Archive for ‘jetsetting’

February 7, 2013

Try and travel

I don’t know how much YOU know about this, but planning a trip has become a far more rewarding activity than it was only a couple, maybe three years ago.

You would say, well, we all have online maps in our palms now. Yeah, that helps. I can say with much accurateness that easy wi-fi was not as easy to find outside of the US (and that includes many a big city in Europe) a mere three years ago, in spite of us being well ahead in the iPod revolution. For instance, I’m not sure if I was the idiot (be kind if that is the case) but when I went to Barcelona some years ago, I couldn’t access their free public wireless network, no matter how hard I tried — I was standing right there beside the W signs and nothing, nothing happened. So yes, internet connection and digital guides do help a lot. But I’m talking about more than that. I’m talking about pre-travel, something that is not that dependent on mobility. I’m talking about content.

I think one of the reasons why I like to share my trips with you in this blog is because I have enjoyed so many good experiences that were made possible by kind people who shared them on the web just to help other travelers have a better value for their time and money in a place they are willing to know, but still don’t. It’s very hard to connect with the spirit of cities such as New York or Paris without having someone with whom you share some affinities to help you through the choices, and not many people have close friends in all the right places.

Now… I don’t know. I think it’s somewhat easier. We have Booking.com and TripAdvisor doing an amazing job at uniting and organizing the community of travelers around the globe for the noble cause of helping fellow tourists find and judge his possibilities for themselves, allowing them to understand how their needs and interests will be met at each place. We have bloggers. And I think we have more. We have local magazines online. Anyone who goes to NYC can type “10 best burgers nyc” on Google and find lists crafted by a variety of authors from blogs to Zagat to CBS. Have an idea, search it, you’ll easily know. Or do the opposite: read about an idea, search it, and decide if you’ll do it.

I think over the years I’ve become pretty good at planning trips packed up with details — I’ll tell you about some itineraries and you’ll think I did them in a week when in fact, I compressed them in three or four days (without rushing, of course — it wouldn’t make sense to brag if otherwise). I’ll share my innocent tricks with you, and pardon me if you feel they are obvious — I feel I have many friends who would find this extremely helpful, but maybe they’re just not very smart. 😉 These will work for a good bunch of places, especially urban destinations.

keep a Google Maps tab at your service at all times – the other must-have tabs are those relating to public transit information, such as bus schedules and subway maps. This is how you optimize your daily schedule.

if you have NO IDEA of what to do – it was like that for me when I went to Singapore last year — you don’t need to buy city guides anymore. Just type: things to do in [city of choice] on your favored browser and check out what the first ten results have to tell you. This will provide you with a fine beginning, but it is only the beginning.

check tips that come from many different types of sources – don’t limit yourself to advice coming from specialized websites, because you are likely to get mostly the very touristic information — they are still what is predominant on travel-oriented websites because tourists are not locals and therefore usually are more interested (or only have time, or money) to go to the most famous places and landmarks. Look for personal blogs instead of just the travel-oriented ones — see if you connect with the blogger and if you do, try their tips out. Check stuff like the fashion magazine’s culture and travel sections (here’s net-a-porter’s this week), entertainment sections on local news websites or, I don’t know, The Economist. Seriously, the Economist. Or Richard Quest’s Business Traveler on CNN. I also like to check the what to do section on hotels located where I’m going on the Jetsetter — that’s how I found out about the amazing Royce’ Chocolate and their delicious maccha nama chocolate in Singapore (and now I just found out they just opened a store in NYC!! go, New Yorkers, go! It’s fresh news, from less than two months ago. Madison and 53rd).

deciding where to stay – I don’t go any farther than Booking.com, but I always double check on TripAdvisor the guest’s opinions on the hotels I like the most and I ALWAYS check at the hotel’s own homepage if their rates are actually lower than those offered on Booking.com — often they are, so don’t skip this step unless you don’t care about your money.

do stuff you like – don’t just go see buildings and landscape. Do that too, but what else do you normally enjoy doing? Check the entire cultural schedule: the opera, the ballet, the classical and rock concerts, the plays that will be on while you are in town. I caught Simon & Garfunkel in Paris, and got an autograph from Paul afterwards; unforgettable. Think of jazz joints, cheese festivals, film festivals. Think of things you really wanted to buy but are very hard to find at home (if at all possible) such as, I don’t know, lavender honey, or really good and cheap foie gras. Go beyond spirits, chocolate and electronic devices…

if you do want to buy spirits and chocolate – at least while in Europe try to get them at the local supermarkets. It’s much, much cheaper than at the duty free shops.

