Relaxing

Sunrise on our final day in Argentina

Given how far South we currently are in relation to the rest of South America and also factoring in the time of year, there are some long days here in Mar Del Plata. Lots of daylight over the course of any given day. All of that made it even more challenging when we pledged to wake up and catch the sunrise this morning. We set the alarm for the official daybreak time of 5:30 AM, but in all honestly dawn starts lighting up the sky around 4:45. Somehow, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and onto the balcony by the magical, early hour. Facing due east, we were able to watch the sun quickly rise right across the horizon on schedule. Moving from a slight sliver to a full glowing sphere in just a few moments. Sort of spectacular. Ocean view sunrises aren’t something we will have much opportunity to take advantage of moving forward. We’ve managed to see several sunsets during our trip, but this one was the first sunrise. I know it’s just a sunrise, but it was magnificent all the same.

Thus began the final, full day of our Around the World Trip. An easy going day overall. I finally stuck my toe in the ocean – oh so cold. Long walks around Mar Del Plata followed taking me to the cute and charming Guemes street. Another run in with a Post Office complete with long lines, difficult staff and overpiced ($3!) international post card stamps. Sweet Cliff Claven, I’ve come to loathe all post offices. Later on, I contemplated the gravity of the end of our trip at lunch while a plate of empanadas stared back at me. We’ll have more comprehensive trip reflections in future posts (oh, there is much to say), but as we wind down the trip and prepare to head home, I have a general feeling of accomplishment. I feel really good about things. Although, there are some clothes that I’ve been carrying around since July that I never want to see again. It also might be a sign of apparent good timing to head home as I just ran out of shaving cream this morning and I managed to pack exactly the right number of razor blades. On a more meaningful scale, I really hope that Brooke and I managed to expand our horizons and maybe, just maybe, grow a bit as travelers and as people.

Less stunning was the challenge we had with the local bus company later in the day. We rode all the way on two buses to central bus terminal where there, and only there, we could purchase a bus pass card. After interacting with the two most bored information booth employees I’ve ever seen (never a good sign when you have to wake one of them up), we thought we were all set. It wasn’t until we were headed back home boarding another bus that the driver yelled at us in Spanish that the card is not good. Apparently, there are separate bus companies in Mar Del Plata running different routes. Awesome. We bought a card we’ll have little use for. In hindsight, there were some clues that the 221 bus might not operate the same way the 581 bus does, but it would have been incredibly kind of anyone to have clued us in along the way. It’s actually reassuring to know that in our last days of our trip, we’re still getting bamboozled from time to time. Running into these small and ridiculously frustrating issues is all part of the package deal. It would be kind of shame if we had mastered world travel in a matter of a few months.

We closed down the day with one last, delicious, romantic Mar Del Plata dinner at a top local seafood joint named Alito. We’ve been in Argentina for a while now but we just can’t get the hang of eating out at 10:00 PM. In fact, when we sat down to eat at the reasonable dining hour of 8:15 PM, we were the only patrons in the entire restaurant. More guests showed up soon after, but they were mostly of the elderly persuasion. For a while, it felt like we wandered into the equivalent of the Early Bird Special. Luckily, this didn’t have any impact on a scrumptious meal that followed. Our dinner was bookended with a bottle of one of our new favorite wines from Mendoza (The Trumpetter Malbec, if you’re keeping score at home) and two over-the-top desserts. Brooke’s dessert that involved Baileys, ice cream, walnuts and cookies was served in a cocktail glass. There was a dish on the menu called Flan Solo that Brooke joked should be served with Luke Piewalker and C3POreo. Yeah, I’ve got a damn clever and funny wife. This trip has been made up of several wonderful moments spread across the globe and this would count as one of them. We toasted to our time in Argentina and enjoyed a nice, intimate, slow meal as is the style around here.

One last, delicious dessert!

Now, I’m going to get back to enjoying one last morning of seasside living. One of the nicest things about being here has been simply looking out the window and watching the waves crash into the giant rocks far below. Additionally, given how many hotels, apartment buildings, hostels and homes I’ve seen that are blocks from the beach, we’ve been so lucky to have this place. Having been through so many places (often for just one or two nights), and now having all these days in just one apartment has felt like a pleasant eternity. All we need now are some comfy pants and slippers. Soon enough, I suppose. Next stop, a bus to Buenos Aires, another bus to the airport, a flight to Atlanta and a final flight to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

-Phil

Of all the currency we’ve encountered, Argentine peso bills are often ratty and tattered. This was my change from lunch today – the bills are falling apart!

