Argentina and Chile – April 2016

26 Apr
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Santiago, Chile – Barrio Bellavista

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Next time we head to the southern hemisphere where the world is upside down and spring becomes autumn overnight we’ll remember to pack hats, scarves and gloves instead of 3 pairs of shorts each and a collection of summery tops😉

To be fair, something cold and wintery blew in unexpectedly (courtesy of El Nino) so it wasn’t entirely my fault that we were inappropriately attired for the more “autumnal” days.

In any event, the sunny days were spectacular and the colder days gave me the opportunity to explore the coffee shops checking out the provenance of the beans and the finer points of the roasting process so that Geoff could be successfully maneuvered around the charming neighborhoods of both Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile on his weekend days off. Anyone who knows him well will be acquainted with his exceedingly high demands when it comes to coffee worthy of his refined palate. It can make or break a day of aimless city weekend wandering if a single bean has been burnt in the production of his macchiato or cappuccino. For me, so long as my decaf soy latte comes with a side of cheesecake I am far less pernickety😉

For reference… anyone heading to Buenos Aires need look no further than Full City Coffee House in Palermo (the coolest, hippest, trendiest, and coincidentally, our favorite part of town). And when in Santiago don’t waste your precious latte savoring time anywhere other than Original Green Roasters in Providencia. Thoughtfully, I’ve saved you all the unnecessary calories acquired in finding the perfect New York cheesecake… it’s there too… how fortunate!!!😉:-)

…and to make it a thoroughly perfect day you can then skip across Parque Bustamante on a caffeine and sugar induced high and head down into Barrio Italia… my favorite part of Santiago:-)

In case anyone thinks all I did was sample my way from one coffee shop to the next in these 2 wonderful cities, I did manage to squeeze in the usual criss-crossing through neighborhoods and parks.

This time, however, I was kicking leaves in Buenos Aires as they swirled around me rather than skipping through a carpet of purple jacaranda blossom as per our visit in spring (November) a few years ago. Buenos Aires is still fabulous in fall on a sunny day but it is far more fabulous in spring:-)

For those interested in seeing the city at its most glorious here is the link to Buenos Aires in spring:-)

I didn’t have time to revisit the famous cemetery or La Boca during this trip but photos of these other unmissable areas are in the above link.

The slightly more “autumnal” days brought to mind very (very) distant memories of  grey, miserable wintery weather in London… in fact, the very days from which we enthusiastically escaped nearly 20 years ago when we emigrated to the US😉

Travel has taught us many things about the world and, in our case, sometimes reminds us of the reasons we aren’t terribly well suited to the rigors of 4 seasons. Despite my occasional protestations and declarations that I want to return to Europe, with hindsight, I think we’ll probably stick to the year round sun in our retirements after all😉

On matters other than weather in Buenos Aires… watching life go by in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace Casa Rosada (where Eva Peron used to address her beloved nation) was as lively as ever. You can never go far without tripping over a protest or uprising of one nature or another in South or Central America. This visit the banks were closed and there were various murmurings of discontent across the city which culminated in tens of thousands of white flyers finding their way unceremoniously floating down to litter the parks and streets. They certainly don’t conduct a tidy protest in this part of the world😉

It was a delight to revisit the decaying beauty of the historic neighborhood of San Telmo, where you can see couples dancing tango in the park and its famous Sunday antiques and craft market fills the streets with the bizarre and the creative. San Telmo remains our second favorite part of Buenos Aires. The Centro area around Plaza de Mayo is bustling with government and office buildings, shops, shoe shiners, well-heeled (and polished) businessmen, newspaper stands, lottery ticket hawkers and the usual slightly chaotic street life of South America. As usual, we loved it all:-) The protesters demanding the return of the Falkland Island (las Malvinas) from the UK are still there in their park encampments surrounded by billboards covered in old newspaper cuttings of various events of the conflict. Fortunately, it seems from casual conversation, that the majority of the population realize that the ongoing prodding at the Falklands issue is a diversionary tactic by the government. Recoleta is the poshest part of the city with its Parisian style balconied properties. The street art in Palermo was just as spectacular as ever decorating the trendiest part of the city. And Puerto Madero is the newest part of the city with it’s ever-increasing numbers of ultra modern high rise offices and apartment blocks running along the banks of the optimistically named Rio de la Plata (Silver River😉 ).

Geoff’s work successfully completed, we hopped on a spectacular 2 hour flight and headed north over the Andes to Santiago, Chile for the first time. Just as we stepped out from the airport we realized that we might need to consider investing in a scarf each. We headed straight to lunch hoping to find somewhere memorable in the historic centre. As it turns out it was quite memorable. By taking a wrong turn towards the Palacio de la Moneda, rather than find somewhere delectable for lunch, we were unexpectedly swept up in a fever of mass mourning for ex-president Patricio Aylwin.

