Argentina – Patagonia

Part two of Argentina was absolutely stunning and a highlight of the trip, and to be honest, Patagonia wasn’t even a must see location for me. When I thought of Argentina, I thought Buenos Aires, Mendoza, steak, wine, but not necessarily the southern-most point in the world that I have been to to date. I am glad that it was on the top of my friend’s list; however, because now I don’t think you can really come to Argentina and get the full experience if you don’t go.

Argentina is a huge country and Patagonia is a significant portion of it, so even deciding where do go within that expanse took some work, but we landed on two nights in El Calafate, the airport town and jumping off point for glacier viewing, and two nights in El Chalten, a famed town that is a hiking capital and home to the Fitz Roy Range. Think Patagonia logo. Really. [If you just want the photos, scroll to the bottom!]

fullsizeoutput_5ae5El Calafate

El Calafate is the bigger of the two towns with some tourist shops and all the outdoorsy stores, in case you forgot or lost and critical gear. The both towns really just serve the purpose to house and feed you between treks into the wild. From El Calafate we ventured to Perito Moreno Glacier, which was recommended to me by multiple people. We really only had the shortest time here as one’s visit is not to stay in town, but to get out!

fullsizeoutput_5ad5Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno is one of the only growing glaciers in the world and is an arm of the third largest ice cap in the world. Antarctica, Greenland and then Patagonia. It is also one of the the most active, since it comes down a huge valley and ends at a peninsula. It’s the pressure between the valley walls and the peninsula that keeps things interesting, and holds two different levels of water on each side of the glacier when the ice is touching the peninsula.

It’s an hour and a half drive into the national park and a 20 minute boat ride to the point of departure onto the Glacier. I had read in all the guide books about the thunderous crashes of ice into the water as they fall from the glacier walls, and how impressive it is. I wondered just how often this was actually happening and if we stood a chance of seeing this in action, and low and behold we did! And it WAS impressive! You hear the cracks, and just in the time it takes you to locate the sound an turn your head the ice is falling off in massive chunks creating ripples and waves flowing towards you.

The glacier walk itself was awesome. It was just about an hour, during which we got to hike around and look into caves and rivers formed by the melting ice. I loved all the layers of blue and just how massive it all is. At the end they treated us to a touch of whiskey poured over freshly procured glacier ice, and I went of a refill of pure glacier water. Side note: all the water in Patagonia is drinkable and it’s delicious. After the walk you picnic and bask in the glory of the glacier, and end the day with a visit to the main visitor site, where you can see both sides of the glacier and really take in the grandness of the glacier.

Tip – there is only one tour company that does the glacier walks. You can book there, but we did it ahead of time, since it was really our main reason for staying in El Calafate. Hielo y Aventura

fullsizeoutput_5ae0El Chalten

El Chalten is just just over three hours from El Calafate and much smaller. There is some ‘sprawl’ to the town, and just like El Calafate it’s mostly hotels and restaurants targeted at boarding and feeding hikers. We arrived in the middle of the day to empty streets, and closed establishments, and while were never really there at night time I have to imagine it’s a bit busier when people return from their day adventures. It was cloudy and raining the day we arrived, and we couldn’t see anything, so our fingers were crossed that we would actually get the perfect day the next day of which our hotel assured us.

fullsizeoutput_5adfPatagonia Eco Domes

Our stay was a 25 minute drive up a dirt road from town and so so cool. It’s a quaint set up of nine or so individual glamping tents (they are permanent dome structures, with bathrooms, but definitely still tents at the end of the day). There is no cell phone/internet, so there is plenty of time to relax, read, and just stare at the mountains, which everyone has a direct view of through a huge window at the front of their tent. It was so serene and quite (save for the loud flapping tents in the night) and it was just perfect for unplugging and not caring about the outside world.

fullsizeoutput_5ae8Laguna de Los Tres / The Fitz Roy

From the domes location it’s a nine kilometer hike to Laguna de Los Tres, which is THE place to view the Fitz Roy mountain range. It’s a gorgeous and relatively easy hike most of the way, shaded by a lush forest with glacier views all around. Not going to lie though, the last kilometer is HARD. People had told us this before, but experiencing it held all the impact. It feels like you are going straight vertical, climbing over rocks and wondering if it’s really all worth it in the end. It does; however, make the final destination all the more sweet. You can see the mountains getting closer and closer, and the final stretch is an exposed rocky incline, but when you get to the top of that last bit, you look down on a stunning lake, with the mountains as the backdrop. The water is a beautiful blue and with our perfect day (the hotel was right!) it was quite a sight to behold and totally worth every step.