There are commonly found at traffic lights in Argentine cities: Street Entertainers that perform for stopped cars in order for tips. This kid was a pretty fierce juggler.

This is a water tower designed to look like a medieval tower at the highest point in Mar Del Plata. Free to get in, but it was apparently closed for the day so this is as close as I got.

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Categories: Beach, City Visits, Clothes, Destinations, Eating, Hotels, Mar Del Plata, Random Thoughts, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Enjoying Mar Del Plata

Choosing to come to Mar Del Plata as an end to our trip around the world was a fantastic idea.  We have enjoyed our time relaxing, doing some “re-entry” work, and literally taking long walks along the beach.  No, we aren’t placing a singles ad or anything, but the coastline here stretches for miles and it is wonderful that we have time to simply walk.  Like many other beach towns, there are dozens of runners, roller bladers, power walkers and skaters moving about and enjoying the sunshine and ocean breeze.  The beach is noticeably busier on the weekends and the atmosphere is charged with energy and excitement.

Determined to take advantage of the awesome apartment where we are staying, we wandered half way across town to find a better grocery store in order to make dinner for ourselves.  Though this Toledo store is the same brand as the other, its much more expansive aisles and wider selection made this one far superior.  We could actually identify vegetables through the mud caked on them, unlike our previous Toledo visit.  The floors were also level, allowing us to let go of our cart without it racing to the other end of the store and crashing into a wall.  What a refreshing change!  We bought all the fixins for a truly delicious homemade dinner.  Once preparations began, we found ourselves faced with a challenge.  Now, bear in mind we have cooked using a gas stove and oven for years–this is what we are used to.  Also know that our Air BnB host, Carlos, demonstrated how to use the oven on the first day we arrived.  None of that made any difference.  On this stove, the pilot light for the oven has to bit lit manually using a match.  Simple enough, but we had the hardest time finding the right combination.  Light the match, push in the dial, spin until you hear the gas release, then release and set the temperature.  Each time we tried the last step, the flame disappeared.  In fact, every time I had the stupid thing lit, the flame would die if I made any moves with the dial.  I wasn’t too keen on sitting with my hand on the dial for the entire time and not only did my frustration began to build, but my fear that we were going to blow up this apartment in our efforts.  Phil took over and had similar issues.  Match after match, we lit the flame to see it almost immediately die out.  As soon as we were about to change the menu from oven-roasted carrots to sautéed carrots, Phil saved the day and figured it out.  It took us at least 15 matches and I’m not sure we’ll be able to do it again, but at least we were able to roast those carrots and enjoy a delicious homemade dinner.

After dinner, Phil was excited to check out the casino.  I was feeling much more comfy and cozy inside and managed to talk him into staying home and just hanging on the couch.  As Phil mentioned in his last post, one thing we have been doing is watching a fair amount of television, which we haven’t done much of on the whole trip. Now, almost every channel we get has the shows dubbed over in Spanish, but there are a few reliable channels that merely have Spanish subtitles and we can actually watch the programming.  We don’t really get many typical American networks–no NBC, CBS, or ABC.  We do get FOX, but it is some different version and of course there is AXN, with its endless episodes of CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds and Castle.  However, even with our limited choices, we have managed to discover 2 new shows which we think are part of the new fall schedule (though we aren’t sure, because here they were shown on Cinemax).  These shows are Arrow and Revolution.  Both on in marathon format (though Revolution was only 2 episodes), we watched from pilot to current episode and really enjoyed them both.  Are they high quality shows?  Maybe, but we have been starved for such television, and it was fun to indulge and watch for hours.  There is a 75% chance we won’t ever watch these once we return to the States, but I’m glad we caught them here.

We should have known. It doesn’t even look fun or inviting from the outside.

