A day in Lake Como

I’m in Italy at the moment, visiting my family who are currently living in the suburbs of Milan. This is super exciting because I’ve never been to Milan before, and even more exciting because of all of the possibilities for day trips!

I had no idea how well connected Milan is to so many beautiful places in Italy. I guess it isn’t surprising, since its hard to go more than five minutes in Italy without stumbling across something beautiful.

Mum and I have been looking into all of the possibilities for adventures around here, but the one place I was insistent upon visiting while I’m here is Lake Como. Its always been a place of far off glamour to me; I never intended on being there, it was for George Clooney’s holiday home and Chrissy Teigen’s wedding. But its only about an hour’s drive from here, so all of a sudden it became a possibility.

My biggest discovery upon planning this trip was that Lake Como wasn’t one place, but rather a huge lake surrounded by lots of different towns with different things to see. In hindsight this is kind of obvious, but it certainly made the plan for a single day a lot more difficult. There was no way we could see everywhere in one day, and we didn’t want to be rushed. Lake Como feels like a place of leisure, for strolling along cobbled streets and sipping endless glasses of wine without care.

We decided to drive to Bellagio in the morning, then catch a ferry across the lake to Varenna, and drive home from there. I was intent on spending part of the day truly on the lake rather than observing from the shore, so the discovery that we could take a ferry and keep the car with us really freed up the day.

The drive to Bellagio is a stressful experience. The last twenty minutes of road are along the edge of the lake, against the edge of a cliff. Its an incredible view, as a passenger. As a driver, its a fight for the available space on the road against oncoming traffic and a startling number of cyclists.

Its worth it though. Bellagio is picturesque. The lake is beautiful, and surrounded by towering mountains on every side. It feels like luxury.

 

We parked on Lungolago Europa, which was perfectly placed to drive onto the ferry later, and walked along the lake with an amazing view of the town. We stopped for coffee at the very first place we could find (the drive was stressful), before heading into the town to wander.

Bellagio is a classic Italian hillside town, with little cobbled alleyways and long stairway paths. It truly is just a place to wander aimlessly. We took turns with the kids choosing the directions, with nothing to lose because it was gorgeous in every direction, and just enjoyed the morning getting lost and popping into boutiques along the way. Its interesting that Bellagio is swarming with tourists, even on a weekday, but it doesn’t feel overly touristy. The stores are all local businesses selling luxury items that I could never afford, but swooned over regardless.

 

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The town isn’t too big, so our exploration meant that we could choose from the restaurants we had seen along the way. The small family restaurants hidden along the hills had incredible menus, but the bigger, slightly more commercial restaurants were right along the lake. Since we were only there for a day, we wanted to spend as much time gazing at the lake as we could. We opted to eat at the Hotel Metropole Bellagio, which  has a beautiful shaded balcony overlooking the lake. Even though I usually stay away from seafood, I tried the tortellini with whitefish from the lake for the real Lake Como experience and I was happy with my choice. Mum and I shared some wine, and we chilled out surrounded by flowers and mountains and the lake.

 

Another notable feature of Bellagio – when we ventured out of the labyrinth of streets a little, we found a little chapel and a beautiful park. Parco Martiri Della Libertà descends down the hill with manicured gardens, a little playground, lots of benches, and views of the lake. It was such a peaceful space away from the tourists, with plenty of space to bask in the sun and/or hide in the shade.

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After lunch we caught the ferry to Varenna, and I am so glad that we did. Driving or catching the train to these towns is fine, but there is really nothing like the feeling of sailing up to a view like that. It has a magical kind of feel, like arriving at Hogwarts across the water.

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The ride Bellagio and Varenna is only about twenty minutes because they meet at one of the narrowest parts of the lake, and we parked easily as we got off the ferry. And again, we began to wander. We followed the path that leads around the edge of the water, through little bridges and tunnels along the cliff edge. Varenna is a lot quieter and more relaxed than Bellagio; the kids kept mistaking it for an island, and it really felt as isolated and peaceful as that.

One of my favourite things about Como was how colourful it all was. There were flowers everywhere, I guess because I visited in June. Along with the colourful buildings and the sunshine sparkling on the lake, the colours of the flowers lit up the towns.

