where i've been...

My travel map

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dublin and Belfast

Well, we finally made it to Dublin the other day. Like I said before, we had a great time with Amanda's family in West Cork, and I can still hear her little (hardly little by the size of him) brother's voice saying to me, "Quiet, you". Ahh, to be part of the family. :)

The day after Christmas Amanda's dad took us coursing, where two muzzled greyhounds chase a hare across a field, trying to make it change direction before it ducks to safety under a barrier. The shocking thing was, they obviously let the hare out first, and the dogs a few seconds later, and more often than not, the dogs never caught up to the hare! They really are fast little animals. There are hares all over Ireland, and since West Cork is in the countryside, there were plenty of them out on the lawns in Amanda's backyard in the mornings. I think one morning there were at least 10 of them, just sitting around, diging everything up. :) Happy little hares. We went out to Blarney to see the coursing, home of the famous Blarney Stone. We didn't stop and I didn't kiss it, seeing as how if you do, tradition states you get the gift of gab. I think I already have that, let's be honest!

We went out to another local pub the night after Christmas, and it was great. Full of locals and apparently the bar has to close at two, but they just close the doors, turn off a few lights and keep on serving until the police come, if they ever do. :) And get this, kids can be in the bars and pubs, but only up until a certain time, like 9pm. They were shocked that we Americans can't have kids in bars. Many pondered what they would do with their kids if they couldn't take them to the pubs with them. :) By the end of the night everyone was taking turns belting out songs and others were joining in. Rahima and I couldn't get up the courage to sing. I actually realized that I don't really think I know how a)most songs start or b)most of the words apart from the chorus. Hmmm...something else to now work on on those long bus rides.

So we headed to Dublin which is a VERY expensive city. We did a great walking tour and although it is expensive, it is quite pretty. We met a group of Australians living in London who shared our hostel the second night, so we all headed out together last night and are still paying the price for it a bit today. We jumped on a bus to Belfast and got here about an hour ago...which means 4pm and it is almost dark. Yikes! We are still trying to figure out the whole New Years situation, as we didn't do any preemptive planning for accomodations in Scotland (in hindsight, not very bright) and so we are still unsure if we will make it up there to welcome in 09 or if we will head back down to London perhaps. Wish us luck!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Well, after another 15 hours on buses and ferries from London, we made it to Cork, Ireland. We spent yesterday running some errands around town and then headed back to Amanda's house. Her mother was so kind and let me bake a few dozen cookies to add to the loads of food she was preparing. Baking sure made it feel Christmas-y to me. We met Amanda's lively and very Irish family, minus her sister who is in New Zealand this Christmas. Her three brothers have kept us quite entertained with their stories and accents! Last night we went to mass, then to a pub where I enjoyed a proper guiness in a real Irish pub...in Ireland. ;)

This morning we attempted to get up and go out to the beach to run into the cold water with the locals, but timing wasn't right, so we missed out. Maybe a good thing in retrospect. :). So it is now about 6pm, I am still in my pajamas, stuffed to the brim and very, very happy to be with such a wonderful family if I can't be with my own. Merry Christmas to all of you back home. I love you all very, very much. Have a very special day and know I am thinking of you all. Hugs and kisses.

Monday, December 22, 2008

well...almost to Dublin

This is just a quick note to let you all know that we have successfully made it about halfway to Dublin. We are in London, and are here for the night. Apparently this is a very popular time to travel, all train and bus tickets are sold out, until tomorrow night at 7pm, when we will board a bus that will take us all the way to Cork, Ireland, where we will spend Christmas. Guess we aren't really going to get to Dublin before Cork after all. All said and done, it would have been about the same price to fly directly to Dublin from Paris and it would have saved us a few days of travel time. Oh, and that darn eurail pass thing gets trickier and trickier. We could have delayed starting our two month usage if we had flown as well. But hindsight is 20-20, and London is quite pretty, even though the dollar is weaker here than in the rest of Europe! Guess I'd better REALLY enjoy that beer I am about to have. :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ahhh, Paris...

The girls...with Paris in the background.

Well, I have to say, the last few days in Paris were fantastic. Leslie and Dave were amazing hosts who let us completely indulge in both Paris, and in being somewhere familiar. This is the longest we have been in one place, one bed in fact, since we left. It has been wonderful. Not only do Leslie and Dave really know how to be great hosts and tour guides, but their home has all the comforts of HOME. They have what seems like an endless DVD collection, heat, a washer and dryer, yummy food (Leslie is a great cook) and a great knowledge of Paris, the sights, the buses, etc. Despite the fog and drizzle, (and Leslie being six months pregnant) we hiked up the 700-odd steps to the second platform of the Eifel Tower the other day. It was great. On the platform they had these fun ice sculpture-like things which is not what you would expect after the little hike. At night, the Eifel Tower has a brilliant sparkling light show which took both my and Rahima's breath away. (Dave even says we gasped when it actually lit up. :)

That's the Eifel Tower in the background with all of the blue lights.

We wandered down Champs-Elysee with the beautiful lights, and got to see both Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame.

We also spent some time at the modern art museum, the Pompidou.

My yummy banana and nutella crepe. Mmmmm....

Some paintings from Painter's Square in Montmartre.

The Louvre at night.

The Moulin Rouge

Delicious gelatto...they made the cones into flowers. Yum!

One of my favorite pictures so far...

