Tag Archives: adventure

Spain and Andorra

29 Aug

Last weekend we went to visit some of my boyfriend’s friends just outside of Barcelona. It was a nice short break and we managed to eat, drink and see a lot.

After collecting our rental car, we drove to Montserrat, a mountain range just outside Barcelona. The views from the top were nothing short of stunning. It is possible to walk to the top but we took the cable car to save our legs!

There is an impressive Basilica at the top and even more impressive queues to go into the church and pray to the Madonna at the top of the High Altar. Because of the heat, we decided not to wait but to go and have some lunch.

Later we drove to Manresa, where we would be staying. We found an amazing jamón shop where we tried some jamón, tomato bread and red wine. The wine was only 1.50 Euros and I was expecting it to taste like vinegar but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. When we met up with our hosts, we got ready to go for evening meal and then onto a club where there was a jazz festival. It was a great atmosphere but after food and an early flight we were happy to go home for some rest.

The next day we went to Andorra. If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I have a #40Before40 challenge, in which I have challenged myself to do 40 challenges before I turn 40 (I have a few years to go yet!). One of my challenges is to visit 40 European countries and Andorra is one that I haven’t been to before.

Andorra wasn’t what I expected. It is a shoppers’ paradise because there are no taxes on the goods. It felt like every shop sold tobacco, booze, perfume and shoes and nothing else. I thought it had a bit of a weird atmosphere – like a place that’s in between here and there. I can’t imagine living there. It also took a long time to get in and out because so many people were crossing the border to get a bargain. However, I have been and it’s one less country to visit.

The next day we went to Sitges, a coastal town near to Barcelona. I had visited once before as part of a business trip but it was nice to go back again, especially for the delicious paella! I think Sitges is a bit like Blackpool for Spanish people. It was packed with lots of people who were just there for the weekend.

And then it was time to come home to Switzerland. I’m sure that weekends go quicker than weekdays – the secret is then to enjoy the weekends more!

Post-holiday Blues

29 Mar

Since I have arrived back, I have got a bad case of the Post-holiday Blues. I honestly wasn’t ready to come back. I thought after five weeks of moving from one place to another would be enough but I could have carried on travelling for at least another few weeks.

I don’t start my new job until next week and I had more than good intentions that this week I could get X,Y and Z done and use the time wisely and productively. I have no idea when I will next have to opportunity to spend a week doing what I want without any outside pressure.

So far I have only been able to find the motivation to download my photos (but not sort them or make them into a photobook) and to wash all of our clothes, which took the best part of a day.

To cheer myself up, I have decided to make a list of reasons why it is better to be back at home rather than on the road.

1. No daily application of suncream

I don’t need as long to get ready in the morning because I don’t need to apply suncream to every exposed part of my body before going out. I did go out once in Bolivia without suncream on and I was almost burnt to a crisp, even though the sun was hidden behind layers and layers of clouds. In fact, the only part of my body that is remotely brown are my feet. How am I meant to show that off in the office.

2.  I know where things are

On the road, I was constantly searching for things that I needed that had managed to find their way to the very bottom of my bag. It would take me five minutes to find the charger for my Kindle. Broadly speaking, at home I know where things are and they haven’t moved around during transit.

3. I have clean clothes

My bag was organised by using three plastic bags: one for clean clothes, one for “wearable” clothes and one for dirty clothes. At the end of the trip, I was nervous about opening thing bag with the dirty clothes. It really did stink. I was thinking about incinerating it when I got back home because I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to cope with the collective smell at the end of five weeks.

4. No mosquitos

Mosquitos are one of my pet hates. The ironic thing is that they really, really like me. No, I mean it. If there is one mosquito within twenty miles of me, it will find me and bite me. I’m like a walking-buffet for insects. This means that every early afternoon/evening I was reaching for the DEET, anti-mosquito wristbands and any other method which is remotely proven to keep mossies away. I don’t have that problem in Switzerland. At least not until the summer…

5. Toilet paper

This seems like a strange one but in a lot of South American countries you aren’t supposed to put toilet paper down the toilet. There is always a waste bin beside the toilet that you are meant to use. My problem with this wasn’t that I forgot to put the toilet paper in the bin but the fact that in public toilets this is just not so hygienic, although I get that the sewage systems in these countries aren’t so good and paper being flushed down the drains would increase the likelihood of blockages. I’m just glad that I no longer have to use a toilet paper bin.

