Tuesday, 30 November 2010


I haven't been here since I was about 10 or 11 so I don't really remember much, however locals tell me things would have changed a lot since back then. The thing that hit me immediately was how HOT and humid it was outside (well, duh I guess), but of course when you walk into any building the chilling blast of air conditioning is quite uncomfortably cold - and inconvenient too, given it means you pretty much have to carry a jersey or something warm with you, a bit absurd given the temperatures outside.

The other thing that struck me was how good and reasonably priced all the food I've seen has been. Last night we had the buffet at the Carousel restaurant at the Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel, and for only SDG$58 (weeknight dinner rate) there was an amazing spread of all sorts of different crab/shellfish/oysters, sashimi & other Japanese dishes, roast meats, other European mains, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian food, and of course the obligatory chocolate fountain. I guess a lot of buffets can boast variety, however what really impressed me was the quality of every item at the buffet. Usually when it's all-you-can-eat, why bother making it that good? But honestly, I would have happily ordered any number of those dishes a la carte. I'd highly recommend it!

Even the corporate catering we've been getting has been pretty good, usually those sorts of lunches are pretty bland, but most of the dishes have been really well seasoned with a pleasant amount of spice. I must admit, as much as I love Hong Kong, I think that Singapore might actually trump it in terms of variety, value and quality of food...

Tonight we had another great meal, this time a Japanese one on Clarke Quay - wandering around the area it was great to feel the buzz of people out at restaurants and bars all in one place even on a Tuesday night - something we really miss with the scattered clusters of dining destinations in Auckland. A quick glance at menus and it was obvious the prices were all pretty reasonable for what you get.

Anyway, tomorrow in my five hours of free time I might venture up the famous Sands observation deck, and also check out the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel. No more room for shopping though...

Hong Kong Part Two

Wow, seems like weeks ago that I was in Hong Kong but I only left two days ago! After my last post, my sister in law arrived, and as it was her first visit we did a lot of touristy stuff including Ngong Ping 360, TST (night & day), the Museum of Art, Star Ferry, The Peak, Mong Kok, Goldfish/Pet St, Flower Market St, Fa Yuen St Market, Temple St Market, Langham Place, Cat St, SoHo, the Mid Level Escalators, the tram, Repulse Bay, Stanley... pretty much most of the major sights.

We only had three days so I thought it was going to be pretty hectic, and indeed we were out pretty much all day most days and exhausted ourselves thoroughly by the end! However it seems that it's actually not too difficult to see all the major sights within just two days, thanks mainly to the highly efficient public transport system and how close everything is to each other I think...

Anyway, for those of you thinking of visiting HK as a tourist, a few tips:

The 'Symphony of Lights' from TST
One word - lame. I mean, one of my friends had already told me how unimpressive it was so I had low expectations, but I was still surprised at how feeble it all seemed... Basically, some of the lights on some of the buildings in Central will flash in time with music, and occasionally there are some spotlights and lasers active as well. Unfortunately not enough of the buildings are involved, and they really cheaped out on the soundtrack (at least the night I was there). It was like a cheesey midi from a 90s website that is blaring at full volume, and you can't switch it off even though you really want to! They really could learn a lesson or two from the Bellagio fountains in Vegas, which is by far the best public light/music display I've ever seen - they used opera, and simple white lighting. Basically, if you don't manage to get to TST at 8pm... don't worry, you didn't really miss anything.

Street Markets
As I mentioned in the previous post, please avoid Ladies Market at all costs as it's a huge rip-off! A much better value one is Fa Yuen St in Mong Kok for things like clothes, handbags and souvenirs. Or if you're looking for electronics, you can't go past Apliu St market, which is still great value for things like mobile phone accessories, torches, camera tripods, travel power adaptors, etc. Temple St was not too bad as well, though one of the hawkers was a bit aggressive when it came to flogging her wares. Good for trying a claypot rice, street style.

I was quite surprised to discover that most of my relatives didn't know the major HK museums are free on Wednesdays - this includes the Museum of Art, Heritage Museum, Science Museum, the Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum, and the Museum of Coastal Defense. I especially recommend the Museum of Art in TST, we caught a free English guided tour and it was pretty awesome, so much better to have an expert explaining stuff to you that would normally be a bit dry... A nice summary of all the museums is here.