after figuring out all the places you’d like to visit, do two things – find them on the map and check their websites. You must know their opening hours, closed days and free admissions/pay what you wish days (in NYC and Paris this might save you a fortune if you have the time to juggle your museum days according to their free admissions schedule). Have all this information clear in your head and start planning each day in a way that, if possible, you will not spend more than half an hour in your transportation mode of choice (including your own feet) from one place to another. Standard time spent on medium sized museums should be between two and three hours (see Guggenheim, MoMA, the Pompidou if you’re fast) and there is no limit for places like the Louvre or the Met.

try to insert your sightseeing (like: oh, there’s the Chrysler!) in your transportation schedule – like this: when you do your must-do walk up the 5th Avenue, stop for pictures at the Empire State, stop for pictures at the Chrysler, stop for pictures at St. Patricks Cathedral, etc. etc., arrive at MoMA.

no hesitation, make reservations – for EVERYTHING that is important to you, especially if there are no costs attached.

try to have a plan B for the cases when you miscalculate distances or the time spent on a particular place – see: Louvre. It can take many entire days… don’t give it less than four or five hours. You may have to skip a place on your original schedule and well, it’s nice to be able to still go there anyway at another time.

save the nicer meals for the evening – except if you have good reason for them to occur during lunch. Check the Michelin guide — even if you’re not into spending much — and all the specific local restaurant guides (again, search too in fashion magazines, business and news websites…). Look for your cravings (1o best burgers…). Don’t ignore market places… they are good and joyful choices for lunch.

there is no reason why you will exceed your budget on a trip – prices are sooo available on the internet. Do your research. Send emails. You can even decide what you will eat at most restaurants in large cities and know what the check will look like before even leaving for the airport. Remember: food, drink, gratuities, taxes, hotel, public transportation (calculate your trips per day to see what’s best: a three-day passport or purchasing each ticket at a time), admissions, purchases, plus 10 to 20%. This is what you’ll likely spend if you’re organized.

This is a lot of words, but hopefully an useful bunch of them. So, go plan your trip or something.

October 8, 2012

Edinburgh and Rio de Janeiro — a tale of two international film festivals

So, being in Edinburgh on vacation was really not something I would have had planned about a year ago. I had a somewhat professionally related matter that would take me there, and from that incentive resulted a very, very nice time off.

While in Paris a few days before reaching Scotland, I had dinner with a chatty couple from the UK who kindly informed me the correct – native, say – way of pronouncing Edinburgh is actually Edinbourough, with a very strong “r”. And so it is indeed, and that´s how I think of this word´s pronounciation when I´m writing it.

I stayed at a great spot — the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket area were really close by — and could enjoy a lot of the city during my time off, including the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The Royal Mile

I don´t remember having seen any red carpet appearences from celebrities attending this festival, although I saw a large bunch of very exquisitely dressed people leaving the exclusive Opening Gala session for what would probably be a cool party. I myself attended the  public Opening Gala session — Killer Joe — which was very organized (specially when Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, which is still going on as I write, springs to mind in all it´s chaos), but did not feature any real gala item (such as booze and food) except for candid opening speeches by the artistic director of the Festival Chris Fujiwara, the main star Gina Gershon and the director of the movie, William Friedkin. People were randomly dressed — from black leather pants, gray silk tank, Stella open toe translucid sandals and a olive green wool blazer (me) to, you know, Converse, ugly jeans and t-shirt, to actual party wear.

I couldn´t buy my ticket for the premiere online, which sort of upset me — the online box office simply did not work — but it was possible to do it over the phone. I didn´t enjoy sharing my credit card information on such old fashioned basis, but alas — I could make a seat reservation in advance and that´s the most important thing, I believe. Had to grab my ticket on the ticket office over Lothian Road, which was a little far (not a lot, though — nothing is very far if we are talking of Edinburgh´s city center) from where I was staying and from where the film would show — the Festival Theater, a beautiful glass building equipped with state of the art screening equipment and an amazing, vintage showroom that takes you back to the early 20th century.

The Festival took place by the end of June, so, supposedly, the weather in Edinburgh should have been warm(er), but it was actually rather… weird — cold and then not and mostly windy and rainy. Well, I believe weather has been weird almost anywhere on Earth, throughout the whole year (in Edinburgh´s defense). I must say it mattered little: the fact is that medieval-turned-contemporary-and-friendly vibe of the city even gains in scenic appeal when the day is foggy and Carlton Hill is partially covered in mist. The camera never finds a reason to stop working in there — beautiful images can be produced from every corner, from magnificent ruin-like monuments on top of the green mountains to the amazing Edinburgh Castle and the thrilling Holyroodhouse Palace, to the lovely stone buildings from many centuries ago and the beautiful contrast between the gray walls and the wooden doors painted red.