6. Food

Although I did find the food amazing, there are always things that you miss when you are travelling, things that you can’t buy abroad. So it is nice to be back to essential foodstuffs that you are used to. In South America I was surprised by how few vegetables there were. It could have been the time of year that we were there but I’m glad to be back in a place where there is a greater variety of vegetables on offer.

7. Tea

Other countries just don’t go an English Breakfast tea right. I have been drinking coffee, which is not like me at all, and juices. There were “tea” options but the one time I tried it, I was bitterly disappointed. I saw on the menu that they served tea with milk. Perfect! Nice cuppa in the afternoon. Below is what arrived. I just didn’t know where to look. Lesson learnt: lay off the tea until you are back home with a Tetley teabag and just a splash of milk!

That’s the list. Now that I’ve written it, I do feel bit better. Experiencing amazing things each day makes you forget the little things that you miss. What do you miss when you are on holiday?

Final travel update

26 Mar

As I write this last travel update, I am back in the comfort of my own home in Switzerland. It already seems like life of the road ended a long time ago (even though I only arrived back yesterday). Here is what we got up to after we left Chile…

Mendoza, Argentina

By pure chance we noticed that it was the final of the Supercopa in Mendoza while we were there. Not only was it special because the final was between Boca Juniors and River Plate, fierce rivals from Buenos Aires, but also because away fans are not normally allowed to go to football games in Argentina. Since about 2013 away fans were banned from attending games because there had been so many deaths in recent years because of football related violence. This makes a complete difference to the atmosphere in the stadium. We had standing tickets in the River Plate end and, as Boca Juniors are currently the side with the better form, we weren’t too hopeful that “our” side would be victorious. A clear penalty in the 20th minute changed all that! And late in the second half a fantastic goal sealed the win for River Plate. I have never been to a football match like it – there were flares, banners, chanting for every minute of the game, fireworks and the stadium was almost full two and a half hours before the players even came onto the pitch to warm up. Crazy stuff!

Mendoza is also world famous for producing wine and for very good reasons. We stayed at a chateau that provided accommodation and we were able to make a tour of the other local chateaux and try some of the wine. One thing that we noticed was how different the wine making is here as to how it is in Bordeaux, for example. In Mendoza, there are some chateaux that don’t actually grow any grapes at all, but buy them from specialist growers each year. Where we stayed, the owner sells most of his grapes to someone else but also produces a smaller number of wine bottles every few years. The place where we stayed was really nice and the food that the onsite chef produced for us in the evening was also fantastic.

Montevideo, Uruguay

We caught a ferry and a bus (from Buenos Aires) to get to Montevideo. The ferry was about an hour and then the bus journey was two and a half hours. We arrived so late at the hotel that we almost missed the check-in time. The next day we explored the city and took a free walking tour. There isn’t a huge amount to see there but it was nice to relax and wander around the markets and the pier, where a huge amount of people were fishing. In the evening, we found the local St Patrick’s Day celebration so, of course, we had to join in.

The next morning I was woken up at 4am by thunder, lightning and rain. The rain continued and continued. That was our plan for a trip to the beach scuppered. The weather was, what I can only describe as being, biblical-like. The rain was bouncing down and it never stopped. I am used to rain but there was nothing that we could do, especially as it was Sunday and most of the museums were closed. We decided reluctantly to go to the airport and wait there. Our flight wasn’t until the evening so we had a long wait…

Ushuaia, Argentina

Our next flight was from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia in Patagonia in the early hours of the morning so we had more time to kill in the airport. Ushuaia was a lot cooler than Buenos Aires as it is only 1,000km away from Antarctica. It was a refreshing change and it wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be. I was glad that I had remembered to pack my wolly hat though.

The first thing we did was head to the Terria del Feugo National Park to take the “End of the World” train. It was an old Locomotive train and it went through the National Park. It is famous because the train used to transport prisoners, who were imprisoned in the End of the World prison.

The next day we had booked to go on a boat trip to see the sea lions, penguins and Haberton, which is a community that, until as recently as 1972, was isolated from the rest of civilisation. I was a bit disappointed because theren’t weren’t all that many penguins but we did see a humpback whale which was incredible. We weren’t all that close to it but you could see how big it was. In Haberton, we also visited a marine life museum, where they collect dead marine animals that they find in the area and preserve them. The guide told us some fansinating things about whale and dolphins that I never knew.

In the evening, I had the best fish I have ever tasted in my whole life. We ate King Crab legs as a starter which are not the most appertising thing to look at and then I had sea bass. I have no idea how big the fish was but I only had a small portion of it. It must have been massive. And, as I say, it was the best fish I have had in my life. Nothing really beats fresh seafood on the coast.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We found an incredible parrilla (barbequed meats that is common all over South America) to eat at when we came back to Buenos Aires to thaw out after our chilly experience in Patagonia. My steak looked like South America so I was beginning to wonder if this was a sign that I should not return back to Switzerland!

The next day we explored some of the places in Buenos Aires that I hadn’t been to befre and then we went for a tour of the Recoleta Cementary. It seems like a bit of  morbid thing to do but some of the masoleums are incredibly beautiful and have a lot of history surrounding them.

In the evening, we found another incredible parrilla to eat at that also had great wine. I was slightly distrubed that there was a picture of Maradona’s Hand of God incident from the World Cup on the wall where we were sitting. Cheating is not something that should be praised.

Colonia del Sacremento, Uruguay

Markus surprised me with a day trip back to Uruguay with the ferry. He had already visited here without me before I arrived and I was bitterly disappointed that he went there without me. Colonia is a lot nicer than Montevideo. It is so quiet and relaxed. Having a beer while looking out over the ocean was a perfect way to unwind and get ready for the long journey back home the next day. The ferry only takes one hour so the journey wasn’t stressful, but we didn arrive back in a wet Buenos Aires. This time we were lucky to miss the rain!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

After packing and heading out to do a bit of last minute shopping, we wandered back through the city. The city was full of people protesting/commemorating/gathering for their rememberance day. One thing about South America is that they love to get out and have their voices heard. Everything, in this respect, seems to be well organised. The streets are lined with BBQ, people selling merchandise etc.

We now had plenty of time to get to the airport – or so we thought. Someone realised that he didn’t have his passort on the way to the airport! I aged about 20 years in a second. I wasn’t looking forward to returning home alone. We realised that when we had changed money that morning that the woman at the money exchange place hadn’t given Markus his passport back. Cue a mad dash to the other side of town, with fngers and toes crossed that the passport was actually there and hadn’t been lost on the street or stolen, before relaxing for ten seconds before frantically finding a taxi to get us to the airport on time. As you might have guessed, we made it.

…And there you have the most memorable, interesting, hilarious and slightly scary five week that I have experienced for a very long time. I am still processing half of the things that we have seen, done and experienced. I don’t think it will be too long before we are back on the road exploring what other countries have to offer but first we might have to renew our passports – there aren’t too many pages left blank.

The demise of the humble postcard

17 Mar

On our travels in South America, I’ve been slightly shocked at the demise of the humble postcard and the Post service in general.

In Bolivia, we were keen to send a few postcards back home but, no matter how hard we tried, we weren’t able to find any at all in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. In fairness, these two cities are definitely not tourist destinations in the true sense of the word and we hardly saw any other tourists. So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising.

In La Paz we found postcards and stamps. Hooray! My general rule is that if you find a shop that doesn’t sell stamps to accompany the postcards then don’t buy them. You’ll end up forgetting to find a post office and end up carrying them with you for the whole time and then bringing them home with you. I also used the sneaky trick of asking the hotel to post them for us rather than look for a post box (and I have no idea what colour they are in South America, so it would take me ages to find one).

In Uyuni we found more postcards but no stamps. As I said before, my rule is if you can’t buy both together, don’t buy at all! But I was overruled. We found the post office but it was “closed for a week for a public holiday”. That seemed slightly suspicious to me as no one could tell us what public holiday it was and everything else seemed to be open.

We still had the postcards in Oruro. We found the post office but two days previously it had gone into administration!

We still had the postcards in Iquique, Chile. We found a post office that was open! So we now had Bolivian postcards with a Chilean stamp on. That wasn’t part of the plan and some people at home are going to be a bit confused if they study their postcard in detail.

We thought it would be good to buy some postcards of Chile at the post office because they had some on display. But it turned out these were for display only and they had none to sell us. In the rest of Iquique, we didn’t find any other postcards and now we have sort of stopped looking.

It is perhaps no wonder that people are sending less and less postcards because the stress of finding a stamp to send it home means that you need to plan another holiday for all the time you have spent looking for a post office.

I wonder how long it will be until postcards are no longer printed. I hope they continue for a long time to come. There is something quite lovely about receiving a note from someone you know who is in a far away land and marvelling over the pictures on the front and trying to decipher handwriting. This is a holiday tradition that I would hate to see no longer with us.

A week in Chile

14 Mar

After our time in Bolivia, we headed to Chile. Here is a brief summary about what we got up to –

Border crossing

This was the most ridiculous border crossing I have experienced which started when our bus departed an hour later than its scheduled time for no good reason. And ended with us waiting for around 3 hours to get through immigration because Chile only had one person on the immigration desk to Bolivia’s three, which caused a bottle neck!

Iquique

We arrived in Iquique after spending almost a day travelling. Iquique is on the coast and the smell of the salt air smacked you around the face when we got off the bus. The city is surrounded by sand dunes and the main street looks like something out of the Wild West.

There was plenty to do in Iquique. We explored the black sandy beaches, visited the fish market and saw and tasted some of the freshest catches of the day first hand, we planned paragliding (which was sadly cancelled), we went sandboarding and brought home about half of the sand dunes to the hotel, visited a thermal baths and the ghost town of Humberstone and Santa Laura, which used to be one of the biggest potassium nitrate mines in Chile.

The bus we travelled on to Humberstone also broke down and we had to wait for a replacement that took about 2 hours to get to us.

Santiago

We headed to the capital. The difference to Iquique and Bolivia couldn’t have been more stark. Being in Iquique was like being in Barcelona. Starbucks, Dominos, McDonalds and KFC everywhere – I was enjoying not missing these outlets! The city was bigger and lots more people were around.

We went to what we thought was another Jesus statue on a hill. When we got there we realised it was Mary. There was a great view of the whole city from the top. I was glad there was a funicular to get us up there. I never would have made it up there if I had had to walk.

On Sundays they close some of the main roads so people can bike, roller-blade and run along the streets, which is a great initiative.

The city is also full of amazing street art. I absolutely love it!

Valparaiso

We took the bus to what we thought was going to be a small fishing village but actually it was a lot bigger than we thought. We took a free walking tour and discovered a lot about the city’s history and what life is like for people here in the past and now.

The town is full of creative people and the old prison had actually been turned into a creative arts centre for artists, dancers and even cooks. What a great idea!

Not surprising that the city is also full of mosaics, murals and more street art!

We have now safely arrived back in Argentina; more specifically we are in Mendoza, wine country. Our accommodation is at the site of a vineyard. I think it is safe to say we will be sampling the local produce!

Cheers from Mendoza!

Disappointments and small victories

11 Mar

I was so excited on Thursday because I was ready to tick off one more item off my #40Before40 list. Unfortunately, the paragliding we had scheduled to do in Iquique was cancelled because the wind was too strong.

I was disappointed but obviously in the interest of health and safety it was the best thing to do. The guy whose company it was actually explained to us the reasons why and said he really wanted to take us up there.

As a Brit, I find it a little bit strange that sports get cancelled because of weather, particularly “a bit of wind”. I’m pretty sure as a teenager that I took part in athletics competitions in hail and I definitely played hockey in 2 inches of snow.

We will try again at the next available paragliding place on our trip.

The bitter taste of disappointment was sweetened a little when we went sandboarding in the evening instead. If you know my #40Before40 list as well as I do, you will know that one item on the list is to try snowboarding.

Although they are not quite the same, it’s given me a bit of an idea about what I am up against.

