Tag Archives: experience

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.

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!

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!

Leaving on a jet plane

17 Feb

By the time you read this I will be on my way to sunnier climbs – South America! The next few weeks are going to be intense: reunited with the boyfriend that I have only seen on and off for ten and a half months; travelling through five different countries, three different time zones, where they speak two different languages; experiencing sights, sounds and food that I have never experienced before.

For some people this might sound like something from a horror film. For me, this is heaven. Although I will take some trepidation with me, which I think is completely natural when leaving home for so long, I can’t wait.

One thing I am most looking forward to is the warm weather. It will most likely be too warm for me but I will endeavour to keep myself cool by drinking ice cold, local beer.

Fear not, dear Reader, I have already scheduled some posts while I am away, so you will still be able to read some of my musings and ramblings while I am no the road. I will also be posting a few updates while I am away, if time allows.

So, I’m leaving on a jet plane. I know when I will be home again* because a new job awaits me after the Easter break.

*Apologies to John Denver.

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World Snow Festival 2018

19 Jan

Today I had a day off and, rather than spending the day at home not doing very much, I decided to get out of the house and explore some of Switzerland. If I am brutally honest, I haven’t explored Switzerland half as much as I would like to. It was the perfect opportunity to start to rectify this.

Completely by chance, I saw what this week the World Snow Festival was being held in Grindelwald. So, I decided to head out to see it. It took quite a few train changes to get there but, as I had the whole day to myself, it didn’t really matter. The information on the website was that there were 14 international teams who would be entering. Their task was to make sculptures from snow. The public and a panel of judges could vote for their favourite.

I was quite surprised by how much snow there was as I was heading away from Zurich. Even though it was colder, it was still possible to see a small bit of blue sky poking through the clouds and by the early afternoon the skies were beginning to brighten slightly.

After finally arriving at my final destination, I was more than a bit disappointed. When you hear the word Festival, certain images come to mind, like activities to do and see as well as sights, smells and sounds. The Festival itself was located at the main bus stop next to the train station in Grindelwald. The sculptures were just dotted out where people were waiting for their bus.

And that was it. No more information apart from the information that the teams had written about what they had built and the obligatory plea to beg you to vote for them. It wasn’t clear to me where you could actually vote. No one from the tourist board or the team was there to give more information about the competition. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. So I didn’t vote.

The Slovakian team would have got my vote. Here is their entry.

Yes, it is Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel, from IceAge who spends his life chasing after an elusive acorn; completely inspired choice of entry! I have no idea how they made it or how long it took but hats off to them.

It struck me that this was a real shame that something that is published on the official Swiss Tourism website isn’t a bit better organised and there aren’t any engaging activities for visitors.

Tonight is the prize giving for the winners so I would imagine that the atmosphere then is a lot different. It could just be that I went at the wrong time. Also it isn’t like Grindelwald is scrapping the barrel for visitors. People flock there every day because it really is stunning. See this photo that I took at the train station before I left to see what I mean.

Adventure on the Horizon

12 Dec

The last few months my life has been as follows: Work, German lessons, Gym, Work, More German lesson, More Work and Work. I will be glad in a few weeks when the routine should be a bit different, namely less work and a break from German lessons over the Christmas period.

Another task that has been keeping me busy over the last few weeks is my next big travel adventure. Or should I say, Our Big Travel Adventure. In February, I will be taking five weeks off work to join my boyfriend in Argentina. We will then travel around Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay, with a short stop over in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

For the best part of nine months, I have been living on my own, after my boyfriend quit his job to improve his language skills in other countries. He has been 6 months in the UK (Liverpool and Cardiff) even though I am convinced that spending time in these two places has probably made his English worse (joke), 2 months in Bordeaux and 1 month in Guadaloupe, which is actually a French territory that uses the Euro. So, with English and French learnt, he decided to go to South America to learn Spanish. I would be happy to be able to speak one other language but there seems to be no end to what he wants to learn. It’s my theory that because Switzerland has four official languages that the people think that this means that they should learn as many as possible.

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I’ve invited myself over; partly because I have always wanted to travel more in South America after going to Peru in 2011, and partly because I just can’t stand any more pictures of beaches/wine glasses/beautiful scenery. I want to see this myself.

So far all of the flights, buses and transport are booked and we have a general plan in place. I am in charge of finding accommodation. Once that is done, we are almost ready to go.

I am nervous about the trip. Five weeks is a long time to be on the road, in a place where you don’t speak the language. Although my other half is under strict instructions that he must be fluent in Spanish before I arrive, I am a little nervous about the language barrier still. He will leave on 1st January and is enrolled in a language school for 6 weeks and then I will fly over.

I’m also conscious of the fact that we will have been apart for around 11 months and have only seen each other for the odd weekend here or there. To go from that to being with someone 24/7 with no break from them at all is a little bit daunting. The phrase from one extreme to another has never been so appropriate.

I must admit as well that I am not always in the best mood in a hot country. If that is then somehow combined with sunburn, it could be a disaster. I also have bad reactions to insect bites. They take chunks out of me and then my skin sort of blisters. It looks worse that it actually is but it looks disgusting. In 5 weeks, we will probably come into all sorts of creatures and, like I say, things tend to like to bite me. In Peru, I even got bitten by a parrot. I mean, who actually gets bitten by a parrot? Me, that’s who. But that’s a story for another time.

