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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Exciting End of the Month

The most exciting event to happen, of course, is that Gretchen is now 19-months old.  A very exciting prospect, though it brings with it a few complications.  She no longer is content to smile and take a picture whenever I want her to, proof of which is in the numerous photos that I tried to take.  She wanted to sit in her rocking chair and read books - but she was not going to look at the camera, and under no circumstances was she going to smile.

I even got desperate and gave her the pacifier and her giraffe blanket. No dice.

Anyways, she's still adorable and I genuinely love that she now has her own opinions, likes & dislikes and has the ability to express them now more than ever.  

The other accomplishment that made for an exciting end of September is the completion of the Longest Project of All Time.  That's right - I have FINALLY completed the most complicated cross stitch of all time.  Behold!

It's complete!  The 4-month project that took almost 2 years - is complete - well, at least as far as I can complete it.  Now, I need to take it to the framer, and instill the fear of god in them that if anything is to happen to the cross stitch... there are no words to describe what I might do.  

But that's beside the point. The real news is that it's done - and I am thrilled that it will be on the wall well before Gretchen turns two.  Thank goodness - now I can start the second longest project ever - Peter Pan!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Giorgiani's Return

Within our crazy month of travel we were lucky enough to get my parents to make the trip to see us this year.  They arrived a few days after we returned from Peru, and though they had a few things they wanted to accomplish on this trip, most of the time was spent hanging out with their favorite granddaughter.

During the week we visited Temaiken Biopark, which was a perfect time to visit - the park was empty! Additionally, the day was cool but very sunny, so many of the animals were active.  Gretchen's favorite place in the park continues to be the trash cans, she is an exceptionally environmentally conscious little girl, and she insists on picking up and throwing away garbage.  Luckily, Papa was there to carry her to keep things moving a bit.

We spent time during the week getting a leather jacket made by Bettiza Rizzi and tracking down a vendor from the Feria Francia (Recoleta Market) that my mom met on one of her other visits to Buenos Aires.  It was a good thing that she kept his email address around, the man is an incredible painter!  If you are looking for a nice piece of art, especially a portrait, Andres Echeveste is a great person to work with.

For the weekend, we took the short flight to Iguazu Falls, Argentina.  We took this trip in April, 2010 with Jon's parents and have wanted to show this amazing location to my parents ever since.  I love that we have lived here long enough to do some of these trips twice, they really are worth the time.

Gretchen and Grammy getting ready for a walk.  Gretchen was pleased to be out of the backpack for this trip - but not incredibly excited to be in the stroller.

I was content as soon as we saw our first wild toucan.  What a beauty!

It was not recommended to visit Iguazu Falls in August, supposedly because the water levels can be low and the Brazilian side has the prerogative to reduce the flow of the water over the falls to help with their energy production.  I thought it was a great time to visit, we escaped the cooler Buenos Aires temperatures and avoided the crowds.  There looks to be plenty of water from where I was standing!

Our little ham showing off her beautiful smile:

One experience we had this time around that we didn't last time was the monkeys.  They showed up right around dinner time and walked along the balconies of the hotel rooms searching for food. The next morning I opened our blinds to find a money on our balcony railing - if only I had my camera then too...

I recommend to anyone going to Iguazu to stay at the Sheraton, especially if you are traveling with children.  There is no more convenient place to stay where you can walk to the falls, come back to let the baby nap, and then head out again that afternoon.  It was just the mix of adventure and relaxing that we were looking for.

The only part of the trail that was inconvenient to bring a stroller was the "Lower Circuit".  There are a zillion stairs, it is quite slick in spots, so we put Gretchen back in in the backpack for this hour-or-so hike.

We also went back to the Brazil side of the park, which meant that my parents needed to get their Brazilian visas, which was virtually the same as when Jon and I got our visas in 2010. The only differences this time around were that the Brazilian consulate required a current bank statement (that has a balance of at least $1,000USD) and that the visas returned with only a 90-day tourist visa (as opposed to our 5-year visas).

This also meant that we could return to the Parque das Aves, the best bird park ever in my eyes.  The toucans didn't disappoint, these blue birds were just about posing for our pictures...

And of course, the highlight of my photo-taking experience were these incredible hummingbirds:
  I don't think I'll ever get sick of them.