Today Les and Dave headed back to the US for the holidays and Rahima and I spent our day lazily walking to some of the famous movie sights from the movie Amelie. We shared a creme brulee at the Cafe les Deux Moulins from the movie and later indulged in some delicious macaroons from the exquisite Laudree. (unfortunately my pics of the macaroons aren't uploading at the moment...another French revolt against me!) Tomorrow we start early to attempt to get up to Dublin...and are gearing up for a long day of travel. I got bored with my hair, and cut some bangs (shocker)...we'll see if I still like them in a day or two! Currently we are reveling in the last few hours of DVD heaven, watching Office Space...very french, right? :) I did make french toast this morning though, and watched the movie French Kiss.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Mona Lisa...and other works of art

Dear France,
Your country is cold. Your policies are ridiculous. Your audio-guides are confusing. Your capital city is very expensive. Please take note of these concerns and make the necessary corrections.
Annette and Rahima

This is just one example of the "carefully worded letters" that Rahima is currently composing to send to the whole of France. Every time we encounter some type of a problem or frustration, we make a mental note that will we write a letter to the people in charge at a later date. France gets a whole letter.

Yesterday we started out by going to the train station to make our reservation for our eurail pass to Dublin. Well, for starters, you need a subway pass to get to the train station and Leslie had advised us to get a week long pass. After trying to figure out the many options, zones, prices, and ticket combinations (with no help from the man in the booth except to point us to the automatic machine) we figured out which ticket to buy, only to have the machine not accept american credit cards. Luckily we had enough euros on us (even though the exchange rate is getting crazy out of control every day...it is now at 1.46 I think to the dollar...urgh).

So we headed to the train station and were bumped around from office to office for a while, until we finally got to the right ticket counter only to be told that even though we HAVE a eurail pass, we would have to pay 75 euros EACH to get from Paris to London. You see, you need a reservation on certain trains, can only make them at the train station, no calling or website help, and oftentimes you need to pay for the reservation. Furthermore, you seemingly can only make a reservation from the departure station, so you can't make multiple reservations in advance if you are traveling long distances that cover multiple areas. Then, the eurail pass doesn't cover the UK (why would it, right?) so we have to cross the UK, and then take a ferry to Dublin. Someone explain to me why this eurail pass is so cheap? Our budget has been broken mostly on this trip by unexpected transportation costs...but this one is ridiculous.

So after creative planning (maybe) and extreme frustration (along with the composition of many carefully worded letters to eurail), we got a ticket to the north of France, and we will attempt to navigate the ferries, and the crossing of the UK on our own, when we get there of course. December 22 should be a really, REALLY fun day.

Us at the Louvre

So, after nearly freezing in the train station, we headed to the Louvre. It was immense! We started with the Mona Lisa, because we figured you have to start there. It was beautiful in it's own right, and I am glad I saw it, but compared to some of the other paintings I have seen in the past few days, it wasn't my favorite! I am certainly spoiled. We decided to do one of the audio tours to help us learn a little bit about some of the art in the museum, which was good, but it was supposed to take about 1.5 hours, and somehow 3 hours later we still hadn't finished it. We chalk it up to the fact that is was harder to follow than it would seem, with a little palm pilot-like screen leading us around, but with some of the art out of order or too many staircases or turns and, even following the SAME tour, we got separated for about 45 minutes. It really is a miracle someday that the two of us are still on this trip together!

Rahima navigating the Louvre with her audio-tour guide!

The Louvre is really just too big to do in one day. There is so much to see, and the building itself has so much history to learn about. In contrast, I have to say that the Museo de la Reina Sofia (the contemporary art museum in Spain) has been my favorite so far. I got to see so many pieces that I learned about in college and are much more to my liking. For example, standing in front of Picasso's 'Guernica' was breathtaking. I must have stood there for about 10 minutes, just attempting to take it all in. You couldn't take pictures there, but I took one from the internet so you could see what I am talking about. It is 11 feet tall by 25.6 feet wide. Impressive. Huge. Beautiful. It is a commentary on the cruelties and suffering inflicted on individuals (including animals and innocent civilians) during war.

Then I moved on to see a lot of the Salvador Dalí works as well as the Joan Miró collection. I love Dalí, his works are so intricate and wacky. But it was when I was in the Miró section that I got the giggles. Which is not a good thing when you are in a museum, by yourself, trying to control your giggles. The thing is, I really like Miró's works, but some of them I am convinced, are him just really playing a joke on the art world. I mean, there are these huge canvases, with maybe 15 black dots on them. Or a splotch of blue paint. Nothing more. I am sure that he must have had a good laugh at our expense that we covet these works so highly. It's certainly no Mona Lisa... :)

So today we will head out to see the Eifel Tower and some other sights. Can wait to see what the exchange rate will be at tomorrow. And to find out how much it will eventually cost to get to Ireland. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh, Paris in the winter...

So what does one do in Paris in the winter? Well, if you are a normal traveler, you probably spend your first day here seeing many of the sights, such as the Arc du Triumph (sp?), the Eifel Tower, the Lourve, etc. But if you are me or Rahima, you spend it, almost all day of it to be precise, in your pajamas, happy to finally be somewhere warm, nibbling at yummy food in your friend's apartment! Yep. Rahima actually didn't set foot outside today, and I did only to accompany my friend Leslie to the supermarket around the corner. She and her husband, Dave, have been so nice and have opened up their home to us for the next week. It is so good to see Leslie. She and I went to preschool together, and I love that we are still close. She got married about a year and a half ago, and moved to Paris with her husband. She is now the cutest six-month pregnant person I know. :) Even if her crazy french doctor thinks that 5 kilos of weight gain after six months of pregnancy is "too much". Us fatty Americans, huh? :)

So, we arrived from Madrid last night, via Ryan Air. Here I must dispel a few myths about the airline which has been widely touted by travelers as the Southwest of Europe. Are fares low? Yes. Indisputably. But the reason is, they get you coming and going. So we had booked a cheap flight to Paris in order to delay the using of our eurail passes, since once we start to use them we have to complete all of our travel within two months. So, we bought tickets for 30 euros each. Then with taxes, it came up to about 54 euros each. Still, not bad, right? (Here I should realize that I have had NO airline luck as of late and cut my loses. Sometimes being stubborn is not my best quality!) So then, we each had to pay 15 euros to check a bag. But it gets better. Upon arrival to the airport, they told us that in addition, we have to pay 15 euros for EACH kilo over 15 kilos. Well, my bag (obviously still containing the necessary travel solid wooden rolling pin and now three new pairs of shoes) weighed 18.5 kilos and Rahima's bag was a slightly less 17 kilos. So they wanted 90 more euros from us. We did a quick shifting of contents and carried on the extra weight (which is still going on the plane, so I am not sure WHY this policy exists). What a hassle! When we arrived in Paris, after the worst landing of my life, we had to pay 13 euros to get from the airport to the city center, because this "cheap" airline doesn't fly into one of the two major airports, but instead, one that is 80 km outside of the city. So you do the math...was it really "cheaper" to fly?