visit – you should not, in any circumstance, not walk the entire Royal Mile up and down, and enter the domains both of the mighty Edinburgh Castle and the fantastically charged with history Holyroodhouse Palace. While you´re at it, just forget where your patriotic allegiances lie and allow the scottish pride to take over your heart. Let the unstopable bagpipes under your skin and allow the Stone of Scone enthrance you with its amazing story that runs back almost for a millenia — it was stolen by the English in the 11th century and placed under the cerimonial throne where all the Kings and Queens of England and later of the UK were coronated — UNTIL OUR DAYS. After years being kept at Westminster Abbey — by years, I mean, until 1950, that is, around six centuries  — the Stone was finally returned to the Scotts, and is kept at the Castle with the scottish Jewels of the Crown, with one condition: it must be temporarily returned to London when the next King or Queen is coronated, maintaining the centuries old tradition of having it under the ceremonial throne.

The green hills, the castle and the mist

Unusual view of Edinburgh, from the Castle

On your way down the Royal Mile, heading for the Holyroodhouse Palace, do visit the lovely Saint Giles Cathedral, with its beautiful blue ceilings, vitrals, stone halls, flags, and the Chapel of the Order of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s great order of chivalry.

The Holyroodhouse Palace, on the other hand, is just really thrilling with the fact the Queen still lives there for a part of the year and that so much palatial intrigue — culminating of course with the story of Mary Stuart, to whom the Scotts are more gentle than others usually are — was lived in that same environment. I guess the most fantastic of the place are the ruins of the Holyroodhouse Abbey — it is just so amazing to be faced with such a powerfully old structure, even if it has fallen apart.

Holyroodhouse Abbey

eat – go to pubs and have fish and chips. Fish and chips at a good pub with good beer is a must in the UK. Oh, just go anywhere it´s not crazy full, and that´s basically it. The place that stuck to my heart was not about fish and chips, though, but mussels and steak instead. Literally, it is called the Mussels and Steak Bar, and it´s in Grassmarket, a corner away from the Royal Mile. I stayed true to the mussels everytime I went there. Absolutely delicious. A three course meal (including half a kilo of delicious mussels and fries) will set you back in around 21 USDs (13 pounds).

art galleries – do hot dismiss Edinburgh´s fine art collections at the National Museum on the Mound — live music session among Italian Renaissance Masters included in the free visit, in my case, a very good jazz singer accompanied by violin, piano and harp — or at the Galleries of Modern Art. Good temporary exhibitions pair with great permanent ones and aside the great samples of representative European works, this is a chance at exploring the good art produced in Scotland.

glasgow – if you have enough time, just stop by Glasgow for a day — it´s about one hour by train from Edinburgh, and it´s a much larger city. Go visit the GoMA – Gallery of Modern Art: it´s really close to Queens Station (where you arrive from Edinburgh) and it´s both a beautiful building and a fine collection. Next, head for architecture, lunch, tea and some delicious dessert at the Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchiehall Street, designed by the great (and most beloved) Charles Mackintosh. The art decĂł interiors speak much more loudly than the exteriors (a little too battered perhaps) and are definitely worth the visit. And have dessert. Indulge.

Second floor @ The Willow Tea Room

Especially if you have kids with you, try the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It´s not very far and its very oriented towards bringing art and history to your child´s attention (adults will enjoy it too). There´s more Mackintosh there as well, by the way.

Moving on across the pond and the Ecuator, Rio de Janeiro´s International Film Festival is still happening as I publish this. It’s spring in there and an unusually warm one, although temperatures are still delighful — just a tad warmer then they should be at this time of the year, enough for a beach in the morning (stay in Copacabana or Ipanema; Leblon is very nice but a bit too far from the rest) without having your skin melting in sweat as you work in actual clothes as the sun peaks up during the day. As usual, I was working, but again I find time for leisure (I swear I don´t run from my professional commitments to play the tourist).