Having inadvertently gate-crashed the state funeral of a clearly beloved leader we had absolutely no choice but to be dragged along in a mass of humanity, cameras, the state police, reporters and another political rally. A friend of mine from Chile once told me never to go to South or Central America in an election year… or whenever there are mass protests… she might also have mentioned not to wander blithely into a presidential state funeral. In a log jam of writhing humans all pushing in different directions there doesn’t appear to be any psychological or physical breaking point at which one group of Chileans will concede defeat and let the oncoming swarm of people pass. For a few minutes as more and more people tried to squish into a smaller and smaller gap between walls, barricades, lines of police and cameras I felt sure that I was having the air sucked out of me and that if Geoff (to whom I was glued) had tripped or fallen I would surely have been trampled underfoot. There was no unpleasantness or aggression, everyone was quite demure befitting the solemnity of the occasion, it’s just that Chileans don’t seem to understand that if you keep pushing and squeezing more people into a tiny gap rather than let someone pass and escape from the mass that someone in the middle of the scrum might actually die😉

Just an observation…

Still… it was excellent practice for coping with the subway with which I became very well acquainted for the rest of the week whilst Geoff was working in his glamorous, glittering skyscraper in the Las Condes part of the city. Some of the most interesting sculptures are in the upmarket El Golf and Las Condes sections of the city where we were based. From every glass tower in this area you would have a view of the Andes – not a bad start to the day watching the sun rise on the Andes over your cornflakes:-)

Santiago is a highly walkable city. Most of the historical neighborhoods of interest are close to each other, the Plaza de Armas, the Palacio de la Moneda, Barrio Italia (my favorite) with its boutique shops, courtyard cafes and antique furniture stores where you can watch the craftsmen at work on the sidewalk, Barrio Bellavista (the slightly grungy university area with street art almost to rival Palermo, Buenos Aires), Barrio Paris-Londres (2 cross streets with architecture reminiscent of Europe), Cerro Santa Lucia with Neptune’s fountain, Cerro San Cristobal with views over the city and the Andes and finally, Barrio Lastarria with its pretty street cafes, coffee shops and craft market. Strolling these areas (and testing out the various purveyors of cheesecake) kept me quite busy until the weekend when I took Geoff on the usual breakneck paced guided tour.

I saved testing out the fish market at Mercado Central until the weekend (mainly because it didn’t involve cake😉 ) and I didn’t want to visit alone the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos with its chilling story of the Pinochet coup and subsequent dictatorial regime. To put the gate-crashed state funeral into the context of the national psyche, ex-president Patricio Aylwin was a democratic politician at the centre of the movement to defeat Pinochet and the first elected president after the demise of the Pinochet regime. His election marked the Chilean transition to democracy in 1990 and he was a staunch supporter of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission exposing the horrors of the previous regime.

On a lighter note, I also saved the trip to Pueblito Los Dominicos until the weekend because I was planning a big spending spree at the arts and crafts market and I needed someone to carry the shopping bags😉😉

Final stop before leaving another trip to fabulous South America behind us – the funicular ride to the top of Cerro San Cristobal to see the city with its backdrop of the Andes. In the time it took us to ride up the funicular the cloud had descended and the Andes had all but disappeared… oh well… maybe next time!:-)

Skiing in Breckenridge – February 2016

14 Feb
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Dog-sledding in Breckenridge, Colorado

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Dog-sledding, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and other such wintery frolics:-)

Breckenridge, Colorado re-visited … it was great to be back!

We decided to acclimatize to the lofty (9600 feet at town level) altitude more sedately than usual with a morning of (ultimately not so sedate) dog-sledding in the White River National Forest. We were off like greased lightning as the Siberian huskies, tongues lolling from their mouths and grinning from ear to ear, chased off after the guide on his snowmobile. Hurtling around bends, scraping through narrow tree-lined trails and bouncing along snowy tracks, we criss-crossed the forest and open plains as the dogs surged ahead at full pelt.

The excited hounds refused to stop even to carry out their morning ablutions… my impressive attempt to keep them under control whilst Geoff video’d his ride from the sled at my feet was interrupted only by the sudden splatter of freshly excreted dog poo bouncing at speed towards him at ground level😉

Disaster averted after an unscheduled stop and all went smoothly again until one of the more wayward distracted creatures at the back of the pack found something irresistible to sniff at in the trees. He came to a grinding halt and wrapped himself and his neighbor around a tree trunk. Luckily I had already mastered the art of emergency braking before we joined them in a pile under the pines:-)

All far too active for those who live and breathe at sea level, we repaired for the afternoon to the comfort of our somewhat luxurious abode to cuddle up by the log fire in an effort to warm back up to a more acceptable temperature  and discussed just how cold 19F can actually feel when you are used to a distinctly more clement 85F !