After much begging, pleading and arm twisting, we finally found ourselves at the Casino Central the following day.  Okay, so maybe Phil and I love casinos and we have found it interesting to see some of the differences between the ones we are used to in Las Vegas and those around the world. Set in an old hotel, this casino was said to be a fun time and the best of a few of these establishments in Mar Del Plata.  It may be the best one, but think our standards might be too high.  As we walked in, I got the distinct feeling that we were in an old hotel convention floor which is hosting a casino night.  All the games were concentrated in one area with the corners and edges of the room largely empty.  There isn’t much different from one slot machine to another, although we did see one of our Vegas favorites called Milked Money that involved racing cows and more fun.  However,  when we played electronic roulette, we couldn’t determine how to cash out our winnings.  We hit all the buttons and read the whole screen (in Spanish), but no ticket printed.  Finally we asked the attendant and he showed us this ridiculously obscure multi-step process of cashing out.  Great, at least it was possible to actually get the money out.  We weren’t ready to leave, so I went to put the ticket back in the machine and keep playing, but unlike most casinos, the tickets can’t be used at cash in this electronic game.  Argh, what a pain.  Finally, we settled in an played for a bit.  The minimum bet was 1 peso, which is a little less than 25 US cents, so we weren’t exactly risking our life savings, just having some fun.  Once we ran out of pesos, we headed for the door.  The only thing this trip to the casino really did was give us the itch to go back to Las Vegas.

And now we find we have come to our last full day of the trip.  True, we don’t leave until Tuesday, but that we mostly be spent traveling.  So, we will continue to soak up the sun, reflect on this amazing journey and prepare to establish ourselves back into the world of work, family and friends.  It may surprise you to hear that this is actually something we are really looking forward to. But first, we will enjoy Mar Del Plata–the beach, the sun, the seafood–for just a little while longer.

–Brooke

The bigger, better grocery store also has these crazy peanuts we ate at a restaurant. They are battered and fried. And delicious!

During the high season, it is almost impossible to find a spot on the beach. That won’t happen until late December and January.

Categories: Argentina, At Night, Casino, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Mar Del Plata, Reflections, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Trip to the Beach

Yes, we’ve been traveling for months and in some ways it has been a vacation.  We don’t have jobs.  We don’t cook dinner.  We don’t have to clean the house.  Even with all that,  our trip has felt less like a vacation and more like traveling.  I think there is a difference.  On vacation you relax, go at a slower pace and try not to think about any other responsibilities.  On the contrary, when traveling you are on the go, visiting different attractions, learning new information and soaking up interesting experiences.  We have been traveling since the end of July.  Now, it is time for vacation.

When we return to the States we will be relocating to a new city.  Looking for a new car, apartment and job means we will probably have to hit the ground running.  Because of this, we have decided to end our trip with a sort of beach vacation–an opportunity to reflect, relax, and re-gather our energy to start anew upon our return.  So, today we find ourselves in Mar Del Plata, a beach town that’s a 5 1/2 hour bus ride south of Buenos Aires and the summer playground for many Portenos.  We took another comfy ride on a luxury coach bus, where I tried to get some much needed rest.  I fell a sleep for a bit, but was rudely awakened by the man across the aisle snoring so loudly I could hear him through my earplugs.  Argh!  I reluctantly woke up and eventually we pulled into this sunny coastal city.  As we cruised down Avenida de Colon toward the sea’s edge, it felt like we were on the drive into Clearwater Beach, Florida.  The road slopes slightly upward and I eagerly anticipated the moment when the Atlantic Ocean revealed itself before our eyes.  Once it finally did, the view took our breath away.  Ocean spread in front of us as far as our eyes could see and the breeze from the water cooled the air at least 10 degrees.  It is gorgeous.

Our Air BnB home for the next five days. Perfect.

We arrived at the final stay of our trip, an apartment we found through Air BnB.  It is hard to believe after so many different hotels, hostels and apartments over the last few months, this is the last one of our trip.  And we couldn’t have chosen a better final stay.  The apartment is small, but absolutely perfect for what we need.  Big comfortable bed, hot shower and a well-equipped kitchen.  But the most impressive feature is the balcony which overlooks the sea.  In fact, every window in the apartment has views of the ocean making us feel like we are floating on the sea.  Our host, Carlos, was incredibly welcoming.  He shared with us they myriad restaurants and attractions we could visit during our stay.  Apparently there is a section of town with great seafood restaurants and his mention of a nearby casino certainly didn’t go unnoticed.  We ventured out for some lunch and to stock up on groceries. We searched for a grocery which was more than just a “mini-mercado.”  We finally found one, excited by its size, but this excitement soon wore off.  The veggies were all caked in dirt, the meat looked a few days old and I couldn’t find any peanut butter.  They sell dulce de lece by the gallon-sized bucket, but no peanut butter.  This makes me very sad.  We finally settled on brown rice and some frozen veggie concoction, along with some other snacks and necessities, then began to walk back to our place.  Exhausted from the early morning, snoring man on bus and the weariness of travel, we then took an epic nap.  Let the vacation begin.   A king sized bed, the ocean breeze blowing through the window and the sounds of waves crashing against the shore are a recipe for the perfect nap.  Add to that the very little sleep we got last night and waking up early for the bus and we were both asleep within seconds of our heads hitting the pillow.