We picnic’d, took lots of photos and rested while being in awe of the whole thing. The hike back was not nearly as joyful, we were ready to be done, but beers awaited us back in town. Instead of hiking return, we took the main trail further south into town, had a couple of drinks, then got a cab back to our hotel.

All in all this was a spectacular experience. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a mountain person, but I am so happy that we included this adventure. It was worth every hour of travel and ounce of sweat, and I feel that my Argentine experience would have been lacking without having seen this.

Tips

  • If you have a way of doing more than just the trail from town out and back, I’d recommend that. I much preferred the hike from the domes to the lake rather than the hike from town.
  • There are several other hikes to do from town, so in town would be a good place to stay if you were going to be there longer.
  • See if your hotel does a bag lunch. We did the all inclusive package at the domes, which was so worth it. Very plentiful breakfast and dinner on site with a substantial bag lunch for each night of stay. So much easier than trying to shop for all that yourself as there aren’t a ton of markets.
  • Go early! As with most hiking the later your start the more people there are. Our hike up wasn’t too crowded, even though there were many people at the lake, but on our way down throngs of people were doing their uphill climb, and I was so grateful we didn’t have to deal with that. Our hotel originally suggested leaving at 9/9:30, very Argentina, but I think we left around 8/8:30.
  • We flew round trip into El Calafate, really the only option. From El Calafate, there are three bus companies who all run the same route to El Chalten, except all their times vary slightly. Your hotel will be able to direct you and it was easy to book there.

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Travel Bucket List

I was going back through some content I had drafted for my old blog, but never posted, and I want to actually bring some of it to life. I still relate to much of what I wrote about travel four years ago in the post below – it’s always amazing how much we don’t (and do) change! Originally written 7/9/2014

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When I was in college I had dreams of taking an around the world trip (and let’s be honest, there are days when that is still my wish). I have now traveled to many corners of the world, but through different vacations and experiences, rather than one long trip. Traveling is something that is vitally important to me, and I hope to be able to continue to do for the rest of my life.

In my spirit of young optimism, I sat down one night in 2005 just a month from graduation and jotted down all the places, countries I wanted to go to, and being me, potential contacts in the area – I really wanted it to happen! I’ve kept the list all these years and have gone back to it at different points in the years since then. It’s been fun to see which things get checked off, how many I still want to do, and how some don’t hold the same appeal they once did.

I was inspired to look at the list once again a couple of weeks ago, after seeing a Huffington Post article about 50 cities to visit in your lifetime – I was really hoping I’d have been to half of them, but alas it was only 23 of the 50. And after coming back to the college list this last time, I decided to revise it and make an updated bucket list for 30 year old me. It’s not like I use it as a stead and fast rule of where I travel, but it’s been so fun to check the boxes on a lot of these dreams, and most times without realizing it.

So here we go, in no particular order:

  • Argentina – Buenos Aires, Patagonia (Completed Feb 2018!)
  • Australia – Sydney, Great Barrier Reef
  • India
  • Tanzania – Zanzibar
  • Italy – Capri, Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre
  • Egypt – Pyramids
  • Portugal – Lisbon
  • Croatia – Havar, Dubrovnik, Split
  • Montenegro
  • Turkey – Istanbul, hot air balloon ride
  • Fiji
  • Western Samoa – I’ve had a picture in my work cubicle for 5 years of a hole I want to go swimming in
  • Jordan – Petra
  • Peru – Machu Pichu
  • Cambodia – Anjor Wat
  • Iceland – Northern Lights (Iceland Completed Feb 2016! Sadly no northern lights)
  • New Zealand
  • Caribbean
  • Mauritius
  • Brazil – Lencois Maranhenses National Park
  • France – Provence, Champaign

Of course I can think of twice as many places I’d like to go, and am always open to exploring new places not on the bucket list with friends who love to travel, but I think this is a good start.

Added 4/13/18 – just for fun, here are the stops that were on my original college list, which I have done!