The Brazil side definitely offers the better view, I just love this panoramic of the waterfalls with my husband and daughter enjoying the view:

It was so nice to have my mom and dad come with us on this trip, it is right up their alley with the wildlife and the fantastic views.  I had to get this photo of the three of us at the end of our last trail:

When we were not hiking the waterfalls, we were at the very cold pool.  Luckily, it was 90 degrees outside so we were able to get in for a little bit.  Gretchen and Papa enjoyed the cold water together for a long time, she giggled like crazy when he would lower her into the water and then come up again.  It was precious!

Daddy and Gretchen swimming at the pool, it was a great way to get her energy out during the day.  We had a fantastic trip all around, and thoroughly enjoyed showing my parents a more tranquilo part of the country.  Thanks so much for coming Mom & Dad, it was pure joy!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Viva El Peru: Cusco

Our final day in Peru was spent in Cusco, where we had a walking tour included in our trip.  We stayed right downtown at the Sonesta Hotel Cusco, which was the only deviation we made from the suggested itinerary from the Sundance Spirit travel agency.  It turned out to be a huge mistake, the hotel itself was fine but the service was lousy and the are in the middle of a full remodel - so the construction noise during the day was obtrusive.  We should have stuck to the suggested Aranwa Boutique hotel again in Cusco as we did in the Sacred Valley. Anyways, live and learn.

Cusco was far more important to the Inca Empire than any of the ruins, including (gasp!) Machupicchu.  According to our guide, Cusco (which translated from Quechua means navel of the earth in English) was the historic capital of the Inca Empire state. The city was invaded, and overtaken, by the Spanish in the 1530s and destroyed most of the Inca buildings, though many of the foundations remain part of the city to this day.
During our city tour, we visited the famous cathedral, Church of la Compañía de Jesus, which is an impressive building both inside and out.  One of the more interesting items inside is a version of the famous Last Supper painting where a platter of guinea pig is prominently displayed on the banquet table. The original foundation for this cathedral was constructed soon after the Spanish takeover in the 1530s, but the current building is a rebuild after the earthquake of 1650 destroyed the original.

We also drove up to a look out point to see this part of the city from above - pretty nice view from up here!

We also visited Qorikancha, or Temple of the Sun.  This temple was also victim to the Spanish takeover, however the Spanish left most of the building and just added on in their own style.  You can clearly see where the old and new construction styles come together.

Even inside the temple, as you walk down one of the passageways, on your left there is the distinct look of the Incas contrasting with the righthand side with curved doorways and more modern materials.

Qorikancha also has a beautiful outdoor garden area where Talia found a comfortable spot to stop for a drink.  

We left the temple and walked around town for a while, the narrow streets of Cusco proving to be a little difficult to manage with our strollers.  I would love to explain where exactly we went, but most of the street names are similar to the one of the left - I cannot imagine trying to teach a little one your address with a name like that!
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Cicciolina that was outstanding.  We only had an hour before needing to continue our tours, but if there is ever a chance we are back in Cusco, I would go back to that restaurant in a heartbeat.  They offered salads like I only wish I could find in Argentina!  And the seafood!  So good!

After all that touring and lunch, the girls were tuckered out, they took matching naps in their strollers.

After lunch and nap, we got Gretchen strapped into the backpack for one final ruins visit.  We were scheduled to visit four more ruins sites this afternoon, but the lack of sleep throughout the visit combined with the constant touring, we decided to visit one site and then spend the afternoon shopping and recovering a bit.

The site we visited was Saqsayhuaman, a site set high in the hills overlooking Cusco city.  This site is said to be built in the form of the puma, an important idol in the Inca culture. The most prominent feature is these jagged formations, said to be the teeth of the puma.

Of course, no Inca ruins site is complete without lots and lots of stairs.

The rest of our day was spent searching for alpaca sweaters (we found great items at Kuna) and getting dinner at a little place in town that served ceviche and pisco sours.  We were exhausted - and needed to be up for an early flight back to Buenos Aires the next day, so we got to bed early and prepared for the trip home.

It was an amazing trip, and surprisingly easy to do with a little one.  I imagine that things get a bit harder when the little one isn't so little that you can carry them on your back, but I encourage anyone who asks me to take their kids on vacations like this - even if they won't remember it.  I feel like it exposes Gretchen to new things, even if those things aren't totally understood yet, and it reminds Jon and I that we can still travel, even with a baby!  She is a great traveler, and we hope to light the fire in her to see different parts of the world at an early age!