The Peak
Half the point of this is the tram ride up to the top, and the rest is the view, but if you want to save some money either way, make sure you don't buy the admission fee for the observation deck, because guess what, you can get pretty much the same view for free if you go to the top floor of the old shopping centre called The Peak Galleria. They certainly don't make it obvious, but if you somehow manage to get of the tower complex, walk outside and go into the old pinkish/beige building (with the Starbucks on the ground floor), just keep going up the escalators until you can't get any higher, to your left there should be the childcare centre (I know, it's weird they have one up there) and the door just to the side of it will lead you to a huge (and often deserted) deck where you can get a beautiful, pretty much unobstructed view of HK. And the deck on the other side (the more obvious door) will actually give you a view of the other side of the island, though this can only be enjoyed during the day. Another way to keep it even cheaper is take the bus instead of the tram, however I wouldn't advise it for those prone to motion sickness!

That's it for now, next up will be a wee summary of my short time in Singapore.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Hong Kong - Observations

Well, I'd normally only reserve this blog for those longer trips to random new places, but I've seen so many interesting things since I've been back in Hong Kong these last few days I want to note it down. Twitter might be great for instant updates, but you can't always keep things under 140 characters!

While it's been over two years since I was last here, as soon as I landed I felt that things were still quite familiar, and almost immediately it was like I'd never been away at all - which is probably quite good for someone who hasn't lived locally for nearly twenty years. However, there were still a few things that jumped out at me, particularly this time. So, in no particular order...

Everyone's got a smartphone
Two and a half years ago nearly a quarter of people I saw on public transport had a PSP or DS to amuse themselves with. This time, there's nary a dedicated portable gaming device in sight, everyone was either watching a video or probably playing Angry Birds on their touchscreen smartphones. Mobiles were already practically fused to a Hong Konger's hand right from the get-go, so why have more than one device? Nowhere else is digital convergence into the mobile phone probably as advanced - well, I'm not sure about Japan, but HK is definitely up there.

Matching outfits
I've heard of the strange phenomenon of honeymooning couples dressed in identical matching clothing in Korea, so I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, but I've noticed a lot of couples or friends dressing exactly alike, or in a different colour variation of the same top/shoes/etc. From a NZ point of view this just seems bizarre. I mean, do you have to txt your friend before you go out to say 'Hey, I'm wearing the fluoro green Le Coq sneakers today' and they'll reply 'Cool, I'll wear my fluoro pink ones then'? I guess imitation is just another form of flattery, so it's a win-win? Doubt that this sort of thing will catch on in NZ...

Toilets are clean(er)!
If SARS and the H5N1 avian flu outbreaks can be credited with anything, I guess it would be HK's new-found sense of obsession with cleanliness. From the ubiquitous hand santisier dispensers, to the signs on public building doors saying 'this handle is sanitised 8 times a day', everything seems to have undergone a bit of a scrub-up. Yet HK still hasn't lost its 'grit', so to speak. The best part is, it's now a lot more likely you'll find a clean toilet (!) with toilet paper provided (!!) when you're out and about. After lunch at a pretty old-style noodle shop, I found myself in need of some relief, and was quite dreading what I'd find when I opened the toilet door - but to my delight it was clean, and yes, had toilet paper! Something which would have been  unheard of a few years ago... A caveat for travellers though, definitely still make sure you have a pack of Tempo (or other disposable tissue pack) with you, just in case.

Soap operas are as over-dramatic as ever
Okay, so this isn't something that's changed, but I guess I'm struck by how over-dramatic all the TV series here still are. It's a bit difficult to describe if you haven't just caught one on the telly, but I guess parallels can be drawn to Hindi soaps or Hispanic 'telenovas'. For someone used to watching high production value series from the major US networks, they would find HK soaps have super-exaggerated/generally bad acting, a heavy reliance on the soundtrack to set the mood, cheap props and effects, and an overall sense of shaky, zoom-y cinematography. Of course the budget is tiny compared to most American series, but surely the acting doesn't have to be so over the top? I've been told though that audiences here wouldn't accept anything else, so each to their own I guess!

