Tag Archives: Vacation

Iceland Thanksgiving: Day 1

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When visiting a country you have been to 3 times previously, it’s pretty easy to hit the ground running. We got on the plane and slept. We landed and knew just where to get our SIM cards (Arrivals Duty Free store, ask the cashier, Nova cards). We knew where to catch the FlyBus to the Blue Lagoon.

What was different this time was it was dark. We landed at 6:30am, were on a 7:30 bus to the lagoon, arrived there at 8, and got out of the water just around 10:30am…when it was just starting to get light. It was cold and windy and rainy, but with 100ºF water, it was still really comfortable and relaxing. But you miss seeing the moonscape-like lava fields on the way in from the airport.

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We then bussed into the city, found our AirBnB (our first time using it), met up with our friend Robyn who had arrived one day early, and headed into town. It’s never a mystery what my first desired stop is. img_1737

Got to visit the new flagship store. But since I own 3 jackets, a shell, a hat and a t-shirt, there really wasn’t anything compelling to buy. So I bought a pair of socks.

We walked more through town, which just feels like home at this point. Like seeing City Hall. img_1733

The Christmas decorations are up, and since there are only 5.5 hours of light now, they get to be lit up a great deal. img_1738

Ellen had picked a tapas place that Ben had recommended to us, Tapas Barinn. Fairly traditional tapas, a good amount of fish offered.

We were supposed to do a Northern lights tour tonight, but it was canceled due to the weather. Although the lights were a big part of coming in November instead of our traditional summer visits, we had read that the weather can be uncooperative, so you shouldn’t have your heart set on seeing them. So we don’t. We have two more shots the next two nights, but we’ll see what happens.

We have museums scheduled for tomorrow and the Golden Circle tour for Saturday. On the way home from dinner, we had to walk by the hot dog stand made famous by Bill Clinton. img_1739

Hope everyone back home is having a happy Thanksgiving!

 


Peru Day 9: Finishing Lima

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We made the most of our last day in Peru. Today was the day to do Lima and we did it!

We Uber’d (for $5) from Miraflores to the historic area. Plaza de Armas, above, was a picturesque square, with the Catedral, Presidential Palace and other great buildings.

We started at the Catedral. Unlike the other churches, we could take pictures inside. They had an brochure in somewhat awkward English that gave us a good idea of what each section was about. DSC_0426

We then walked the streets, happening upon a parade, we know not the reason for. Here’s some video and pictures of the parade.

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Even the young ones enjoyed. DSC_0459

We couldn’t help but notice that there were riot police at every corner of the square. Not sure if that is normal for near the Presidential Palace but we sure didn’t start any trouble.DSC_0429

We happened by the Presidential Palace right at noon, so got to witness the changing of the guard. I have videos that I’ll try to add later.DSC_0434DSC_0466

Our next stop was the San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but we saw a lot of skulls and bones!DSC_0479DSC_0480

Being Capitol Hill residents, we couldn’t help but take a picture of the Congress. DSC_0484

Lunch was in Chinatown. We were the only English speakers here, but it was so worth wandering into Salon CaponDSC_0491

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My only souvenir on these trips is usually a soccer jersey from the national team. In this case, we had to find an Umbro store which meant going to the Jockey Plaza mall. We found the helado store that had been recommended to Ellen. And the soccer jersey. And enjoyed walking around.

Our last dinner was a place recommended by our neighbor, Elvis, when I was out walking Colby just before we left. It was a short walk from our hotel, and just an amazing Amazon-themed menu. ámaZ was delicious. We were sitting just next to a young couple, who happened to be huge foodies who live in Crystal City. We chatted just about the whole meal, sharing stories and food. Hope to see China & Nathan sometime back home!

We fly home tomorrow, via AeroMexico with a layover in Mexico City. Not long enough to explore anything more than the airport, but we’ll make the most of that.

Thanks for reading along. As usual, I’m asking, as a marketer, for you to like or comment this post, especially if you’ve been lurking so I know who has been following along.

There will be one more post to sort through our experiences and impressions. Buenos noches!


Peru Day 8: Cusco to Lima

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Ellen was especially glad that we were trading in 11,000+ feet of altitude for sea level. It just took a little longer than expected.

First though, we can’t say enough good things about Casa Cartegena. They greeted us by name when we came downstairs this morning, grabbing our suitcases so I didn’t have to carry them both. They had already run our credit card, so they handed us the receipt. We had arranged with OUR cab driver from the Cusco/Oly runs to take us to the airport, he was there to greet us. While he went to get the car, they ran to breakfast to bring us some juice and orange breakfast bread. Seriously, just the best experience there.