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After some gelato we continued to explore, and scattered throughout Varenna we found small pebble beaches to paddle in the water, restaurants hidden on cliff edges overlooking the water, and little chapels standing in courtyards.

 

We didn’t have as much time to explore Varenna as I would have liked, but we needed to drive back to Milan. I saw enough to understand the beauty of Lake Como, but I can absolutely understand why people come for weeks or even buy holiday homes here. Lame Como truly is a place to chill out, spend endless hours basking in the sun, drinking wine, and marvelling at the beauty and luxury.

 

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21 Hours in Dubai

I should use this time in yet another airport Starbucks to write my thesis, but Nursel reminded me that I have a travel blog and a lot of upcoming travel, and maybe I should return to that.

I’m on my way to Italy for a few months, and its impossible for me to fly across the world and not stop in Dubai for just a little while. I went to high school here, and my best friend’s family still live here, so I love to come say hi and break up a 24 hour flight at the same time.

This time, I was literally here for 21 hours, and its Ramadan and 43 degrees. But when you know Dubai as well as me and my bestie do, you know how to make the most of it.

I arrived at 1pm, so Nursel and I spent out first few hours hiding away from the midday heat and letting me recover from the flight in bed watching Friends. Then, we made our way into the world.

First stop, always: Dubai Mall. This is the biggest shopping mall in the world, and used to be my local. Honestly, one of the main reasons Dubai is known for its shopping is just because the air-conditioned buildings are the only way to escape the heat. As a bonus, the malls are gorgeous and ridiculous and somehow renovated and different every time I’m here. The best new addition is the Apple Store in Dubai Mall, which has literally the best location in all of Dubai. Its a two story store, with floor to ceiling glass windows and a balcony overlooking the Dubai Fountains and the Burj Khalifa. It is gorgeous, and even if you have no plans to buy a new iPhone it is basically the best view in Dubai.

Ramadan in Dubai is slightly different now than when I lived here. Previously, only a very select few eateries had permits to open during the day, and even then they had to seriously hide away and keep it behind closed doors. This year, it felt like everyone had the permit and the doors were propped open. Regardless, you still cannot eat or drink in the open until sunset. So slightly before iftar, as Nursel’s energy began to fade, we sought out somewhere fun to eat.

We really wanted to sit outside along the fountains, but none of the restaurants had anything that interests us. Instead we ended up inside the mall at Wagamama, where the iftar specials left us with way more incredible food than we could have planned for. I haven’t had duck pancakes in so long, and they’re better than I remember.

Because time isn’t real, especially when you’re travelling and/or its Ramadan, 9pm seemed like the perfect time for a caffeine boost. We ended up at %Arabica, which has the best insta-aesthetic and a famed Spanish Latte that is strong and sweet like a Vietnamese coffee.

A trip to Dubai is not complete without watching the fountains. They are the largest choreographed dancing fountains in the world, and a different show plays every half an hour. They’re entirely ridiculous, and absolutely amazing. The newer addition is the full light show that lights up the Burj Khalifa, which is also an incredibly ridiculous and impressive feat.

After standing in the middle of the night heat for a while, we needed to return to the air-conditioned house and relax. But I couldn’t leave without going to beach, even if it was the middle of the night.

Dubai has so much awesome beach, and so many awesome restaurants, but it often struggles to combine those two things. SALT is the exception, a wagyu beef burger place on the beach, where the tables are literally in the sand. Its the best of Dubai – the great food, the beautiful beaches, and the trendy aesthetics. So at midnight, we sat in the sand and ate fries and struggled to eat the ice cream before it melted in the 35 degree heat.

I have a lot to say about Dubai, but this flying stop was truly all of my favourite Dubai absurdities. I love the glamour, I love the good food, I love the absurdities, and I love seeing my best friend when we manage to be in the same country for a few hours. Thanks for the trip babe xo

 

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How to Travel Colombia Alone, as a Blonde Woman with a Fractured Foot

(Disclaimer: this post was written 6 months ago, on flights between Colombia and the US. When I came home from exchange, I forgot I hadn’t posted any of these yet.)

