Travel Tuesday: Continental Cuisines

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone!! This week features a themed prompt on the best and worst cuisine abroad. However, instead of daring to make any judgment calls for anyone else on this one, I’m gonna go with my personal favorite and least favorite cuisines (’cause I’m so PC like that…smile). Each continent has so many different countries with so many varied traditions that it’s difficult to narrow down my preferences to any one type of food. However, out of the four continents I’ve landed on so far…

Favorite Continent for Cuisine: Europe

Seafood Temple, Oban, Scotland, UK

Best Seafood Ever – Oban, Scotland

Some of my most memorable meals have been in Europe. I still dream of brats in Germany, seafood in Scotland, pasta in Italy, and the OMG pastries in France. But my absolute favorite is pretty much everything I had in Greece. Of all the European countries, Greece was one of the most surprising in terms of amazing food. I didn’t even realize until that trip that I even liked Greek food! Now I’m constantly on the hunt for the most legitimate Greek restaurants on this side of the Atlantic (smile). I never realized what a pale imitation most places here in the U.S. really are until I went abroad. Perhaps there’s just something in the heart and tradition of a place that doesn’t quite translate in our frenetic pace here. It certainly makes those truly authentic places that much better when I find them!

Least Favorite Continent for Cuisine: South America

Ecuador, pineapple

Pineapple in the front yard

Okay, so it’s no secret that South America and I did not get off to the best start. But all other experiences aside, I have to say that the food I had while traveling around South America was the most disappointing in terms of expectations.  I only visited 3 countries, but all of them focused largely on meat – and more meat. Luckily I had expected that going in, but it was still a hard hit to my semi-vegetarian body. I was also surprised at the lack of spice in most foods. You could spice it up yourself, but it rarely seemed to come that way. I will say this much though, the fruits and the chocolate were absolutely amazing! I’m hoping that somewhere in the future there’s another opportunity for me to give the continent – and some of the other local cuisines – a second chance.

What’s your favorite/least favorite cuisine??


Come join Bonnie and her co-hosts Courtney, Cynthia, and Yalanda for more fun adventures!!

Travel Tuesday

Travel Tuesday: Travel Animals

 

Happy [Travel] Tuesday!! I had originally planned on sharing a bit of Yellowstone today, but I may have gotten a little carried away with photo ops during the trip and there’s a small chance that it may take me a bit longer to sort through/process the best ones (only the best for you guys after all – smile). Since a large portion of Yellowstone is the animals themselves, I thought it would be fun to share a few snapshots of the animals I’ve met throughout my travels. Some are pretty, some are just pretty scary, but they are all pretty cool (smile).

North America

South America

Southeast Asia

What’s your favorite animal encounter??


Come join the fun with BonnieKaeleneSammy, and Van!!

Travel Tuesday

Weekly Photo Challenge | Calle de la Ronda

This week’s photo challenge is “street life.” I love wandering down streets in new cities/towns. A simple stroll can give you so much insight on the place where you are, and sometimes, if you’re paying close attention, the people too. For this challenge, I decided to go with the first photos that came to mind – these taken in the Calle de la Ronda in Quito, Ecuador. We arrived January 2nd to a city that was still in the post-New Year’s coma. The decorations were still up and the world was newly beautiful, but so very quiet…

 

Calle de la Ronda, Quito, Ecuador

Calle de la Ronda, Quito, Ecuador

Looking back, I’m glad we got to see it when and as we did. It’s normally a bustling area popular with the tourists. Quito’s old town was one of the very first UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and it’s very apparent why it made the list, especially in this neighborhood.

Travel Tuesday – Ecuador

Continuing our tour of South America for this week’s Travel Tuesday linkup – let’s go to Ecuador!

After we left Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (see Part 1 and Part 2), my travel buddy and I flew to Quito, Ecuador. We chose Ecuador primarily because it was a cheap plane ticket from Brazil, the currency was in U.S. dollars, and we knew it was big on eco-tourism. Beyond that I’m ashamed to say we really didn’t know a whole lot about the country itself.

The City of Quito is the highest capital city in the world and also one of the first designated World Heritage Sites. The historic center of Quito has one of the best preserved historic centers in the Americas. The equator is actually located about 16 miles north of the city center, but we were unfortunately unable to go check that out. We spent most of our time in Quito in the city center checking out the multitudes of monumental buildings. Upon arriving in the city we were instructed to read some of the travel warnings for tourists in the area by what I’m sure was a well-meaning compatriot; however, it really only served to scare us – especially coming off the heels of some less than savory run-ins in Rio. Apparently Ecuador as a whole has some difficulties with robberies, especially with taxi drivers. So we decided to stay within walking distance of our hotel just to be safe.