We got to the airport plenty early, checked our bags and waited. Then we heard the flight before us was canceled. Just as our flight should have been boarding, we got the news ours was canceled too, as the whole airport was closed for fog. Back downstairs to the check-in desk. Unlike in the States, they brought the luggage back and we had to recheck it. I had missed that, but luckily Ellen noticed and retrieved our bags, just as I got to the front of the line. We’ve noticed that the Peru airports are very efficient and well managed. They brought extra employees to the desks and had a supervisor available. So our 8:15am flight was replaced with an 11:50am flight. That was better than we expected. So we found a coffee shop and chilled for awhile. All travel will have some bumps, this wasn’t so bad.

Arriving in Lima, we got our luggage and met the driver our hotel had arranged to meet us. We are staying in the Miraflores district of Lima, rather upscale and nice! We took off immediately to explore the neighborhood, finding the nicest outdoor mall on the water. DSC_0396

We then walked along the Malecon and were happy to find Paddington! DSC_0401

A little while later, we found Parque del Amor that reminds us of Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona. It  really was nice at sunset.

We kept walking along the water to our restaurant, El Señorio de Sulco. We got there early, 6:30 for a 7:00 reservation, and had the place to ourselves for at least an hour. We enjoyed the attention, I told Ellen it was like a The Bachelor date when the couple has no one around them. We enjoyed a tuna/tomato/alvacado appetizer and meat dishes for dinner. Everything tastes so good here. And so reasonable.

We did an American thing to get home, we requested an Uber. Uber is big in Lima, touted as one of the safest ways to get around. We were surprised when a taxi pulled up, but the driver was great and it cost all of 7 soles ($2.10) for a 9 minute, 2.1 kilometer ride.

Tomorrow we have a full day to explore the city. We’ll start with walking tours and see what else we want to do on our last full day in Peru.


Peru Day 7: Machu Picchu

Up at 4:45, quick breakfast, met our guide at 6am. He told us there is already a one hour line for the busses up. It looked like this. DSC_0323

The line moved and it only took us about 40 minutes to get on a bus. What a ride it is, though. Takes about 1/2 an hour, switchbacks up the mountain, only one lane, shared by busses in both directions and hikers. From the top, it looks like this. DSC_0373

You get your ticket scanned, you walk in, and you get the money shot right away. DSC_0339

I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Machu Picchu. What they don’t convey is the enormity of the site. It covers such a large area and has so many different facets to it.

Having read “Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” I was especially looking for the Temple of Three Windows. It did not disappoint.

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Temple of The Three Windows

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The Incas used existing rocks as part of their construction.DSC_0350

As you probably know by now, I can’t resist pictures through windows.DSC_0380

I was especially taken by this rock, shaped to match the mountains it faced. DSC_0364

The number of terraces was perhaps the most awesome sight.DSC_0384

By the end of our visit, the low hanging clouds really swooped in.DSC_0389

It really is a magical place, and truly deserving of the overused “bucket list” phrase. Come to Peru!

The rest of the day seemed anti-climactic. By the time we got back into town, it was POURING. We ate at the same French bakery as yesterday. We walked around the market. The hotel so nicely brought our bags to the train station. Our train was on time. Oh, I promised a picture. DSC_0391

Our taxi driver who took us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo met us as promised to take us back. Our Cusco hotel upgraded us to a luxurious suite and had our luggage waiting there. We ate dinner at Marcelo Batata, just down the street from our hotel.  A fabulous Peruvian meal with an appetizer, 2 main courses, 2 drinks and dessert cost $54 including tip. The first floor of the hotel is an art gallery that we wandered into because of colorful tapestries. We have no wall room at home, so instead we ended up with a hand painted ceramic bull, which you’ll see on top of houses in Peru as a symbol of good luck.

We return to Lima and sea level tomorrow, Ellen is looking forward to easier breathing!


Peru Day 6: Aguascaliente

 

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We woke up to the beautiful view of the mountains that surrounded us. After breakfast at the hotel, we went to meet our train, which was easy since we were right there.

The train was the Vistadome, so lots of windows to watch the Sacred Valley go by. I didn’t take pictures of the train today, will do that tomorrow!

Our seats faced a mom and her daughter. We got to talking and talked non-stop the whole trip. A little unusual for us introverts, but the stories were fascinating. The mother was born in the Ukraine and left when she was 9, moving to southern California. She met and married another Ukranian. The daughter was 19, just finished her first year at UCLA. And the rest of the family was hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu as part of a group of relatives who had made the trip. So much to talk about!

We arrived in Aguascaliente, the town that is closest to Machu Picchu, a little after noon. Our hotel met us at the train station and walked us down the hill to the hotel, transporting our luggage to. We checked in, then headed out for lunch, as there was a 2pm pisco sour/cerviche class and we didn’t want to miss that!