Excited to finally find a big grocery store. Sadness at not finding peanut butter has not yet descended.

Once we peeled ourselves from our comfort, we made a much anticipated homemade dinner.  The first of many in our near future.  If we had to choose the one thing we have consistently missed the most on this trip (besides friends and family, of course), it is cooking for ourselves.  We can’t wait to get back into this habit.  Happy to be in the same place for 5 days, we plan to continue much the same way we did today, with the addition of some beach time and maybe a trip to the casino.  We will cherish each moment of this “vacation” from our travels because the real world beckons and will be here before we know it.

–Brooke

The view from our balcony. I’ll take it!

Categories: Argentina, Beach, Casino, City Visits, Differences, Mar Del Plata, Relaxing, Surprises, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Election Night and Blackouts in Argentina

We’ve been asked from time to time how it is to be so far from home for so long. Truth be told, we haven’t spent a lot of time dwelling on what we miss about the states. New fall TV shows have probably already come and gone, I didn’t catch a single World Series game for the first time since I can remember and I stopped checking football scores a few weeks ago. If we hadn’t met up with our friends in September who brought dispatches of American culture, we might still not know what Gangman Style is. (Yet there is no escaping One Direction or Maroon 5 no matter where you are in the world.) To be fair, we’re only abroad for a short time compared to other world travelers and our attention has been mostly dedicated to full days of exploring new surroundings. But there is one distinctly American event we’ve had circled on our calendar for a long time: election night. That was one we weren’t going to miss.

Cobertura Electoral! The slightly harder to understand CNN coverage in our room

As we planned to watch the election results, we discovered that the cable selection in our hotel room did not include a single news channel in English. No problem: we settled down on the couch in the hotel lobby, asked if they could throw CNN on the giant TV and settled in for the evening. Since the Argentina time zone is currently two hours ahead of the east coast, the real fun didn’t start until after 9:00 PM. Before that, it was a lot of John King playing with that stupid Magic Wall and hearing reporters repeatedly use somewhat meaningless buzz words like “bellweather.” I have a clinical case of aggressively flipping channels, so it took some patience to get used to watching only CNN all evening.

While nervously watching each update, we broke into a bottle of wine. Brooke and I figured that no matter what happened over the course of the evening, at least we had a tasty bottle of wine from Mendoza to share. As we watched state after state go for one candidate or the other, we met a variety of people as they walked through the lobby and checked in on the results. An excited, if not slightly drunk, Argentine woman who had just come from a Tango class wanted to tell us all about the Mar Del Plata region. The lesson there is that our Spanish is exponentially worse when trying to communicate with someone who rambles and is slurring their words. Before long, the network made the call and announced that Obama has secured another term. There was much rejoicing and relief that the seemingly endless campaign was over. It all made for a memorable, late night in Buenos Aires during which I’ve probably watched more CNN then I ever have in my life. By the end of the evening, I felt like Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer had become close, close friends. It would have been nice if Romney would have delivered his concession speech some time before 3:00 AM our time, but what can you do.

In order to make our way to Mar Del Plata and ensure we would’t be on an overnight bus on election night, we landed back in Buenos Aires for a couple of days. Hotels.com found us a great deal at a new, boutique hotel near the city of town called the Lennox Hotel. Out of our three hotel stays in B.A, I would strongly recommend this joint for anyone rolling through town. When I stop to think about how many hotel rooms we’ve seen on this trip, it kinda makes my head spin. But the Lennox Hotel was the epitome of cozy; the room even came with a kitchenette. The only addition that would have made the stay a bit sweeter would have been a washer and dryer. One universal truth of traveling around the world is that we’re always on the lookout for a place to wash and dry our clothes. Half the time it feels like our luggage is only serving to haul dirty clothes around the world. To mix up on our dining options and satisfy a craving that Brooke’s been harboring since Munich, we jumped through some hoops to secure some Argentine style Chinese delivery. I’m certain the Buenos Aires has some quality Chinese, we just didn’t find it that night. The culinary silver lining was the next day when we stumbled across the city’s best pizzeria at Guerrin. Jackpot. It stands to reasons when you’ve been making pizza since 1932 and your restaurant is packed, you’re probably pretty good at what your’re doing.