About the festival — good selection of movies, but truly disorganized and upsetting. I gave a try at Moonrise Kingdom (later learned it was already available online and watched it: very candid and lovely) just to find myself not being able to purchase a ticket and choosing sort of impromptu the next available movie showing nearby: Quelques Heures de Printemps, a vastly different sort of experience (although I did enjoy the movie — a study on how our family relations are about what our own maturity make of them, and will only change by means of our wills to change them, and not due to external dramatic events that should supposedly bind all together in chants of love and joy in being in each other´s company). Seats could not be purchased in advance, nor were marked, which implied in huge lines at the ticket offices and then, at the showing room´s door (that if seating with your friends and with a comfortable view of the screen are listed among your cinematographic concerns). Sessions were often late and I had to get my money back for Monty Python: A Liar´s Autobiography  because there were no seats available anymore when I made my way to the room (they were overbooking the theater!). I then fled to try to catch Argo, the new Ben Affleck spionage venture in the early 1980s Middle East with a kitschy spin and the plus of being a true story — a very nice choice, I might add. Go watch it too. The movie theaters at the Botafogo neighborhood were by far the most chaotic and crowded, and the restaurants in the area (not many) were coping sufferably with the long hours of work due to the unusual masses of hungry people around (do try however the cafĂŠ at Livraria PrefĂĄcio, nearby the theater at VoluntĂĄrios da PĂĄtria street — nice food, cheap but interesting choices, the fried fish fillets with mustard sauce is honestly delicious and serves up to two very hungry people. Dessert is also nice, and their cacao cake is extremely relevant. Be patient with their service though).

Rio is still a chaotic city if compared to other large European or American metropolitan centers, but is has definitely improved both in matters of public transportation and overal citizen safety throughout the years. Do not expect time tables on subway stations or bus stops — when it comes to the latter, it may be actually quite hard to even find out which bus you´re supposed to take to get to where you need to go. The streets are still too dirty for my liking (but passable on most of the interesting spots), and so can the beaches be by the end of the day, which might be rather frustrating. These are the city downsides — from here, we only go up now.

Rio de Janeiro is probably the most beautiful large city in the world when it comes to the interaction between human intervention and nature. The location of the city is blessed, between green hills and a lovely shore, with an amazing park — the Aterro do Flamengo — and a lovely Lagoon to raise the bar even higher.

If this is your first time in Rio de Janeiro, you might be both curious about the local gastronomy and afraid of choosing “touristic” (meaning “poor quality, ostensively priced”) places out of your own lack of knowledge. Here goes a list for all sorts of foodie moods: from unforgettable (though drammatically expensive) experiences to some smart and more casual choices, here is a list of places where you will get a nice taste of Brazil in this wonderfully chaotic city:

where to spend heavily – I would say your first choice must be Le PrĂŠ Catelan, the finest French choice in Rio, I dare say. French? Do not be fooled by this title — this is Brazilian-French, my mate, specially if you get what you should: one of the special menus the chef Rolland Villard prepares based upon local ingredients, such as the unforgettable Amazonian menu or the more recent Rice and Beans menu (an entire 10 course meal prepared with dishes containing both ingredients presented in a variety of forms). Brief introduction to Brazilian food so you will understand this menu´s brilliance: rice and beans are a must on a daily basis and will go with mostly anything in a dish, but preferrably fries and a nice steak. Chef Villard, however, turns the combination into snacks, entrĂŠes and even desserts, entirely different among themselves in flavor and texture, by combining the local combination of ingredients with techniques and traditions from around the world to create a complete dining experience. You might spend at least 300 USD per person if you choose such menu, so be prepared. Le PrĂŠ Catelan is also furnished with an unfair trick under its sleeve, or, more specifically, outside its windows: a breathtaking view of Copacabana beach.

Deconstructed, mollecular feijoada @ Oro.

One option second to Le PrĂŠ Catelan should be the restaurant Oro, by chef Felipe Bronze. A five-course menu including the exquisite wine pairing by attentive argentinian sommelière Cecilia Aldaz should cost you around 150 USD per guest and will also not disappoint. Ask for the crayfish with pistacchio cream, hearts of palm and artichokes paired with the most dreamy Gewursträminer from Alsace — tears of happiness may burst from your eyes. On our right, check out their deconstructed, and even poetic approach to the classic feijoada (sort of a Brazilian version of French cassoulet, but with black beans instead of the lighter variety and sometimes enriched with some of the obscurest cuts of pork, such as the ear, as well as the most popular ones). Decoration and attention to detail are at very high levels at the Oro.

Rua Dias Ferreira: you will find many cool (and crowded) restaurants in this lovely street at the Leblon neighborhood (the most upscale in Rio). Head for Sushi Leblon for great japanese, Sawasdee or Mekong for a blend of Asian flavors or Quadrucci for nice italian food. If you are into a very heavily crowded environment and a typical carioca bar experience, head for Chico and Adelaide on the corner of Bartolomeu Mitre and indulge in fried manioc and shrimp dumplings with cold beer.

where to eat downtown – weather your visit is business or leisure, you should come accross the difficult issue of eating downtown Rio de Janeiro. The majority of the most important companies in Rio have their headquarters there, and most of the city´s greatest museums are there as well.

Downtown Rio de Janeiro is filled with OK-but-overpriced choices (this is of course a personal opinion) such as the Eça, charmingly (and meaningfully) situated underground below (and inside) an H. Stern jewelry shop at Avenida Rio Branco, next to Rua da AssemblĂŠia, or the Giuseppe Grill — look for it at Rua da Quitanda, near the corner from 7 de Setembro. Those are fine if someone is paying your bill, but if you are on your own, perhaps you will prefer some other ideas:

Firstly, there is the AteliĂŞ CulinĂĄrio @ Odeon Cinema. This is your go-to place if you are attending the Film Festival, as the Odeon is where most of the gala events are held. This is a fully preserved early 20th century movie theater, façade and all. A few international celebrity shots were taken on the red carpet there, such as this one of Kylie Minogue published on the Red Carpet Fashion Awards blog. The tigelinha de moqueca — a bowl of light white fish stew cooked with local spices, bananas, ground coconut and a choice of whole or white rice — is quite heavenly, and so are all the salads (fresh greens, gorgonzola, pears and walnuts with balsamic vinegar or shrimp, sweet tomatoes, lettuce and mango with guacamole are my favorites) and the deserts (please do order the warm dulce de leche with cheese ice cream, freshly ground parmesan cheese and smashed peanuts).

Bistrot The Line @ Maison France-BrÊsil: this is a great choice if you are visiting the museums on the other side of Rio Branco Avenue: the Paço Imperial, the CCBB and the gallery at the Maison France-BrÊsil itself. There is also an antiques fair held nearby on saturdays (at Praça XV). It´s not expensive and the food is varied and honest. A nice feijoada (again, the feijoada) is served on fridays, saturdays and sundays for about 13 USDs (25 Reais).

do not miss – a nice stroll at the Aterro do Flamengo park, ending in a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MAM), a beautiful building with an amazing garden by Brazilian architect Burle Marx, great views from Guanabara Bay and an interesting permanent collection of local artists, plus great temporary exhibitions such as a recent one of Giacometti;

Burle Marx’s garden @ MAM Rio

…the CCBB, on the other end of the downtown area, might also be having a nice temporary exhibition — it is worth checking before dismissing, and also checking out the other previously mentioned art galleries in the CandelĂĄria area: the Paço Imperial, the Casa dos Correios and the Maison France-BrĂŠsil (really nearby, mere two to five minutes away from each other by foot); a walk in the early morning from Leme all the way to the Fort at Copacabana, where you should arrive about a quarter to 10 AM in order to get a table for breakfast with an amazing view of the beach and the cityscape surrounding it;

Breakfast is only commencing at the Forte de Copacabana

…a walk at Pista Claudio Coutinho at the Urca neighborhood, where you should definitely try (if you have an able guide — could be a local friend) climbing the trail that gets you to the top of the first, lower hill that comprises the Sugar Loaf — you can get the bondinho from there to the higher hilltop and then back all the way down, or just take in the view from righ there and descend through the same trail for free; delicious caipirinhas made of intriguing fruits and combinations (try cocoa and rosemary) at the Palaphita Kitsch, a bar with breathtaking views of the Lagoon.

Palaphita Kitsch – didn´t have any good picture of mine, so click to find the source of this one

Robert Morris and the Theatro Municipal

So there it is, a tale of two very distinct cities — the misty Avalon Edinburgh Edinbourough and the sunny chaotic lovely Rio de Janeiro, bound by my own very personal experiences of not so red carpet popular but locally relevant international film festivals. I could have thrown in this post a third city by narrating my experience of Sundance Film Festival as well (and that would be it, in what international film festivals are concerned), but that was too long ago, when I was still a poor student working at the chairlifts of a ski resort in Park City in order to ski for free in my days off (eventually, on workdays as well) while at a long winter break. Well, aside from holding a chair for Robert Redford, there was not much more to it, really. Also, a third city would spoil the Dickens reference, and how cool IS a Dickens reference, ahn? A lot, right? A lot.

P.S.: A few more pictures of Rio are on the way. Stay tuned.

P.P.S.: Kept my promise — nice Rio de Janeiro pictures were added to this post. Hope you enjoy.

May 28, 2012

Ushuaia, or: “you’re so adventurous for a fashionista!”

One of my passions is travel, and one of my challenges in this blog is to bring up interesting conversation that touches up the matter that is promised to be touched up in this blog — femininity and its interpretations — while sharing my jet-setting memories.

Ushuaia is, as they say themselves, the end of the world. By that, local Argentinians mean it’s the farthest city in the south on the entire planet. The small town is a 4 hours flight away from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, and has as its greatest promise plenty of penguin sightings and breathtaking views of some exotic landscape.