And so on to the purpose of our wintery vacation … we headed enthusiastically on to the slopes clutching Geoff’s trusted and now well battle-worn snowboard and my posh shiny new carving skis for a week of high altitude (12,998 feet), high velocity fun and exhaustion!

The quality of the powdery, fluffy white stuff and the skiing were superlative as always in sunny Colorado:-)

I spent most of my time trying to remember how to ski whilst simultaneously getting to grips with my new skis,  concentrating on not knotting my legs together and avoiding breaking my neck. Geoff, conversely, spent his time weaving in and out of the trees spectacularly failing to avoid tree limbs and ultimately passing significant amounts of time digging himself out of snow drifts … nothing new there😉

So, all was perfect…aside from the lift pass prices which seem to have doubled since we were last in town…presumably we were helping to finance yet another recently opened Superchair and the newly created Peak 6 all week. Clearly, there just weren’t enough peaks in this town already with Peaks 7, 8, 9 and 10! Breckenridge now has 187 trails which I suspect even an avid local skier would struggle to cover in a day.

After a couple of days of skiing and snowboarding, and in an attempt to give our weary limbs (and Geoff’s bruises) a mini-break, we headed off into the hills for a hike on the Sallie Barber trail in the White River National Forest. We were finally entirely alone in the wilderness with only the sound of our feet trudging through the crisp snow, a weasel rooting about in the undergrowth and the occasional squirrel scurrying up a tree to break the silence.

The very same White River National Forest was, however, far from peaceful and tranquil on the next fun-packed day of activity – snowmobiling. The silence was most definitely broken by the deafening racket from the 2-stroke engines and the usually pristine mountain air was far from pure but it was excellent fun as usual:-)

Three hours of high speed battering, tearing around bends, ducking branches and clinging on for dear life coupled with my responsibility as official photographer of action shots (whilst not bouncing off the back into a rocky outcrop) eventually took its toll but as recompense I was finally allowed to try out the renowned Crepes a la Cart back in town for lunch:-) A giant chocolate, peanut butter and banana crepe was fair reward for the probably permanent damage to my lower coccyx …I think…😉

More skiing and snowboarding followed (unsurprisingly) during which time I almost mastered my new skis, Geoff almost mastered his GoPro video camera and most impressively he finally worked out how to board in the glades without either sinking slowly into knee deep powder or impaling himself on sharp pointy parts of pine trees.

He was a very happy boy!:-)

….and, ultimately, I was a very happy girl as we managed to squeeze in a final hike along Baker’s Tank Trail on Boreas Pass which was absolutely spectacular and … almost as good… I loosened another notch on my belt and managed to squeeze in another chocolate crepe before waving goodbye to the Rockies😉

We headed back for a flying visit to Denver where Geoff caught up with an old school friend from England whom he hasn’t seen in 36 years… they lost touch when they were young teenagers, as was the way of the world of our youth before mobile phones, email and Facebook… but they finally reconnected in Colorado of all places!:-)

As usual, a brilliant week on the slopes and another skiing and snowboarding vacation survived without sustaining serious injury:-)

 

 

 

Barbados – January 2016

18 Jan
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Alleynes Bay, Barbados

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Sun, sea and sand:-)

…rum cocktails; warm turquoise waters lapping the tree shaded beaches of the exclusive west coast resorts; an interior landscape of small villages and rolling hills of sugar cane plantations; huge atlantic waves crashing onto the rugged limestone cliffs at the northernmost point of the island; miles of deserted palm-fringed white sand beaches in the southwest (our favorite part of the island); fishing villages; colorful fish shacks at the renowned Oistins Fish market; bougainvillea and orchids; forests of bearded fig trees and other exotic flora… all quite lovely…

On the other hand all is not absolutely perfect in paradise… the beaches of the south around the capital, Bridgetown, are distinctly less appealing and considerably more overcrowded and touristy. Bridgetown itself, is, without doubt, a top contender for the least appealing capital city of any of the Caribbean islands… aside from the Parliament Buildings the architecture leaves almost everything to be desired – grungy, scruffy and grubby looking and distinctly 1970’s in design…shops filled with the usual uninspiring gamut of vital purchases for the cruise ship vacationers arriving at the nearby port – from t-shirt stores to the ubiquitous Columbia Emerald stores. Goodness knows if we had arrived on a cruise and were faced with a day of exploration in Bridgetown or its surrounding beaches we would knock the rest of Barbados from the “must-revisit” list forever….

Luckily, however, we saw the rest of the island from the comfort of our overpriced rental car:-) We set out to explore the island at our usual pace whilst our friends, with whom we were vacationing, enjoyed one of the best views of the island – gazing onto the sun-kissed glittering Caribbean sea at Payne’s Bay – from the comfort of their sun loungers, cocktails in hand and the warm waters lapping at their toes.

