what still remained was the beach town of Concón. We hopped a micro and headed out one day, not knowing exactly where we were going, except with the goal of finding seafood empanadas. If there is one thing that Concón is known for its food, and more specifically, empanadas and seafood. The bus ride was beautiful with amazing views of the ocean and sand dunes. After nearly a week in Chile, Amy’s dad was a pro at riding the local buses and dealing with the masses of people and confusing tariff system. When we arrived in Concón, we tracked down a delicious empanada restaurant and stuffed our bellies. The beach is much more low key than those in Viña and Reñaca, which was a nice change of pace.

Well, that nearly wraps up our time in the Viña-Valpo area. You may not think that the name of this blog is very accurate – did they really chill at all during Big Dave’s visit? In between the sightseeing, we actually did. Our apartment was an oasis of calm, and it was such a treat to unpack and relax together for a week and a half. We had a blast hanging out with Amy’s dad and were sad to say goodbye when he flew out yesterday.

Read Full Post »

This post is about our visit to Western Australia, but the story begins many months ago…

Split, Croatia – April 2012

While riding a ferry to the island of Hvar, we were attempting to take a picture of ourselves when a guy came up to us and asked if we would like him to take our photo. We began to chat and told him about our RTW trip. Upon hearing about our plans to travel to Australia, he quickly replied, “Well, it’s lucky you met me then!” and said nothing further leaving an awkward moment of silence. Does he work for the Travel Channel? Does he want to offer us a book deal? Maybe he’s a local hotel owner with a discount? Curiosity swirled through our heads until he finally chimed in again telling us that his name was Juan and that he and his girlfriend Saskia were on a lengthy road trip around Europe. Despite having only known us for about 30 seconds, he offered to host us at their home in Perth, Australia. We exchanged information, but at that point didn’t think much of it. After all, who would fly to such a remote place to stay with complete strangers?

This is the fateful photo taken on the ferry in Croatia

Fast Forward 6 Months

We landed in Perth at 5am after a red-eye from Kuala Lumpur. Out of it from not sleeping on the flight, we walked out of customs to see Saskia’s smiling face saying “Welcome to Australia!” I guess we are the type of people who fly somewhere to stay with strangers, not complete strangers though, as we did spend one crazy fun night in Split with Juan and Saskia making our friendship about 12 hours old.

After a few hours at dinner in Split, we decided they weren’t axe murderers

As we exited the airport, we saw that they had the car packed up for a proper camping trip and even had a boat in tow. And so began our road trip adventure through Western Australia. Straight away, we headed north from Perth towards Gnaraloo Station, a 12 hour drive that allowed us to see some true Aussie outback. The road we took made its way along the west coast through barren desert, fields of wheat, white sand dunes and rust-red flatlands. Just about now you are probably thinking, did they see kangaroos? YES WE DID. Sadly, the first 20 were all road kill (apparently hitting a kangaroo isn’t at all uncommon when driving in the bush) but eventually we began to see groups of them hopping through the shrubs. We even saw some emus too!

By the time we arrived at Gnaraloo Station, the sun had already set. We unloaded the camp gear, and before we knew it the night was upon us and brilliant stars had filled the sky. Pardon the pun, but the stars of Western Australia are truly out of this world. We have seen our share of clear, starry nights in the Rocky Mountains, but these stars take the cake hands down. Between the drive and the stars, the feeling of remoteness was astonishingly wonderful.

We awoke in the morning to views of the Indian Ocean with humpback whales breaching just off the shore and headed to Gnaraloo Bay for some beach time and fishing. Over the last couple of months in SE Asia, we have become pretty good at beach-time but when it comes to fishing we both fall in the novice category. Juan on the other hand is an avid fisherman and was happy to show us the ropes. Over the next few days we spent countless hours soaking up sun, snorkeling, fishing on the boat and flying a really fun kite (that’s right, kites aren’t only for kids these days). Although Saskia pulled in more fish than the both of us combined, we did land a few good catches. It was the best fishing trip we have ever been on.

Eating fresh seafood is something that we always enjoy, but the experience of catching fish at sea and then cooking them up for dinner is tough to beat. Juan even caught a huge squid that we grilled up on the camp fire.

What time wasn’t spent at the beach was spent telling stories and making jokes while we sat around the fire and looked out over the dunes and sea. For the first time in ages, we didn’t turn on our computer or feel the need to be “connected.” After just four days of camping our new friends felt like people we had known for years.