Luckily we picked up a very nice older gentleman on one of the squares who kindly took us around the historical center and explained the highlights of all the wonderful buildings and churches. He had lived in Colorado for some years so he spoke pretty good English. He asked for a rather generous “donation” at the end of his tour, but we figured all things considered that was fair enough. He did a great job and deterred any would be miscreants.

The buildings in Quito truly are spectacular. The size, details, and preservation of the many church buildings was beyond amazing. I’ve traveled to many places around the world and seen a lot of churches (I have a thing for any sort of religious building – church, temple, mosque, etc. etc. etc.), but these were some of the most unique I’ve ever explored. In truth I wish we’d had more time to spend in each one.

After Quito we took a very nerve-wracking bus ride along some incredibly winding roads to Tena, Ecuador. The scenery was breath-taking (and a great distraction from the driving)!

We booked a 3-day adventure tour with Amarongachi tours, which included 3 fully days of activities and two nights in a lodge in the middle of the jungle. It was far and away the highlight of our South American adventure.

From Tena we took a very long and very scary bus trip down to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The drive is along the edge of volcanoes, lasts somewhere between 6-10 hours (on a bus without bathrooms no less), and is probably not the smartest options for two foreign girls all by themselves. The bus driver was pretty nice and made sure we were near the front and looked after. It still made for a very long trip. The travel warnings we’d read indicated that we should not take a taxi in Guayaquil under any circumstances unless it was specifically hired by our lodging. Considering we arrived at the bus station somewhere around 2am, well….we were sort of at a loss as to what to do. After napping in the bus station for a while we grew desperate enough to ask a guard to hire a taxi for us. Luckily we went straight to our hostel and were able to get a nap and a shower. We hit the boardwalk in Guayaquil, but that was about all we had time for. It was a beautiful city and I’m sorry we didn’t get to see more. Maybe next time – it’s also the general starting point for the Galapagos tours, and I’m definitely going there some day (smile).

Travel Tips for Ecuador:

    • Visa – None needed.
    • Lodging – Choose a location near the areas you want to see. This cuts down on taxi adventures. Make sure you have your lodging arrange for your pickup and drop off to avoid any misunderstandings. Most of the eco-tours in the country include some form of lodging, so be sure to research this when booking companies.
    • Language – Most people in Ecuador do speak Spanish as their primary language; however, we found quite a few that spoke English and were happy to practice both their English and our Spanish with us. We got by on rudimentary high school Spanish okay.
    • Money – US dollar. Note that there are not a lot of ATMs or banks with normal operating hours in the historic districts. Be sure to carry small bills with you or get enough out all at one go.
    • Street smarts – We didn’t run into any trouble walking around the cities or the countryside in Ecuador, but we did meet quite a few other travelers who did. Almost all of their stories involved taxi drivers. Be very wary of picking up random taxis – aim for the designated yellow cabs and try to use the ones arranged by your lodging whenever possible.
    • Getting around – The roads in Ecuador are passable, but very curvy and very dangerous. We stuck to the bus option as it was most efficient, but be warned that they are not necessarily the most comfortable. You can rent cars or hire a driver to take you from place to place for reasonable prices, but be sure to book through a reputable company. Direct flights from Quito to Guayaquil are quite reasonable if you are looking to go from A to B.
A Compass Rose

Travel Tuesday – Rio de Janeiro (Part 2)

Last week we explored the tourist side of Rio de Janeiro. This week I want to highlight some of the neighborhoods in the city. Rio is one of the largest cities in Brazil, second only to Sao Paolo. Most of the hilltop neighborhoods in Rio are favelas, unsanctioned shantytowns that boast the poorer populations. Ironically, these portions of the city also boast the best views and sadly the most crime. The government has undertaken a campaign to clean up these areas ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, but they are still not areas you want to wander into without a guide.

We really only got to properly explore a few of the neighborhoods during our week in Rio. There are so many to choose from depending on what you’re interested in – from the shopping and beaches of Leblon and Copacabana to the more artsy Santa Teresa – there is literally something for everyone!

Centro

Centro is the historic core of Rio, as well as its financial center. The neighborhood is a mixture of commercial and historic buildings, which makes for a really interesting stroll. The historical buildings are simply gorgeous – it almost felt like we were in Europe! The churches were especially stunning and unexpected for the commercial district.

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One of the Cathedrals in Centro

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One of the original cathedral doors

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Just an average street in Centro

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Monastery of Sao Bento

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I love taking pictures of doors 🙂

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Lapa

Lapa is located in the more central part of modern Rio and is famous for its historical monuments and nightlife. We walked around the neighborhood briefly on our way back from Centro, but decided to catch a bus back to Botafoga after witnessing a couple having their camera stolen by some street kids.

