A Travellerspoint blog

United Kingdom

London, Kent, and catching up with friends

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Although it packed some punch on the wallet, London was a fantastic place for a week of R&R! We were hosted by Jack and Nat as well as Laurie and Anna. Being my first time in London, it was a great experience just walking through the streets and remembering the Monopoly board names flashing in front of me...Fleet Street, Liverpool, Piccadilly, etc! Amongst all the history, there was also plenty of modern buildings that captured our attention. All in all, a beautiful and very livable city (despite the weather - we unfortunately caught a bit of rain). There are also many things to bring us back again.

Some of the highlights included observing the high tradition of the guards at Buckingham Palace and around No. 10, obviously catching up with many of our friends, pub lunches (and crawls!), seeing a show (Wicked), Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral (where Prince Charles married Diana), Tower of London (a must see) and London Bridge - we even managed to fit in a game of bowling!

Last but not least we had a relaxing day in the countryside around Kent with Anna, Laurie and their son, Ethan, traipsing through the countryside looking for Hever Castle...

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Posted by HT 09:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Argentina - Part II

Salta and Buenos Aires

sunny 25 °C
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Although it is not possible to have anything but ambitious plans when thinking about a country as big as Argentina, we resisted the temptation to try and fit everything in and foccussed on a couple of stops so that we could make the most of each.

The highlight of Argentina for us turned out to be the Salta region (and was recommended by many people to us, including the Austrian owner of a small winery near Vernon in Canada!). We rented a car for three days and drove down to Cafayate, through Cachi, and back to Salta.

The terrain in particular blew us away. One minute we would be driving through diverse coloured rolling mountains in red, green, purple, and even blue hues, which then turned into sharp angled shards looking like the landscape of a desolate planet in the Star Trek movie, which by the way is pretty good (even if not a fan of the TV show!).

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One thing I have realized about Andrew on this trip is that he LOVES to climb on things, especially rocks. The bigger the better...boys will be boys!
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I was excited, although weary of how clean he was, to hug this Llamma. He was very friendly, and felt like I was hugging a big stuffed animal. He became known as my buck tooth friend (even though he had a serious underbite).
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Before leaving, we also visited the ruins of one of the last native civilisations to have survived the Spanish colonisation at Quilmes near Cafayate. The outline of their homes is still very apparent when you climb up into the hills that protected the village at the rear - from the top you could also see for miles and this was another important part of their defences that allowed them to hold out for so long. It was very impressive (including some massive cacti).

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Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...and this poor dog was stuck on this wall for hours. We went back in the morning and he was gone, so someone must have saved him...hopefully from falling and having to be put back to together again!
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We spent the day in this lovely place at the Sayta Ranch horseback riding and had a wonderful Argentinian bbq lunch. It is quite possibly the best meal (and/or biggest - they kept offering us more!) we had in Argentina.
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Hitting the sprawling city of Buenos Aires was a big change of pace for us, but we found it to be a diverse city filled with interesting people. Arriving on a Sunday allowed us to see many outdoor markets, our favorite was the antique market in San Telmo. Tango is of course everywhere and a huge part of BA culture. Boca was an interesting area...very colorful and lively with people Tango dancing everywhere. As well as seeing impromptu tango on the streets and in a park, we splurged on an Evita Tango show with 3 course meal, which was a great experience to see it in a more formalised (although touristy) setting. As we said goodbye to Argentina, we say goodbye to the empanadas that we ate every day, as well as the beautiful scenery and lovely people. South America is definitely a place we need to visit again, in particular the Patagonia and southern lake regions of Chile and Argentina that we are saving for another special trip!
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Posted by HT 14:16 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Chile-Part 2

La Serena and San Pedro De Atacama

sunny 30 °C
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Since we had so many pictures and loved Chile so much, we decided to split it into two entries to make it more managable and more interesting for you all!