By the time we got to Leslie and Dave's, we dropped our stuff and headed out to eat. (Leslie and Dave were hosting a work holiday party at their apartment, which was in full swing, white elephant gifts and all by the time we arrived) Rahima and I found a little restaurant to eat at, with a stereotypically unfriendly french waiter. We splurged on escargot and fresh vegetables, as well as salmon for her and duck for me. (If you know me well, you know that I can hardly resist duck on a menu). It was delicious. When they brought the bill it included a 19% charge, and we were confused if that included tip or if it was just outrageous french taxes. We asked the waiter who said it did not include tip. We left 10% walked back and asked Leslie and Dave. It included tip. Gotta love the french!

So tomorrow we will head out into the beautiful, crisp, cold air of Paris in the winter and see some of the sights. Today was a good day to recharge, and I tried to throw a few pictures up on the past posts. Hope you enjoy them, and hopefully it will be easy to put more up in the next few days too!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Yipee! We made it to Madrid. Unfortunately Rahima is sick, so that is not the best news, but we are in a nice, warm hostel for tonight and she is already asleep, so hopefully she will feel much better tomorrow. We left Sevilla at 8:30am this morning, on a six hour busride to Madrid. By the time we got settled in to a hostel it was close to 4pm and I headed out to go to the Museo del Prado and the Contemporary Art Museum (Reina Sofia) because they are both free on Sundays. Well...kind of. Apparently the Prado is only free after 5pm, so I walked down to the Reina Sofia, which is only open (but free, so techinically not false advertising) from 10am to 2 on Sundays. So I wandered for a bit, and then thoroughly enjoyed both the heat and the art in the Prado. It had a lot of art that I studied in college, which was neat to see in person. I think the contemporary art collection is much more up my alley though, so I am looking forward to heading there tomorrow before we fly to Paris to see my good friend Leslie. I can´t wait!

Everything in Madrid is decked out for Christmas and as I was walking around today there actually a few snowflakes that began to fall. I am wearing almost everything that I packed just to stay warm and I drink enough tea from starbucks to keep me completely hydrated all day long. :) There certainly is a comfort in to-go coffee cups that I had never fully apprecited before this trip. The tapas in Spain are absolutely delicious and it is hard not to order one of everything wherever you are. :) Sorry this is a little disjointed, but I guess I am pretty tired too. I´ll try to be more coherent in the next blog...

Friday, December 12, 2008

When you´re hot, you´re hot. And when you´re not...

you´re probably in Morocco! Seriously, Morocco was great, but COLD! I couldn´t believe it. And I can´t believe that it has been so long since I have been able to sit down at a computer, with a normal keyboard, and type a bit about what has been going on.

So obviously, we finally left the Madrid airport, no thanks to Iberia, another cancelled flight and over 250 more dollars spent. I am still arguing that part, so let´s hope that money comes back to me eventually. But point being, we made it to Morocco and started our adventures in Marrakech. Of course, I have so much to say and to describe, and of course, this internet cafe isn´t letting me upload any pictures. Oh well...I´ll post some when I can.

So Marrakech is a huge city and we stayed mostly in the center of the old Medina, full of winding mazes of souks, or stores, filled with anything you can imagine, full of great colors and smells. You can walk through the souks and get lost among the myriad of little shops. During the day we had a bit of sun, and if you held still in the sunshine you actually could feel warm for a few minutes, which was great. At night, once the sun went down, everything turned very cold, very fast, and of course we were staying in places where heat was virtually unheard of. One of the many redeeming things in Morocco is the food though. It is absolutely amazing. I think that when I come home I will have a definite list of foods that I want to learn how to cook from the places I have traveled to. I bought some spices one day...imagining my future cooking endeavors.

After a few days of sightseeing there, we headed to the southeast of Morocco, on the most crowded bus I have EVER been on. An 11 hour bus ride, almost all men and our three little tourist selves, and people so packed in that some people actually stood the entire ride. We discovered that we were in Morocco for the time of a special feast, when everyone is trying to return home to see their families and buses are full to the brim. We made it to Er Rachidia at 4:30am where we were immediately identified as tourists and talked into a taxi to Merzouga (the desert) instead of waiting in the freezing cold for a 7:30am bus. While waiting for the taxi, we bargained a hotel deal and a desert safari down from about $80 each to about $45. Gotta love the low season. :)

Our luxury acomodations in the middle of the desert!

So about 7:00am we arrived in Merzouga and slept for a few hours, then drank copious amounts of mint tea, which is delicious and full of sugar in Morocco, and then hopped on our camels and rode out into the sahara dunes for about 2 hours. We got to see the sunset and then feel, once again, the intense cold that followed. Luckily we were there with a small group, but all good people, so we had a fun time. It was the three of us, two Czech guys and then the 4 local guides. In the morning we were awoken early enough to watch the sunrise, then hop back on the camels and head back to our hotel (with hot water!)

