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Showing posts with label Tours. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tours. Show all posts

Friday, March 8, 2013

Chile: Valparaiso

Should I go ahead and finish posting about Chile now?  About time, right?

Our final full day in Chile was spent at the other activity that my father-in-law booked for us, and after the successful wine tasting trip, we were on board for another activity!

We had instructions to meet our guide at the top of one of the funiculars, one of the many vertical people movers in the city.  It was a great view from the top, overlooking a shipyard and the rest of the city, and we arrived early enough to enjoy the scenery.

It was a bright, sunny morning, and it was nice to walk along the pier with Gran.

 When our guide, Boris, showed up, he was smiles and fun from the start.  We booked through Chilean Cuisine, a class found through its high TripAdvisor ratings.  The cooking class had a few parts; we started at the house where we would eventually cook the meal, we rode together to a large fruit and vegetable market then rode to the fresh seafood market, then we took our goods back to the house, cooked and at our multi-course meal.  It was a perfect way to see how to cook an authentic Chilean meal from start to finish.

The first stop was the fruit market, which was in a sketchy area of town, so I didn't bring out my camera to capture the moment.  It was a sight to be seen, though, fruits and vegetables larger than I thought possible (again, everything grows wonderfully here).  They also had an unusual amount of cats in the market, which meant that we washed the produce really well before eating it.

The second stop was to the seafood market, which is where the fishermen come in from their daily catch and sell their finds to the public.  People can purchase the fish and take it to one of the many folks willing to filet it for a tip.  This man was the fastest fish filet-er I have ever witnessed.

 With all of these folks filleting and cleaning fish, there were also plenty of animals waiting to inherit the scraps.

The fish market was a surprise highlight for me, it was great to see the incredible variety of seafood, though the real bonus was seeing all of these great sea lions.

I don't even know what some of these items are, but they make a nice photo.

 The cooking class itself was a huge success, everything we made was delicious.  The downside of the class was that it was absolutely overcrowded.  We were all bumping into each other as we were cooking, and we were sitting shoulder to shoulder as we ate the meal.  In fairness, Boris, our guide, was great at directing and redirecting each moving piece in the class.

The food was delicious, and we have all been promised the recipes - though they have not yet been send out.  It was nice to see the food from purchase to plate, and each dish that we prepared was unique to anything I have cooked before.

It was a nice way to end a really great trip to Chile.  We would return to this area in a heartbeat - it was a great place to visit!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Viva El Peru: Ollantaytambo

After we visited the Pisac market, we stopped to have lunch on our way to Ollantaytambo.  To give a little context to the distance between these places, the Aranwa Hotel is located halfway between Pisac and Ollaytaytambo, so we had to backtrack to get to the second part of our day.  We stopped at a restaurant called Toto's House (phone: (5184) 242037-234312) which was really pretty and had a really pleasant outdoor seating area, but consisted of a buffet lunch - and we were clearly the last ones to the buffet.  Many of the items were low or out and the dressings and sauces looked like they had been sitting out for awhile.  The food was generally good, but it would have been a much better meal if we had arrived a couple of hours earlier.

The great thing about arriving late was that the girls could run around and burn off some steam for a bit.  The stairs kept little Talia busy for quite awhile - I just love this picture of her enjoying herself on those stairs!

One of the more distinguishing factors of Toto's House is the large garden that is located at the front of the restaurant.  It would be interesting to know the percentage of food that this garden supplies to the restaurant (if any, they never explicitly said that the garden provided anything to the restaurant, I just assumed...) because it is such a large and well-groomed plot of land.  It certainly makes Toto's house distinctive to see from the road.

After lunch we hopped back in the car for another 30 minute drive to the Ollantaytambo ruins.  This site was most famously known for it's role in protecting Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance from the Spanish invasion in the 1540s.  Now it is known to tourist mostly because it is the kick off point for the multi-day long Inca Trail hiking and camping path - something that we opted not to try.

When we arrived it was quite a bit cooler than earlier in the day at the Pisac ruins, simply because the sun had dipped below the mountain line at this point.  We each added a jacket, plopped the girls in the backpacks and headed up some more stairs. We had some clothing adjusting to do as you can see in this picture of Gretchen - but after that we were ready to go.