HK girls are insanely tiny
I'm usually a 10 or a 12 in New Zealand which is considered pretty average I guess, but in HK I'm an XL, or if I'm really lucky, an L. And that's just for big chain stores like Bossini & Giordano where they even make an effort - in some of the trendier shops in Mong Kok there's no way I would even find anything at all in my size! Luckily the fashion trend of with 'free size' baggy tops and leggings still seems to be plodding along, which makes it somewhat easier to find clothes that 'fit', but I still have to be careful about things like clearing the armpit hole.

Ladies Market is a big rip off
This famous street market in Mong Kok used to be a reliable place to pick up cheap shoes, handbags and souvenirs, but by all accounts the advent of mainlander tourists with bottomless wallets who don't bother to bargain has resulted in the shopkeepers taking full advantage, and opening prices at ridiculous levels. Upon asking a handbag price a few days ago I got quoted HK$1000 - what?? How can you charge that much for a fake designer thing? Wouldn't it be better to just buy a real bag from a cheaper brand? Another example - I asked for the price of a pair of black ballet flat shoes, got quoted $79. Two seconds later a Caucasian woman asked about the same pair, got quoted $129! Worst yet, the next day I saw the exact same one in the market in the Li Yuen St Market in Central for only $49. Plus, all the stalls have the same stock anyway... So, my advice? Look, but don't buy at Ladies Market.

I still love the MTR
With the HK subway system, you can get pretty much anywhere really fast, it's clean, reliable, well signposted, and they've even augmented the map boards in each station with photos of major tourist attractions. Plus, the Octopus card makes things run like a well-oiled machine. The only downside is the crowds at rush hour, but that's like pretty much any mode of public transport in HK. Actually, I love HK buses and trams too, but probably love the MTR the most. It would be a complete pipe dream to have something half as efficient in NZ, and I know it's all to do with population density, but I guess one can dream...

That's it for now, I'm sure I'll think of a few more things over the rest of the week!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Iguazu & Rio

The second day at Iguacu on the Brasilian side was amazing, the weather cleared up completely and we saw rainbows and everything - did you know that a rainbow can actually go nearly all the way around in a circle, if there's enough mist/light floating around? Anyway, it was great, and kind of a shame we didn't get a chance to have similarly nice weather the day before but one day of nice weather was better than none.

Unfortunately that turned out to be the last bit of sun we'd see on the trip, when we landed in Rio it was raining, and it... hasn't really stopped raining since. Which puts a bit of a dampener on things like going to the beach (what Rio is famous for) and up hills like Sugarloaf and where the Christ the Redeemer statue is (again, what Rio is famous for).

Yesterday we took this rickety old tram thing to the Santa Theresa area, which was quite nice but also very small... then we headed off to the main football stadium, which turned out to be a bit of a letdown because the entrance fee was more than we were willing to pay, given all the museum stuff was in Portuguese... For lunch, we went to what seemed to be a local pirated mashup of McD's/BK called 'Bob's', and met a very friendly and enthusiastic waitress who was very keen to chat to us in English (rare for the locals here from what we've come across so far), reiterated the advice about being careful with our valuables lest we get mugged, and for some reason thought NZ was a very cold country. I guess it might be compared to Rio, but it's not exactly warm here at the moment! After that we kind of gave up on activities for the day, seeing as the weather still hadn't cleared up.

Today... was much the same, we woke up to more rain and decided, well, we better at least try to go to Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer because it was our last day here, got to Sugarloaf, found that the cable car fare was BRL$44 each (about NZ$34), and also that the cables just faded into... nothing. James and I have taken a cable car through the clouds once, in HK to the Big Buddha, and as mystical and stuff as it sounds, actually, it's quite boring just looking at a big grey blob of nothing for the entire trip. So we decided to head to the famous Christ the Redeemer statue instead, figuring that even if the weather still didn't clear by then, at least we should be able to see the statue itself...

Highlight of the day was probably finding a Subway for lunch! We all got meatball as it was the Sub of the Day (yes, they have that here), and it was comfortingly familiar. Afterwards we eventually found the right bus stop and ended up in the right place. We took another tram (I don't think this one counted as a funicular) thing to the top, and as I suspected, basically all you could see was mist - at least we also caught glimpses of the statue too. Oh, I suppose another highlight of the day was Bruce getting interviewed by some guys of uncertain source, may have been for a tourism video, or 6 o'clock news, who knows! They might also have gotten some footage of me dozing off in the train, hope that doesn't air... anywhere.