I travelled there imagining it could be a very poor and uninteresting village, with nothing to do outside the eco-safaris. Although I read in a lot of places that the food there was amazing and the city was really nice, I just did not anticipate how actually comfortable the place is. Do not expect anything chic such as a Vail Village — they do not have that kind of money — but more like a small, colorful, happy place in spite of the freezing temperatures, as it may snow there even during summer. Tons of duty free shops, invitingly priced outerwear stores and excellent food, including some of the best meat and fish you may ever eat in your life, complete the fine scenario fit for everyone’s type of vacation: the adventurous friends, the whole family or the romantic couples.

So, there I went, to the beautiful Ushuaia, to walk with penguins at Isla Martillo, hike the beautiful Glaciar Martial and kill myself for the incredible views disclosed along the Senda Costera, a 8,5 km trekking trail (plus 2 km absolutely lost, and another 2 to get in and out of the trail) at the Parque Nacional de la Tierra del Fuego. I come back from my vacations truly excited and tell everyone at work about everything I’ve seen and done. In return, I get this comment from a co-worker: “I’m pleasantly surprised to hear you did all that. I could never imagine you interested in nature or sports”.

Please, do take your time savoring the judgment that was passed upon me through that pseudo-innocent sentence. Firstly, the dude felt like his approval of how my vacation time was spent was an actual benefit to my existence. Secondly, the reason why the gentleman mentioned he could never imagine me interested in nature or sports is the fact that I enjoy fashion and wear high heels. Seriously? High heels, silk and splashes of animal print for work denote one’s distaste for trekking and eco-sightseeing?

I do not wear my Jimmy Choos to the mud, as I don’t take my Stella for Adidas leggings to the office unless they’re inside my Stella for Adidas organic cotton bag and I’m attending my yoga classes later in the evening: yes, news flash, you can actually wear appropriate, high-tech and amazing designer clothes while doing even some quite radical sports (unless you figure the ladies who ski in designer outfits will never out race you because they are so well dressed). So why can’t I do it all? Why do people expect us to be so superficial and limited  when one of the things we overtly care about is fashion? Does that happen to you as well? I firmly believe this kind of thought disguises a deeply rooted sexism: if you like clothes, you’re a girl, and I don’t expect you to be adventurous because that’s a thing for guys — I’ll just think you’re a sissy!

It’s funny — it’s like when you’re still in high school or college and the other kids think you have never had sex because you have the good sense of not showing large amounts of skin or acting in exceedingly sensual manner while attending those specific environments. Remember Grease? That kind of thing.

So, while you think about how stupid and rude people can be even at their most thoughtful attempts at trying to be nice, I’ll share with you a little bit more about Ushuaia:

food – I was very impressed. Seriously. My first stop was El Almacen de Ramos General, a nice pastry and coffee shop with some choices of sandwiches, soup, some nice meals and cheese and meat platters. The location is very convenient: really close to the Muelle TurĂ­stico or the tourists’ pier, where all excursions begin and are booked. The pastry is divine — croissants, other choices of bread, and delicious pies with delightful presentation. Breakfast is amazing and for about 10 USDs, if I’m not mistaken, you can take breakfast for two: share with someone you love the heartiest choice in the menu comes with a gigantic, delicious panini, a choice of pie, orange juice, hot beverage (I might have ordered an extra one for my beloved companion), and two choices of pastry, including some options filled with incredible dulce de leche. Inexpensive, close to your stuff, and will make you happy…

The other place I must mention is the delicious BodegĂłn Fueguino. It just might be the best meat I have had in my life. Order anything you please, it will be delicious and melt in your mouth perfect, and the potatoes, God, the potatoes. Any kind of potatoes, they will just bring you the ideal version of it. Finally, don’t forget wine is a happy choice in Argentina. The BodegĂłn gets a little crowded, so you might have to wait in line for maybe 30 minutes if you go there after 8:30 PM, but it is worth it. If memory is not failing me, you should spend a happy 20-30 USDs per person on your entire meal.

On the heftier price tag side, I chose the KaupĂŠ — a nice place, food well prepared and flavorful, with killer views of the city and the Beagle Channel, but definitely not worth the money. For about 80 USD each, we had a 6 courses OK meal, complete with wine pairing and some highlights (such as the wine pairing): the incredible desert Helado de LimĂłn en Salsa Caliente de Champagne — a lemon sorbet paired with a warm champagne sauce — was definitely a wow moment. On the less amazing times I had, I recall the Centolla Natural — king crab presented in such a basic fashion it kind of pissed me off (some people, however, love this dish just the way it is, as I see from the Trip Advisor comments).

