Cuba

Cuba was everything I didn’t imagine. Reading pages and seeing photos doesn’t really prepare you for what you’ll see, yet, if you really thought about what Cuba would be like it is exactly that. It has a storied past, including European settlement way back when, but it is poor, a lot of Havana is almost falling down, yet people are still living in those decrepit structures. It was eye opening, very interesting and I am glad to have gone, but I can’t say that I share the overwhelming love for the country that other travelers seem to express.

Given that we went to support the Cuban people, we did exclusively home-stays (in casa particulars) booked through Airbnb, which were great. Our hosts were all lovely people, generous and eager to help us figure out our way through the country. The other highlights of our trips were tours given by local people who shed a little light on what it is like to live there. We made two stops: Havana for two nights, Vinales for two nights, which is a couple of hours to the west of Havana, and back to Havana for our last night before flying out. Cuba is actually a pretty large country, but for us this was a good amount of time in city and out of it for a little taste of what Cuba is like.

I wanted to like Havana more than I did. We had a very pleasant time, but weren’t expecting the smells, pockets of grittiness and poor quality of living, which was only exacerbated by the contrast to all the tourists stopping by on cruise ships, the opulence of the large government run hotels and the streets of Habana Vieja that have been restored, while surrounding neighborhoods are still without. Don’t get me wrong, this is the point of traveling – the entire trip was extremely enlightening and valuable. We have both been to developing countries before and you always do come away from those experiences valuing your own quality of life and having a new appreciation for ways of life in other parts of the world. Just a few of the interesting things we experienced:

  • Lack of grocery stores/stores in general. Obviously, no capitalism = lack of shopping. There were stores to buy specific products like soap (all soaps, body wash, dish soap, counter top cleaners, etc) or cookies, little kiosks with hand made snacks and water, fruit carts on the street and little tourist shops (in Habana Vieja only), but in general no store where we could buy a multiple things together, like a bags of chips and a bottle of water together for our road trip. Most of our meals were sit down and large so that we didn’t snack in between.
  • This being said about the stores, there were tons of restaurants, and good ones. We learned that a majority of the product is bought on the black market and that the beef and seafood you see on the menus is for tourists only. We had some great dining experiences though, details are below.
  • Given the salaries that people make, there are very few cars outside of Havana. We took a shared car to Vinales and were curious if there would be traffic, but there were hardly any other cars on the 2 hour journey. Not only are cars expensive in relation to how much people make, but they are even more valuable because you can turn a car into a taxi and make significantly more money than in other positions.

In Havana we stayed in Habana Vieja, which I would recommend. It is well kept, close to sights, good restaurants and very easy to walk to everything – with the exception of one night time taxi, we walked everywhere. We also did a bike/food tour in Havana, which was an absolute highlight. We booked through Airbnb experiences and loved being in different parts of the city and all that we learned from our host. Our guide used to be a teacher, then found tour guiding, which he said literally changed his life. He walked us through his government food card, how much people make (vs. how much things cost) took us around town to some local food stops and sights that we wanted to see. All in all a GREAT day.

Our second stop was Vinales, which we loved. It is settled in a spectacular landscape, in a lush valley known for growing tobacco with some dramatic limestone mountains/cliffs surrounding the valley. The town is small, just one main strip with restaurants and a couple of parallel streets with housing, most of which are casa particulars. We loved everything about it, the slower pace, the setting, the things we did (day trip to the beach and a walking tour of the countryside). Again the tour we did here was a highlight – we got to go into the valley, learned that every farmer must grow some tobacco on their farm and give 90% of it to the government, it takes 3 min to hand roll a cigar, and that honey can be savory! Side note: I tasted some of the MOST unique honey I have ever had. In fact, the Acid episode of Salt Fat Acid Heat touches on this point exactly, which was all the more surprising since I watched it on our return trip home. In general I think it’s a must to get out of Havana to see some of the rest of the country, and I would definitely recommend Vinales!

Despite some of my mixed reviews of Cuba, it was a unique, interesting and valuable experience. We loved the people we met and the things we did. All travel is worthwhile and I’m very happy to have experienced this place for myself. If it’s on your list, go! Details of what we liked in each destination and general tips are at the very bottom, enjoy the picture tour!