Sunrise in the Sahara Desert

The following day we headed to Fes and wandered around the shops and the Medina.
This is just a glimpse of how incredibly crowded it can get. Locals are more than happy to help you get un-lost in the medina, for a price. Many offer to be your guide from the get-go, and will barely take no for an answer. They all say they aren´t doing it for money, but to practice their english, which is not true at all. We had fun though and saw a lot of cool things. I have to say, I enjoyed Marrakech better than Fes. It is much easier to manage and I think more interesting. So we spent one day in Fes and the following day was the actual feast-celebration that we had been hearing so much about. We passed people all day long carrying or carting their sheep (for slaughter) back to their homes. Some took the sheep in carts, some over their shoulders, and we even saw one guy with a sheep on his lap as he rode his scooter through town. Amazing that of all the sheep I saw, I think only one of them actually realized what was in store for it the following day.

We got two offers to go to spend the feast day with a Moroccan family, and were warned that everything in Fes would be closed that day anyway. So we ended up going to another local town about 20 minutes from Fes and spending the day with one of the guys we had met at the hotel in Merzouga. Rachid and his family were probably the nicest family on earth. They welcomed us into their home and fed us and fed us and fed us. Lucky for us, we arrived after the actual slaughter of the sheep too! We walked around town, got caught in a torrential downpour and were soaked through for the rest of the day. Remember, no heat in Morocco. We still aren´t really sure how in the heck those people stay warm. :)

Hassan, Rahima, a friend, me, Rachid(our host), and Alyson

Two train rides a ferry and a busride later, we arrived in Sevilla, Spain. Wow. What a difference! We had beautiful weather yesterday and today it is raining. Sevilla is beautiful, and has tons of streets lined with orange trees. It is really quite amazing. We will be here until Sunday morning, when we go back to Madrid and then fly to Paris. It is really nice to be somewhere kind of cold though, because it really makes it feel like Christmas finally. There are decorations everywhere and I have to say that I am pretty happy to be here. Also, it is really hard not to want to shop because every store is having Christmas sales and the stuff here is so cute! But alas, traveling with a backpack is keeping me a bit focused, although I admit to buying two pairs of shoes yesterday which I just couldn´t pass up! Between them and my rolling pin I think I have lost my mind! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

still alive and well in morocco

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I am alive and well here in Morocco but the internet is more difficult to access. I will blog as soon as I can to give you some updates about FINALLY getting out of the Madrid airport (more of a task than ever imagined) Makarrech, the night we just spent in the Sahara desert and Fes. Thing are cold but great. I can't wait to post some pictures!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

my second missed flight...

Who wants to be in Morocco when you can be stranded at the Madrid airport? Oh wait...just about everyone.

So, leaving Brazil proved a bit more adventurous than planned. Our last day was a comedy of errors, minus the comedy. Rahima's camera broke in Rio when it accidentally jumped out of my hand at a crowded party. So on Monday we began a mission to get it repaied, which led us all over Rio to various shops that either no longer existed, didn't have the necessary part, would need two days, or would cost an arm and a leg. Feeling responsible for the loss of picture taking ability, I decided I could live without my left arm, and we left the camera to be fixed. We attempted to meet our new friend Ana for lunch but somehow spent 45 minutes waiting without finding her...while she did the same without finding us. We then went to take a few last pictures, then hopped on a city bus to save a few cents instead of taking the subway. An hour later we arrived, only to find out that the lense they put in the camera wasn't compatible and therefore wouldn't focus. Translation: Rahima is still sans camera, but I have both arms.

So we rushed back to pack our things and catch the bus to the airport. Even with Daniel's explicit instructions, we caught the wrong bus and kept asking for directions to get to the right bus. Half the people had no idea where to send us and the other half gave such detailed directions that we had only the vaguest idea of what they werwe saying. So wander we did and just as we were about to give up, Rahima saw the bus passing us by. This sent us into a sprint, backpacks and all after the bus. Luckily for us the bus had a red light, so we caught up and got on.

This morning we landed in Madrid at 10am, and looked down to the floor below us to see Rahima's friend who was meeting us for our flight to Morocco. We waved at her, got our bags, and then stood in line to check in for our 12:20 flight. There were only 4 ticket windows open for a huge line, and a few times an Iberia representative would come by, calling out flights that were getting close and pulling people from the line. She didn't call our flight, but probably due to my recent flight history, I decided to ask anyway. She told me not to worry and to stay in line. About 15 minutes later (11:30ish) I noticed a couple who had made it to the ticket counter but were turned away and obviously very agitated. I went to the customer service area and asked what was going on and they said that our flight was now closed! I will try to spare you all the details here because I am still hot about the whole thing and those of you who really know mw know that is not a pretty place. Long story a bit shorter is that I will NEVER fly Iberia again. They could not be less helpful. We were two of at least six people who had been in line at least two hours proir to flight departure, as recommended. The others were pissed off too. I have been told ALL day long that it is not Iberia's fault that we all missed the flight. It is ours. I have argued furiously and then to the point of tears with about 7 people in person and countless more on the phone. There is apparently NO ONE who can rebook, refund, or offer another wauy to get to Morocco (where Rahima's friend now is) short of paying them $1000 US and flying Thursday night. I have filed two official complaints and we bought tickets with another airline for about $225. URGH!!!

Hopefully Alyson can disput the credit card charges and we can eventually recoup some of these ridiculous expenses. I spent over $20 in payphones today and we spent about $15 for 2 burgers and a soda at McDonalds. When people said Europe was going to be expensive I didn't think they meant the airport!

In any case, we are stuck here until 9:30 tomorrow morning. Somehow I think staying up all night in the Madrid airport will not be nearly as fun as in Rio. But maybe at least my delirium will make for good blog entries. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

rio de janeiro

Rio. Wow. I am currently running on about 3 hours of sleep which, to anyone who knows me, means I should be a walking zombie right now. Surprisingly though, I have been on sensory overload these past few days and I don't feel sleepy at all yet. I will now attempt to summarize the past few days.