The end of our camping trip did not, however, mean the end of our visit to WA. Juan and Saskia still had a few things planned. Along the way down to Perth, we made our way to the coastal town of Kalbarri for a night. To get there, we passed some blowholes that shot sea water up through circular holes in the stone creating a whistling noise and huge bursts of water. Then we made our way through Kalbarri National Park which is home to a deep gorge that cuts through the red stone and provides a refuge for lots of annoying flies. Finally, we drove into Kalbarri, a cute little town on the ocean, where Juan and Saskia had booked us an incredible B&B where we stayed the night.

After a delicious breakfast, we drove out for the last section of our road trip back to Perth. Along the way, we stopped at The Pinnacles, an area of land that has interesting rock formations jutting out of the dunes, which actually reminded us a lot of the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. We even got a little unexpected excitement from a flat tire when we pulled off a road to see Pink Lake. After snapping a few pics of the interesting pink color that is created by beta carotene and fixing the flat, we headed on our way.

Our Western Australia trip came to an end at Juan and Saskia’s place, where we enjoyed a few more laughs and some tasty Jamie Oliver hamburgers. It is amazing how quickly a week can go by when you spend it with great company, exploring new places. The coast of Western Australia is amongst the most isolated places in the entire world, and were it not for that chance encounter on the ferry in Croatia, we probably never would have seen it. Turns out that Juan was absolutely correct; it was very lucky that we met him, because it lead to an unforgettable Australian experience and two new friends for life.

Read Full Post »

Despite the many posts that we have made about our RTW trip thus far, there is always so much more to share. Deciding what to write about and what to skip is a constant debate for us, and we are sure that many other travel bloggers encounter the same dilemma. Sometimes we leave stories out because you simply had to be there to get it; other times we choose not to write about a destination because we can’t find the right approach; and then there are the instances where we choose not to write because we’ve been posting so much that we don’t want to overwhelm our readers (or ourselves). The story of our week in Beijing falls into all three of these categories and will be the first in a new series of posts called “Travel Throwbacks” that will include tales of destinations, strange encounters, and of course many photos from past adventures that we have not yet shared on our blog.

—————————

We arrived in Beijing in May via high-speed train from Shanghai.Riding a long distance train in China (or any form of public transit for that matter) is always quite an experience, and this journey was no exception. The landscape between Shanghai and Beijing is barren and dry, almost reminiscent of Nevada in places. As we sped along the tracks, cities began to appear in the distance. Generally the term “ghost town” is used to describe cities that once were, but these ghost towns are cities yet to be. Huge boulevards, sky scrapers, and massive housing complexes sat complete but empty, still waiting for inhabitants. No doubt these cities are meant to help handle China’s enormous population and rapidly growing middle class, as well as to keep unemployment at bay, but it was a strange and eerie sight none the less.

Image Credits: http://financialpostbusiness.files.wordpress.com (top right), Michael Christopher Brown/TIME Magazine (bottom center)

Once inside the city, it became apparent that Beijing is China’s tourism hot spot for a reason – there are soooooooo many things to see. The city attracts not only foreigners, but an immeasurable number  domestic tourists each year. The main attractions are The Forbidden City and The Great Wall of China, but the list also includes the 2008 Olympic Green, Tiananmen Square, the Imperial Summer & Winter Palaces, Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, the list goes on and on. Certainly we did not see everything in Beijing, but we think we made a pretty good run at it. So prepare yourself for a very long read…

The Forbidden City

This is probably Beijing’s most well-known and sought-after historical sight. Based on advice from fellow travelers, we showed up an hour before the ticket office opened in an attempt to beat the crowds, but lines had already formed. While we were thankful to be amongst the first to enter the city’s walls, we were still amazed by the sheer number of people flooding through the gates. Although The Forbidden City has been open to tourists for some time, some parts still are forbidden. We were frustrated by the red tape and barriers, but happy to find an amazing view of the entire complex from the hill of Jingshan Park. The walled city is so expansive that you need a panoramic lens to fit it all in one picture.

Tiananmen Square

Situated across the street from The Forbidden City is the famous Tiananmen Square, as well as Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum. It felt surreal to walk through Tiananmen Square. We grew up knowing the story of the deadly protest that took place there in 1989, and were moved to experience the surroundings ourselves. Perhaps not surprisingly, the square is heavily guarded by Chinese military. Unlike most public squares in the world, gathering and loitering here are not encouraged. You have to go through metal detectors and security just to enter the square. There are no benches where you can sit. If you stand in one place for too long, you’ll be told to move along. Yet, there is also a massive electronic display that continually plays propaganda films of a prosperous China with happy people and unspoiled nature. Interesting to say the least.