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Havana

  • Airbnb in Havana – our accommodation was great, a little refuge from the city, where we had out own little patio and the wonderful Debora who came each morning to prepare breakfast for us. She also let us use her phone to contact the host to be able to figure out transportation to Vinales.
  • Bike Food Tour – this was the best thing we did in Havana. We were able to tour the city and see and taste things we would have otherwise not discovered on our own. The host Jorge provided great details and insight about his life in Cuba and his context really helped us appreciate everything we were seeing.
  • Walking Tours – we did a couple of other walking tours one through Habana Vieja on our first day and through Centro Habana on our way to the the bike tour. I’d definitely recommend checking out the different neighborhoods in the city since Habana Vieja is so touristy. You need to get out in order to be able to really understand life there.
  • Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Art Museum) – the museum building itself is a start soviet looking structure, and the art wasn’t all necessarily up my ally, BUT I thought it was so interesting seeing how national artist were expressing their feelings through art, and putting the art into context of what was happening in the country at the time. It’s not expensive and worth at least a quick visit.
  • El Dandy – an enjoyable bar/restaurant in Habana Vieja with a very cool vibe. It has drinks and art, what more could you want.
  • Lamparilla  Tapas & Cervezas – we ate here our first night and loved it. It’s got an ecclectic funky vibe, is open to the street and the food was great. We loved their ropa vieja and black beans of all things.
  • O’Reilly 304 – we stopped here for some cocktails after dinner one night. It’s intimate, makes a mean daquari and the servers were great. We had a nice chat with the bar tender and I wish we’d eaten there too!
  • Music – I wish we’d stopped a little more to see the live music, but it is everywhere. After the bike tour we ended up at an open air outdoor bar and just had beers, people watched and eventually a band started up with fantastic singing and music. It was the perfect end to our day.

Vinales

  • Airbnb in Vinales – The hosts here were fantastic, really embodying mi casa es su casa. They made us a cuba libre (rum & coke with lime) one night when we were reading on the patio, gave Will his first Cuban cigar and offered very generous breakfasts both mornings. The accommodations were close to the main street and the house was clean, comfortable and had a couple of great patios.
  • Cayo Jutias – a gorgeous beach we went to for a day, our hosts helped arrange the shared car up there. It’s a bit of a trek, but we thought it was totally worth it.
  • Walking Tour of the Valley – it is very popular to do a horseback riding tour through the valley, but neither of us are big horse people. I actually think we go to see some more special things on foot too. Not only was this spectacular scenery, but we got to learn a bit about farming practices in Cuba, the relationship with the government. We tasted some of the most unique honey I have ever had and watched a cigar being rolled in 3 minutes. A must do if you go to Vinales.
  • El Campesino Paladar – This was a recommendation from our host, which I would definitely recommend too. The roast chicken was AMAZING and you eat on a nice outdoor patio – had it not been night time, we would have seen the farm off to the side too. It’s a little walk out of town, but worth it.
  • Tres Jotas – great tapas place in town. Lonely Planet recommended their crayfish (or river shrimp, camarones del rio) which were actually very tasty. This was our biggest meal and everything we had was great. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed a bit of relaxing after a long day.
  • La Cocinita del Medio – went here for lunch after our farm tour and it was delicious. We shared one of the best ropa viejas we had and had ice cold beers. The service was great too and again we dined on the patio to enjoy a bit of relaxing before traveling back to Havana.