(Disclaimer 2: due to an incident unrelated to the fractured foot, I lost my phone whilst in Santiago. As a result, I have minimal and somewhat low quality photos of my travels in Colombia. Just imagine everything a little more colourful, and a little less pixelated.)

I did not plan on beginning my two months of post-exchange travel with a fractured foot. That was definitely not the plan. But two days before my flight out of Santiago, I slipped on the stairs after a despedida (goodbye party) and fractured my foot. And so, I began my travels with the added challenge of a heavy boot and intermittent pain.

On the upside, it gives my blog post a specific perspective. How to Travel Colombia Alone, as a Blonde Woman with a Fractured Foot.

The first thing I discovered is that everyone is incredibly nice about it. Travelling Latin America while blonde results in a lot of street harassment, catcalling, whistling, and my darker haired friends have been worried about me alone in Colombia. But the calling out on the street in Colombia has been more of a “ah pobrecita, ¿qué pasó?” (You poor thing, what happened?) rather than anything sexual or objectifying. Its sweet! I’m enjoying the shift in vibe.

I originally booked my tickets for a 5 day stop over in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, on my way to the US. However, after 5 minutes of research I discovered that Bogotá is definitely not the best that Colombia has to offer. Its not the prettiest, safest, or sunniest – all things that are important to me. So I added budget domestic flights to Cartagena for three days, and limited my time in Bogotá to two half-days at the beginning and end.

I arrived in Bogotá on a Saturday afternoon, and found the entire city cloaked in rain and fog. From what I had read, this wasn’t surprising, as Bogotá hovers at 20 degrees with rain year-round. However, the fog made it harder to see any of the city and the rain (along with cute cobbled streets and lots of hills) made it a challenge to walk around at all with the boot.

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However, I still managed to explore a bit of the city. I stayed in La Candelaria, the historic centre of the city. It has cobbled streets, colourful houses, and historic buildings. I just walked around a bit to get my bearings and see the area, and I found beautiful churches, a plaza swarmed with pigeons, and a little shop selling homemade pastries. The man who worked there was lovely, and let me try a Colombian drink called ….. something he definitely told me and I cannot remember (oops) and a chocolate pastry while his little cat watched on.

The next day I hopped on an early morning domestic flight to Cartagena. And damn, that city is hot. But not hot in a Dubai way, more so in a Bali way – tropical and humid and sticky. I love summer and heat, so I just immediately accepted that my hair was going to be frizzy and my face make-up free, and enjoyed it. But if you don’t enjoy the heat, Cartagena in the summer wouldn’t be enjoyable.

Also, the boot made it worse. It almost reaches my knee, and wraps my leg up tight, so it really conserves heat. I didn’t stop sweating the whole time I was there. It was pretty gross.

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Cartagena is a port city on the Caribbean coast, but the main drawer is the historic walled city. I stayed in a hostel just outside the wall, in the Getsemani neighbourhood. Apparently Getsemani used to be a dangerous (and somewhat brothel-filled) neighbourhood, but now its full of bars, cafes, and street art.

On safety in Colombia, I didn’t feel unsafe at any point in Cartagena. Obviously, I was careful; I didn’t walk around by myself at night, I didn’t carry my passport or credit card with me, I didn’t flash valuable items on the street. But even so, the historic area is just a chilled out touristy town. I heard of rougher areas out by the metropolitan area, but the historic town seemed low-key and everyone I met was lovely.

When I was researching what to see and do in Cartagena, I was frustrated to see it repeatedly described as the “ultimate walking city”. And to be fair, it definitely is. The historic centre is mostly closed to cars, so all there is to do is wander around the streets, find the brightly coloured houses, and the balconies covered in flowers, and cute shops, and churches and historical monuments. Normally, that would be my dream holiday. Under these circumstances, slightly less ideal.

But I persevered. After over-exerting myself on the first day, I managed to learn my limits. I would explore for about an hour, and then find a cafe or somewhere to sit and refuel. Particular shout out to Ceiba Juice Bar in Getsemani, for providing good coffee and a cute window with a breeze to spend afternoons reading and chilling out.

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I visited the Church of San Pedro Claver, an 18th century priest who is known for his work with slaves and human rights. Historically Cartagena served as a a slave port, and Pedro Claver was a monk in the 17th century who dedicated his life to carrying for the slaves who passed through the city. The convent has been converted into a museum, not only exploring the history of San Pedro but also modern human rights struggles.
I also visited el Palacio de la Inquisición, which also serves as the National History Museum in Cartagena. This is the building where the trials of the Inquisition took place, and none of the accused were found innocent. Aside from its historical importance, the building is also beautiful and is considered one of the best examples of Colombia’s colonial architecture. The museum isn’t free, but I had the same surname as one of the girls at the desk, and after chatting about the weirdness of the coincidence, they never took my money. I did however pay for an audio guide, which was very cool and interactive and taught me lots of cool stuff. However, the museum has so much information on the signs in each room that it probably wasn’t worth the money. (Note: most of the information is in Spanish, whereas the guide can be bought in English).

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In Cartagena, the sun sets early but the nights stay warm, so people take to the streets in the evenings. The fractured foot meant that partying wasn’t going to happen, but I spent a lovely chilled out evening with people from the hostel just sitting in the plazas drinking cheap beer and chatting to other people hanging out.

After three days in Cartagena, I flew back to Bogota. I had one (blissfully rain-free) morning to see the essentials, so I woke up early and walked around everything I could manage. I went to the Botero Museum; I don’t really understand art, and yet I continue to go to art museums, usually when they’re free and somewhat quirky, which this was. I spent the rest of the day on a self-conducted walking tour of the city, passing through the Plaza de Bolivar and checking out the Cathedral, Congress, and anything else that caught my eye along the way.

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I really enjoyed Colombia. I mostly booked my flights because I kept being told not to go, because it was too dangerous or god knows what. But its 2016 and Colombia has come a long way. It’s incredibly beautiful, the people are lovely, and it has so much fascinating history. I only saw two cities but I have heard great things about everywhere else, and I would love to come back and see the country in more depth.

 

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Weekend in Buenos Aires

I loved Buenos Aires.

I knew I would, to be fair. Its so my kind of city. I’ve loved living in Santiago, but its a functional city, built to withstand earthquakes, and house lots of people, rather than a beautiful city. And I have loved visiting the crazy natural wonders that Chile has to offer, that are out-of-this-world beautiful, but I’m not so much a nature girl. I am through and through a city girl.

And Buenos Aires is a beautiful beautiful city. Its all big white European style buildings, with New York style streets, and blue skies, and purple trees, and Argentinian-Spanish buzzing all around. Its got history and pretty buildings and good food. Oh, the food. Argentinian steaks. Italian gelato.

(Buenos Aires has a huge Italian population, so it somehow becomes this South America/Italy mix and I love it.)

We arrived on Friday night, and decided to venture out for dinner to make the most of our limited time in the city. The hostel recommended a nearby restaurant, and I have no photos because its very atmospheric and dark, but oh my god the steak was amazing. Argentina knows steak.

On the way back to the hostel, we wandered around the streets to get a feel of the city. It was almost midnight and the city felt alive. People were sitting in cafes, hanging out, enjoying the beginning of the night. It was warm but not hot, just a perfect strolling around at midnight temperature.

And then, by accident, we stumbled upon El Ateneo Theatre. This was on my list of things to see in Buenos Aires, but I didn’t know where it was, and then we found it in the middle of the night, basically empty. El Ateneo is an old theatre, converted into a bookstore, and it is amazing. I love bookstores anyway, but this was something else. Each level of the theatre seating was full of shelves, and the stage converted into a coffee shop. Its peaceful and beautiful and I wanted to stay there and read forever.


The next day we went on a free walking tour of the centre of the city, in order to see all the main sites and get a little bit of historical context provided. We passed by Parliament, the supposedly widest avenue in the world (with sixteen lanes), la Casa Rosada (Presidential House), el Plaza de Mayo (the main square and home to near-constant protests, now and throughout history), and the Obelisk, amongst other things.


Next, we headed to Palermo, a trendy neighborhood known for its cafes, bars, and shopping. Buenos Aires is a huge city, but luckily has a good metro system that we used to get across. By the time we got to Palermo, I was dying for a coffee and nearly threw a tantrum as we kept walking through the streets in the crazy heat. Once we found coffee and water, I recovered and could appreciate the colourful streets, lined with boutiques and trees and people sitting outside cafes enjoying the sun.

Palermo is also renowned for its nightlife, so after a nap we returned for a night out. In true Latin American style, we had dinner at midnight, went looking for bars around 2, had energy drinks at 4 (this may have been a mistake), and left the club at 6. We caught a taxi home as the sun was rising and the weather was chilled and beautiful and I, clearly still buzzing from the energy drink, just wanted to stay out and find a park or the waterfront and chill out.

Instead, obviously, we went to sleep.

Somewhat luckily, it rained the next day, which was the perfect excuse to sleep in until we had enough sleep to function and the weather cleared up. We made our way to the San Telmo Market, which everyone had insisted we had to see. It was nice, as markets are, and we picked up a few souvenirs and saw some nice stuff. It wasn’t a life changing market. A bit overhyped, in my opinion.

Then we kept walking towards the waterfront and down to Puerto Madero, the newer docklands area of the city. We walked along the water as the sun set and the sky turned purple and we talked about how we were never going to leave.
The next morning we were up bright and early, and walked over to La Recoleta Cemetery. It seemed weird to visit a cemetery as a tourist destination, but every guide insisted on it. The graves are more like mausoleums or family tombs, belonging to wealthy Argentinian families. The star attraction of the cemetery however, is the tomb of Eva Duerte, or Evita, the actress and wife of the President Juan Domingo Perón. She was active in politics and beloved by the public for her charity work, but her body was exiled when Perón was overthrown. I’ve been studying 20th Century Latin American History this semester, so one of my favourite parts of travelling is getting to see all of the things and people I have learnt about.


As our last destination, we caught a taxi to the historic neighbourhood of La Boca. We had been warned repeatedly that this was a dangerous area, but the main few streets were perfectly safe and a must-see. We were assured that as long as we got taxis there and back, and stayed in the clearly main areas, we would be totally safe. And this was true, we were safe and the main area was totally clear. However, I’m not sure it was a must-see. It was super colourful and I’m sure would have been amazing previously, but it has become so touristy that it felt like a Disneyworld, a part of the park designed to replicate an “authentic Latina city”. Every shop was a souvenir shop, and even the restaurant we found off around a corner with a beautiful garden served less than incredible steak. I will say though, the cheese was incredible.

We only spent a weekend in Buenos Aires, and it was a bit of a rush, and we didn’t want to leave. (Actually, we almost didn’t, there was a moment where we thought we were going to miss our flight home). But it doesn’t matter, because I know I’ll be back. I can see myself living in Buenos Aires one day. That’s another city added to the list.

 

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Wine and Spa weekend in Mendoza

I decided a long time ago that South America was far too large to see all of in one semester, so during my exchange I have been focused on travelling up, down, and all around Chile. However I have made time for a few excursions outside of the country, the first of which was a weekend trip to Mendoza.

Mendoza is a city in the heart of Argentina´s wine country, and just across the Andes on the other side of the Chilean/Argentinian border. It is famed internationally as one of the great wine regions of the world, and famed locally in Santiago for being a quick and easy trip across the border to renew visas.

(Not mine, of course. I definitely went through a complicated and stressful and expensive visa process before I got here. Please don’t remind me.)

When I travelled to Mendoza in September, it wasn’t actually my own trip. I was invited to join a group of friends who were going for the weekend, and I decided to join in the adventure. Apparently a lot of people thought this sounded like a good idea, and we ended up being 21 people in total.

I think its possible to fly to Mendoza, but the generally accepted way to get there is by bus. Its about 5 hours away driving, through the Andes and across. However, the border crossing adds a significant and unpredictable amount of time to the journey.

Since we were such a big group, it worked out to be easier and more cost efficient to get our own bus to take us there and back. This meant that were free to be as loud as we wanted, wander up and down to switch seats to talk to whoever, and were a lot more comfortable than we would have been in a normal shared coach. The views were beautiful and it was fun just hanging out and catching up with friends.

However, border control was another story. We arrived in the middle of the day, which I guess is the busiest time. We were there for three hours, which weren’t the most thrilling of the trip. There was some food, and bathrooms, and we could get out of the bus and stretch our legs. But also, there were multiple confusing queues and the endless waiting.

Being Australian added an extra level of difficulty to the process, as Argentina requires Australians to pay a $100 reciprocity fee to enter the country. I took a stand and refused to be the only person amongst 21 to pay to enter Argentina, and took advantage of my dual nationality to get away with it. Even post-Brexit, the British passport has its uses.

 

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On Saturday, we went to explore Mendoza´s main event – the wines. We caught a bus to Maipu, about half an hour out of the city, to the area with all the best vineyards. We rented bikes and spent the day cycling around the Argentinian wine region, stopping off at various vineyards to take tours and enjoy the tasting sessions. I’ve gone on a few winery tours now, and to be honest I´ve started tuning out when they do they explain the whole vines and grapes and barrels and manufacturing process. They’re all pretty similar. Lets be honest – I’m there for the wine, and for strolling around the beautiful vineyards.

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The first place we went (Domiciano de Barrancas) was a smaller, boutique vineyard, and the view of the vines against the snowy Andes took my breath away. But the second place (Trapiche) was even better, with the tasting taking place on a balcony overlooking the gorgeous gardens, complete with lakes, vineyards, and a little family of geese. We tried an amazing sparkling wine and took as many refills as we could manage, and just lay on the balcony enjoying the sun and the beautiful view.

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Although the sparkling was by far my favourite, I´ve been making sure I actually try all of these supposedly very fancy and high quality wines. I normally only drink white, but red is actually the specialty of the region and I have been proud of my attempts to sample all of the reds we have been offered, and pretend to be able to appreciate the high quality of these internationally famed wines.

On our second day in Mendoza, we travelled outside of the city again to the Termas de Cacheuta. These were a network of outdoor heated pools in the amongst the mountains, and we literally just spent the whole day lounging around in the sun and the pools. Each pool was a different temperature or depth or with a different view, so we could just move around in search of what we wanted all day. It was so relaxing and so lovely.

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It was on Sunday that I had one of those moments I get periodically when I’m travelling, that moment of “oh, I´m chilling in thermal pools in the mountains of Argentina. That’s pretty surreal, and pretty amazing. My life is pretty surreal, and pretty amazing.”

We travelled back to Santiago overnight, so that people wouldn’t have to miss classes on Monday, and with the added bonus of hitting the border in the middle of the night. We timed it so that we would arrive before the majority of the scheduled inter-city buses, and this time made it through in half an hour. Success.

We arrived home at 3am, and stumbled back to bed, to sleep on a flat vertical surface rather than the uncomfortable seats of the bus. We all love travelling, but the actual physical “travelling” part is always the least enjoyable.

Argentina was beautiful and friendly and their accents are lovely (the ‘sh’ sound they make for ‘ll’ is cute). The country is huge and I only saw a tiny portion, but I will be making my way back soon.

 

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Celebrating Fiestas Patrias in Santiago

One way to get a new country is to celebrate its holidays, so I count myself lucky to have been here during September to celebrate Fiestas Patrias in Chile. Also known as ‘el dieciocho’ (the 18th), Fiestas Patrias is the celebrations of Chile’s independence from the Spanish empire. The 18th commemorates the beginning of the independence process, and the 19th is the Armed Forces Day. If the holidays happen to fall in the middle of the week, the celebrations often extend for whole week. Sadly, this year the 18th was a Sunday, so we only scored a 3 day weekend.

One thing to note about Fiestas Patrias is that suddenly there are Chilean flags are everywhere. You don’t normally see so many flags in Chile, or in Santiago at least, but from the 1st of September they are absolutely everywhere. Not only flags, but also typical Chilean dress. We visited a winery on the 2nd and every staff member was dressed up, apparently for the whole month. Same goes for supermarkets. Its very cute, although I’m sure the novelty wears off pretty quickly for the staff.