Ollantaytambo consisted of an entire village where the important religious and wealthy members of the town lived up higher than the rest of the population.  It was also a fortified village, when looking down from the higher points you can see the remains of a stone barrier wall around the perimeter. There is also a neighboring mountain that houses some interesting buildings adjacent to the ruins.  It was explained to us that these buildings were for food and supply storage, a great idea, but difficult to imagine having to retrieve those goods from wayyyyy over there.

Like Pisac, this was one of a few sites that we saw that didn't use any sort of mortar or filling between the stones of the construction.  The stone masters were incredible architects and crafted their stones to be perfect fitting to each other.  Incredible.

One of the more distinctive aspects of these ruins were this wall of stones multiple times larger than the rest of the stones used in this construction.  This wall is called the "Wall of the Six Monoliths" for obvious reasons and we were told that each of the six weighs ~190 tons.

At this point in time, Gretchen was just about done with her backpack.  
We got this nice shot right before she had really met her limit. 

And then we had to descend all of these stairs...

And then we were really out of time with the little ones.  We descended the stairs and then immediately took the babies out of their backpacks.  It was an incredible day and an amazing introduction to our Inca Empire experience.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mendoza the Return Visit: Day 2

On our second day in Mendoza started off at our favorite bodega from our trip two years ago, Domaine St. Diego (mlauritamza@hotmail.com (0261)155395148, Laura speaks English and Spanish). On this trip we reconnected with the same tour guide, Angel Mendoza's daughter, Laura, who was just as pleasant as the last time we saw her.  It was a beautiful and serene place to be first thing in the morning. I love the number of olive trees they have on the property, even though it reduces the number of vines they can plant.  This bodega is family owned and operated, and they go to great lengths to use the small amount of land that they have in a number of very interesting ways.

As mentioned before, the olive trees are interspersed between the vines, or more accurately, the vines were planted among the trees.  The grapes that grow directly below the trees don't get enough sunlight to grow to use for the wines they were originally intended for, so they use these grapes to make other wines.  When we visited before, they made a dessert wine called Oportuno that was delicious.  They have discontinued that wine and started making an outstanding sparkling rosé called Elea, after their first granddaughter.

They also grow certain vines at two different heights, to allow double the grapes to be planted in the same amount of space.  They manipulate the vines so that some grow taller than others and then maintain them at different heights.  The root structures for these types of plants are relatively deep, also making them a good match for the shallow-rooted olive trees.  Very cool.

The last piece of horticultural knowledge that I will share from this visit is the way that the winery creates new vines.  So, the plants that they currently use to make wine are somewhere in the range of 70 - 80 years old.  I don't remember the exact numbers, but somewhere around this range, the plants start to get tired and produce less quality fruit.  If they continue to naturally let the plant go, it will eventually die - literally from old age.  Instead, they naturally clone a new plant.  At the end of the season, when they prune all of the plants, the older, more tired vines are left with an off-shoot.
Grape vine "cloning"
This longer branch continues to grow, and then is guided down into the ground.  The plant will naturally grow down, then turn up toward the surface again and re-emerge as a new, sapling vine.  This vine (which is still attached to the mother plant by an "umbilical" cord) eventually grows it's own root structure and is able to live on it's own as an independent plant.  The branch is then cut, the new plant relocated - but not before the new plant feeds nutrients and energy back into the mother plant, rejuvenating it's fruit production for another period of years.  This will allow the plants to produce fruit from 30-40 years longer than usual, and has the added benefit of keeping the same DNA in all of the grapes.  Amazing!

 Domaine St. Diego has a beautiful look-out point that is great for photos, and is the weekend meeting point for the entire wine-making family.  What a great tradition to have, drink the wine you all helped to make while sitting atop a hill on your family's beautiful land.

The last stopping point on our tour was the olive centrifuge, which is the new technology for the olive press.  More simply, we stopped to watch them make olive oil.  They use this machine to create their own olive oil, which is outstanding on it's own or in the grapefruit and rosemary infused variety, and to generate profit by pressing other farm's harvest of olives.

After this we enjoyed the tasting of Pura Sangre, Paradigma and the sparkling Elea.  We also tasted, and proceeded to purchase, their olive oil, both versions, and got the contact information to purchase wine for delivery in Buenos Aires.  This is the last point to make about this winery, they only sell from the winery - no distributers or wholesalers, so if you want it, you buy from them.  Not a bad deal considering that all of their wines are a mere AR$60.

The next bodega on our tour was Carinae, a winery started by a French couple that used the stars as their theme.  Carinae is the name of the constellation that appears directly above the vineyard during harvest time - making it an appropriate name for the star-loving wine-enthusiast.  The Carinae wines are made from vines planted in Maipu, the place that we visited, but also in Salta (to make Torrontés) and Lujan de Cuyo (an area a few hours outside of Mendoza city).  Their most prized wine is called Prestige, which is aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels, and is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Jon admiring the aging process
Their wines were good, though my personal favoriet was a Malbec Rosé.  I particularly like the foils surrounding the corks of these wines, they are classy, colorful and contain their namesake constellation.  

We spent another amazing, large lunch at Ruca Malen, another purposeful repeat from our last trip.  It was delicious, and pared with great wines - most notably the Yauquen Bonarda, a varietal that I have never heard of before this trip.  Keep your eyes open for Bonarda, it is very good, and rumored to be the next big thing after Argentine Malbec.

We ended our day at the Alta Vista winery, a beautiful building and grounds that is a photographer's dream.  Unfortunately for me, this was the fourth winery of the day, so my photos were not as impressive as they probably could have been (at least that's my excuse).  You be the judge. 

And here is the only photo I took of our guide, Javier.  The best wine guide in Mendoza!

To finish off the day, we returned to the hotel for some cards and relaxing before dinner.  This night, we made reservations at Azafran, the same restaurant we visited back in 2010 and still an outstanding choice for dinner. We were sad to learn that Philip, the gentleman that gave us the stargazing tour back in 2010 is no longer offering these tours.  And I was confounded to learn that he was actually one of two star-loving, wine-making Philips in the small town of Mendoza (the other being one of the owners of Carinae, who I was CERTAIN was the same Philip as before... who knew??).

Argentina is great about allowing carry-on wine on the plane, so we were able to purchase a few bottles to bring home with us.  I am obviously quite pleased with our purchases - and it was a great, fun weekend.

No doubt, we were anxious to get back to this little princess, who is now saying "night-night", "bye-bye", "bath-bath" and some singular words like "stop", "hi", "meh" (for milk) and most heart-warmingly "ma-ma" and "da-da" to refer to Jon and I.  She's so cute it's painful!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Buenos Aires Bus Tour

From the day Jon's parents arrived, they were up for any site seeing we had planned. The only thing that they had on their agenda and wanted to do was tour the city on an open air bus. I've seen the bus drive by our apartment for a few months now and was waiting for some riding companions, so this was a perfect opportunity for me. We waited for three long days of rain before we found a day that was suitable for an open air tour, and on that first nice day we consulted the website for ways to buy tickets for the tour. According to the Buenos Aires Bus site, tickets come in one ($70 pesos) or two ($90 pesos) day passes with multiple ways to purchase tickets:

1) On the bus at any of the stops (Bust!)
2) At the main bus terminal
3) At the FlechaBus window at the Retiro Bus Terminal (Didn't attempt)
4) Online, printing the tickets out at home (Bust! It turns out that this is a "coming soon" feature on their website)

During the "high season" the bus starts at 9:00am during the "low season" they start at 9:30am and ends at 5:30pm throughout the year. It is unclear as to what constitutes that high or low season - but we weren't planning on taking the tour that early anyways. So we waited next to the Buenos Aires Bus sign for the 12:30pm scheduled stop across from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Recoleta. This stop actually happened at 12:45pm. We boarded the bus only to find an unapologetic on-board tour guide that was fresh out of tickets. She recommended that we either go home and print out tickets, wait for the next bus (which, she mentioned, may also be out of tickets) or go to the main bus terminal at the corner of Av. Roque Saenz Peña & Florida Ave. - this sounded like the best option. The main bus terminal is located in Microcentro near the President's House (Casa Rosa or the Pink House) in an area known for it's frequent protests. We were in luck, we had to exit our taxi and walk to the bus terminal because the streets were closed for a protest (seen here on the left). The protest was complete with a riot line of police and loud fireworks making this trip to the bus terminal much more eventful than we had anticipated.
We were able to work our way through the protest to purchase tickets for the tour around 1:15pm, but as we purchased our tickets, the clerk said that the 1:30pm bus was full and we needed to wait for the 2:00pm bus - and our tickets reflected this change. Along came the 1:30 bus, half-empty, so we boarded with our 2:00pm tickets. No sooner did we think that we were actually going to take the tour when the guide came and kicked us off of the bus, we had been ratted out by one of the other patrons for boarding the earlier bus. So we diligently waited for the 2:00pm bus, completing close to 2 hours since we originally left my house for the tour.

Once we actually got on the bus, with correct tickets, and a tour guide that let us stay, the tour was a nice way to see the entire city. Each seat came with a set of headphones for an audio tour that you can plug into any one of 10 available languages. The audio tour offered some information, but to me it stopped just short of being truly informative. For example, this beautiful statue to the right was described as a monument to a shipwreck off the coast of Argentina. While the ship was sinking, a man gave his lifejacket to a pregnant woman, a gesture that lead to his death. Although a beautiful story, the audio tour stopped short of any details of the wreck, the ship, the passengers or why this statue was erected in Puerto Madero.

The bus had 12 scheduled stops, so you can exit the bus and walk any one area then pick up the next bus to stop by, generally 30 minutes later. We did not exercise this option, and coincidentally, we watched as the driver passed a group of riders that had gotten off in the colorful, and mildly shifty neighborhood of Boca. The tour lasted a total of 2 hours 45 minutes, although we got off one stop early to avoid the protest on our trip home. This tour was a good way of seeing areas of Bs.As. that I would otherwise not have visited, and places that you may only want to spend 5 or 10 minutes driving by. It also helps to give a good layout of the city for anyone who takes the tour during one of their first few days here. All in all, I recommend the walking tour for some better information and history about the city. For as difficult as the bus tour company made it to take their tour, I would not recommend this tour to visitors.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recoleta Cemetery

Few places have surprised and impressed me more than the Recoleta Cemetery. I have always liked cemeteries (during daylight hours) and have a strange fascination with the stories surrounding old cemeteries, especially old cemeteries in really rich areas - they always seem to have the best stories. Even as a kid, it was not unusual for my family to go for a weekend walk through a nearby cemetery, I just figured that's what all families did. It's no surprise that I was really excited to visit the Recoleta Cemetery, it is a main tourist attraction for everyone, not just strange cemetery-lovers like me. I had no idea what I was getting into, this place is like nothing I've ever seen before.

We first visited Recoleta Cemetery during the BA Walking Tour we took right after moving in. Since then, I have taken the same tour a second time while my mom was visiting and found it even more interesting the second time around. This cemetery at one time held the most expensive real estate, per square meter, in the world. It is now beat by plenty of other places in the world but a few years ago a plot sold for somewhere around US$290,000. These are not normal cemetery plots, it is better described as a small city. The sidewalks are arranged like city streets and the tombs are like miniature buildings. Each building has it's own unique story, and many times the tomb itself says a lot about the life or death of the family within. Like the story about the tomb on the left. According to the tour, while they were both living, the wife was a big spender and the husband was a bit of a scrooge. At some point, the husband very publicly refused to pay for any of his wife's purchases, therefore bringing her spending habits to a halt. From that day forward, the wife never spoke to the husband again. Even after he died, 12 years later, she erected these statues on their family tomb showing her looking away from the husband - shunning him for eternity.

Then there are the really beautiful sculptures, like the one here on the right. This tomb shows an angel guiding the woman to heaven while the surrounding angels mourn Earth's loss. It's hard to see with the shadow, but there is an owl next to the rising woman. This signifies the intelligence of the family represented. This family, at one time, owned and ran the largest national newspaper in Argentina. There is so much thought and effort put into these sculptures, you really need a guide to explain all of the stories and meanings.