I wasn’t 100% happy with the lack of instruction that we were given. Everyone else in the group had snowboarded before and I think that it would have been good to be able to have some tips of what to do.

It was quite exhausting because you had to walk up the sand dunes after every run and re-wax the bottom of the board with a candle before going down again. Obviously you don’t have to do this with a snowboard.

Also there was no aprés-ski available – no small bar at the bottom of the hill where you can get a beer or two. I will never not admit that I am more of a social winter sports person than any sort of winter sport athlete!

Still it gives me a bit of hope that I should be able to enjoy snowboarding to a small degree when I finally take the plunge and try it. That will have to be next season now as the snow will have gone by the time we get back. Only around 8 months to wait…

Travel update

9 Mar

Greetings from Iquique in Chile! A few of you have been in contact and have been wondering how we have been getting on in South America so far. I will write more when I am home (I have been keeping my diary up to date) but so far, so good.

I did have a few really bad reactions to mosquito bites in Iguazu and Sao Paulo and a bit of sunburn in Boliva, but apart from that healthwise, we are both fine.

Here is a short summary of what we have been up to so far:

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I arrived here in what seems like an age ago. Markus was very excited to see me and promptly walked the legs off me, showing me everything that he had discovered in the seven weeks previously. We will be back again to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip but my first impressions were that it is a really nice city. It’s not quite was I was expecting, with large open spaces and lots of public areas. It will be nice to come back here at the end of the trip.

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil

I love waterfalls and I am slowly ticking off the biggest and the best in world one by one. We had heard differing reviews about which side is the best side to see the Falls from, so we saw it from both. Water is such a powerful, beautiful thing. Unfortunately, when we were there, the weather wasn’t great and we did get a bit wet but we would have got wet from the spray from the waterfall anyway so it didn’t matter much. Plus, as a Brit, I never leave home without waterproofs!

Sao Paulo, Brasil

This stop-over was never part of the original plan but we stopped here because the route was easier to take. The problem was that Portuguese and Spanish are quite different languages. We had no idea what people were saying most of the time. I was pleasantly surprised by the city. There seemed to be quite a lot to do and there is a lot of history surrounding the city. Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with homelessness here.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

We hardly saw any other tourists here (maybe 3 other couples?). There were some interesting things happening in the main square and the colonial past of the city was quite apparent. We visited a wildlife centre where you could really get up close to exotic birds, butterflies and tarantulas, which I loved.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Most tourist only visit Cochabamba to see the statue of Jesus Christ which overlooks the city. It is in fact bigger than the statue in Rio, on which it is modelled. We also visited the market, which is the largest open-air market in the whole of Latin America, and Laguna Angostura, where we enjoyed a nice lunch of fish and chips on the lake.

La Paz, Bolivia

Arriving in El Alto airport at 4,000m above sea level feels like you have been slapped around the face with a brick. It took me a while to adjust to it but I was glad of the cooler temperature for a few days. Here we took a free walking tour where we learnt a lot about the city and the politics of Bolivia. I was amazed that instead of trams, you have to take a cable car. What a commute that must be!

We also saw traditional Bolivian wrestling which was an experience. As we were up in the mountains and there was a Swiss Fondue restaurant, we had to indulge a bit in some home food comforts.

Uyuni, Bolivia

Another bucket list was ticked off my list when we visited Salar De Uyuni. I have wanted to go here for longer than I can remember. Armed with wellies and a camera, we set off to explore. It was like being on another planet – so calm and dream like. It far exceeded my expectations. We also waited there until sunset; just magical!

Oruro, Bolivia

This is THE place to be in Bolivia for Carnival time. We were obviously a bit too late for carnival but we did manage to see the statue of the Virgin Mary (which you can’t really miss) and some silver mines. We actually went into the silver mine with the president of the cooperative. It was a bit unnerving and I spent most of the time wondering if they had passed a health and safety inspection so that tourist can visit. Answer: definitely not. There is more to explain about this experience and I will promise to update you soon!

And that is us about up to date. As I said we are now in Iquique in Chile, enjoying the warmer weather and the amazing seafood on offer.

I will write again soon to let you know that we are still alive and enjoying life.

Until next time, or as we say here, Hasta luego!