  • Frankfurt/Munich, Germany – 2006 & 2007
  • Oktoberfest in Germany – 2006 & 2007
  • Barcelona/Madrid, Spain – 2006 & 2007
  • Prague, Czech Republic – 2006
  • Athens, Santorini, Crete, Mykanos, Greece – 2007 these were actually all the stops we made
  • Nice/Cannes, France – 2007
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – 2013
  • Africa – 2009 & 2010 (South Africa, Ethiopia)
  • Dubai, UAE – 2010
IMG_6590Please note the backwards writing at the top: “I can’t believe how boring this class is / This is the stupidest class ever” Signed by my own name backwards. I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of keeping my own interest.

 

Argentina – Buenos Aires

For the 20 or so flights that I was on in 2017, none of them took me over country borders, making it almost two years since I had taken an international vacation. The last trip was to Japan to visit my sister while she was living there and right before I started my new job, so about the middle of last year I began itching to book my next long getaway.

I always lean towards Europe when initially considering a big vacation; it’s just so familiar and easy, with still more things to see. But ever being in the mindset to try new things, I started considering other locations. Argentina and Buenos Aires had been on my list a long time (I decided it needed to be its own trip when booking my trip to Brazil), so when I mentioned it to one of my best friends who I have traveled a lot with, and she said it was on the top of here list and she would go with me, it was on!

Over many glasses of Malbec we did some research and planning and landed on Buenos Aires and Patagonia. The trip was really amazing with each location different and special in its own way that I’ll give a post to each!

So. Buenos Aires…

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I had heard mixed reviews – tourists didn’t love it, but my friends who had lived there raved about it. I ended up being somewhere in the middle. It’s big, it’s dirty, and the sidewalks will trip you, but the people are lovely, the architecture and vibe very European and the lifestyle pretty laid back. It was fun being in a city that does the late dinners, is closed Sundays and has a distinctive culture.

We had 4 days in the city before going down to Patagonia, and another two on the tail end of the trip, which ended up being a bit too much time, but it worked out to make our vacation a real vacation. We didn’t have to cram too much into any one day and were able to relax quite a bit. It was so hot (86F) and humid (65%) that we ended up touring in the mornings, stopping for beers with lunch, then returning for a poolside siesta before venturing back out in the evening.

Our first stay was in a cool modern hotel in Palermo, which is vibrant part of town with lots of nightlife and young people. We did some day touring from here and did a cooking class too (awesome experience deserving of its own post), which was great. Definitely had more of a residential vibe during the day, which I quite enjoyed.

The last two nights, we sprung for a 5 start palatial environment named none other than the Alvear Palace. We sat in the lap of luxury, and got to enjoy a second part of town. Even though they didn’t have pool like the first hotel, they did have a rooftop deck for lounging around and getting my summer color in the middle of February.

I loved walking the streets, seeing the different neighborhoods and tasting all the food. We ended up eating early (7:30/8:00pm) because it felt much more normal to us and left us not feeling gross in the morning. In reality this allowed us to enjoy happy hour specials and get into most places before the crowds, so really winning all around.

Below are some of my favorites and must see’s as well as some thoughts on the more traditional stops. The one thing I really wish we had done was go on a tour of some kind. We had fully intended it, but when it came down to days/timing we somehow missed them all.

Also, I know it sounds crazy but this would be a very doable long weekend. Both directions were red-eyes, meaning you could leave the US at 5:45 on a Wednesday night, only take two week days off, and be back to work by 10am on Monday morning, if you get the short layovers. By the time we got to Sunday, we felt like we had seen and done so much, it would be totally worth it!

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What I Learned in (Mostly) Dry January

Oh, why, hello there. Happy 2018.

The end of 2017 was quite the whirlwind, filled with dating, travels to LA and New York, visiting the family in California for Christmas, and hosting a New Year’s Eve Party. I ate at some incredible places including Gjusta and Gjelina in Venice – the only reasons I stayed there for a night, which was totally worth it; cooked some classics like filet minon on Christmas night and cheese fondue for New Years (now a three year tradition); and experienced lots of new things: attending a black tie gala in NYC, going to my first Bronco’s game, glass blowing, and infinity mirrors at The Broad. See, I told you it was a whirlwind.

After all this I did feel like I needed a little reset, so like many other young people out there I embarked on an effort to have a dry a.k.a. no drinking January. I attempted this a couple of years ago, then was laid off from my job and hopped right off the wagon. Fun fact: when it comes to drinking ‘on the wagon’ means NOT drinking, ‘off the wagon’ means you’re hitting the bottle.