At the far end of the Square, opposite the Forbidden City, sits Mao’s Mausoleum. If you do not know who Chairman Mao Zedong is, please stop for a moment to find out here. Mao’s body is open to the public for viewing most mornings, and we were interested to take a look. It was quite the experience! We stood in the long, winding line for nearly an hour and, after going through metal detectors, we entered the building. The Chinese people treat this as a religious experience. There are no photographs allowed, no talking, and one must not stop walking. The body itself looks fake, like a perfect wax replica. Perhaps it is, we will never know.

Olympic Green

We took a day off from exploring Beijing’s ancient sites and rode the subway to the Olympic Green. It was fun to see the buildings in person that created such a world-wide frenzy during the 2008 Summer Olympics. It was also exciting to be there just months before the 2012 Games began. The first thing that we noticed was the fact that acres of land must have been flattened in order to open up room for this massive pavilion; we could only imagine the masses of people that roamed the land four years ago. The Water Cube is a true architectural wonder. Its luminescent bubble-like structure make you feel as if you’re swimming in a bath. As we walked away from the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest, we noticed that the Olympic Green sits on a straight axis with the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, which you can see on a clear day (we were lucky as this is rare in the often dusty city). Overall, visiting Beijing’s Olympic Green made us want to attend the Olympics someday. It has officially been added to our bucket list.

Temple of Heaven

Yet another example of Beijing’s very ancient cultural heritage is the Temple of Heaven.  Located in the southeastern part of the city, this temple complex dates back to the early 1400s and was used for religious ceremonies.  Its primary purpose was to serve as the site for an annual sacrificial offering to heaven asking for a plenty harvest. Rightfully so, the main attraction is an enormous, three-tiered, circular structure known as the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. An interesting and somewhat comical bit of history that we came across was a small wooden called the Seventy Year Old Door. The story goes that at the age of 70, Emperor Qianlong was in poor health and had a small doorway cut into a temple wall to shorten his walk to the offering sight. He feared that the new door would cause his decedents to become lazy, so he made a royal decree that only those who had reached the age of 70 should be permitted to pass through the doorway.

Surrounding the temple are a series of gardens which are a popular weekend getaway for locals seeking a bit of refuge from the chaos of Beijing’s streets. Families pack picnics and spend all day lounging in the shade, listening to music, playing games and dancing in the squares.

Summer & Winter Palaces

While The Forbidden City is the most iconic Imperial Palace, it is not the only royal residence to be found in Beijing. Trust us when we say that the Summer and Winter Palaces are not too shabby either.  They may not have the labyrinths of rooms, courtyards and corridors that The Forbidden City does, but boy oh boy are they stunning!  The Summer Palace is situated outside of the city center and the grounds contain two substantially sized lakes. There are numerous temples, galleries and reception halls speckled amongst rocky hills, small rivers, cool woods and green lawns. It isn’t hard to imagine why the emperors and their families enjoyed spending the hot summer days in this little slice of paradise.  The grounds of the Winter Palace, on the other hand, are quite a bit smaller (probably because not too many people enjoy leisurely strolls in the freezing cold) and are located right in the heart of Beijing.

The Night Market

Aside from its many tourist attractions, Beijing is also know for a unique characteristic that has been dubbed “hutong culture.” Branching off of the main streets are a maze of small alleys and walkways. Some of the best food and hang out spots can be found in the most conspicuous locations. If you are seeking a taste of the wild side, but aren’t a fan of wandering around in places that aren’t on any tourist maps, then we suggest checking out the night market instead. As is the case with many international cities, Beijing has a happening night market with an entire section dedicated to quick eats. Beijing’s market in particular definitely offers some things that you won’t find anywhere else.  Case in point: skewered scorpions! It took us a few minutes to work up the nerve to give it a go, but eventually we did manage to stomach four scorpions each. Scorpions may be dangerous, but they had better remember who is really on top of the food chain.

Lastly, no trip to Beijing is complete with a day spent on The Great Wall. Just after our visit, we dedicated an entire post to our day of hiking there, which you can read here. We think you’ve probably read enough for the day, so we’ll leave it at that. Thanks for reading.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: