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And The Winner is….(Part 2)

Continuing on our post from yesterday, we’re reflecting back on our four month trip around the world and picking out some of our favorite stops and visits. Through a series of intense discussion, secret balloting and contemplative reflection, we’ve determined our top choices in a variety of categories. So, once again below are our Luggage Tag RTW Awards! It was a real challenge to hand out top honors, but here we go again with our remaining choices:

Luggage Tags  RTW Awards!

Best Public Transportation– Tokyo and throughout Japan–  This one was a no brainer. The rail system in Tokoyo and throughout Japan is efficient, clean reliable, modern and incredible expansive although not terribly inexpensive. With a system that includes the Tokyo Subway, Regional Rail and Long Distance Trains, there are hundreds and hundreds of stations and stops. A single train map usually does not do the job. One thing we love is that many of the train cars have unique options–there is a quiet car and an all female car on some trains for rush hour.  Announcements and signs are often given in three languages including English. If the trains weren’t enough to win us over, the passengers would be. As a rule, riders are incredibly polite. They even line up in an orderly way to board the most crowded train and rude behavior is rarely seen.  There really is no equal.

Best City-to-City Transportation  Once you place air travel in another category, we have a two way tie. The train ride from Zagreb to Munich finally fulfilled  expectations of what we had hoped for in a European train ride. Up to this point, our train rides in Eastern Europe had been on outdated trains, lackluster, and disappointing. Our overnight ride in a private sleeper to Germany was comfortable, state of the art and packed with amenities. We even had an attentive porter who brought us water and handled customs at the border. Phil spent a good chunk of the night excitedly peering out of the window watching the night landscape roll by rather than sleeping. And pulling into the massive Munich train station at dawn was a fun way to end the trip. The other winner is the bus ride from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. At first, memories of rides on Greyhound made us dread a 14-hour cross country bus ride. It turns out, it was probably more comfortable than sitting in our living room! Over sized seats that rival first class airplane seats mingled nicely with the service that included two meals, complimentary cheap wine, movies and even bingo, It all made for a great ride. If this kind of bus travel was more common in the United States, I think people might rethink their attitudes toward long haul bus rides! 

Best Local Beer– Munich  Shocking, I know. Since every country has their own national or local brew, we tried beer in every city we visited. But virtually all the beer we tried in Munich was simply better than the rest.  We particularly enjoyed the Hofbrau and Lowenbrau labels in all varieties, but they sure know how to do a Dunkel.  Strong and smooth.  Absolutely perfect with a pretzel and currywurst.  Yum!  We enjoyed beers all around the globe from the Quilmes in Argentina, to Carlsberg in Copenhagen and Asashi Ichiban in Japan, but few of them were particularly memorable.  We will give an honorable mention to some of the smaller breweries we tried in New Zealand and Bulgaria, but overall they paled in comparison to all beer in Munich.

There is no doubt – they make some really great beer in Munch

Most Beautiful Nature Setting- We have a split decision here. Actually, we have a no decision. This is likely the thing we get asked about the most. Brooke immediately said the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria, with the thick forest and rushing stream.  Phil was convinced it was the panoramic view from the top of Mt. Fuji.  But then, what about sunset in Dubrovnik or the view of the Adriatic?  The rock formations in HaLong Bay or the Waitomo Caves?  For that matter, what about all of New Zealand where they really earn the nickname of the “God Zone”? Honestly, we can’t even choose.

Bridal Veils in New Zealand

Most Beautiful City Setting- Budapest is tough to beat.  The architecture is absolutely beautiful. It has an old style, but in a classic sense, not like ruins which we saw in so many other Eastern European cities.  In addition, Budapest’s wide sidewalks lined with grand mansions and historic homes give the city a Parisian air.  Just around every corner was another stunning building. Toss in Buda Castle, Parliament and the Danube River as landmarks and it only gets better. What certainly stands out is that not a single building or monument is covered by spray paint.  How refreshing!  It is important to mention that we considered Edinburgh as the winner of this award, and it is a close second, but it has a grittiness (probably from all the rain and the fact that it is hundreds of years older) that Budapest is missing.

Budapest at night

Best Surprise–  Dubrovnik. We really didn’t know anything about Dubrovnik before arriving.  We learned that Croatia was part of the Serbian conflict, and we may have expected it to look more like Belgrade and Sofia.  Instead we found streets paved with marble and beautiful seaside views.  Wow and then some. The relaxed atmosphere, beautiful walk along the city walls and the historic nature of the entire city makes Dubrovnik the best surprise of the trip. Walking the city wall provided some of the best views and moments of the trip, hands down.

We could gush and ramble for hours about some of our favorite parts of our trip, but those are some of the  real highlights. As you might imagine, there are tons of categories we could have listed. Anything ranging from Best coffee, Best Weather, Best WiFi Availability, Best encounter with a local and more. But, we have to draw the line  somewhere. We also have our share of low lights (I’m looking at you, Belgrade restaurant who served us massively undercooked chicken kebabs), but we’ll save those for another day. So, if you have any questions about our “Best of” awards or if you have any additional categories you would want to see, just drop us a line and we’ll wax nostalgically about those as well!

–Brooke and Phil

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Categories: Beer, Best Of, City Visits, Exploring, Post Trip Reflections, Random Thoughts, Round The World Trip, Surprises, The End of our Trip, Trains, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

And the Winner Is…(Part 1)

Our time abroad may be finished, but the Luggage Tags blog is not! On our flight yesterday, Brooke and I realized that we still have boatloads to say about our once in a life time trip. We plan to post on our budget for the trip, reflections on returning home, how we would have packed differently and more. We’re proud that we managed to update the blog almost daily while we were abroad, but as we realign our life, posts may appear a bit less frequently. If this still sounds like your bag of chips, we hope that you’ll stick around and continue the voyage with us for a bit longer! – PK  

Throughout our trip around the world, we have experienced stays in more hotels than we count, ate at more restaurants that we can remember, and need an abacus to add up all the train rides, bar visits and stops at museums. We thought it might be fun to look back through on all of our experiences and present our findings on the best of the best. So, below are Luggage Tag RTW Awards! It was tough to narrow down the Creme de La Creme, but we did our best below:

Luggage Tags  RTW Awards!
Best Bar/Pub– Lord Nelson Bar, (Copenhagen) – A bar for locals located smack dab in the middle of an incredibly touristy area of Copenhagen. Unassuming, unsuspecting and easy to miss. Glad we found it because we had an absolute blast while visiting. The incredibly friendly and knowledgeable bartenders allowed us to sample just about every beer they had. The bar boasted an impressive collection of unique craft beers from around the area and friendly locals. It was just our speed. Honorable mention goes to Cafe Bar Bard in the Old City of Dubrovnik: While it is quieter and has a limited menu, it is right on the Adriatic with the best view any watering hole could hope for.

Best Museum–Te Papa – The National Museum of New Zealand (Wellington)  We visited tons of sensational museums on our travels so that makes this a hard one. But Te Papa was the biggest and the best. The museum is incredible interactive and expansive. The exhibits about New Zealand are diverse and modernized. You can visit without a guide and it’s still awesome. As you might expect, English was spotty or secondary in many museums we saw. The best part about Te Papa? Admission is completely free. Honorable mention here goes to the small but impressive Nikola Telsa Museum in Serbia and their passionate staff and also to the the quirky, effectively informative History Museum of Estonia in Tallinn.

Best Hotel Stay- Hanoi Moment (Hanoi)  Wow, what a hotel! The staff seemed to spend every minute knocking themselves out to assist you. Wine and fruit was waiting for us in the room when we checked in, the room itself was comfortable, large and chock full amenities including a laptop. It was all a real respite from the humidity and hustle of Hanoi. Plus they serve an amazing breakfast. And for all this luxury, the price was astoundingly low. The list of nominees for best hotel list was a bit shorter because mixed up hotel stays with nights through Air B ‘n B, hostels and more along the way. Honorable mention goes to Le Meriden in Budapest (but since the room was through hotel points, we can’t rank against cost) and The Lennox Hotel in Buenos Aires.

Best Airport- Changi Singapore Airport (Singapore)  With an amazing kinetic art sculpture, this airport makes an immediate impression on visitors.  Beyond that, it is new, clean and has a lot to offer.  On a long layover, passengers can visit a swimming pool to get some exercise or relax between flights.  We also loved that the security lines were at the gate when you board the plane rather than in the front of the airport with all other passengers.  There is also tons of shopping because, after all, it is Singapore. It is a big airport that seems to do it all well.  Honorable mention goes to the Amsterdam Airport.  We were just there on a lay over for a few hours, but with a casino, museum and massage center,  it seemed pretty great just walking through.

Best Meal –Dinner at Lubimoto (Sofia). – Man, what a meal! Run by a trio of brothers, a dinner at Lubimoto allowed us to sit outside and pace ourselves over a nice long meal. One of the brothers had spent considerable time in America and doubled as our host (so much more than a waiter) for the evening. We finally relented and began the meal like Bulgarians do -with Rakia! From there, we enjoyed another local staple that’s become a fast favorite and a daily must of ours: A shopska salad. After that, our host brought us two made-to-order entrees that were out of this world.  One pork dish and one chicken dish that I would only shame if I attempted to describe the deliciousness. A couple of pints of Staropramen and a dessert made of cake and pecan ice cream (compliments of our host) rounded out the evening. And the final bill left us wondering if the printer was broken or someone sliced off a few zeros. Great stuff, but not an isolated incident in Sofia.Honorable mentions go to Ocho Cepas steak house in Mendoza, Ippudo Ramen in Kyoto and endless number of Hot Dog carts in Copenhagen!

Insanely great Ramen from Ippudo in Kyoto

Best “Bang for your Buck”– Vietnam. With a conversion rate of 22,500 Dong to the US Dollar, everything is incredibly affordable. There is a ton to see and plenty to spend money on from knock off bags to newly tailored suits and unique pieces of art.  In addition, there are endless wonderful, authentic restaurants, that serving  heaping portions with prices that make your make thing there is a misprint in the menu. Plus, visitors can easily stay at a Four-star hotel for $60 or less. Excluding accommodations, we’re pretty sure that travelers could do Hanoi on a mere $20 a day. A complete bargain for such a lively, friendly and different place.

Halong Bay in Vietnam

We’ve got six more that we want to share as we continue Part 2 tomorrow! Including Best Public Transportation, Best Non-Flight Transportation, Best Local Beer, Most Beautiful setting and, our favorite, Best Surprise. Drop us a line if there is anything you’d be interested in hearing what we thought was top notch. Trust me, when it comes to recommendations, feedback and opinions, we’ve got plenty of ammo!

-Brooke and Phil

Categories: Bars, Beer, Best Of, Eating, Flights, Museums, Post Trip Reflections, Surprises, The End of our Trip, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Reflections on Ending our Trip Around the World

This morning we find ourselves in the Atlanta airport en route to Cincinnati, officially back in the United States. During our six hour bus ride and a ten hour flight, we have had a lot of time to reflect on our travels and all that we have seen, learned and experienced.  Now that it is over, we can say without hesitation that this trip around the world has been an unequivocal success.  We are proud of what we’ve done; it has been incredibly satisfying and rewarding.   It hasn’t really sunk in that it is over, and what a bitter sweet ending it is.  We have stayed in so many hotel rooms, it will be nice to sleep in a familiar bed for several nights in a row.  And we will have significantly fewer buses, planes and trains in our near future.  But we wouldn’t trade the many different beds, moments of frustration and exhaustion, bumpy flights or even bouts of food poisoning.  It is all part of the overall experience. We would do it all again in a heartbeat.

On our last night in Mar Del Plata, really our last night of the trip, we laid in bed and talked about all that we have learned from our travels.  Of course, the list is endless and we shared everything from the silly (a”hairy coo” is a Highland Cow in Scotland ) to the practical (the London Heathrow airport has absurdly restrictive security) to the profound (by and large, people around the world seem to want similar things from life).  Not only has our understanding of other cultures grown, but also our understanding of our own culture.  We have seen the ways the U.S. can be much more restrictive than other countries, to the point of making us feel stifled.  At the same time, we have grown to appreciate things like vehicle emissions standards and road construction because the lack of these things in other countries is incredibly off-putting.  Traveling for four months did not allow us to spend tons of time in any single city, so we cannot call ourselves experts on any one place .  However, it is amazing what 3 or 4 days can do to create a real impression–the people, food, drink, transportation, shopping and overall vibe of a city shows itself pretty quickly.  We can now speak knowledgeably about cities around the world which six months ago we might not have even been able to find on a map.

We are happy to report that even on the last day of the trip, we’re still finding ourselves surprised.  Predictability has certainly never been an issue on this trip, and as we sat on the bus from Mar Del Plata to Buenos Aires, the movie in the DVD player was not another of the terrible movies we expected.  Instead, it was the new James Bond movie, Skyfall.  You know, the one that just came out in the U.S. on Friday?  How refreshing, if not a bit surprising, to have a movie that might actually entertain us!  Of course, we stopped paying attention when we realized it was dubbed in Spanish–those DVD pirates sure are quick!

As our trip comes to an end, we find ourselves overwhelmed with feelings both confusing and understandable.  We know the real world will be calling soon, so we have begun taking steps to ease the transition–polishing our resumes, reaching out to potential employers, making appointments to look at apartments.  But, we didn’t want to pull the emergency break on our journey, either.  We wanted to savor the end because we still can’t believe it is actually over.  No longer will we have to be hyper-vigilant about our surroundings, keeping an eye on our bags at every turn and constantly jotting down notes on our observations from the day.  We won’t have to worry about where we will be sleeping two days from now or if the room falls within our accommodations budget.  Nor will we have the pleasure of discovering a great local favorite like the Shopska salad or a wonderful free walking tour.  Our life experienced a huge tectonic shift when we left New York City to travel the world, and we are now on the cusp of a new shift.  Yes, our way of thinking will shift with it, we just hope that the perspective we have gained from our experiences stays with us.

We look back and feel so thankful for the amount of support and encouragement we have gotten from friends, family and even total strangers.  It has been much appreciated and has helped inspire us each and every day to continue with our efforts in writing the blog.  What started out as a travel journal for us and a way to keep in touch with our loved ones has turned into a labor of love that is a happy surprise.  It has been a pleasure writing each day and we are so thankful that we have had experiences enough to fill the page.  Of course, there was always so much more to say and we constantly found ourselves editing down to make the entries readable.  To those daily readers, thank you for going on this journey with us.  We feel so enriched from all we’ve seen and done, and we hope in some way you feel enriched, too.

Although this is the end of our trip, we are smart enough to know that this is not the end of our journey.  In fact, in some ways our journey is only just beginning.  As we enter this new phase and into a life with more routine, we will always have this remarkable story to tell.  But never fear, we will continue to make more stories, both at home and abroad.  One thing we know for sure is that this trip has made us hungry for more travel.  It is such a big world out there and we have so much more to see.  Yes, we still have lots of travel in our future.  But for now, we can officially say that we have completed a voyage around the world.

Brooke and Phil

Categories: Destinations, Eating, Post Trip Reflections, The End of our Trip, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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.

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

More from Mar De Plata

Endless Ocean!Good morning again from beautiful Mar Del Plata, Argentina! We could rave at length about the endless amount of great features of this beautiful seaside city. But one thing particularly worth noting is just how relaxing it has been. Our time in this rented apartment has given us some of the best sleep we’ve gotten on this trip. Ranks way above the unbearable discomfort of the Reino Inn in Hiroshima and about on par with our time at the Hanoi Moment in Vietnam. All kinds of sleep from sun drenched naps on the couch with a subtle sea breeze or a long night in an oh-so-comfortable bed punctuated with the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks fourteen stories below. Probably sounds odd that I’m boasting about how rested we are, but we’ve spent so much of our travels up early, running around all day and then worn out by nightfall, that this is a good way to wind down the trip.

Cuidado!All of this makes it even more striking that we were woken yesterday morning by the booming sound of shattering glass. A quick look out the window confirmed that a car had sped directly into the glass bus stop directly across the street. No one was hurt, but that’s a hell of a way to start your day. Later when walking along the main road, we observed that a highly suspicious number of bus stops no longer seemed to have their glass siding. Driving and, for that matter, riding in cars down here tends to be a guaranteed white knuckle adventure. Given the examples of bad driving we’ve seen again and again down here, I’m going to start referring to waking up in that manner as an Argentine Alarm Clock.

Lovely Seaside Brooke!

Reckless motoring aside, it’s not hard to see why Mar Del Plata is a booming vacation spot during the summer. Even though its early in the season, the main walkway along the beach is teeming with joggers, casual walkers, groups sipping maté, rollerbladers and more. I’ll make the bold leap and say that you could draw comparisons between this town and parts of Florida. Seaside walks, hundreds of hotels and compact blocks loaded with shops, storefronts and charming homes. We’ve had a couple of surprisingly windy days and nights, so the beaches are somewhat empty but there is a steady crowd of aspiring surfers just off the coast. As Brooke mentioned, the view from our window brings us the ocean falling over the horizon during the day, the unfamiliar stars of the southern window at night and everything ranging from large group of bicyclists to racing cars a la Fast and The Furious on the street below. It’s been fun just to watch out the window.

Brooke and I have also been using some of this time prepping for re-entry back into a day-to-day life in the states and, more importantly, taking some early steps to settle into our new city of Louisville, KY. There is much to be done and much of it is exciting. Its easy to frame our next steps as a completely new type of adventure. In upcoming weeks, we need to find a car, a place to live and, probably most importantly, jobs. Between a slew of e-mails to potential Jefferson County school employers and some buffering and polishing of LinkedIn profiles, we feel proud of the head start we’ve gotten. Never under estimate the power of a strong WiFi connection. We plan to hit the ground running when we get back, but a little work in advance goes a long way. Once again, having our ASUS Tablet and keyboard on this trip has been a lifesaver.

Or Lobo Del Marina is you so choseBut don’t be fooled. We’re spending a lot of time enjoying all the Mar Del Plata has to offer. This city and weather combine to provide the perfect atmosphere for long walks. We’ve headed north, south and west outside our front door and found worthwhile treks in each direction. Throughout this trip, I’ve always enjoyed venturing down a new street for the first time. I dig the initial voyage combined with the exciting philosophy of “who knows what we’ll see!” Occasionally, you discover zip but other times you see Sea Lions. As was the case yesterday when we walked down to the main port. Sure enough, at the edge of the docks mingling among fishing boats, was a large pack of Sea Lions. A few were somewhat active almost clamoring for attention from camera-toting human guests, while others were just lazy bastards. If I didn’t know better, I would presume I was looking at two dozen beached Sea Lions. It was quite cool to see and hear these giant creatures up close; when they “bark”, they actually sound a bit like lions. Fun fact: Argentines calls Sea Lions “Lobos Del Mar” which actually translates as “WOLVES of the sea.” Along with serving as a vacation sport, this city has a very active port including scores of small fishing boats. I don’t think Brooke ever has to worry about losing me to the sea; days on a fishing boat looks like a rough way to make a living.  After a long walk out, we ended with a small victory as a local bus and the equivalent of 75 cents gave us a ride back directly to the aforementioned smashed bus stop just outside our building.

On another walk, we discovered the closest thing to a diner that we’ve seen in a long time. Manolo restaurant is apparently a Mar Del Plata institution and was recommended highly by our Air BnB host. Complete with massive menu, indifferent waiters and reasonable prices, it was a place where the selection is endless want but it’s unlikely that any of it is going to be outstanding. Following the “When in Rome” ideology, I ordered the house chicken burger which came with a ham, cheese, egg, olives, tomatoes and lettuce. Oh my. On the taste scale, it fell somewhere between interesting and delicious. Also, since every single person in the joint had at least one churro on the plate in front of them, I ordered one as well. I’m sure its part of a relatively small universe, but that was hands down the best churro I’ve had in my life.

Brooke and I have also spent some time in front of the boob tube. The best part? The commercials. I leave you with this strange, gem that had us bewildered when we first saw it. I’ve watched it 15 times since but I’m still scratching my head. Trust us, this is worth clicking on link to see this strange mishmash:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_sfTz2BTfY

-Phil

Another car that ran off the road. Keep in mind this is different than the one that ran into the bus stop- same day, 2 KM down the road. Yikes.

Sea Lions hanging out under the pier. There were tons of them! They sometimes fought and they reeked.

We’ve seen tons of these “Living Statues” street performers all around the world. This Angel outside a church in Mar Del Plata was hands down the best. He went all out! Click to enlarge to see the detail.

Good living in Mar Del Plata

Good living in Mar Del Plata

Categories: Argentina, Beach, Diversions, Driving Abroad, Eating, Mar Del Plata, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Olives, Wine, Steak and an ill travel partner

So, it happened to me in New Zealand. And now it’s happened to Brooke in Argentina. We knew the odds were slim that we both would make it through a four month trip without getting ill. Yet, after a combination of some lousy empanadas served at a local back patio beer garden and probably a bit too much wine the night before, Brooke was struck down by some sort of stomach bug. Fret not: she made an inspiring recovery by the time dinner rolled around. Besides, there are certainly worse places to feel under the weather than Argentine wine country among the comfy confines of the Tikay Killa hotel. The scenic view from the foothills of the Andes certainly may have some healing powers as well.

With Brooke sitting out this round, I decided to take a solo trip and visit two of the locations that were close by: Entre Olivos and La Rual. Each one was just a short trot down the same street our hotel was on. Entre Olivos quickly won me over. Five dollars paid for a small tour that gave a background on olive production and tasting of everything including olives, olive oils, spreads, marmalades, chocolates, custom liquers and more. Did you know that the only differences between black and green olives is that green olives are picked from the trees sooner? Or that olive trees can produce olives for up to 400 years? Or that olives are only tasty once they undergo a process and are always terrible if eaten right from the tree? I learned so much! After tasting just about everything I could, I had to restrain myself from buying out the store.

Just a bit down the street, I made a visit to La Rural winery (makers of Rutini wine) and El Museo – an excellent wine museum. The tour provided an interesting history and the museum was jam packed with historical wine making elements. Some of which, like the giant ceramic vases that were buried under ground to store wine, dated back several hundred years. Saw the vineyards, saw the vats, saw the giant historic oak barrels. And, of course, I enjoyed the requisite tasting although they only offered some lesser brands. But the best part? My 50 peso admission went to the cost of any bottle of wine I might choose to purchase at the end of the tour. THAT was a nice surprise. I managed to grab a nice bottle that only cost a buck or two beyond my admission. After an afternoon of lounging around the hotel and sampling some more wine, the five of us staying at Tikay Killa all went to dinner at the lone restaurant in town. Even though we were one of the only tables being served, we ended up with delectable dishes of steak, chicken and even grilled veggies. If there is one thing that Argentines know how to do, its grill meat.

Most people we’ve met are making Mendoza a three to four day stop as part of a larger visit. Given how much there is to see in Argentina and combined with how long it takes to get from region to region, it’s not surprising that visits to Argentina are often three weeks or longer. Geographically, this may be the largest country we’ve visited outside of China. Since the amazing glacier you may want to see is incredibly far from that sensational Andes peak you may also want to see, bus rides on luxury coaches that are 14, 18, 22 or even 27 hours in length are common and truly the only practical way to get around.

Costs here in Maipu, and largely across Argentina, have been remarkably reasonable. We’ve found that a vineyard tour in Mendoza would regularly run less than $8 a person and that includes some generous pours during the tasting. Buenos Aires is also unique to any place we’ve visited in the way they handle exchanging currency. First, it’s important to note that Argentina is dealing with crazy inflation to the point that prices on menus are often written in pencil (to allow for easy changing) and some travel brochures don’t even bother to include costs at all. The official government line is that inflation is hovering around 10%, but apparently inflation is topping out more at about 25%. Among other factors, this had led to the rise of the unofficial, illegal “blue market” of exchanging dollars for pesos. This market is comprised primarily of somewhat shady people strolling down busy tourist areas muttering “Cambio, Cambio, Cambio” as you walk by. I may be bold and adventurous, but I still prefer making change at a bank rather than in a dark, back alley. Besides, I couldn’t recognize a counterfeit bill from Monopoly money if needed. Pretty sure the word “sucker” would be tattooed across my forehead in a lovely helvetica font.

Apparently, visitors who are in the country for a while arrange a trade with one of these blue market agents through their hotel. They show up in your room, pulling money from a sock or pouch strapped to a leg in exchange for your dollars. What’s the advantage to such a complicated doings? Apparently, there are TWO exchange rates in Argentina. Banks will offer you about 4.7 persos to the dollar while blue market traders will give you closer to 6.0 persos to the dollar. I’m still wrapping my head around that but I’m relatively sure that it means if we could have negotiated with one of these dealers and gotten all the money up front, Argentina would have been on sale at a rate of about 30% off the official rate. Baffling!

Our fun continues tomorrow in Maipu as we plan to hit no less than four wineries on our bikes.  Hopefully we make it back safe and sound after all that wine!

-Phil

Categories: Argentina, Diversions, Mendoza, Reflections, Transportation, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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