So, aside from letting me cook Thanksgiving dinner and being an amazing host, he also has guitar hero. For those of you who don't know, it is a video game where you simulate playing a guitar to different rock songs. It is really fun and we all bonded over are varying abilities to rock out. :)

We also have recently discovered a fruit juice smoothie made from an amazon fruit called acai (pronounced a-sigh-ee). It is a deep purple in color and is delicious. It is full of energy and packed with all kinds of vitamins etc. All was well and good until we took a moment to look up the nutricional information online one night. In 100g of the stuff there is MORE than 500 calories and 35g of fat. Woah! But that's can't be worse than a cinnabon back home, right?

So, with all of this newfound energy we decided to try our luck at go-karting with some other members of the rio couchsurfing community. It was fantastic. The track is IN a big parking structure for a grocery store similar to a super walmart. So, in already humid Rio we suited up in go-kart armour, got some quick instructions on the 8 different colored flags they might wave at you during the race and their meanings, put us in the cars and off we went! About twenty minutes later we emerged from our cars, dripping in sweat. Humid Rio + go-karts in a poorly ventilated parking structure + plastic seats + pseudo ninja masks, helmets, gloves, neck support and a vest + 9 go-karts =some VERY sweaty kids! We all had fun though, minus Rahima who described the experience as "terrifying". Somehow I never realized go-karting was so strenuous. My arms are actually sore today!

Then the late night tradition continued the next night when we went to a samba school. Rahima was a little tuckered out so Daniel, Fau and I headed out to what I can only describe as the most energy-filled room I have ever been in. It was crazy and a total overload of the senses. We left about 2:30 or 3:00 and then I headed out to Ipanema to meet up with a friend from childhood (Jason. Yes, Galeria.) who now lives there and who I hadn't seen in over 10 years. (Am I really old enough to say I haven't seen someone for that long? Weird!). He is a pastry chef in Rio and totally understood my love for my solid wood rolling pin that I got in Peru the first week of my trip and haven't managed to mail home yet. I guess I don't pick the most sensible off all souveniers! But I digress. He showed me pictures of his two adorable little girls and we drank and talked and watched the sun come up until about 7am. Funny thing is, Ipanema is on the beach and up until that morning I hadn't even seen the beach because of the fog and rain. So on that particular morning from standing in one spot, I got to see the beach, the Christ up on the hill, sugarloaf, and Jason. Who knew about all of these good things that happen in the morning!?! Oh...probably those of you who don't usually sleep right through it like me! :) Needless to say, by the time I fell asleep at about 8:30am, I felt totally and completely content.

And it didn't stop there. I woke up a few hours later, feeling like a kid the first day of school. So, loving soccer I have always wanted to go see a game somewhere where soccer is REALLY appreciated. We tried to get tix in Argentina, but they were about $100. But in Brazil, we got them for about $15. Let me repeat that...I WENT TO A SOCCER GAME IN BRAZIL!!!! Daniel's team, Flamengo, was playing and it was awesome, even though the other team came back to tie it up on the end. I got a jersey straight off anmd by the end could even sing/chant along with some of the cheers. Fans are really fans there. They stand the whole game and cheer and cheer amd cheer. And they all do it together with coordinating hand movements and voices in synch...something we americans would never be capable of!

After the game, a bunch of us headed to a little local bar and enjoyed good company and a beer rocket on our last evening in Rio. I promise to put pics up soon, but at the moment this blog is all via blackberry. :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Microwave Thanksgving and Couch Surfing

Guess what? We ate a proper Thankgiving dinner last night!!! I couldn´t belive it, and yet was soooo happy.

So, as I said before, we just joined a non-profit online community called couchsurfing. It is basically a social network of like-minded individuals, many of them travelers themselves. In any case, you sign up with the intent of being some type of a host to others visiting your area. This could mean being able to meet them for coffee, sightseeing, or offering a place to stay...hence the name, couch surfing. You go through various levels of verification and vouching so that it stays really safe. So through my friend Chris (Young) we were put in contact with someone he knew here in Rio. She couldn´t host us, but knew of a friend on couchsurfing who was willing to host us for a few nights. Now, this is NOT a service for people who are looking for just a free place to stay. It is really a community of getting to know people. There is the benefit of getting a free place to stay. :)

So yesterday we came to Rio, and with very detailed directions from our host, Daniel, we were easily able to find his apartment. He has an extra room and is super friendly. So we told him all about Thanksgiving and asked if we could cook him a proper Thanksgiving meal. (You can cook or clean for your host to help them out a bit for having you stay with them). He walked us to the store and bought the ingredients we could find for candied sweet potatoes, stuffing (from scratch...no stouffers here!), chicken (quick substitute for turkey), green beans, and the fixings for deviled eggs. We walked back and he asked if there was anything I needed. I asked where the stove was. He told me he didn´t have one. At first I thought he was joking, but then he pointed to the microwave. Gotta love bachelors! :) Luckily, from my days in college, I do know how to cook a pretty damn good rotisserie chicken in a microwave, believe it or not. Never have I attempted stuffing or sweet potatoes though!

All in all, everything came out really yummy and Daniel invited another couchsurfing friend, Ana, to come join us too. We all gorged ourselves silly, in good old fashioned American tradition, and had a really nice time. And the great thing about this couchsurfing community is that our social calendar got filled up immediately. Tonight there is a CS birthday party for one of the local gals at a samba club in town. Tomorrow we might go to the beach, but I doubt it because the weather is so bad, but then a samba school possibly tomorrow night, and then Sunday Daniel is going to take us to a soccer game. Everyone is so willing to just show us around and they are so friendly.

So today Daniel went to work in the morning and Rahima and I went off to do some sightseeing. We went up to the Christ the Redeemer statue and the further up we got, the foggier and ranier it got. By the time we were literally standing underneath the Christ, we could barely see it at all! The fog would clear barely enough for us to make out the gargantuan statue, but we definitely did not enjoy the beautiful views looking back on the city itself, as seen in postcards! Oh well,

Me cooking dinner. Couldn´t be happier. Think that´s the Italian in me???