By all means, have dulce de leche and wine. Bread is also a treat in Argentina in general — they stick to European recipes more closely than their South American buddies — have some croissants with the dulce de leche in the morning and stop counting calories. Eat beef – ojo de bife, lomos and other local cuts. And be merry.

convenience – the Muelle TurĂ­stico is very easy to find — just follow MaipĂş Avenue until you get there. It is near the Tourist Information Center, a place I highly recommend visiting because they do share very useful information in there: bus/vans schedules and prices, maps of all kinds, advice about the many sightseeing choices and companies that will help you with that. Nearby you will also find a stop where vans will hourly take you to and from the major sightseeing points (such as the Glaciar Marcial or the Parque Nacional de La Tierra del Fuego) for as little as 6-10 US dollars per person — the Lakes Escondido and Fagnano should be a little bit more expensive.

I do not find that one needs a guide for the Parque Nacional or the Glaciar Martial, and those come at very high prices, so my advice on that is: take one of the vans. To the Glaciar, I would risk saying it’s all the same to get a van or a cab (in terms of how much it will cost). To go back to your hotel, just enjoy a nice meal at one of the restaurants at the bottom of the Glaciar — such as the nice La CabaĂąa Casa de TĂŠ — and ask the waiter to fetch you one, or call a “remis” (prices pre-determined according to destination — I did not see a significant difference price difference between either).

la penguinera – the most amazing thing I did in Ushuaia was visiting Isla Martillo with PiraTour. After about 1 hour and a half on the road — killer views will be made available during this part of the tour as well — plus another 40 minutes visiting a nice museum with some interesting information on local sea life, you will finally take a 15 minutes boat ride to an island filled with thousands of penguins. Thousands. Many penguins. Very close to you — like, you know, centimeters away. Like, you could grab them, hug them, lick them, or kick them if you wanted to and the guides allowed you to do so — they will not.

Children should go insane with this tour. My advice: do not be cheap on this one. Choose PiraTours and pay the price — it is more expensive than other penguin choices, but the only one that will actually allow you do descend on the island and walk with the penguins. And that, I tell you, is priceless.

parque nacional de la tierra del fuego – this is really worth your while. Take the entire day off and leave plenty of time to rest in the evening before dinner — if you enjoy this place the way I did, you will possibly have extremely sore muscles by the time you re-enter your hotel room. Do not forget your photo id and check the rates that apply to your ticket before you get there — should be the equivalent of 30 USD or something.

I took the van at about 2 PM and arrived at the park about 30 minutes later. We jumped off at the last stop — close to Lago Roca — and wandered a little until we found our way to the Senda Costera, the longest trail at the park, about 8 km long. I thought I could do it easily in about 2 hours — last van would pick us up at the park entrance at about 18:30, so I felt pretty comfortable about the timing. I was fooled by the idea of a coastal trail — most of it at the margins of the Beagle Channel — and thought my entire path would be as easy as a stroll by the beach.

Well, the trail is not hard, but it’s, you know, a TRAIL. That means it goes through a forest, a path of rocks and mud and branches, and it goes UP. And then down, and then… UP. As time went by and I figured I wasn’t nearly at the pace I needed to be if I wanted to complete the entire trail in time, I doubled my speed and started producing internally a mass of heat so intense I didn’t even need a cardigan over my t-shirt, even though temperatures were low enough to produce flurries. To complete the mess, we got lost for a good 40 minutes before we got to the correct trail, so the clock was truly ticking. And finally, when the trail was over… we realized it ended about 2 km far from the van’s pick-up point, and to make things worse, the way to get there was… up. By then we had only 20 minutes. I was crazy sore. But we made it. There should be a kind of record for that. Our prize was that the lovely driver did take us directly to our hotel as a courtesy (instead of leaving us at the bus stop near the Muelle TurĂ­stico).

In spite of my stories of getting lost and really tired, this is a very structured park, with many trail options — some short and easy ones too. I do not believe a guide is necessary, unless you have a real hard time with the language. I took beautiful pictures and have incredible memories from the entire path, and I highly recommend some trekking in this park to everyone who visits Ushuaia.

glaciar martial – after previously destroying my legs and most of the rest of my body at the Parque Nacional de la Tierra del Fuego, I decided I needed more and climbed up about 400 meters — but you just don’t understand how slippery and inclined that was — from the Glaciar’s awfully old lift to about as near to the top of the mountain you can get without additional gear — sticks will most definitely help you on this one. The walk is about 1,2 km long and has some challenging moments, but the view from the top is so worth it. I do believe the path would have been much easier for me had I not crushed every bone and muscle in my body the previous day, but still, to go all the way up has its challenges and adventurous moments for everyone, I guess.


So, I hope you have enjoyed Ushuaia from my narrative. I sure did enjoy my time there — yes, in spite of not wearing heels for the entire length of the stay.