To be fair Rob did actually move from his piece of prime real estate to race about on jet skis at full pelt with Geoff – both gleefully trying to kill themselves as they flew (in Geoff’s case quite literally) across the waves with the wind in their hair. Rainzley and I had a girls shopping and lunch day curtailed marginally by the interesting swelling of Rainzley’s right foot which was taking place before our eyes. The voracious mosquitoes had obviously been enjoying the tasty delights of British flesh for a few days before our arrival on the island and judging by the size of some of the bites I’m surprised Rainzley’s leg hadn’t actually rebelled and dropped off entirely😉

Forewarned and armed with the knowledge of the more than usually active mozzys we never left the room without being slick with spray and managed to survive the week without a single nibble…

Anyway… concerned that the horrible things might need some medical attention we wandered into the medical centre to be greeted by the hacking, sneezing and spluttering of another Brit carrying some disgusting contagious tropical disease (I was on full OCD alert as you might imagine). We watched a parade of various broken legs and ankles hobble in whilst we waited for her appointment. It shouldn’t have taken too long as there were only 4 people ahead in the queue but it transpired that there was only one doctor on duty and after almost 2 hours watching the comings and goings of various accidents and injuries we finally left clutching a pile of pills and potions. Happily, Rainzley’s leg returned to normal size and shape by the next day:-) I haven’t as yet (at the time of writing) contracted the foul disease which must have been swirling around our heads looking for its next victim to infect but I’m still on full alert… watching and waiting…😉

Whilst several afternoons were frittered on the beach, our mornings were spent on the open road, map in one hand (bars of Bajan Agapey caramel rum chocolate in the other) and camera at the ready. We criss-crossed the island from our base in Holetown (our favorite town on the island – littered with the requisite cute shops, cafes and restaurants).

We ventured  to the far north where the rugged windswept coast and limestone cliffs were battered by enormous waves which rushed through blowholes and nearly knocked poor Geoff off his feet –  I was holding out for the perfect holiday snap and didn’t see it coming either😉 …then we headed down to the bays of Cattlewash and Bathsheba on the east coast with their dramatic rocky outcrops – lethal for swimming but famous for surfing.

For a tiny island (only 14 x 21 miles) I am ashamed to say that most of the time we were hopelessly lost – not always my fault to be fair – the road signs are almost non-existent, those that were once erected are now invariably faded, impossible to read (most of them being of the very homemade variety) and/or are lying on the ground pointing in the wrong direction. To make matters even more interesting the map was vague in the extreme. It was mainly by pure good fortune that we fell upon our intended destinations at all… but in the end it was, of course, the journey which was half of the fun…I think…😉

Lost again at the end of one such dead end, we fell upon an abandoned hotel – Sam Lord’s Castle – and drove onto the grounds to have a quick look around… an unexpected urbexing (“urban exploring” – or “trespassing on possibly dangerous abandoned sites” as it might otherwise be known😉 ) experience awaited. Subsequently we discovered that the hotel had suffered a devastating fire in 2010 and the grounds were now, in 5 or 6 short years, overgrown with creepies and crawlies which made for some interesting shots:-)

Back at the beaches, the southwest coast was absolutely fabulous… Foul Bay and Bottom Bay (if we ever have to find them again I suspect it would be impossible😉 ) were our clear favorites… much of the appeal owing to their remoteness and inaccessibility, of course!

Driving through the hills, country lanes and along cliff tops bore a considerable resemblance to off-roading much of the time. Roads in the interior and on the rugged east coast would be better described as muddy, pitted and cratered tracks. The rental car (a brand previously unknown to me with the stability of a blancmange and the unbridled power of a moped engine) managed to traverse the craters without plunging us down any of them to our untimely deaths but it really wasn’t quite as successful at climbing hills. Ascending from the coast up one particularly steep and winding road I suddenly realized that the car was being thrashed at full revs with Geoff’s flip-flopped foot to the floor but we were entirely stationary… The only way to make it out in one piece without rolling back down the hill out of control was to reverse downhill as quickly as possible before another vehicle with an engine more powerful than a hair dryer came careering up behind us. Having reversed at full speed and reached the bottom of the hill again in one piece Geoff stuck the gears in sport mode slammed his foot to the accelerator and I peddled like crazy along with him, feet to the floor like Wilma Flintstone, with my eyes shut and fingers crossed that no-one would be speeding down the hill around the blind bend towards us as we sped uphill towards it😉

Driving on the island was invariably an adrenaline fueled ride at the best of times… the locals like to play a game of chicken by driving at full speed towards you down narrow lanes (apparently oblivious to your oncoming presence) and then veer back to their own designated side of the road at the last split second… but all of that paled into insignificance when we were passing through (yet another) unnamed and unidentifiable village when a huge blue and yellow public bus screamed around a corner towards us on 2 wheels narrowly avoiding sending us all plunging to our deaths over a cliff😉

In the centre of the island we visited Anthony Hunte’s garden – Barbados’ most famous horticulturist. He has created a veritable magical wonderland of secret gardens, sculptures and winding paths overflowing with exotic, leafy, flowering plants. Geoff was highly skeptical when I suggested we criss-cross the island (yet again) navigating its labyrinth of dirt tracks and dead end roads in order to wander around a garden when we could have been sunning ourselves on the beach. However, I was pleased to note that ultimately even he was quite speechless at the overwhelming scale and beauty of the project – 20 years in the making – a little piece of paradise created in a sinkhole – 150 feet deep and 500 feet across caused by a massive landslide.