Me, Ana, Daniel, Rahima

Yummy. All this in a microwave?!?! :)

The Christ that people see on a sunny day. (This is a picture of a postcard. I cheated!)

The Christ that we saw. :(

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, I must admit that today I am a little jealous of everyone back home. One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving and I not only love the food, but I love to cook it too. So traveling is a bit different. Today it started raining again at the beach and we hopped on a bus to Rio. We joined an online network/community called couchsurfing, at the prompting of other travelers and good friends, and so instead of a hostel, we will be staying for the next few nights with a friend of a friend in Rio. I am hoping desperately that there is a good supermarket nearby and that after a quick trip there I can conjure up a few of our holiday favorites to enjoy and share. :)

Paraty...how cute!

Brazilians may not have Thanksgiving, but they do have the sweetest sweets in the world I think. I have been buying the brigadeiro from street vendors, which are chocolate balls of some mixture with sweetened condensed milk and some other sugary substances, covered in chocolate sprinkles. Aside from that, they have about a million cakes (which they also eat for breakfast) and coconut treats galore (many also consisting of combinations with condensed milk and dulce de leche). YUMMY! It is a wonder that Brazilians are not fat. Everything is so delicious if you have a sweet tooth like mine. :)

So we did finally get sun for two days in Paraty, and one of those days we took advantage of it right off and went on a boat tour of some of the nearby islands. We had a huge boat to ourselves and three other tourists, and we definitely got our share of sun. Good news is that I had bought some more sunscreen in Argentina. Bad news is I found out later that it is neither waterproof nor sweatproof. Luckily I caught it before I went from pink to lobster red, and the pink has now faded into a bit of a brown. Just right for before we head off to a winter in Europe!

We also met a lovely Irish gal, Amanda, who is on holiday in Brazil for another week or so, but who will be going home to Ireland for Christmas and offered to have us spend the holidays with her and her family in Cork, Ireland. How fun! I think we will definitely take her up on it, seeing as how holidays are always more fun if you are around a bunch of people, and Irish folks sure know how to enjoy themselves!

So on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things. I hope you all take a moment to realize how good we have it. :) Sending you lots of love and hoping you all eat a second helping of EVERYTHING in my honor...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

sunny days at the beach...

Well, maybe tomorrow will be better!
I'm certainly not getting a tan like this!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fog...at the beach???

So last night we went out with our new Brazilian friends. We started out at a bar and met up with the gal from the internet cafe and her friend, which was pretty funny considering the language barrier. Following in the footsteps of my dad, I am rapidly picking up the most important phrases necesary in Portuguese. I now can master things like, "do you speak English/Spanish", "Where is the ____________"(although the last part of that sentences is always the trickiest), "Waiter! One more beer please", and "No bill, please". Rahima and I spent Thursday morning memorizing the numbers in Portuguese, which has come in handy in a variety of situations. For example, I can order multiple beers, not just one now. :)

We ended up going to a club until way too early in the morning (Paulistas, or people from Sao Paolo tend to resemble Porteños, or people from Buenos Aires, in this regard, although I think that no one will ever really surpass the Porteños. I am not sure how any of these people function the next day.) We then got up and took a six hour bus ride to Paraty today, in anticipation of beautiful beaches here and some holding still and relaxing for a few days.

But alas, as we pulled into Paraty, we were surrounded by what can be best described as bay area fog, kind of drizzling all over. Hopefully the sun will shine on us in the next few days. Until then, we will find other ways to pass the time. There are a few local breweries in town, as well as many historical buildings. The town itself is lined with cobblestone streets and is very, very cute. Someone told us today that this used to be where the royal family would spend their summers. Can't wait to explore tomorrow, after a good night's sleep. For now, it's off to bed I go...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

voce fala ingles?

Well, it´s official. We are in a country where neither of us can communicate in an effective manner with the masses. It sure makes traveling different! We took a bus from Iguazu yesterday and got in to Sao Paolo this morning at 6am, totally exhausted. We opted for a cab to the hostel instead of the subway and a short walk, which was interesting to say the least. Spanish and Portuguese are totally different and reading Portuguese names with Spanish pronunciation can be more confusing than anything. So, our taxi driver, who was very, very nice, got totally lost and didn´t know where the street we were looking for was. 45 minutes and $25 US later, (there goes today´s budget!) we arrived, only to find out that there was no room at the hostel for us. We almost decided then and there to skip Sao Paolo altogether and head to a beach town for the next week. But alas, we called around, found a room, headed back out (this time to the subway), and to the other hostel. By the time we got there, it was about 8:30am, and we climbed into bed and feel asleep until about 2pm.

So now we are up and we took a walk around our hostel. We found this internet cafe and made a new friend in the gal who works here...her speaking no English or Spanish and us speaking no Portuguese. It started off kind of like this:

girl: (something in Portuguese)
us: blank stares
girl: (something else in Portuguese)
us: more blank stares
girl: (something in Portugues, this time slower and more enunciated)
us: blank stares accompanied by smiles, followed by pointing at the computer
girl: laughs at us
us: we laugh back, for lack of anything else to do or say
girl: gestures that she just had an idea and we should follow her. She then points to a sign, posted in English on the wall.

Apparently, there is a state law here that you need to have your passport (or at least the number) in order to register to use the internet. They take a digital photo of you and everything. So,we finally figured it out...got registered, and I think we might even have made a new drinking buddy in the process. :)

So all in all, we will be in Sao Paolo for a few days, then off to the beaches in Paraty, then on our way to Rio. Thanks again to everyone who posts comments on this thing...it´s nice to know people are reading it. You guys are the best! Love you all.