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Roman aquaduct

Lapa street art

We returned to Lapa later in the week for a little samba dancing with a group from our hostel. We ended up branching off with some of the girls in our room who had a local contact, so we definitely got the local experience. The club was hot, sweaty, and all sorts of fun (big smile). As a word of warning to the ladies, well, it is samba. Dancing with a guy, even samba, is perfectly acceptable. Accepting a drink or making out, however, is apparently the equivalent of agreeing to go home with the guy. And the boys seem to take that very seriously. Just fyi. My group had a great time though and danced our little derrieres off! Unfortunately on our way back to the hostel, while trying to find a cab, a street kid literally ran up and snatched my necklace off of me while his friend tried to grab my friend’s purse. Luckily she was able to hold on it and the boy let go. Neither of us saw them coming or going – and we were walking in a group of 6+ people. Just a head’s up – leave the extras in lockup. If you can’t tuck it in somewhere, it’s not worth taking.

Our lovely Argentinian roomates (I’m the stand alone blonde)

Botafoga

We stayed in a hostel in Botafogo, which was a small middle-class type neighborhood. There were a lot of hostels, small art galleries, and tourist shops. It was quiet and we didn’t feel threatened after dark. Turns out that means a lot in Rio.

Beaches – Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana

I think it’s safe to say that most of our time was spent at the beaches – duh! it’s Rio! We walked up and down the beaches perching along the way to people watch. The people watching rumors are totally true – lots of beautiful people and very tiny swimsuits (smile)! It’s very easy to rent umbrellas and there’s inevitably a stall nearby selling coconuts and beer. There are also a lot of vendors who walk up and down the beach offering massages, various goods, etc.

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Sand castles!

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We spent New Year’s Eve on Copacabana beach with several million of our closest friends. The tradition is to wear white and bring booze to share. The streets in and out of the beaches are closed to traffic, so you either have to get a ticket on the metro way ahead of time or walk. Be prepared. There’s always a huge concert on the beach and the year we were there we got to see David Guetta, which was of course cool. My travel buddy is one of those people that makes friends with everyone, so she had a great time. I was a little more busy trying not to freak out about the crowd (it was a tiny bit claustrophobic). Did I mention it was also raining? Oh well, it was a once-in-a-lifetime NYE – from the incredible off shore fireworks display to the all night beach party with some amazing people. I don’t regret any of it – well, except having to be at the airport at 8am the next morning for our flight to Ecuador. Oops!

Getting geared up for the NYE celebration

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Main stage

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Fireworks ships

Staking territory on Copacabana

Happy New Year!

Overall Rio de Janeiro was a beautiful destination and most definitely an adventure! From the sky-high attractions to the lovely neighborhoods, there is something for everyone and more than enough to keep you entertained. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in visiting Brazil, just remember to pack your street smarts (smile)!

A Compass Rose

Travel Tuesday – Rio de Janeiro (Part 1)

Let’s go to Rio! Little did I know what an epic journey those four little words would launch. So epic in fact, that I’ve decided to split this into two posts, just so I can use more photos (smile).

My travel buddy and I knew we wanted to go to South America, we just weren’t sure where exactly. One of my life goals is to set foot on all 7 continents and to see all 7 natural wonders of the world (I have a serious thing about lists). Since the Harbor at Rio is one of the natural wonders of the world and it happens to be located in South America (a continent previously undiscovered by yours truly) it seemed perfect! There’s just something so satisfying about marking multiples off in one swoop, you know?

When we first started planning this adventure we knew we wanted to go to at least a couple of countries. For a while we were thinking Buenos Aires, Argentina with a layover in Iguacu Falls, but alas that itinerary sadly turned out to be beyond our trip budgets. So we landed on Ecuador – but that’s a story for another post.

Rio, rio! The great lady of Carnival, Copacabana, and the Girl from Ipanema. And did I mention we were going to be there for NEW YEAR’S?! Yep, we’re ambitious.

I’m not normally too particular about hotels, but as a word of caution for anyone considering a trip to Rio in the future, check the hotel location. Then go to another website and check it again. Then maybe just one other just to be safe. We ended up booking a hotel near Leblon, which is actually a super high-end shopping area with beach front property. However, after a very long plane trip (PHX – MIA – SCL – RIO), and a bus ride through dark streets we arrived at the bus stop in front of our hotel. It doesn’t bode well when the bus driver doesn’t seem to want to let you off the bus. Turns out the hotel was on the edge of Leblon in a favela (read sketchy). Nice. It also sold rooms by the hour, had mirrors on the walls and the ceiling, and had nothing but porn on the tv. I think you get the idea. Luckily I’ve developed a habit of carrying along an extra bedsheet and camping blankets (you can never be too prepared…), so we made it through the night. We stayed mostly because we didn’t know where else to go. And it was dark. And we were tired.