The final excursion inland was to locate Turner’s Hall Wood – the last remaining natural area of woodland on the island – old Barbados as it was before the sugar cane cash crops destroyed the wilderness. I am not entirely convinced that we would have expended quite as much effort to locate it for a sweaty hike if Geoff hadn’t read over my shoulder that it was also the last place on the island where wild green monkeys still swing freely through the trees (allegedly). After some considerable time driving backwards and forwards down one dead end after another (following the vaguest directions I have ever had to follow in my life) we pulled up at the end of the line outside a ramshackle house at the top of a remote hill “somewhere” inland… with a scrubby path off to the right… and to be fair… just as the instructions promised.

Unsure where to leave the car we decided to abandon it at the side of the road and we disappeared between a gap in the trees and followed the unmarked track into the woods in enthusiastic search of wild monkeys – dressed entirely inappropriately in running shoes. 2 hours later we re-emerged – not a single sign of a monkey anywhere – but we had found plenty of shoe-sucking 3″ deep mud to slip and slide about in on the steepest hike of the island. Survival was ensured only by joint cooperation – navigating the path both up and downhill whilst clinging on for dear life to each other. By some miracle, whilst one of us slipped and tripped the other one of us was solidly upright… and vice versa… all the way back to the car😉 At least the view from the top of the hill across the hills to the coast was worth the slippery climb:-)

The remainder of our days passed uneventfully back on the west coast on padded sun loungers on the beach (favorites being Payne’s and Alleyne’s Bay)… for me – the latest John Grisham novel in one hand and a(nother) bar of Agapey coconut chocolate in the other… and for Geoff – a Rum Sour in one hand and a Bushwhacker  in the other😉

 

Mexico – December 2015

30 Dec
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San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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Christmas in SMA:-)

Bright blue skies; a picture perfect climate; the usual chaotic excitement of latin american street life; vendors vending, children playing and their elders watching on in the (quite literally) pulsing heart of the city – “El Jardin” (The Garden)… the main tree-lined park in the centre of SMA; a huge glittering Christmas tree gracing the cobbled square in front of the fabulous pink limestone Parroquia (the parish church of SMA); ankle-twisting, bone-breaking cobblestone streets; 17th and 18th century Spanish colonial architecture; a family of gorgeous living, breathing sheep in the nativity scene in the park:-) ; handmade chilli chocolates; kids bouncing their prized 10 foot pencil shaped balloons as far into the air as they could manage; sweet and fruit sellers on street corners; vendors blowing bubbles for the tiny kids to play in; buckets of spicy fried crickets – seemingly irresistible to Geoff (he never seems to learn his street food lesson😉 ); church bells ringing day and night (thankfully we packed earplugs); a Christmas Eve bride and groom on horseback serenaded by elaborately clad mariachi singers; Santa on a moped zipping through the backstreets; locals posing for photos in the square on a bored-looking burro sporting giant sunglasses😉 ; more handmade chilli chocolates; a weekly organic farmers market with attendant “fast food” taco and burrito stalls – Geoff tested them out as anticipated (I believe it only took an hour or so for the swelling in his throat to subside😉 ) – I stuck with the chilli chocolates😉 ; shiny star-shaped piĂąatas hanging from the plazas… colored paper decorations strung across the streets; verdant courtyard cafes with twinkly lights and elegantly decorated trees; music bands and street entertainment in the square; quaint and cozy coffee shops squeezed into corners of the restored rows of casitas and mansions; bougainvillea draped roof terraces; doors and windows embellished with intricate hand-wrought ironwork; art galleries; and row upon row of immaculately renovated casitas in shades of burnt orange, ochre and gold; and, amongst many other wonderful things… a plethora of fabulous restaurants… irresistible:-)

Best of all, of course… not a single giant inflated plastic Santa fresh from the sweatshop factories of China, no palm trees wrapped in colored lights, no “fake snow” lights and no mile marker sticks informing the reader of the distance to the North Pole … utter bliss:-)

We absolutely loved the Spanish colonial architecture, the parks, plazas, courtyards and cafes. We wandered aimlessly through the artisans market people watching and absorbing the atmosphere… We fell upon secluded courtyards around many corners and took every opportunity to stop for copious amounts of (superb!) coffee and cake…:-)

San Miguel de Allende is very european in parts and (mainly) without the attendant european doggie doo to inadvertently step into which is just as well as the very hilly cobbled streets are already a death trap of craters, unexpected kerbs and other treacherous obstacles totally unsuitable for my collection of extravagantly high heels😉 …and, conversely, very un-european in the quality of its air.

Whilst the cloudless ultramarine skies looked pristine, at ground level the fumes from the ancient cars, trucks and buses were absolutely choking… not Cusco, Peru-choking (where it was only possible to breathe through the filter of a handkerchief wedged up each nostril)… but it was pretty close😉

Christmas Eve in the inspirationally named “The Restaurant” started our vacation in typical disorganized latin american style. Geoff clung to me as I staggered in my dangerously lethal heels in the dark, uphill, leaping canyons in the cobbles, and avoiding inconveniently placed electricity wires and other such extraneous constructions on the notably narrow sidewalks, all the way to this much lauded restaurant, for our anticipated Christmas Eve dinner.

I hobbled in as elegantly as possible on twisted ankles, smiled as beatifically as I could muster and proclaimed in immaculate espanol that we had a reservation for 7.30. We then stood back and waited to be escorted efficienty into the beautiful restaurant with its open air terrace and twinkly lights for a romantic dinner “para dos”.

As the search for our name was taking slightly longer than anticipated I began to wonder what the implication of the inaudible mutterings from the maitre d’ and his check-in girl might be. Suddenly the maitre’d smiled back equally beatifically, apologized (with no hint of sincerity whatsoever) and proclaimed that our names were unfortunately not on the reservation list at all… and what was more, they were fully booked for the night (unsurprisingly).

So… there we are on Christmas Eve – dolled up to the nines on one of the busiest nights of the year in this hugely popular town (not just popular with the substantial ex-pat community but also with visitors from afar and the rather well-heeled from Mexico City) apparently without anywhere to eat😦

Unwilling to accept my looming vision that we might be left with no alternative but to share a left-over breakfast croissant and a rapidly wilting cucumber for our Christmas Eve gastronomic delight I pressed on with my insistence that we most definitely did have a reservation. Beside me, I could see that Geoff’s lower lip was beginning to twitch in irritation (probably alcohol deprivation) as I scrabbled through my handbag looking for my reservation confirmation. Et voila – there it was! Relieved, I thrust it under the nose of the manager who was beginning to come out in a cold sweat.

However, it transpired that we weren’t quite yet safely through the trees.

Ahhhh… (on examination of my crumpled print-out) – all was now clear – he explained – I didn’t have a confirmed reservation for dinner because my booking had been made online and they weren’t accepting reservations online for Christmas Eve. How unfortunate, I thought, however I couldn’t really care less what the failings of the website booking reservation system might be… my reservation had been made direct on “The Restaurant’s” own website, it came replete with time, date and confirmation number and we were getting hungry… far worse… Geoff (who was beginning to spit feathers) was getting thirsty…😉

“Well – you coulda fooled me Buster”… (reverting to my very best English)… “as you can clearly see this is a print-out from YOUR website with a confirmation number which clearly states December 24th, 7.30pm Reservation Confirmation for 2 – now seat us pronto and feed me your overpriced 6 course set menu “special evening” dinner, por favor, cos it’s been a long day wandering the cobbled streets and we’re kinda hungry now”.

The conversation continued to rotate much along these lines for a good 10 minutes as the idle rich in their various fineries began to pile up in the entrance behind us looking, initially, flustered and then just plain irritated.

After an infinite time of embarrassment and absolute abdication of responsibility for the failings of their own website booking system (I was barely able to believe that this was all my fault), the manager finally conceded that he might actually HAVE to find us a table because we weren’t showing signs of leaving and there were now audible ripples of discontent behind us from the well heeled americans and the drugs lord from Mexico City with his extended family… not a situation the maitre d’ wished to sustain for long, I’m sure😉

Suddenly we were whisked away, deposited at the bar and plied with complimentary cocktails (by that stage a blind man could have seen that the atmosphere could only be improved with the provision of alcohol) and we were told we would have a table in 30 minutes. Numerous alcoholic beverages later we were still waiting for our table an hour later by which time we had also (luckily) scoured the fixed price menu for its various offerings. Less fortunately, however, we discovered that the main course options all involved the consumption of the corpses of cute, cuddly, furry, dead animals … Could the evening get much worse?

…a first world problem, of course, but then again we weren’t thrilled at the prospect of spending an arm and a leg in order to simply sip soup and devour dessert (which we’ll get to later… ).

Scuttling back to the maitre’d (who was undoubtedly wishing he hadn’t been so rash as to promise to find us a table at all), Geoff asked what alternatives were offered for those of us who don’t eat cute, cuddly, furry creatures. The answer was – apparently – none… maybe gnocchi if the chef had time to knock some up… (really??) – nope – that wasn’t going to wash so Geoff sent him back to the kitchen to try again.