You know how at viewpoints they have captioned pictures telling you what it is you're looking at? Well, it was almost agonising how they had these at the top of that hill, with blue skies and glittering beaches, all nicely numbered, while all we got to see was grey blob.

Overall, my advice to people visiting Rio would be - if the weather forecast seems to be bad, change your plans and come back another week when it's sunny, because most of its attractions can't really be enjoyed when it's cold and wet... Oh well, at least we've been here! Tomorrow we'll start back to NZ, first a flight back to BA, transfer to the other airport, and then the final leg home.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Bits and pieces of stuff

This blog isn't really turning out as well as I had hoped, mainly because by the time I get to go online here I either 1) have forgotten what I wanted to write, and/or 2) am too lazy to bother nothing it down... however, before I forget, there are still a few things I wanted to jot down...

  • I've never seen as great a concentration of SuperVHS camcorders and film cameras as I have today at Iguazu. Seems there are a few laggards in the continent. The funniest thing was some people were wearing them on a lanyard around their neck - it was literally like wearing a brick around your neck, could seriously do some long term damage. 
  • In Argentina they like their everything sweet. And I mean, you get a tiny cup of coffee at a bus station and they give you four packets of sugar to go in it. I reckon if you actually put it all in it would actually saturate and some of the granules wouldn't dissolve. What's even better is the pre-sugared coffee on the long distance buses, basically it's like drinking hot coffee syrup.
  • I really liked how when you bought locally made handicrafts in stores around Salta, every stall basically had a fixed price which was quite reasonable, and the same around the whole area, so you didn't really have to worry about getting ripped off, shopping around or bargaining too much. And even when people come up to you trying to sell stuff, once you turn them down they give up and don't aggressively continue to pursue you, unlike in India or parts of China...
  • They seemed to like wet rooms and bidets in the northern parts of Argentina. The bidet thing is still completely mystifying to me, and the wet room thing is just annoying - basically the showerhead is just in the (sometimes middle of the) room and there's no shower curtain, dip, trench or anything to stop the water going everywhere and making the room, well, wet. They give you a handy huge wiper broom thing to sweep the water back into the drain, but do you know what would be even more handy? A proper, enclosed shower...
Oh well, that's it for now, except - we'd put most of our warm clothes away thinking it would be really hot in Brazil, turns out where we are now is actually kind of freezing! Hopefully Copacabana will be a bit nicer... who knows, maybe we can even get a swim in!

Iguazu Falls

The falls were amazing! Unfortunately it was pouring with rain most of the day and our pants got pretty much soaked, also given it's high season we had to jostle with busloads and busloads of local tourists at the viewpoints, but still really worthwhile... I tried to upload a photo but gave up after ten minutes of nothing really happening. After pretty much doing all the walks in the park we went back to our hostel on the Argentine side, and then headed off to the Brazilian side. I have to say, it's a bit weird taking a taxi to another country, especially when you don't even have to get out at the border, the driver just handed our passport over in a toll-booth type thing and we got to stay in the car the entire time. Hopefully the weather will be a bit better tomorrow when we look at the falls from the Brazilian side, and probably will also go to the bird park next door as well. Tonight we're having Brazilian buffet, hope it's a bit different from the Argentine fare!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Catch-up post

Well, didn't manage to get online long enough to write an entry since the beginning of our time in Salta, so have quite a lot to catch up on... I started doing one with photos but it was taking waaay too long to upload the pictures, so have given up on that and will try to just quickly bullet-point some highlights before I forget...