Viva El Peru!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Viva El Peru: Machupicchu - Day 2

Early morning sky at Machupicchu
Our second and final day at Machipicchu was another early rise, we were up at 4:30am with the intention of watching the sun rise from the site - and we made it with only a few minutes to spare.  It turns out that we were not the only ones with this idea, and the line for the shuttle buses was at least 200 people long at 5:30am (when the shuttles start running).  The park was well prepared for this type of crowd and the line moved quickly, but we had to move in fast forward to get the girls into their backpacks and start the hike before the sun came up.
The more popular place to watch the sunrise is from the sun gate - but for this crew, that was too many stairs for this early morning trip.  We learned our lesson from the day before and brought all sorts of comfort items and snacks for the little ones, and had the added benefit of a big breakfast and decent night's sleep for the girls so they were nice and happy campers.  

I just love this picture of Jon and Gretchen.  They both look so happy, and so similar, it's endearing.  I also love Gretchen's new little curl "wings', she has been a little baldy for so long, I love seeing her with hair!  

 The morning was a bit cloudy, but as we waited for the sun to rise, the clouds disappeared.  This fog blanket seemed to be receding over the mountains throughout the morning.

If you look closely here you can see our buddy Jeff with little Talia on his back looking out onto the morning sky.  This was such a peaceful way to start the day.

The sun is up and the temperature is rising...
The number of visitors allowed at Machupicchu each day is limited to 3,000 - which sounds like a lot, but requires you to plan your trip ahead of time because they sell out months in advance.  To enter the park, you need your entry ticket and your passport, which they look at every time you pass through the gates.  (They don't stamp your passport each time, though there is a commemorative stamp available for anyone who wants to stamp their own passport.)  There is a small food court area and a gift shop just before the entrance, and they have bathrooms available for 1 nuevo sole per visit (and you have to take your toilet paper from the cashier before entering the bathroom).  One of the nicer services that they offer is a coat check - where you can leave your backpack or jacket while you tour around the area - we took advantage of this service when the temperature rose 20+ degrees in an hour.

One other improvement we made of our first day was to take time and let the kids run around outside of  the backpacks for awhile.  There are plenty of large terraces where the girls could stretch their legs, have a snack and we could change a diaper in peace.

Our little adventurer
 The second, lesser-known portion of Machupicchu is called Waynapicchu, and this area of the site requires an additional entry ticket.  Waynapicchu is limited to 400 visitors per day divided into two entry widows from 8 - 9:00am or 10 - 11:00am (200 visitors permitted at each window).  Your designated window is printed on the entry ticket - so we waited around until our 10:00am window to start the hike.

Waynapicchu is the signature tall mountain peak behind almost all of the photos of Machupicchu. We had no idea what to expect when we booked this portion of the tour.

 I imagine that the views from the top of Waynapicchu are amazing, the highest point of this ~2 hour hike is virtually to the top of the mountain.  But, I wouldn't know for sure, we never got there.

The hike started safe enough.  There were a few spots where you are on a narrow pathway that has the mountain on one side of you, and a very long drop on the other side, but aside from my fear of heights, we felt comfortable continuing on the path.  I was the biggest scaredy-cat in the group.

 And then we reached this point.  This was the first full climbing point on the trail, and Milena made it up without issue.  She took this picture from the top of this set of stairs - you can see Jeff and Jon working their way up the steps and me trailing behind.  You can't tell in this photo, but the stairs are slightly curved, very narrow and the one side has a multi-hundred foot drop without any sort of barrier. We decided it was an irresponsible parenting move to go any further - not knowing if the girls would suddenly shift their weight - and more importantly, knowing that if we got up, we would have to figure a way to get back down.  So we turned around, took some nice pictures and became the first group of the 200 people to return from the Waynapicchu trial. As amazing as the trail probably is, it really is just not safe for children.

Had we continued on the trail, you can see portions of the hike in this photo.  The stairs climb all the way to the top of this mountain, and I was way more impressed by the people who could actually complete the trail after I saw what that entailed.  This is my biggest piece of advice to people traveling to Machupicchu with little ones - it's very doable, but don't buy the extra entrance to Waynapicchu, it's far too physical and precarious of a trail for kids.

And that was our trip to Machupicchu.  It was incredible, it was exhausting and it's closer than you think to the US!  A highly recommended trip for anyone who is looking for an adventure, and we are so glad that our little Gretchen is such a wonderful traveler so that we can do things like this.