The Pizza was twice as good as it looked

It ended up being fortuitous we grabbed lunch when we did. Late yesterday afternoon the city experienced a massive blackout that affected a huge chunk of the area. Since the season is just hitting late Spring way down here in South America, the thermometer has been reading hot and getting hotter. Three days of above average temperatures compared with an apparently shaky electrical infrastructure knocked out the power for as far as I could see. Sometimes crossing the streets in Buenos Aires can be challenging enough when the traffic lights ARE working. But with everything dark in the middle of rush hour, it was a small slice of chaos. Things were particularly a mess on the exceptionally wide, famed 9 De Julio Avenue. Turns out that traffic doesn’t move very well across 18 lanes with no stop lights. The more I walked around, the more I got the feeling that this was a somewhat regular occurence. Bodega owners sat in darkened, small storefronts looking bored and annoyed while at nearby cafe patrons downed cold drinks while they still could. The clerk at our hotel pointed out that this was the “first blackout of the spring” and conceded that there might be several more when the heat of December comes about. Luckily, the power was back on for most of the city by late evening so Brooke and I could get back to the important focus of the day: not doing much of anything.

-Phil

Categories: Argentina, Exploring, Homesick, Hotels, Hungary, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences, Voting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back through Mendoza

As we trek onward through Argentina, we’re putting our phenomenal time in wine country behind us and heading back east. Ah, I already miss enjoying a daily bottle of wine. A cheap ride on the city bus took us back into the city of Mendoza. Brooke and I were looking forward to one more day in Mendoza since we liked so much of what we saw the first time around. One of Argentina’s larger cities, the central area of Mendoza is compact, walkable, tree lined and punctuated with several lively public squares teeming with ample green space and functioning fountains. The sidewalks are packed with people on their way to school and work or, in the evening, leisurely ambling across town. Toss on the marble tiling found everywhere and the aqueducts running beneath the sidewalk that feed the city and Mendoza is an easy place to like. Returning to endless dinner options doesn’t hurt either. A tasty Italian dinner at a popular favorite restaurant called Marchigiana was a big success. We’ve found quality Italian cuisine is common in Argentina which is no surprise given the amount of Italian heritage found throughout the country.

One last great photo from our time amongst the vineyards

Zip Lining or Hail Protection Gear?For a change of pace, we headed down to the Avis storefront and decided to rent a car for the day. It’s been several weeks since we’ve had a chance to do any leisurely driving and this seemed to be the right place for it. One insight we’ve gained from traveling is that if you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission car, you’re not going to get very far in just about any country. Lucky for us, Brooke and I are both well versed in the five speed, although the reverse on our tiny Chevy sedan was a bit tricky. One of the primary reasons we rented a car was to scoot out to the Argentina Rafting company outdoor complex about 45 minutes away. Our plan was to tackle a long-standing adventure on our list that we hadn’t had the chance to do yet: Zip Lining! Or, depending on your geographical preference, you may call it Canopy or even Flying Fox. After waiting for a guide, we strapped on our harnesses, hiked up to the start of the course and we’re ready to, er, Zip. Not so far- just about five minutes before we were going to descend down the first line, it started to rain. Then the rain turned into heavier rain. And the heavier rain turned into hail. Nothing says, “you’re not going to be Zip Lining today” like a hail storm. Good thing we had these handy helmets on to protect our noggins from the nasty sky ice. Actually, good thing it started hailing before we started the two hour course. Once you start, there is no where to seek shelter between each zip line.

Undaunted and not discouraged, we hopped back in our rental car and began the scenic drive past the foothills of the Andes and back into Mendoza. We wandered a bit and even found ourselves in a local Wal-Mart stocking up on snacks. Sad to report that an Argentine Wal-Mart is identical to an American Wal-Mart. Our car made it’s way to an extraordinary nature reserve/city park north of the city that offers everything from soccer fields to golf courses. I even managed to sneak in a quick park nap on a bench near the lake. Later, we found ourselves enjoying a late lunch at an outdoor cafe in the center of town. Over afternoon coffee, sandwiches and even more empanadas, we allowed ourselves to wonder what we’ll be doing two weeks from now. After this trip is over, we have a lot of unknowns and another big adventure waiting for us. Even though it likely won’t include afternoons at outdoor cafes, it should make for an exciting and remarkable time.

After re-fueling and returning the car, a small slew of logistical challenges in their own right, we made our way back to the Mendoza bus station and prepared for another comfortable 14-hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires. And I think that this bus was a little bit newer and nicer than the last one. Really, anyway you slice it, these are high quality buses. The overnight ride was comparable to the easy-going trip out that we wrote about last week. Although the morning traffic getting into the center of Buenos Aires was brutal and seemed to last forever.

Sunset view from our bus

Fireproof - forced to watch on a busThe one constant on both of our bus rides? Terrible, terrible movies. Films so bar that we never heard of any of them. I kept hoping and hoping that the next flick the bus attendant was going to pop on would be a box-office smash. Or at least enjoyable. Instead, each film was worse than the one before. And with a screen a few feet from my head, there was no escaping. The first film was “A Little Bit of Heaven” – an obnoxiously adorable Kate Hudson movie that started out like all Kate Hudson movies. That is until Kate Hudson gets a terminal case of cancer and spends the rest of the film dying with dignity and grace. The second movie was “Get The Gringo” a 2012 Mel Gibson movie that might have been the most brutal and violent movie I’ve seen in years. Not so much suitable for a public bus ride, but I’m more stunned that they are still letting Mel Gibson make movies. The last film was “Fireproof” an independent starring former heart-throb turned evangelical actor Kirk Cameron. It was in Spanish, but I got the gist: small town Fire Chief spends a lot of time crying and being angry about his failing marriage until he accepts Christ’s understanding. Awesome. The Avengers it was not.

After a brief stop in Buenos Aires our next stop is the beaches of Mar Del Plata! Can’t wait to check out another Argentine town.

-Phil

Categories: Argentina, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Driving, Mendoza, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Discovering Maipu

Brooke Vs Malbec (spoiler alert: Brooke wines...er...Wins!)Buenos tardes from the heart and soul of the Mendoza, Argentina – Wine country! We’re continuing to slowly make our way across the country enjoying cafes, wine and seemingly endless amounts of empanadas. In fact, I believe we’ve eaten at least one empanada every day since we arrived. It is with a great reluctance that I have to admit that each individual empanada has been tastier and more satisfying than those found in Empanada Mama– my beloved NYC lunch spot. (Sorry to break the news, former WebMD colleagues.)

Brooke, who most certainly has earned her merit badge in securing wonderful accommodations for us throughout this trip, booked a stay for us at the Tikay Killay Lodge in the Maipu area of Mendoza. When you think about a wine country visit, Maipu may not fit the traditional vision. This area is loaded with beautiful and sensational wineries including a few that date back to the late 19th century, however the region is served by just a single main road. Large trucks stacked with pallets of wine bottles rumble down the road beside modern sedans and beat up 1960s American junkers as they all cruise past a background of expansive vineyards and olive tree groves. Aside from the accommodations, activities and food offered by the wineries and related stores, there is not much else in this quiet part of Argentina. All of that suits me just fine. It’s a nice, easy going, relaxing place with sensational late spring weather. The combination of a dry, arid climate, a dose of steady wind and water supplied by mountain ice melt and delivered in a complex aqueduct system makes for ideal conditions for growing grapes, olives and more. Apparently, everyone here was surprised to discover just how well some grapes perform in this unique climate.

Tikay Killa Lodge!

Unique wine country makes for unique hotels. Tikay Killa Lodge is made up of only four rooms plus a central building. Situated about a mile long walk or bike ride from the main road, it’s a fairly isolated location. A nice outdoor area surrounds the buildings and behind the rooms we found a large back yard that doubles as a refuge for busy gophers. During our stay, each room has been booked by like-minded travelers from Australia and Great Brittain who are just as eager as we area to explore the area. The vibe here it makes it easy to make new friends over afternoon conversations in the courtyard or while splitting the deliciousness of the “day’s catch” of bottle purchases from the local vineyards. Elena, the do-it-all innkeeper, has been a wealth of information and does a fantastic job of taking care of everything. From making breakfast to helping book tours and bikes, someone like her is a mandatory asset since it is really easy to get lost and confused in your plans. Plus, the lodge comes complete with the world’s most friendly dog. I’m pretty sure that Suki is the luckiest dog on earth– he has new strangers petting and playing with him daily.

While there is certainly a visible number of visitors in the area – they are easy to spot riding from winery to winery on rented bikes and helmets – it would be a stretch to call Maipu a top tourist destination. This region is among those where we’ve encountered the least amount of English spoken. Lucky for us, we speak just enough Spanish to order cheese at the grocery stores and ask for directions to the next winery. And for every seven wineries you pass, only one has opened their doors to visitors for tastings and tours. That still leaves plenty of wineries to go around with more and more buildings sprouting up to match the Mendoza wine region’s recent boom of international popularity from Malbec and other varietals of wines. Given our propensity to visit capital and metropolitan areas, Maipu is one of the more rural and remote areas we’ve visited on this trip.

As we get closer to reaching the end of our trip, people often ask how we’re feeling about that. For me, that answer is mostly sad. There are a lot of elements about this trip I’m going to miss. But I’m also looking forward to basic tasks becoming a bit easier. Our biggest challenge in Maipu has been trying to find a place- any place! – to eat dinner. It wasn’t until about 8:30 PM last night that it dawned on us that finding food might be a real challenge. Our innkeeper was out and there isn’t exactly delivery around here. After a long walk to the main road and discovering exactly one restaruant in walking distance, we decided to hop on a city bus bound for central Maipu and crossed our fingers for success. Before long, we found ourselves at a nice outdoor cafe on a city square enjoying food. On a trip around the world, simply securing a decent dinner can be the hardest part of the day. However, one thing we can be proud of is that even in our darkest moments, we’ve never had to resort to a KFC, Mickey D’s or Pizza Hut.

After dinner, we took a cab back to the hotel where we found the five other hotel guests sitting outside enjoying a drink and recounting the day. We joined them for what ended up being a long evening of conversation, guitar playing and fun spread out over several, several bottles of wine. We talked about everything from United States politics to everyone’s first and favorite concert. Brooke and I explained how citizenship works for residents of Washington, DC and we had our minds blown a bit when learned that everyone in the world calls the mark that ends a sentence a “full stop” and mocks Americans for referring to it as a period. But mostly we talked a lot about what travelers talk to one other about – traveling and our experiences in various places. After two days of stumbling through broken Spanish, exchanging in dept conversations with a group of Aussies and Brits was a pleasure. It was a great way to spend an evening that went long into the night. Good times, indeed. Some days on this trip can be exhausting, but they almost all usually end quite well. As always, we can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

-Phil

 

How garbage is collected in Mendoza! Nifty!

The view of the front of our relaxing, quality hotel in the middle of wine country.

Hauling Wine down the street of Maipu

Dan playing some tunes for the crowd

Categories: Argentina, Mendoza, Reflections, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Sun Shines on Edinburgh

After a rainy arrival in Edinburgh yesterday, we were happy to see the sun shining bright this morning.  Sure, there were clouds looming in the distance–this is Scotland in October, after all.  Now that we are seeing it by the light of day, it is clear how different Edinburgh is from Glasgow.  It immediately feels older, more preserved and more traditional.  It also has beautiful views at every turn.  One minute we find ourselves peering over a bridge down to a beautiful park, the next we are staring up to hills lined with Gothic style buildings.  Wanting to take full advantage of this sunny-ish day, we made a list full of possible things to do and decided to start where any visit to this city should:  Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle is impossible to miss.  It sits upon the highest point in the city, rising high for all to see.  Although we were told this is a “can’t miss” attraction, we were a bit turned off by the steep admission price of £14.50 per person.  That price makes it one of the most expensive attraction in town, and we questioned if this was the best use of our time and money.  After a little more research, we decided it was worth it and climbed the steep hill toward the entrance gate.  Visually striking, this castle is a labyrinth of twisting, turning cobblestone streets.  Upon entrance, we learned a short guided tour is included in the price of admission.  Already feeling the ticket was paying for itself, we stuck around to meet Gavin, an awesome and charismatic tour guide who gave us the basics of the castle grounds.  First covering the age of the castle, and the many different iterations it has gone through over the years, Gavin regaled us with stories of Scottish history as though he were performing a well-rehearsed play.  He took jabs at the British in all the appropriate places and spent a good five minutes railing Mel Gibson for his portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart.  Actually, he landbasted almost every fact about this film including the title character.  Braveheart is actually the name given to Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace.  His passionate stance against the film is more a symptom of his love for Scottish history than his hatred of Mel Gibson (thought it’s a close call).  As we toured the castle grounds with Gavin, he explained that the castle is still used as a military base today.  Besides the few buildings still in use by the military, most of the remainder of the grounds have been turned into museum exhibits.  We visited the National War Museum, the Prisons of War exhibit, and the Honours of Scotland.  In this last exhibit, we viewed the history of the Scottish crown jewels–the sword, the scepter and the crown.  These are the oldest crown jewels in Europe and they sit beside the Stone of Destiny.  This stone has been used for centuries as the seat of the incoming king or queen at the moment of coronation.  It was stolen from Scotland over 700 years ago by the British and not returned until 1996.  Gavin is still a wee bit upset about this!

One of the highlights of the Edinburgh Castle was watching the One O’Clock Gun.  A tradition reaching back hundreds of years, the one o’clock time signal used to be done with a flag being hoisted in the air and then dropping exactly at one in the afternoon.  This helped railroad workers and ship’s captains to keep their times accurate before clocks were what they are today.  However, the weather in Edinburgh is not known for always being crystal clear and it wasn’t always possible for people to see the flag.  They incorporated the firing of a gun so the signal would be clear, even when the weather was bad.  Though no longer needed, the tradition continues every day at 1pm. Perched at the castle wall, a soldier comes out, loads the gun and fires off into the distance.  Surprisingly, there are a number of places around the world who still continue this tradition, including Ft. Henry in the United States.  One of the best parts of watching the gun fire is the gorgeous view from the spot where the gun sits.  We could see across the entire city, to the Firth of Forth and over to the island of Fife.  We were grateful it was a clear day.  Before we left the castle grounds, we made sure to head to St. Margaret’s Chapel, not only the oldest building on the grounds, but also the oldest in Edinburgh.  It was probably built around 1130 and it takes approximately 30 seconds to soak in the entire space.  Still, it was worth stopping in.  All in all, Edinburgh Castle was expensive, but worth the price of admission.  The guided tour was really wonderful, and we both feel like we have learned so much more about Scottish National History in this one visit than we did during our entire time in Glasgow.

It was a lot of this. Highland soldiers and royalty. Over and over again.

Continuing our bit of Scottish History, we visited the National Portrait Gallery.  This free museum is filled with portraits and sculptures of all the famous folks of Scotland, from Bonnie Prince Charlie to Sean Connery.  Unfortunately, the galleries holding portraits of modern members of Scottish culture were closed to prepare for an upcoming exhibit.  So, we walked around viewing portrait after portrait of James the VI, James the VII, James Edward Stuart–there were lots of James’.  We both enjoy portraits, but after a while they all started running together and we were just about done with visiting museums.

With a sprinkle beginning to fall, we decided it was time to head to the grocery store.  It was finally time to take advantage of our wonderful Air BnB home and cook dinner for ourselves.  I can’t express the comfort we both felt in cruising the aisles of the grocery store for ingredients.  Our hostess is away for the duration of our stay, so we have her apartment to ourselves.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it almost felt like being at home tonight.  A fire burning in the fireplace and rain falling outside, we warmed up by cooking a familiar dish, drinking a bottle of wine and watching my favorite Masterpiece Mystery series, Inspector Lewis. Neither of us has been homesick much on our trip, but this evening made us both long for the comforts of home.  We’ve already decided to cook tomorrow night, too, before heading out on a Literary Pub Tour.  We are really looking forward to it.  Cross your fingers that the rain stays at bay again tomorrow!

–Brooke

Yep, we’re in Scotland!

A view of Edinburgh and out to the Firth of Forth.

Phil meets a bagpiper.

Gorgeous views from the castle walls.

Categories: Budget, castles, City Visits, Destinations, Europe, Homesick, Landmarks, Museums, Relaxing, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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