10 minutes later we were informed that the chef MAY have some scallops in the freezer he could defrost (a similarly unenticing offer)… so back to seĂąor le chef…

A final rifle through the fridge culminated in the offering of salmon and vegetables which we accepted with no hope whatsoever that it would be worth the vastly overpriced fixed price menu for Crimbo Eve… but what are ya gonna do??!

Luckily, we were wrong:-) The chef, at least, had some pride in running his kitchen even if the manager could barely care less about customer service😉

Almost replete, we turned our thoughts to dessert. Offerings on the menu were Chocolate Pot de Crème (a no brainer for me) and Pumpkin Pie (more a dessert of desperation). Imagine our barely disguised delight when the waiter offered us Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pie…

“Well hang on there un momento Miguel but I had set my heart on the Chocolate Pot de Crème so I’ll have one of those, por favor”.

“Ahh… many apologies seĂąora but the kitchen has run out of chocolate dessert” …at 9.30pm?… on the busiest night in the city?… when all the little offspring of the drugs kingpin on the table beside us were simultaneously chatting about ordering the divine sounding Pot de Crème?? We could barely wait to hear the upshot of the conversation when they had to tell their kids that the kitchen had run out of chocky pudding😉 Not wanting to get caught in the crossfire (literally or figuratively) we quickly ordered the cheesecake and the check and headed home as fast as we could stagger.

Thereafter, however, the week passed smoothly – save for the hobbling up and down the cobblestone paths and roadways which were anything but smooth sailing😉

7 courses for Christmas Dinner at Zumo the following night (why does anyone need 7 courses?) rather left us unable to consume anything more until the following evening when we met with a work colleague of Geoff’s from Mexico City and his wife at the swanky Rosewood Hotel. Many Mexican Flag Tequilas were imbibed (the boys may have been in competition)… as were many restorative cups of coffee the following day😉

The only time we could be bothered to tear ourselves away from wandering the streets of the old city or sharing a ringside park bench with the other oldies at El Jardin watching the world go by, we headed uphill (on the morning of our penultimate day) to the Botanical Garden “El Charco” to catch some fresher air than the usual 2 stroke truck engine fumes😉

El Charco is a proudly vaunted area of natural beauty in the hills above the city which brought to mind the wild scrubland of New Mexico (perhaps unsurprisingly) or Arizona (but without the billowing trash)… a reservoir previously supplying the city, a diminutive canyon and many, many enormous cacti …it was a relief to breathe freely again but not desperately exciting…

Still, our final afternoon passed perfectly – we managed to squeeze in even more chilli chocolates, kill a few hours in our favorite verdant courtyard cafe and enjoy final cocktails watching the sun set on the gloriously pink Parroquia from the rooftop terrace of our casita:-)

Adios Mexico! Hasta luego:-)

England – October 2015

16 Oct
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Lavenham, Suffolk

Photo’s are here or you can just click on the photograph above.

Thoroughly homesick for the first time in 16 years we took an emergency trip to our motherland in search of a cure😉

Geoff was rather hoping for 2 weeks of rain, grey skies and general freezing misery to finally dispel my romantic notions of rose-covered thatched cottages, cricket on the village green and puffy white clouds floating over emerald green fields. Luckily, (or perhaps not – for the homesickness!!) he was wrong and we were fortunate enough to arrive just in time for somewhat of an Indian summer with overtones of autumnal color.

It was absolutely lovely (discounting one day of rain in London which I am now choosing to ignore😉 ). Not only did the weather play ball allowing us to potter aimlessly in the sun – the fall leaves swirling at our feet – we also managed to spend quality time with family and friends – which is, of course, the real reason we were so homesick…

…that and missing the gastronomic delights of the British Isles😉 At the final tally we calculated that in 2 weeks we had consumed something in the region of 100 million calories comprising, amongst other meals, of 3 curries, 4 fish and chip suppers, and coffee and homemade cake at various tea shop stops around the country x 14 (or maybe more).

Our time was spent at break-neck speed as usual.

We visited my parents in Windsor, Berkshire and celebrated my mum’s 80th birthday. I hope I’ve inherited my mothers genes because (all bias aside) I don’t think she looks even close to 80:-)

We passed an idyllic autumnal day pottering along the River Alde estuary at Snape Maltings with Geoff’s grandmother, his dad and step-mother.

We spent the weekend bonding with my new hairy nephew Asher (a huge Bull Mastiff, somewhat intimidating at first sight, but ultimately an affectionate, cuddly great lump – able to puncture a football kicked for him by his Uncle Geoff with one enormous clench of his jaw) and the other members of the chicken, duck and geese menagerie at my brother Paul and his wife Katie’s newly purchased small-holding in the beautiful Suffolk countryside.