Fiestas Patrias is typically celebrated through asados, which are barbecues. The weather had suddenly improved; we were barely into spring but already it was 26 degrees every day. The weather had been making me miss Australia, and I  was definitely hanging out for a barbecue and drinking in the sunshine. As luck would have it, that is basically what dieciocho is. On one of the days of the long weekend we hosted an asado at my house, with all of my housemates of varying nationalities and their friends. Everyone brought drinks and meat for the barbecue, and we hung out in the garden, grilling the meat and sharing it all. (It’s worth noting here that I didn’t help to cook any of the meat, but I was constantly being brought more and more delicious things that everyone else was making and more than happy to share.)

Another essential aspect of Fiestas Patrias is the day drinking! Beers, as always, are cheap and plentiful, but terremotos are the drink of the weekend. They are made from pipeño blanco (a type of white wine), pineapple ice cream, and grenadine. Supposedly, they’re called terremotos (earthquakes) because the ground shakes when you stand up after just one. They are yummy and chilled and great for summer, but also super sweet. For me, the extreme sweetness makes me drink them really slowly, which is lovely for a chilled out day drink.

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We spent the first day of the long weekend at my house, and then moved to another asado at a friend’s house in the evening. His party was on the rooftop terrace looking over the city. Santiago isn’t the prettiest city in the world but when its all lit up the view is beautiful, with the hills and the lights. My friends sat on the edge of the terrace – on the 26th floor, scaring the crap out of me – and we looked out at the city and the moon and the fireworks. It was a lovely warm evening with good food and good people.

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I hung out with internationals basically all weekend, but Fiestas Patrias in Chile is a more personal celebration than other independence days elsewhere. It is a time for family and friends and parties at home, and that’s what we embraced on Saturday.

The next day we moved on from asados onto the other great tradition of dieciochofondas. These are basically huge fairs held in public parks during Fiestas Patrias, and they kind of remind me of English fetes during summer. During the day we went to Parque Ines de Suarez for a family friendly fonda. We sought out any and all free samples (the flavored wine guy was more than happy to keep refilling our glass), ate traditional Chilean empanadas on the grass, strolled through the markets, and joined in on some children’s games.

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Another essential aspect of Fiestas Patrias is the national dance, the cueca. The dance is a reenactment of the courting ritual between a rooster and a chicken, and involves a lot of clapping and stomping and waving of a handkerchief. It is performed widely during the Fiestas Patrias weekend, at parties and schools and at fondas. At the fonda we attended there was a big tent, a live band, and lots of partners on the dance floor. This wasn’t professionals putting on a show, but rather Chileans celebrating their national dance together and having fun. What really interested me was the variety of people getting involved; this isn’t a dying tradition, it’s something that every Chilean gets involved in. The dance floor featured kids and teenagers alongside old couples, and people who clearly know how to dance alongside people just having fun.

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In the evening we moved on to Parque O’Higgins, the biggest fonda in Santiago. This one was a lot less family friendly, and more like a big festival. We bought overpriced chips and went to a concert for a Chilean band we didn’t know, and danced along like we knew the words. We drank more terremotos, and happily accepted when they offered to add more liquor (rum or vodka) and asked whether we wanted lots or a little (we chose a lot). When the concert finished we went in search of more music, and ended up in one of the makeshift bars where the tables had been moved to make room to dance.

We danced until we knew the fonda was about to end, then made our way out so we wouldn’t get crushed in the crowds.

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Fiestas Patrias was such a good weekend, probably the best weekend I’ve had staying in the city of Santiago. Although a lot of friends travelled to other towns for the holiday, I loved the experience of celebrating a national holiday in the country’s capital. It was a weekend of good food, good drinks, good parties, and good people. I loved the experience of getting involved in Chilean culture, and celebrating a holiday that is so important to Chilean people.

CHI – CHI- CHI LE – LE – LE VIVA CHILE

 

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Trekking (1 day of) the W Circuit

Our third and final adventure in Patagonia was a one day trek to the base of the eponymous towers of the Torres Del Paine.