Last but not least, is the most famous tomb of all, Eva Peron's final resting place. It is relatively nondescript, although it comes with a very long and interesting story. The only way that you would know it was the tomb of someone famous is due to the constant presence of flowers and prayer cards.

We are lucky enough to have these monuments withing walking distance of our house, but the cemetery is a must-see if you are anywhere in Buenos Aires. There are few places like it in the world, and even if you are squeamish around classic cemeteries, I think this one is worth a try.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Don't Cry for Me - Museo Evita

I can't believe that it's been close to 14 years ago since I went with my friend Denise's family to see Evita in the theater. Her mom was the driving force behind us going and I had just moved to Illinois so any time I was invited anywhere I said yes. It was one of two times in my life that can remember where I: 1) Had no idea that the movie was based on a true story, and 2) Had to quickly cover up my ignorance while discussing the movie afterward. (The other time was when I saw A Beautiful Mind. I was so sure that Russell Crowe was a secret government decoder...) I loved the music from the show and until today that movie has been the complete source of my knowledge of Eva Peron/Evita. The most repeated part of the museum tour was that the musical has very little factual information about Evita, so I had lots to learn.

Jon and I are not really museum people, so guided tours are really the best thing for both of us. Unfortunately for him, the tours are usually during the day so he doesn't get to join in on the fun. Today I went with BAIN (the expat group I joined) to an English guided tour of Museo Evita (The Evita Museum), Lafinur 2988, Palermo, that was really great. The museum "contribution fee" is $14 pesos or $22 pesos with a guided tour. They charged us $25 pesos today, maybe because it was in English, maybe because it was with a large private group - either way to me it was worth the US$6.50. Located in a beautiful area of the city, the museum itself has a colorful history. It is an old Carabassa family mansion that the Eva Peron Foundation bought and restored in 1948 and then opened it as a shelter for women and children. After Juan Peron was overthrown in 1955, the shelter was seized by the government (as was everything created or owned by the Perons) and sat abandoned for close to 50 years. To mark the 50th anniversary of Evita's death on July 26, 2002, her grandniece reopened the house as a museum showcasing Eva's legacy, influence and (of course) her clothing.

There are strong feelings in Argentina regarding Juan and Eva Peron, strong love and strong hate. To avoid the controversy, I will not focus on their politics or methods, but rather on something that is not a source of controversy, her sense of fashion. This woman had to be the most well dressed person to ever live. The dresses they had on display were uniquely designed for her and came complete with shoes, hats, scarves, purses, etc. that were all stunning. My favorite examples:

The museum also has a nice Restaurant & Bar in the lower level that is a great post-museum stop. We stopped for lunch at 1pm and the place was 100% full by 1:30. The menu is small, but they had some nice options; chicken ceasar salad, grilled fish, chicken or beef with vegetables or homemade pasta to name a few. If you used their set price option you get a beverage (beer, wine, soda or water), entre and dessert or coffee for $33 to $36 pesos (US$8.50 - $9.50). A pretty good deal. The restaurant has an air conditioned indoor seating area and a large, pleasant patio. Their hours are 9am - 12am everyday and advertise breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and wine tastings. I would recommend a reservation if you are planning a trip, 4800 1599 or resto@museoevita.org.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Recoleta Walking Tour

After I arrived, one of the first things we did was take a walking tour of the neighborhood surrounding our new apartment. I recommend the company we used, BA Walking-Tours. Don't be fooled by their chaotic website, they offer a really great tour for relatively little cost. The tour we took was US$25 per person and for a 2.5 - 3 hour tour. They offer a number of destinations, including Wild or Mild Tango tours. We chose the Recoleta-Palermo afternoon walk. This covers Recoleta cemetery, the surrounding restaurants and shops, Embassy row in Palermo and a stop for coffee and a snack. Our guide, Carlos, was knowledgeable, funny and gave us great insight about Argentine history and culture in addition to the tour stopping points. Another plus - he spoke flawless English - a HUGE bonus for our first couple of days here.