After my parents left Chile, we continued north up the coast, stopping first at La Serena. This was a very sleepy town (at least on Sundays, we were not prepared for the masses of people that poured into the streets on Monday morning!), but we did have one of the highlights of our trip here. In Northern Chile, the skies are so clear that it is one of the few parts of the world that is perfect for observatories (the Australian desert being another). We visited one of the less touristy observatories at the top of a hill about an hour away from La Serena, where we were greeted by an amazing blanket of stars like nothing we have ever seen before.

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Seeing Saturn (including its rings and moons) in incredible clarity through the telescope was very cool and our photo unfortunately does not do justice to it...
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After a couple of days in La Serena we boarded another bus to what turned out to be our FAVORITE city so far on our trip...San Pedro De Atacama. We spent 5 wonderful days here and as well as squeezing in a ton of interesting things, we always made time for a siesta in our hostel's hammocks each afternoonl!

Perhaps making up for a childhood deprived of a sandpit, we had a lot of fun rolling down the sand dunes...did I say rolling...ah, I mean surfing. Well, either way it was still great - although very tiring getting up there (someone needs to invest in some chair-lifts) because it was like walking through quick sand, once we reached the top it was much easier (and faster) all the way down...we only made one trip and had to make the most of it!

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Again, we forgot to hold the camera horizontally, so you will have to view it sideways! Very funny. Two dogs followed us on our bikes from town to the sand dunes for more than10 km, and this dog all the way up to the top. He got very excited when Andrew got going!

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Another highlight of our time in San Pedro was a visit to the highland geysers even though it required a 4:30am start when the temperatures are well below zero - at this time, steam is spewing from holes covering an entire plateau with a quite dramatic effect. We couldn't feel our toes or fingers so it was a good thing there was time to thaw out in the nearby hot prings once the sun came up.
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One of our main modes of transport, the humble mountain bike, was also well-used here as we embarked on a trip to the Lagunas Cejar, essentially an oasis in the middle of nowhere (which should have served as a warning to us). Taking the correct route would have been a 60km round trip - unfortunately with our hand drawn, out of scale map and a total lack of any signs meant that we took several wrong turns and ended up cycling almost 90km...which totally threw our plans of leaving early and travelling outside of the hottest part of the day out the window. There was actually one sign - though it was the last turn and was pretty much obselete when one marking the turn-off from the main road would have seemed more useful to us. Anyway, we made it eventually and cooled off in the very cold, highly saline lakes similar to the Dead Sea. It was an incredibly unique experience to simply float and all Andrew needed was a beer in one hand and paper in the other!

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Our final trip was to see the must see Salar De Tara...I mean, what wouldn't be wonderful with that name?!!!!! Given we would be reaching an altitude of 5,300m, we were advised to save this trip for our final day...Again, it is hard to keep thinking of new adjectives to describe what were seeing each day, however, on the way to the Salar de Tara, we visited some massive rocks that were blown out into the middle of the desert by volcanic explosions, flamingos roaming various salt flats only with other wildlife (including a strange animal looking part rabbit and part cat).

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On our way to Argentina!!
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Posted by HT 05:01 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Chile-Part 1

Valparaiso, Santa Cruz, and Santiago de Chile

sunny 30 °C
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Following a 9 hour bus trip over the beautiful Andes, we arrived in ViƱa del Mar to meet up with Tara's parents who were in Chile. After they picked us up on the street outside of the bus station, we drove to the hotel to freshen up before exploring the small quiet streets near our hotel to find a restaurant for dinner. We found a charming little place with 3 tables, the menu written on a blackboard on the wall, and a very lively waitor who told us about the XL sized portions in Chile. We became very curious when he mentioned they have an osso buco dish called "The Monster", so we had to give it a try. It was monstrous alright, and we couldn't even finish it all between the four of us, but so delicious!
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We had a lot of fun exploring Valparaiso together. We walked through one of Pablo Neruda's houses (a famous poet who collected knick knacks and was obsessed with the sea). The painted murals on every wall and buildings throught the streets in Valparaiso was incredible. The city is a work of art, literally! And here we were able to take a sunset cruise and boat by the massive Navy ships moored in the port as well as get up close and personal with the freighters loading their ships. And of course the sunset glow on the tiered city was beautiful.