General Tips

  • Cash – US cards do not work in the ATMs and they sometimes run out of cash too. Bring more that you think you’ll need as the last thing you want is to run out of money in a country where you can’t get more. Booking on Airbnb (or just online ahead of time) was a great decisions, since it removed the need to have cash for those transactions at all.
  • Bring a travel book – wifi doesn’t really exit. Wifi is available in some public parks (you’ll know them by the fact that EVERYONE in the park is on a smart phone) and you buy a card for an hour of time, but in general it’s not available to do research while you’re out. We brought our trusty Lonely Planet book on the road with us and referenced it’s maps and recommendations all the time.
  • Use your hosts – they live there and they know how it works! Dining, transportation, activities. Always a good idea to rely on local recommendations.
  • Safety – I only mention this because sometimes other developing countries can be not very safe, but we felt 100% safe in Havana and Vinales. I’d say the one thing to look out for is negotiation of prices for transportation, we heard stories of people getting outrageous estimates for taxis, but if you have your hosts help or at least ask them what you should pay for the journey, you can pay a fair price.
  • Hotels – they are government run, so we didn’t want to patronize them, BUT it was the only place we could easily book our collectivo (shared taxi) from Havana to Vinales. It was actually and easy process, they picked us up at our house and on time! Every collectivo we were in was filled to the max, so don’t expect that empty middle seat next to you.
  • Getting There/Visas – You still need to fall into one of 12 categories to be eligible to travel to Cuba, but we made a detailed itinerary of where we would be staying and what we would be doing to support the Cuban people and didn’t have any trouble at all flying to Havana from Miami. You can obtain a Cuban visa/travel card through a third party, if you are flying American Airlines. As mentioned above, I’d recommend booking as much ahead of time to save on the cash you’re bringing and know what you’ll be doing!
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Where Did Summer Go?

How is it October already?! There is a crispness in the air and I am sleeping with a duvet on my bed, which is a sure sign that one of my favorite seasons has come to an end.

While I have not blogged about it, my summer was indeed chock full of fun travels, great visitors, and lots of new food adventures – so I thought it would be fun to highlight the last 5 months with 9 of my favorite food things from the summer.