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Our hotel, at the end

 

We got caught in a downpour and stood undercover for about 10 minutes to let the worst of it pass. We went into a French bakery for lunch. A tap on the shoulder and I turned around, it was our train companions. So we lunched together, then hurried back for our class.

The class was only another couple and us. The bartender taught us about the different kind of piscos. Pisco is a kind of brandy, grape based and aged in kettles, not oak. The pisco sour is a fairly simple drink, and we have the recipe to try at home. A hotel chef then came in to teach us ceviche, raw fish, lots of lime juice and several other ingredients. Tasty!

We headed back up the hill to town to explore more. We ran into our train friends again (it’s really a small town!). They guided us to a silver store, and Ellen picked up a few things. DSC_0321

We then walked through the central market. It was like most markets in what in sold, meat, chicken, fruits, vegetables. But the stray dogs roamed through it, it didn’t smell good, and I wouldn’t have eaten anything there for fear of getting sick. DSC_0316

We ate dinner at the hotel, it was included in our package. The meal was excellent. For an appetizer, I had quinoa crusted chicken nuggets. Better than any you get at McDonalds! Seriously, they use quinoa for so many things, we need to try to cook more with it.

The hotel secured our tickets for the bus to Machu Picchu and our entrance. Hoping it doesn’t rain, but ready for the experience tomorrow, no matter what.


Peru Day 5: Ollantaytambo

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We said goodbye, for now, to Cusco, and headed down a couple thousand feet in altitude to Ollantaytambo. We took a taxi from Cusco. For an almost 2 hour ride? The fare was $45 including tip. Beat that, United States!

A temple, an agricultural area, a fortress, Ollantaytambo had many purposes over time. Today, it just means SO. MANY. STEPS. TO. CLIMB. Ellen made it about 1/2 way up and wisely turned back. The steps are irregular stones at different heights with no handrail. We do have some advice about visiting Peru. Do it while you are young! The sights and size of Ollantaytambo were amazing though. DSC_0277DSC_0280DSC_0282DSC_0287

I made my way back down from the top. One of the buildings in the rock you can see in the picture above, you could walk up it. Um, no. We had enough climbing for the day.

We walked into the small town, having lunch at the Hearts Cafe. We then took a stroll through the town square. DSC_0292DSC_0294DSC_0295DSC_0288

The rainbow flag here is not a gay pride symbol, it is an Inca representation of the colors of the rainbow.

We stopped for coffee on the way back to our hotel, El Alberque. It is right next to the train station, which is good, because we take the train to Aguas Caliente tomorrow to prepare for Machu Picchu.

Our hotel had the #1 TripAdvisor rated restaurant for this town, so we took advantage of it and ate right on the property. Ellen had lamb with quinoa risotto, I had a lasagna with local vegetables and spices. Both were really good.


Peru Day 4: City Tour

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In most cities, a city tour is a bus ride that shows you the major sites. In Cusco, it’s a trip just a few miles outside of town to some of the most amazing Inca ruins. We visited Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puka Pukara and Tombomachay. I’m going to need to work on which is which. I’ve decided from now on, I’ll take a picture of a sign each time we enter a new place.

We had a guide/driver today. Carlos was a man of about 60. He had been up at 6 today to take a class at university before picking us up at 9. He’s a student of history, of the Incas and is studying English to be even more fluent. He’s written a book about Peru and the Incas. He wants to get it into the Library of Congress. We told him how close we lived to there and that we’d help. He said he really likes DC and its monuments. How does he know them? He says he watches House of Cards!

What was amazing was the formations. How did the Incas transport these rocks 22km from the quarry? How did they carve these huge stones? How did they lift them into place? How did they know to arrange them for strength and to withstand earthquakes? How did they fit the stones so perfectly that they’ve stayed in place, without mortar? So here are some of the pictures from the day.

I was no match for the size of some of these stones! DSC_0239

We finished back in the Plaza and Carlos gave us a tour of the Catedral del Cuzco. Pictures were not allowed inside, but it was an amazing church. DSC_0271

At our guide’s recommendation we went to Chicha for lunch. We had a great meal, I had corn-stuffed ravioli. IMG_0763

We did a little shopping, then did something exceedingly rare for us. We went back to the hotel and went to the spa! The hotel has a very large whirlpool and a sauna. Felt heavenly!

Ellen took advantage of the daily free pisco sour again, and then we went to dinner, a pizza place called Justina Pizzeria just two blocks from the hotel. It was a cute, wood-burning fireplace pizza joint. 2 pizzas and a 640ml beer for less than $20! IMG_0765

We leave Cusco tomorrow, but much more awaits!