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Purposefully blurry…no need to look too closely here

First thing the next morning we tracked down El Misti hostel in the Botafogo neighborhood. Sharing a room with 10 other girls and 2 showers with 20+ other people…MAJOR UPGRADE! In all seriousness, it wasn’t a bad deal. The hostel was clean, had free wifi, offered all sorts of cool tours, and had a great crowd. The food was pretty good too. If you’re going on a budget, the Botafogo area is apparently one of the best areas for hostels – and I actually recommend them.

SO, after we got the sleeping situation figured out, we set about seeing Rio. For this post we’ll just focus on the tourist attractions. Next week we’ll explore some of the lovely (and sometimes not so lovely) neighborhoods of Rio.

Corcovado – Christ the Redeemer

No trip to Rio is complete without a trip to see Christ the Redeemer (or Cristo Redentor). You can pretty much see this guy no matter where you are in the city. We actually waited til the last possible moment to go up Corcovado (where the statue is located) because of the cloud cover. He would peek out at times, but rarely stayed out of the clouds for more than half an hour – super frustrating. So we finally decided to make a go for it and make the best of the clouds. To get up to the statue you can either walk up the footpaths or take the train. The train was a bit…well, nerve-wracking. It’s an old system that more or less goes straight up a very tall hill. At certain points you have to stop to allow the trains going back down to pass. There were performers on our train that tried to distract us, but I admit to being more concerned about the brake system than the drummer (for once!).

Going up the mountain to see Cristo

Once you get to the top there are two platform levels and quite a few stairs. But the views are AMAZING! Unfortunately we didn’t have many clear shots of Cristo himself, but you can kind of see him through the clouds. He’s as impressive as the Statue of Liberty or the Vulcan or any other large statue, but honestly I think most of the “presence” if you will is in seeing the statue from various points around town. It really does feel like he’s watching over you.

Cristo Redentor (thru the fog)

From the lower platform, back view

View from the top

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Such an amazing city!

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Beautiful, even if a little overcast (smile)

Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar)

We actually walked to Sugar Loaf Mountain from our hostel. The surrounding neighborhoods are quite nice and so it was pleasant to check out some of the local homes and schools. There was a very long line to buy tickets for the cable car when we got there, but we stuck it out (thankful for ice cream vendors). There are two summits to Sugar Loaf Mountain accessible by two separate cable cars. I have a love/hate relationship with heights and lifts and planes and well you get the point, but I made it to the top. The views of the city were absolutely AH-mazing! It’s also a good location to see the harbor at Rio (check) if you don’t have time for a proper trip up into Guanabara Bay.

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Ground level view

Tram

They look way smaller from the ground

Summits

The two summits

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The pods hold b/w 25-30 people

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View from the top

Cristo

The Cristo statue is over on that hill in the clouds

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Looking down to the first summit

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Copacabana beach

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Leading in to the Harbor at Rio

Both Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain are tourist destinations and neither experience is cheap. At the bottom of Corcovado you’re practically ambushed with options to get to the top, but I strongly recommend you take the tram to be safe. It’s the official method to get up there. Sugar Loaf Mountain is a great deal calmer, but I do recommend buying tickets ahead of time so you can skip the line. Otherwise arrive early or be prepared to stand in the sun. With those disclaimers I have to say both are worth the time and effort to see. They provide the best views of Rio and it’s amazing to see the patchwork of the different neighborhoods. And once you’ve seen how they all relate to each other, it gives you a good sense of where you are when you’re down exploring those neighborhoods – bonus!

Now for a few hard-learned travel tips for traveling to grand ol’ Rio:

Travel Tips:

    • Visa – You do need a visa to go to Brazil from most countries, and it’s not one you can get when you arrive. If traveling from the US, you have to send your passport to a Brazilian embassy and pay approx $150. We had to use a service to process the visa which was an additional fee.
    • Lodging – Do your research! In Rio it’s all about location, location, location!
    • Language – They speak Portuguese. We found very little English and only slightly more Spanish. Despite being surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries, Brazil is very proud of its native tongue. The locals don’t necessarily go out of their way to learn any others.
    • Money – Brazil uses reals. Make sure you only use credit cards or ATMs inside of the bank. My travel buddy and I both had our debit cards jacked while we were there and we’ve heard from friends we made while there that they had similar experiences. But that’s more our fault for not being smarter about it.
    • Street smarts – There are a lot of street kids that tend to follow tourists around and pick off whatever they can grab. We saw a couple of people lose cameras, I lost a necklace, and my travel buddy almost lost her purse on separate occasions in different areas. Be aware at all times!
    • Getting around – We actually used the bus system the entire week we were there, except for a couple of taxi trips. The buses are easy to navigate, clean, cheap, and generally on time. We had no issues. The taxi drivers were very nice but none of them spoke English and minimum Spanish. Yay charades (and lots of pointing)! The prices were fair though and they were efficient.
A Compass Rose