The generally accepted way to travel through Torres del Paine is to hike the W circuit, a 4 day/55 km trip. We had decided against this for a variety of reasons, amongst them that it was the low season and winter and thus all the refugios along the trail were closed, and also that trekking for 4 days sounded like death.

During the trip I felt a little concerned that we were cheating, that we were just driving around and not really experiencing Patagonia de verdad. To balance this, we decided to do a one day trek which consisted of driving to the park, a four hour walk to the base of the towers, four hours back, and coming home.

It was a lot harder than we expected.

After the first hour of slogging uphill through the mud, we were exhausted and Jess was concerned she might throw up. But I got so stubborn about it. I knew how much I would regret not doing it and not pushing myself to go as far as I could. After some mini-crises and rest breaks, we managed to keep going and it definitely got easier in parts.

The landscape kept changing throughout the walk. We started by climbing up a muddy hill, using our (rented) hiking sticks to pull ourselves up. At this point the view was not good enough to justify the difficulty, and even on the way back we were surprised by how difficult the mud on this hill was in comparison to the huge mountains. Next was a nice flat path through a valley, which was easy to walk and had awesome views, although we were dangerously close to the edge. Then we were climbing up and down rocky paths, across makeshift bridges, through forests, up rivers, through snow, and across ice.

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Some of it was crazy beautiful. There were amazing mountain views, frozen waterfalls, and streams where it looked totally frozen but you could hear the water running underneath. After about four hours of walking and towards the top it started to snow (so faintly that I thought I was hallucinating) and the tiny flakes sparkled in the sunshine.

Some of it was hell. We were super slow on the way up, so we ended by ourselves for hours because everyone else started off with a lot more enthusiasm. The more tired I got, the more aware I became that we could slip and fall to our deaths at any point and we wouldn’t know what to do. I had imagined a nice hike up a nice hill, with clearly marked paths and totally safe. It wasn’t quite like that. We lost the path multiple times and I nearly slipped off the edge of the valley at one (particularly terrifying) point.

For me, the ice was the worst part. I’ve always hated that feeling of slipping on ice, even when I’m safe on a footpath it still scares the hell out of me. We were trekking through Patagonia in August – most things were closed because no one encourages trekking at this time. A lot of the trek involves walking across or literally climbing up through streams and using them as the path. I don’t know how effective that is in summer, but in winter they’re frozen over and completely ice. The path you’re trying to follow is just a stream of ice. It’s so slippery and hiking sticks aren’t so effective at gripping onto ice, so you’re just sliding. Trying to climb up a stream as though the scarce rocks are stairs when it’s all a slippery surface scared the crap out of me.

Ultimately, the ice is why we didn’t make it to the top. Throughout the whole way there I kept refusing to turn around, insistent that we couldn’t get so close to the end and not make it all the way. However, we ended up stopping approximately 15 minutes from the base of the towers. The last part was completely ice and snow, twisting and turning up the mountain where a real slip could send you falling way too far down. We were exhausted and sore and very aware that we needed to repeat the entire experience all over again just to get home. To suffer through 15 minutes of that ice, just to see the towers and turn around again (and to try to walk down the ice, which scared me even more) just did not seem worth it. We’d seen the towers before, getting closer didn’t seem worth our lives.

Everyone in the group asked us why we didn’t just do the last part, but honestly I felt no regret. I’d been so insistent on finishing, on not giving up or backing down and disappointing myself. But I did the absolute maximum that I could do, and then another 5 hours of descent. The view from where we stopped, in the snow amongst all the mountains, whatever distance high, was incredible.

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I am so proud of us for doing as much as we did and not giving up. It sucked and we were exhausted and sore and scared and unconvinced of our own abilities, but we did it anyway.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

(As a post-script: everyone else manages to W Circuit perfectly fine. Partially winter sucks, partially we just suck at trekking. Jess spent a lot of the day yelling “WHY DOES ANYONE EVER ENJOY DOING THIS”. I can’t wait to hear about everyone else’s adventures in Torres del Paine over summer.)

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