When I am home for Christmas I will definitely be buying some insect repellent and anything else that claims to repel critters, and a few other things that I need for my trip. Then I will be more than ready to leave the Swiss winter behind and experience a South America summer.

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Singapore: the last 48 hours

25 Oct

On Monday morning, I shouldn’t have bothered to set my alarm. A huge thunderstorm woke me up at 7am. I am convinced that the building physically shook, or maybe that was just tiredness.

I had planned to go to Sentosa Island for the day. It’s home to 3 beautiful beaches and resorts like Madam Tussaud’s. Despite the weather not being great, I decided to go anyway. By the time I left the hotel, the weather was looking better and it had finally stopped raining.

Sentosa is easy to reach. I took the MRT and then the Sentosa Express. The train was packed with people going to the resorts. If I wasn’t on my own I definitely would have gone to at least one of them. But it’s not much fun queuing on your own. Furthermore I know from experience that if the weather is bad the outside rides are closed down and with the forecast being mixed, it could have been a waste of money. (Incidentally this happened to me in Florida last year and in Hong Kong when a typhoon warning 4 was given part way through the day).

I found out by chance that Sentosa Island is the Southernmost point of intercontinental Asia. So, I had to visit the sign to say I had been there!

The weather was holding out but it still wasn’t great; definitely not lying on a beach weather. So I had a wander round and then decided to go on the Skyline Luge, which is basically a cross between a go kart and a toboggan. Undoubtedly this would have been more fun with other people to race against but it was still fun to do it.

You go up on a ski lift type thing and then collect the cart at the top. You don’t end up coming down all that fast and it is easy to brake. The marketing strap line was “Once is never enough”. The reason for this being is because it takes you longer to get up to the start than it does for you to ride back down if you go at any pace at all.

For lunch I headed to Chinatown for the illusive Michelin starred Hawker Stall which I had tried to find the previous day. I found it this time. Incredibly cheap and incredibly delicious!

To carry on with the theme of enjoying internationally renowned culinary experiences, I went in search of the original Singapore Sling that was invented at Raffles Hotel over 100 years ago.

This was a tough challenge as the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar were both shut for renovations and these are the only places where the drink is served. I had found out that the service of the drink had been moved to the Bar and Billiards Room (part of the Raffles Hotel) while work was continuing.

The surroundings were impressive and the place was full of people drinking the famous pink cocktail. This is by far the most expensive drink I have ever had. One glass costs 36.50 Singapore dollars (or 27 SFr. or 20 GBP). I licked that glass clean as if my life depended on it and enjoyed every last drop!

I headed back to the hotel for a swim to cool off and to have a relax before heading out again. I also had a pedicure which cost more than I expected due to a “misunderstanding” but as I very really indulge in that sort of thing, I decided not to be too annoyed and take it as a sign that I needed a treat.

In the evening I went to Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens are full of many different species of plants but the crowning glory is the huge tree-like structures that support and sustain yet more plant varieties. At night these structures are lit up and twice nightly you can see a fantastic light and music display, as the trees change colour to the music. The performance I saw was called Moon Symphonies. All of the songs had a Moon theme: Moon River, Fly Me to The Moon and Blue Moon. You can’t beat a bit of Sinatra, Mercer and Bublé on a Monday night with a choreographed light display.

The following day, after going to the gym, doing some shopping, getting myself ready to check out and having a nice healthy lunch, I headed back to the Gardens by the Bay to see them in the day. You could spend hours walking around the gardens. They are so well maintained and well thought out. I paid to see the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. I thought it was a bit pricey (locals get a reduced rate) but, on balance, it was worth it.

The Flower Dome had species from all over the world and there was a special exhibition of pumpkins because of autumn. This was one of the display items. It was unbelievable!

The Cloud Forest was a replica of a Cloud Forest, a specific type of rainforest which approximately 1.1% is destroyed every year. As you enter the doors, you are faced with a huge, cascading waterfall and a forest of flowers. You can go to the top of the waterfall and then do the Tree Top Walk back to the bottom.

I also wanted to do the Skywalk which is a walkway which links some of the trees that I saw the night before. You get more of a bird’s eye view of the park and the surrounding city. Unfortunately because of the unpredictability of the weather, it was closed for safety reasons. It is completely exposed and they probably don’t have the public liability insurance in case anything did go wrong.

I headed to the Arab Quarter, which I had visited on the Bike Tour. A really quirky cafe called Juice Clinic had caught my eye because of the amazing artwork outside. It had been closed on Sunday but I wanted to visit it before I left. I was so glad I did. It had jazz music playing, freshly squeezed juices and… drum roll please… Rainbow Cheesecake! After all the walking, I feel like I deserved it.

The cafe was on a crossroads and it was a great place to people watch. I could have sat there all day. Unfortunately, it was time to collect my bag, catch the bus and head to the airport.

96 hours in Singapore already over. After a dodgy start, I have enjoy myself thoroughly. Singapore is definitely not how I expected it to be and I hope to come back again to experience more of what it has to offer. I need to get saving for another Singapore Sling!