April 30, 2012

Singapore, Singapore

A few weeks ago I was in Singapore for a work-related conference. That was my first time in the Asian continent — an impressive one I must say, even though many will declare “Singapore is more like an introduction to Asia — you haven´t seen nothing yet”. I guess the details were the most striking discoveries: I was very impressed that everywhere I went that served breakfast had options such as noodles or fried rice (that will do as their light afternoon meals too).

The expats in Singapore mostly find the city very safe and comfortable and fine, but lacking entertainment and cultural choices. I might be able to concur with that sentiment, not without adding there is clearly heavy investment going on in contemporary art to fill in that gap. Anyway, the little over a week time I spent there was filled with great discoveries and memories, which I share with you as recomendations for the globe-throtter ladies:

food – I was not in a foodie vibe at that particular week — ate mostly cheap local food, including plenty of very spicy seafood soup. Asia is not for the weak tongues — they will set your mouth on fire if you don´t choose very carefully. As I myself am a fan of (heavily) spicy food, no problems in experimenting freely.

I was however careful to do some research and discover one of Singapore sweetest jewels – Royce Chocolates, a japanese chocolate factory that has spread to many a city in Asia, but has not yet reached the West. In Singapore, you will find stores at both Ion Orchard and Suntec City malls. Their chief products are:

(i) the Nama Chocolate boxes – delicious melt-in-your-mouth fresh chocolate mixed with fresh cream and liquor: must be constantly refrigerated at approximately 10 degrees (Celsius), for a French truffle-like consistency. I purchased the Maccha flavoured ones: amazing, amazing. Amazing.

(ii) the chocolate-covered potato chips. A very exaggerated approach to sweet-n-sour, interesting in its boldness and great presentation, with a nostalgic touch of, you know, those times when you were a little child and you dreamed of eating chocolate and potato chips at the same time while knowing none of the adults responsible for feeding you would ever cater to that crazy desire of yours.

art & architecture – there is a lot going on in that field when it comes to fast-growing Asian metropolitan centers, and Singapore is no exception. I was mostly amazed at the Marina Bay Sands complex, with its incredible giant banana-boat hanging over the top of three very tall towers. I think the best picture I have taken of Singapore was that of the Marina Bay Sands complex in nightfall, having by its side the brand-new ArtScience Museum, all lit up with amazing colorful projections as part of the i-Light Marina Bay Festival, and the lovely Helix Bridge.

I think art and architecture are particularly mixed together in this, say, Asian model of urban development. Take a look at those (poor quality) pictures of some of the nicest spots I discovered:

(i) UOB Plaza: a delightfully powerful Botero sculpture of a Bird lends its strong and slightly quirky tridimentionality to Friday night hotspot Boat Quay. A little closer to Raffles Place MRT Station, just around the corner, you will find an amazing Homage to Newton, paid by surrealist master Salvador Dalí. Such amazing, talented good humor and  incredible knack for symbolic imagery.

(ii) The art collection at the Ritz Carlton: the way such powerful pieces of work are blended into the hotel´s routine kind of mesmerized me. How many business men and women realize they are having their “networking” coffee break beside an early example of Andy Warhol´s work? And how do the people working at the reception balcony deal with the curious art-lovers gazing behind them at the Henry Moore drawings hanging from the walls. At the same time, more powerful works, such as Moby Dick by Frank Stella, are displayed in a more gallery-like fashion. Truly worth your time. Don´t forget to ask for your complimentary booklet and iPod audioguide; they will accept the art-loving visitors until as late as midnight, daily.

fashion – of course you have Orchard Road with all those amazing choices of well-furnished malls, all packed with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada and Botega Venetta boutiques; however, for that great feeling of under-the-radar findings, you should try the Haji Lane — a lovely little street near the corner of Arab Street x North Bridge Road with many gorgeous, fashion-forward and relatively low-cost local shops, plus some sample sales stores with incredible designer bargains – got a Stella McCartney treat for myself for about 100 US dollars — probably retailed at 300-400 Euros.

So that´s all from me for Singapore, Singapore, although there is much more to it. I did visit Chinatown — do recommend it, as well as the lovely mosques and hindu temples around there and in Little India. I also checked out the Night Safari — I was pretty damn tired the day I went there and in sort of a very bad mood, but I think it may be a great place for kids and young-at-heart grown ups. It´s a very well structured zoo with well-fed animals, a nice environment in general and some cute shows including trained animals and fire-swallowing. Although it is far from the city center, it´s very easy to get there, as they offer rides from an ample choice of pick-up points.

OK, one last (poor quality) picture from Chinatown:

And now is time to bid you farewell, my non-existent readers… Until our next encounter.

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