La Boca, Argentina

So on our last day Buenos Aires we went to the barrio of La Boca, which is a poorer area of the city, but is famous for el caminito, where there are many brightly painted buildings and lots of tango and music. It was pretty fun to walk around, and reminded me vaguely of my brightly painted kitchen, or the other colors I chose to use when painting my condo. :) Scary, right? There was a soccer game going on that day (the tix were really pricy so we are hoping to catch a game in Brazil instead) but it was really neat because you could hear the chants from the stadium as we were walking around. Soccer is no joke around here.

One of the great grafitti/art/murals in La Boca.

Me, happy to be surrounded by bright colors.

The amazingly painted corrugated aluminum buildings.

Sunset in the middle of Buenos Aires, looking at the obelisk, which I loved, Rahima hated.

And then we headed out to the bus station, for our 19 hour ride to the waterfalls of Iguazu. As we were walking down the street, I thought to myself...do I REALLY stand out as a tourist? You decide.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Iguazu Falls - Argentina

Just a glimpse of what fits into my camera frame of Iguazu falls.

Today we went to Iguazu Falls on the Argentina side. It was absolutely incredible. There is NO way a picture can even begin to capture what we saw today. (But of course, I am including a few of my feeble attempts!) Rahima got some video on her camera, which I hope to add later, but right now I have been at this internet cafe for almost an hour and have already had the comptuer crash on me twice and have yet to upload a picture. So I think I will have to wait for another day, and a faster connection.

The falls were (are) amazing. They are so loud and the sky actually looks like it was painted with little white clouds. There are thousands of butterflies everywhere and iguanas and coati mundis (kind of like small anteaters with cute racoon tails) running around too. It is hot and humid here, my favorite. (sarcasm intended) But when you get close to a lot of the falls you are covered, or should I say drenched, in the mist.

We are heading over to Brazil tomorrow. Originally we had planned on seeing the falls from the Brazilian side as well, but honestly we can´t imagine anything more breathtaking than what we saw today. So we might just head straight to Sao Paolo instead. We fly out of Rio on the 1st of December and we aren´t really sure what to expect from Brazil, besides everyone being incredibly good-looking. :)

MASSIVE amounts of water...

The little butterfly that landed on my hand.

Proof I am actually going to these places that I say I am going to! (Yes, the lady behind me is in a poncho due to the ridiculous amounts of spray coming up from the falls.)

Okay...look hard and you´ll see me. All the way to the right, arms spread open and reaching for the sky. So happy to be completely soaked by one of the waterfalls. Yipee!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Best dinner on the trip so far...

The best dinner we have eaten so far on this trip. La Cabrera Restaurant in Palermo. It was utterly incredible. We had read about it online and showed up at 8pm to eat. The host kindly told us that the restaurant didn't even open until 8:30. So we walked around some more and went back about 9:30pm. There was a hostess at the door who told us they were all full. We think this had something to do with the fact that we were clearly tourists, not dressed up and with backpacks. But she said we could wait and see if the next reservation didn't show, in which case we would be seated. She went to check on something and the original host from earlier saw us and asked if we wanted to be seated. Apparently he knew were the empty tables were! So we were seated and somehow during our ordering of wine and meals we received a lovely sampler platter "compliments of the kitchen". I think it was our fairy god-father host who felt badly about the snotty hostess. That or someone just royally screwed up in our favor. In either case...it was delicious! Excellent food...way too much of it. We couldn't finish the steak (that we SHARED) and brought it home. It was a lovely breakfast the next morning as we sat on the floor of the hostel. :)

Rahima attacking the best steak ever.

Beautiful Buenos Aires. This is the flower sculpture which is amazing. It opens each morning with the sunrise and closes each night. We haven't seen it at night yet and I hope we do before we leave.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Buenos Aires

Well, we made it back to the big city and are somewhat decompressing here. Our hostel is very basic and located in the city center. It is hot here, and so our hostel room, with no windows, is even hotter. To top it off, there is no airconditioning and the light in our room broke, so that we couldn't turn it off last night. Luckily, a) we were very tired and b) I had saved the little eye mask thing that we got from our very first flight over a month ago. I have never used one of those things before, but it proved very useful in the current situation. :)

We will stay in BA for the next few days and try to explore this very big, bustling city. Maybe we can even store up enough energy to try to hang with the BA nightlife scene. :)

It is really great that Obama won because now we feel proud to be American again. We have seen some interesting graffiti around BA and also in Santiago depicting how much the world hates Bush. It is pretty incredible. We have also experienced how happy, excited, hopeful people around the world are now that Obama will be president. It is pretty overwhelming actually.

Monday, November 10, 2008

tiene monedas?

okay...quick commentary on Argentina and the status of their crumbling economy. First of all, it is NOT as cheap down here as everyone has told us. Yes, it is cheaper than the US, but 10 dollars US does not take you through a few days of gourmet meals, sightseeing, and hotel stays. But you can get a pretty yummy pancho (hot dog) or even a super pancho for about 75 cents. Yummy.

But the funniest thing is that NO ONE in this country seems to have monedas, or coins. No one. Everywhere we go we hear, tiene monedas? They even have posted signs in all grocery stores, restaurants, etc, saying that by law, if the vendor does not have enough coins to give you back exact change then the amount charged must be rounded down in favor of the client.

So here is my question...if no one has coins...why isn't everything just rounded to the nearest peso to start off with? Oh wait...that is because certain things run ONLY on the use of coins. Like city buses. So if you don't have coins (or the ever popular city metro card that locals have) it is such a headache to ride a bus. Literally when we were in Mendoza we took a bus out to do the bikes and wine tour between the vineyards and trying to break a 2 peso bill into 2 peso coins was almost worth not returning to Mendoza centro at all. We went to about 5 different stores, and everyone looked at us sadly and said that they didn't have change.