All in all,we had a great time with mom and dad and was fun to be able to enjoy our travels with wonderful company!
We spent a day in Santiago and visited Pablo Neruda's third (and final) house. We figured that we saw his other two, so we might as well see them all!

Chile was one of our favorite countries and you can probably tell by the amount of photos we took. In fact, there are so many and we did so many great and interesting things, that we decided to spilt Chile into 2 different blog entries. We continue up the coast to La Serena in the next entry to come soon...

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After visiting Pablo Neruda's 2nd home in Isla Negra on our way down to Santa Cruz, we explored many wineries in the region including outside San Antonio and the Santa Cruz area. We fell in love with Viu Manent, a winery that had a wonderful restaurant where we had a wine tasting lunch (this is some serious wine tasting!) and also went for a horse carriage ride through the vineyards and the best part of the day was when we took naps in hammocks for our daily siesta under the table grapes overlooking the vines after our wine tasting!
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Posted by HT 14:13 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Argentina - Part I

Mendoza

sunny 25 °C
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Definitely not having taken the most direct route, we arrived in Mendoza from New York via Washington DC, Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile and about 20 hours of planes and airports! So we were ready for a few drinks and it seemed we were definitely in the right place...when our hostel bartender started pouring Tara this 'glass' of wine we didn't realise they wouldn't stop until half the bottle was in it! We were to learn later from a waiter in Chile that everything in this part of the world is 'XL size'!!

We didn't have the luxury of time (something we are sadly getting used to) here, but quickly arranged a winery and olive oil factory tour and some bikes to explore the town before we took a bus through the Andes into Chile. This little taste of Argentina was a perfect introduction to South America and we were looking forward to meeting my parents in Chile.

Since we have been getting so many questions about "how" we are traveling, we thought we would share some answers with you.

Question #1: Are you staying in hostels?
Answer #1: Yes. Some are great. Some not so great. Argentina was more expensive than we expected and our money didn't go as far as it did in Indochina. This bedroom below was by far the worst value for money. Not only was it the most expensive place we stayed in, but it was also the worst in terms of comfort and maybe security??? We call it "the prison cell"

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Question #2: how do we do our laundry
Answer #2: Luckily most of our hostels have offered a service. wash and dry for $1 a kilo was the common rate in Indochina. Argentina was the first place we didn't have laundry service in our hostel, so we took it down the street. Andrew was very happy to wash this bag of clothes as we had just been rolling down the sand dunes while sweating in the desert in Chile.

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Question #3: What have we been eating?

Answer #3: We are fortunate to be able to eat out for most meals unlike many backpackers that crowd into the kitchens in the hostels cooking their meals. We find eating out is a great way to experience food culture and to interact with the locals. Argentina and Chile as we mentioned above was XL size for everything. So we tend to share all of our meals. We figure if we order less, we pay less, and therefore we will weigh less! Even with sharing, it does creep up on you especially when the steaks are as big as your head and the glasses of wine, well, you can see below that it appears to be almost as big as my head!!

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That leads me to the next question.

Question #4: How do we stay fit?

Answer #4: We walk probably about 4 hours a day on average and get on bicycles whenever we can-if you can tell from the photos in our blog. The 3 weeks of skiing helped a lot, especially when Andrew made us get up early to ski on the first tracks of the day! As you can see below, the terrain is not always flat. It doesn't look as steep as it was, but believe us when we say that every person that walked past us mentioned they couldn't imagine going up on bike as walking was hard enough!

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On our way to Chile!
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Posted by HT 14:03 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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