So the results. I made it to Jan 12 without any sip of alcohol. Easy peasy, also a lot easier when you’ve enlisted your partner and friends to not drink with you. This turned into visiting friends at their houses to catch up over tea and sparkling water rather than a juicy glass of red. I allowed myself a cheat night two weeks in while attending a 35th birthday dinner at a steak house – you can’t have a great steak without a nice glass of red wine! Come the 3rd weekend though, I decided to hop off the wagon, within reason, for a few of days. One glass of wine at dinner on Thursday, one margarita on Friday night, sharing a beer while skiing on Saturday and a few drinks post skiing. It may not sound like much of a dry month, but believe you me it has been. I’ve only got a few days left and may have another cheat day or two, but I feel like the lessons have been learned, so here we go!

1) One glass of wine is fine! The biggest take away from this whole adventure is that in many cases it’s just as nice to have only one alcoholic beverage. It is not uncommon for me to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine (or three) in an evening out, but it’s actually a nice change of pace to order one glass and really savor it. At the steak dinner I started my meal with a mocktail, which still felt like a treat, and saved my booze for the meal and sipped it slowly. Still enjoyed it, felt fulfilled and that I had treated myself to something special.

2) Money Money Money – You know it, but you don’t quite realize when you’re doing it all the time, but drinking is EXPENSIVE!! In conjunction with the no drinking January I also implemented a “no superfluous spending” effort as well. These two actually go well together, booze is expensive itself and ubers add up, but if you’re not drinking you can drive and save on both accounts. I’m estimating saving at least $250 in a month without drinking! All in all I’m loving having the cash back and thinking twice before buying the second $15 glass of wine, or the new cat bed that my cat really doesn’t need. I think after this month, I may try to implement happy hour at home, or have people a little more often – entertaining is a bit of a lost art and I want to bring it back!

3) I like my wine, and that’s OK – The last realization that I have is that I do in fact really enjoy my glass of wine at the end of the day. I think this exercise is a good reminder that I don’t really need it, or two glasses of it, but drinking in moderation is not going to kill you. And if you’ve got the bottle at home, it’s going to save you some pennies too.

Andalusian Gazpacho

I made several trips to Spain the year I was an au pair in Germany. I had a good friend from college au pairing in Madrid and a couple of other friends teaching English in southern Spain, oh and there was a hen weekend to Barcelona in there too! One of the trips I did started in Malaga, and wound up through Andalusia stopping in Granada, and smaller towns like Cabra and Antequera, making my way up to Madrid.

Among the many memorable things from the trip is a meal that my friend (who I was visiting) and I had in Antequera, a meal prepared for us by and in the home of the director of the school my friend worked for, a meal I’ll never forget. She so easily whipped up a shockingly simple and delicious lunch including an amazing gazpacho simply of tomato and bread, and she delivered some of the best fried artichokes I’ve had. I have remembered it all this time and it’s funny to go back to my blog from that year and see how the soup they made is exactly what I saw in this month’s Spain issue of Food & Wine magazine.

From Adventures in Deutschland: “they made us this amazing Andalusian soup thing for lunch. It is raw tomatoes blended with some garlic, pepper, olive oil, vinegar and bread. It is eaten kind of like soup, and you dip a lot of bread in it as well…”

From Food & Wine: “Salmorejo is a classic soup made primarily with tomatoes and bread. It’s best with a splash of sherry vinegar, but Andalusian tomatoes pack a good hit of acidity, so they often omit it in Spain.”

Yum Yum.

Obviously after all the Spanish inspiration in the September issue, I now want to have a Spanish dinner party, but for now I’ve started with this soup as a way of using my pounds of tomatoes that just keep coming. It’s refreshing and spicy with the raw garlic, and so so smooth, this ‘soup’ is hard not to love. I topped it with a corn & poblano salad/salsa and a poached egg, which was delicious. I loved the contrast that the texture of the raw veggies provided against the creaminess of the soup. I made it in the morning and let chill to have the whole thing for lunch. It took me right back to Spain and got me so excited about traveling, trying new foods and the endless tomato possibilities that await.

 

Salmorejo (Andalusian Gazpacho), serves two (originally from Food & Wine) Continue reading

The Saturday Report – 3 Things NYC

Hello Hello – I know it’s almost already the weekend again, but it’s just been a whirlwind here.  I was in NYC for 6 days then rushed home to California for another 6 days of family time to tend to an emergency. It’s looking like all will be ok in due time, so I finally have a minute to recap some of my NYC highlights in this week’s Saturday Report.

VISIT – MOMA PS1

Seeing as that I have now made several trips to NYC and am becoming more familiar with the city, I am enjoying exploring more and getting out of the traditional visitor zones. I made a trip up to MOMA PS1 in Queens, which is a MOMA museum in a converted school builing. They are typically only open until 6pm on Saturdays, but on July 22 they hosted an event from 12pm-9pm with a series of DJ’s, food and drink stands in the open courtyard area. It was a little more rave-y than my usual (non-existent) dance scene, but it was great people watching and fun to walk around the museum under a different pretense. The museum itself was cool, definitely worth a visit, kind of edgy and a unique vibe.

EAT – Nha Minh

Obviously most of my trips to NYC revolve around where I’m going to eat and how much I’m going to walk to burn it off. This trip was no exception and the best thing I had to eat were sandwiches and Vietnamese iced coffee from Nha Minh. It’s a well designed hole in the wall, down a super industrial street, just two minutes from my friends house. My first reaction upon looking at the menu was “Is it weird that the smoked trout sandwich sounds really good?”. Answer: no, not weird at all, because it was delicious!!! I shared that and the Vietnamese sandwich with a friend and they were both great. Totally different flavor profiles and if I had to choose, smoked trout was the surprise winner. Like I said the space is well done, there’s rotating art and I liked what I saw on my visit, so if you find yourself out that way swing by!

WALK – NYC

One of my greatest pleasures while in the city is just walking around. Yes, there are some weird smells; yes, there are lots of people; but it really is the best way to see the city. It’s only by being on foot that you can see the small neighborhood changes from block to block; really appreciate the diversity of people, food, languages; pick up on trends as you make your way through the throngs of people; and in general, just absorb all that is NYC. Here are a few of my favorites – new and old:

  • Williamsburg Brooklyn – New to me this time. I walked down Bedford, then out to the water and almost got on a ferry! I’d long heard this neighborhood, but until I walked it, I realized I hadn’t really been. It’s growing and changing a lot, but is oh so trendy and will make you feel like you landed in a hipster heaven.
  • West Village – Not new, but still my favorite. This time I had brunch at Jack’s Wife Freda on Carmine and walked Bleeker all the way to The High Line. Just such nice tree-lined streets with brick townhouses and cute shops. I almost forgot it was 90 degrees and 50% humidity.
  • Central Park – I didn’t make it up this far this time, but I love the park. It’s so classic and has such a calm that is always welcome when in New York. It’s fun to go to the Met (their rooftop view of the park is great too) before or grab treats at Dean & Deluca and then walk around the park, people watch, stop and listen to buskers, take your time and maybe picnic.

Garlic Scape and Mustard Green Chimichurri

When I was in San Francisco I participated in a CSA box, which I quite enjoyed. It helped me stay seasonally relevant in my cooking and explore some new and different items that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up on my own in the grocery store.

I’ve struggled to find similar programs with quality contributions in Colorado (though to be fair, I haven’t searched far and wide), but I finally did come across an organization I enjoy that supplies a weekly food box!

The GrowHaus is located in North Denver and supports the one of the most polluted communities in the city with fresh food options. They grow their own aquaponic and hydroponic lettuces on site, and have a fresh food market where one can shop for needed ingredients. They vary prices based on income and are bringing so much to the community with the access to resources and local events. I even bought most of my starter plants there this year – tomatoes, kale, peppers and herbs!

About 1/3-1/2 of my box ingredients are locally sourced or made including 6 eggs each week, a loaf of bread or bag of corn tortillas, and of course, lettuces grown right at the GrowHaus. A few weeks ago the box included garlic scapes, which I had never cooked with and mustard greens, also a new ingredient. If there are more exotic contents they usually provide a recipe, and this one was for garlic scape and mustard green chimichurri.

It turned out SO good! The garlic scapes pack a garlicy punch, and the mustard greens are just slightly bitter while the herbs brighten the whole thing up. They suggested just using only cilantro, but I hate cilantro and decided to just use an assortment of herbs from my garden, which tasted great too. I ultimately served if over salmon, though it would be great with chicken, steak, or maybe mixed in with some potatoes to make a light potato salad. Definitely a great combo to use as a base for so many things!

Click here for more information on how to get your own GrowHaus food box!

Garlic Scape and Mustard Green Chimichurri Continue reading