I have asked a few Argentinos about this state of affairs, and my favorite of all the theories is that Argentines are secretly keeping 2liter coke bottles of coins at their houses, waiting for multiple coke bottles to be filled in order to cash them in at once and have a bunch of money. According to the government, there are approximately 250 monedas per Argentine, but that is definitely NOT the case.

Maybe this is the real reason their economy is collapsing...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Penguins and Whales

WOW, WOW, WOW. I have had a great last few days. We took a 24 hour bus ride from El Calafate up to Puerto Madryn, on the coast last Wednesday and got here on Thursday afternoon. This is a great place in Argentina for seeing wildlife, and there is a nature reserve called Peninsula Valdez. Rahima and I went running along the beach when we got here and we saw whales from the shore! They seemed to be so close. Apparently this is mating season for the right whales, so they are all over. It was pretty neat. Since we were still traveling with our newfound Canadian friend Ryan, we all decided that it was actually cheaper for us to rent a car for a few days and get around ourselves rather than paying for the all inclusive tours. Road trips are fun too.

So on Friday we went to Punta Tombo, which is the largest Magellanic Penguin rookery in the world. It was really, really, REALLY funny. They burrow in to the ground, so it literally looked like a landscape of whack-a-mole...well, whack-a-penguin I guess! Their little heads were just peeking out of these holes in the ground. You can walk around the rookery just peering in on sleeping penguins guarding their eggs (which will start to hatch next week or so...darn). Every five or six steps there are more penguins. It was really wild. They were just soooooo cute too. I loved it. I didn´t even mind the gale force winds that were around us.

Then, yesterday, we took the car to the nature reserve and went whale watching. Now, I have been whale watching before, and I know that you always see those really cool pictures in the whale watching shops where the whales are right next to the boats...but that once you pay to go whale watching you never, EVER see them that close up. Right? WRONG! We saw about 6 right whales, and they were literally just hanging around the boat, floating within feet of us. It was so incredible. The sound they make when they breathe is really something. I pretty much just wanted to push everyone else off the boat to get more pictures...but Rahima held me back. :)

Then we drove up to the north side of the peninsula where (supposedly) it is one of the only two places in the world where orcas will beach themselves trying to attack elephant seals and sealions. If you know me, you know I have always, ALWAYS wanted to see an orca, and have tried on several occaions to no avail. Well, this time, it was the same thing. Seals, but no orcas. :( I was a little bummed, but it was still pretty cool to drive out there and try. When I finally see an orca, it will definitely be worth it.

So all in all, it has been a great couple of days. Today we are going to get on another 18 hour journey via bus to go to Buenos Aires and be there for a few days...an hopefully escape for a quick mintue to go relax on a beach somewhere. Ryan left to go to Mendoza today, and he was seriously one of the funniest people we have ever met(he is totally the Canadian version of Joe). I think we will finally get a little break from laughing so much.

Argentina is great, but it has really been costing us a lot more than we thought to get around such a big country. I feel like you could easily spend 10 months in Argentina alone and barely get to know it. We have covered a lot of ground though and are having a great time, but we definitely miss the cheap bus rides in Peru. I can´t believe that in just a few short weeks we will have to leave South America. Time really does fly when you are having fun.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Glacier Perito Moreno

So today we had beautiful weather and we hiked ON Glacier Perito Moreno. It was absolutely amazing. Despite the 7am departure time. Isn´t it funny that only a few months ago that was commonplace, and now it seems so utterly exhausting to be up so early! What will I ever do when I go back into the working world??? Sorry to all of you who are reading this and are utterly despising me at the moment!

Originally we had tried to arrange the tour for Monday, but they only had one spot on the trip, (and us obviously not wanting to get separated again...) signed up for today´s tour instead. The good news is that yesterday it rained and showed all day long. Today was sunny and beautiful. It was actually even warm walking around on the glacier. As a bonus, we met two really funny Canadians who we ended up renting a car with yesterday and exploring the area a bit. We drove out to a lake about 60km from the town we are now in and had a picnic in the car. Yummy. Doesn´t get much better than hiding from the wind and cold, sharing a gourmet meal of bread, cheese, cold meats and wine. We then did a hike which felt like it was straight uphill forever in the rain and snow and COLD wind (I am making it sound a bit worse...but then again, I have been known to embellish a bit)...but it was cold. We had a blast though, and I can´t imagine laughing harder at some points. There were definitely tears of laughter, accompanied by spitting of food and beverages as well as some snorting.

Today we got up early, were picked up by the tour company and headed out to Glacier National Park. The glacier was absolutely amazing. First we drove to a vista and took some pictures. Amazing. Then we took a ferry across the lake and got closer to the glacier. More amazing. Then we got our crampons and hiked to and then ON the glacier, for about an hour, where we at lunch, and then headed back. It was really really really incredible. And I have the BEST travel buddy in the whole world. I think she described it kind of like having a panic attack at one point, considering she doesn´t like the idea of walking on ice, or trekking in the cold. Oops. But it was really really worth it, and when we at lunch, we even shared some ¨Baileys con Glacier¨, a drink Ryan invented to outdo the normal ¨Baileys on ice¨. Yummy. And warm.

So now, I am utterly exhausted, and trying to download a few pictures for you all, while following the latest election updates. I hope this all comes together! Tomorrow we will be on a long busride up to puerto madryn, on the west coast, where we will eventually do some whale watching and penguin watching. I can´t wait. For that, and a finding a big pot of money to pay for all of these excursions. Can someone say budget? love you all. :)

Glacier Perito Moreno (I am learning to play with my camera settings...how fun!)

Ants marching... These are the members of another trekking group on the glacier. Look how small they look!

The liquid and frozen water form these little frozen pools that look like you should just fall right through. Standing on water as blue as could be. Amazing.

A little artsy, just for fun.

The four stooges...

Beautiful Tuesday.