  1. We made it out camping twice this summer. The first trip over Memorial Day weekend to the San Louis Valley, where we got to discover Great Sand Dunes National Park, the very funky town of Crestone and tried hip camp for the first time. We had an awesome sunset that night and I discovered the beauty of canned of wine!! While I was familiar with boxes of wine and their amazing application in the wild, I was so excited to discover the cans that keep bubbles fresh and are perfect for a night outside. Of course, Sofia Coppola made this popular years ago, but now it’s wildly accessible, affordable, a normal size and there is no straw! Winning.
  2. MARGARITAS – does anything say summer quite like this cocktail? Ok, maybe the Aperol spritz, which I promise is not basic and is just due to a really strong marketing campaign by Aperol this year. But as you may know from long standing readership, that I do love the margarita and am willing to try it in many forms. My go to is base is equal parts lime juice, grapefruit juice, and simple syrup, mixed in a ratio of your liking to tequila – don’t do anything but fresh squeezed here, it’s really the only way to go. I upped my game to Espolon tequila, which isn’t top or bottom shelf and lended itself quite well to this mixed drink. We even tried a watermelon version this year with fresh juice from a mini watermelon that came in my food box – so delicious!
  3. In addition to a fresh watermelon, I got a ton of stone fruits in my weekly box as well – peaches, nectarines and plums. To be honest, stone fruits aren’t my favorite, but I was determined to not let them go to waste. I had my parents visiting for a couple of weeks and decided to make this cake with my mixture of fruits and it was delicious! My dad was so surprised that there was fruit IN the cake, he thought for sure that it was going to be soggy inside and not really work, but it does! Though I did need to cook for a while longer to make sure it was cooked through (blaming the altitude and my slightly different baking vessel).
  4. More food box stories! I love love love breakfast – making it at home is especially enjoyable to me because I get to stay in my PJ’s, read the paper, and make sure that everything comes out just the way I like it. I’ve been very disappointed by breakfast out lately, so I was even more pleased with these sublime breakfast tacos. All ingredients came from my food box and garden, but really breakfast tacos can use whatever you have on hand. I used leftover roasted potatoes and turnips, scrambled eggs, sauteed kale, fresh tomatoes and finished with Sadie’s New Mexican salsa, which has become my new favorite due to le boyfriend. The real key here though was crisping up the corn tortillas in a bit of oil to give them some texture. Yum!!
  5. This is the third year I’ve grown kale and I couldn’t be more enamored of this home grown staple. It’s the plant that just keeps giving and has a variety of uses. I LOVE lacitano/dino/Tuscan kale, and I had a plethora of it this year. We were eating it as salads, sauteed, and in this delicious Lemon Kale Pesto. I don’t have a recipe for you, but it’s super easy. In fact, I subbed out different cheeses and nuts each time based on what I had in the house. The general idea is to pulse a generous portion of kale with the zest and juice of a lemon, a handful of nuts (walnut, pecans or pine nuts for the traditionalists will do), a couple of cloves of garlic and a handful (or a couple) of hard cheese grated like Parmesan or pecorino, until they are a little chopped up, then leave the machine running as you drizzle in olive oil. Stop and check the consistency along the way, until it’s where you want it. Also, I do like to throw in a handful of basil, just to make the greens flavor more dimensional and lend a little more traditional pesto flavor. It is great served as pasta sauce, on pizza, with goat cheese on crackers, it’s time to get creative.
  6. I took my first significant summer vacation to the east coast this summer. We spent ten days spread across beach time in New York and exploring New England. I loved every minute of it and I had my heart set on trying ALL the lobster rolls the minute we landed in New England. Our first stop was at Ford’s, which is a short drive from the New London ferry terminal. I learned that traditional Connecticut and Rhode Island lobster rolls are the ‘hot’ variety, where the lobster is simply dressed with melted butter. My other sandwiches were of the ‘cold’ variety where there is a bit of mayo and seasonings, which is more traditional in the rest of the region. I loved them all, but really give the whole experience to Ford’s since it’s on the water and you can enjoy your food basking in the glory of the sunshine and the harbor.
  7. I just came back from a long weekend in New Mexico, where I was reminded just how cool and different the southwest is. It has a unique aesthetic and culture, specifically food culture, that is unmatched. We had amazing food the entire time and if I’ve learned anything from my friends who grew up in New Mexico it is that they are passionate about their chiles!! I attempted stacked enchiladas earlier this year and used some dried peppers from last season’s harvest, which led me to take my over abundant harvest this year and make a ristra! I thought I was buying bell peppers, but ended up with two rather spicy varieties instead, which I think will be great for enchiladas this winter. The ristra was super simple – thread a needle and string the chiles up! One set of directions I read suggested fishing line, which I would also recommended, given my thread broke at the very end of the process – I salvaged it, but it was touch and go for a minute. Side note: we checked out Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, which was very funky and fun experience – highly recommended if you are there.
  8. Back to the food box. I got two huge heads of cabbage over the course of a few weeks, and while cabbage is not really on my cook-with-all-the-time list, I managed to discover a couple of great things. 1) Coleslaw. I googled a recipe and adjusted a couple of things (less mayo, more vinegar, didn’t have celery seeds), but it was THE perfect side for our salmon burgers after going for an evening summer bike ride to Blue Moon Brewery. 2) Pork and cabbage with apples and pears. I kind of came up with this one on my own, but the idea is brown your meat (we did pork tenderloin the first time, but the real star was bratwursts the second time) and remove; saute thinly sliced cabbage and apples; add some mustard, a can of beer, vinegar, soy sauce (google around for good cabbage and pork flavors); nestle in the meat and cook in the oven until it’s done. I used this recipe as a kind of starting point, but cabbage and pork are SO good together you can’t go wrong.
  9. ICE CREAM – if margaritas are the drink of summer, ice cream has to be the dessert of summer. I bought an ice cream maker last year and played around a bit, but not a ton, then this year I bought The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, which has proved a game changer and absolutely outstanding. I have loved every recipe I’ve made: strawberry sorbet, milk chocolate ice cream, blackberry and lime sorbet, French vanilla ice cream, American vanilla ice cream with THIN MINT COOKIES, Aztec chocolate ice cream, olive oil ice cream. Milk chocolate may just have been my favorite, but French vanilla was spectacular too and my friends loved it, Will’s favorite by far was the Thin Mint for which I saved a whole role of cookies from Girl Scout Season. Home made ice cream is SO easy and SO good, I don’t really see this dying down in winter time.

And that’s it, my entire summer round up in 9 food related topics. It’s been busy and delicious, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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