There was the traditional Gardner family get together evening replete with a full contingent of very bouncy nieces and nephew – thanks again to beloved Auntie Val for baking the most delicious surprise early 50th birthday cake for Geoff.

London is always fun – despite the on and off rain. Whilst Geoff was warm and dry presenting something fascinating in the Red Hat London office, I kept myself dry in the Tate Modern Gallery but I soon tired of the piles of bricks and barbed wire oddities in preference for the far more interesting street life of the city.

We finally got to meet the rather cute future husband (Damion) of a very old friend of mine (Kate… also my former bridesmaid) from my days in the law … it seemed only right that we should thoroughly vet and approve him before booking the flights to the wedding in the Greek Islands next summer😉

After a couple of days of Geoff working in the Red Hat Farnborough office (whilst I gallivanted around the countryside with my parents), we caught a flight up to Cheshire to spend the weekend with our longtime best friend Gary, his wife Tracey and their drop-dead gorgeous Ragdoll kitty, Ollie. We were collected from Manchester airport in their newly acquired refurbished lime green 1979 T2 Bay VW Camper Van whistling Dixie at full volume at us by horn. I haven’t quite got over the embarrassment even yet😉 We kicked leaves in the Cheshire countryside, Geoff found some very fat cows to feed and a tree to climb… so he was happy… We wandered the streets of fabulous Chester where we tried to watch an (as advertised) “awe-inspiring” falconry display from the city walls – but after half an hour of giggling at the poor handler whistling at a distant tree and chucking a dead mouse up in the air to tempt the naughty escapee falcon down from its perch on high we gave up on the show and found a tea shop instead:-) … we also had a bonus fun evening at the best gastropub in the entire world with Gary, Tracey and other mutual friends, Rob and Rainzley – which was a blast:-)

… by this time of course the homesickness was hardly wearing off… and was ultimately compounded by our final few days spent with one of my best friends, Caroline, Stephen and family ( I can’t imagine where the time has gone but we have known each other now for 30 years since we met in the first few days of University). Naturally all the stops were pulled out as we hiked our way from one delectable tea shop and pub to the next …over, around and through various of the Yorkshire Dales – one of our favorite places in England:-)

So… back home in the Sunshine State, we are no less homesick but it was nice to come home and shed a few layers of clothing to sunbathe by the pool and reminisce:-)

Thank you all for an absolutely wonderful vacation:-) We miss y’all! xxx

Summer in New England and Washington – July/August/September 2015

29 Sep
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Lobster Landing in Clinton, CT

Photo’s are here or you can just click on the photograph above.

Summer flew by with more time than usual spent up in the North East this year.

Whilst Geoff enjoyed the limited excitements of the office in Tyson’s Corner, I loitered about aimlessly in Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and the National Mall in Washington enjoying the far lovelier architecture of the city, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden and the street cafes… and then followed it with more of the same guided by a local friend well versed in the side streets and neighborhoods of 14th Street, Logan Circle and U Street …she always knows the more interesting areas to hang out in and while away the hours chatting in a caffeinated state of contentment:-).

Aside from the summer heat, humidity and usual city-type busyness of DC we passed our weeks around work and art shows friend-hopping, visiting and catching up with artist friends in various states, one of the highlights of which was house sitting for an art collector friend on the Connecticut coast in Mystic. Much to Geoff’s delight he was also requested to “car sit” so he got to try out the 5.5 litre AMG version of our Mercedes SL 500:-)

… this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, with hindsight😉.

July, August and September in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine went by in a haze of rocky coastal communities; coastal walks at York Harbor, Maine, on the Marginal Way at Perkin’s Cove, Maine and the coastal trail in Newport, Rhode Island – breathing in the smell of wild beach roses warmed by the summer and early fall sun; coastal marshes; fishing villages; lobster shacks; oyster bars; country forest drives; evening runs along the picturesque Mystic River watching the sun setting on the boats bobbing about in the marina; explorations up the Connecticut River Valley and into the Litchfield Hills; visiting idyllic colonial towns and villages; shopping til I dropped in the boutiques of Portsmouth, New Hampshire… and other quintessentially typical New England summer and fall delights:-).

In addition, (thankfully) I sold a lot of paintings which was, of course, the entire purpose of our summer spent mainly up north😉:-).

Mont Tremblant, Canada – August 2015

7 Aug
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Mont Tremblant, Canada

Photo’s are here or you can just click on the photograph above.

A flying weekend trip to Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada squeezed in between art shows:-).

It was all very sedate in summer in this renowned Canadian ski resort …less skiing icy moguls and more perambulating around the lake and the immaculate pastel painted, tin roofed town in flip-flops and running shoes (naturellement!).

…and, more importantly, of course, food testing our way through the french patisseries and local fromages… followed by sipping du vin on the apartment balcony overlooking the lake:-).

All very pleasant, relaxing and distinctly unchallenging for once …except for trying to remember all of our schoolboy/girl french…😉.

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