  • Our four day excursion around the Salta/Jujuy region was awesome, we pretty much saw all the scenery we wanted to see including the 'Las Flechas' rock formations, the coloured mountains - coloured because of the different minerals in the soil, red for iron, green for copper, etc, the cactus national park, and the salt plains. I was probably as impressed as when we went to the grand canyon.
  • A non-highlight of the trip was getting altitude sickness when we arrived at the famous bridge/viaduct thing of the 'train to the clouds'. After a few painful hours in the car we stopped in a lovely little town, and I left some literal altitude sickness behind in a gutter outside a really nice church built in the 1600s. Yum. At least I felt better afterwards!
  • Saw quite a few animals on our trip as well, including vicuñasguanacos, and of course llamas. Also visited a goat dairy farm where they make goat cheese, which wasn't too bad! Unfortunately a bit difficult to transport back to NZ so we didn't buy anything in the shop.
  • Speaking of our trip, our driver/guide was a guy called - believe it or not - Billy Smith. Apparently his parents were English even though he grew up in Argentina, and his English wasn't too bad at all. For some reason when we booked the trip I thought he might be a young guy around our age, but turned out he was more of a retiree-grandfather. It was amazing, all the details and numbers he knew about all the places we were seeing etc.
  • By now we've found that pretty much every restaurant in Argentina has the same menu... grilled meat, bad pasta, bad pizza, and some sides (salad with tomato and lettuce, or limp fries). Of course when we landed in Buenos Aires we didn't really appreciate this, the parilla (grilled meat) was still novel and overall pretty good, but after two weeks it gets a bit old... As James said, he could walk into most restaurants and pretty much name every item there'll be on the menu by now. We've had some great meals, sure - the grilled goat I had in Cachi was really nice, and even the grilled river fish I had for dinner in San Ignacio last night was perfectly cooked, but they really don't seem that keen on variety in flavour or type of meal here.
  • The most interesting habits of the locals, particularly around San Ignacio, is drinking yerba mate (pronounced mah-TAY), a herbal tea. The interesting part is that it seemed that every second person we saw in that town had a cup in their hand, and a thermos of water to refill their cup when required. I guess it's a bit like guys who go on the road with a big thermos of pre-made coffee and keep drinking it - but not something we do with cups of tea or cappucino-type coffee in NZ...
  • San Ignacio in general was really nice, the main attraction were some really well-preserved Jesuit ruins, but overall the thing we liked was the fact that everyone was so friendly and it just felt so much more safe, most of the houses didn't have big gates and bars on all the windows for a change, and the guy whose hostel we stayed in was super friendly and helpful, despite the fact it was actually the cheapest place in the whole trip!
  • The bus ride from Salta to San Ignacio was pretty comfortable, they seemed to have a weird-movie theme (Shutter Island, The Box) which morphed into a Cameron Diaz theme (What Happens In Vegas). After breakfast they started a movie I hadn't even ever heard of before called 'The Circuit'. Michelle Trachtenberg was the only person I recognised in it - not a good sign... Fortunately we left the bus before it had gotten too far into it. 
Anyway, have to head off to dinner now, tomorrow we're off to see the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls, then will cross over to the Brazilian side, stay the night, see that, and then fly to Rio! Can't believe we're almost finished with the trip...

Monday, 5 July 2010


Well, our 18 hour bus trip turned into 22 when the bus broke down (that always seems to happen on long journeys - i.e. India) and had to go to an impromptu service garage sometime in the middle of the night. Fortunately we didn't have to change buses or anything like that, just stayed in our comfy reclining seats and got a surprising amount of sleep overnight. Was also just as well our bus left Mendoza as the Argentina/Germany game kicked off, otherwise we probably would have been in a bar watching their humiliating 4-0 defeat...

No-one hassled us at the Salta bus station when we arrived, probably because it was Sunday morning, and after a bit of a walk we arrived at our hostel here. Owners can't seem to speak much English but are really friendly and helpful, plus there's a table tennis and foosball table, which also helps! They even had our room ready and let us have breakfast there even though we technically didn't check in till that afternoon.

After we got ourselves sorted a bit we wandered into town and got accosted by a few people offering tours around the area. We had originally planned to hire a car and drive around ourselves, but after it became quite apparent that hardly anyone speaks English around here, plus the fact we didn't really know where exactly to stop, we decided to pay the extra and do a four-day excursion. It's just the four of us and the guide though, so not as stuffed as a mini-van full or anything like that...

The 9th of July (9 de Julio) square was quite nice, and we took the Lonely Planet's advice to visit the child-mummy museum. Basically about 500 years ago some kids were fed some alcohol and left high in the mountains to die of cold/starvation etc as an offering to the gods... nice! We got to see one of the mummies of the children found in the mountains, they seem to change them day by day or week by week. What was probably most disturbing was a video interview with a modern-day local who said that they weren't human sacrifices or anything bad like that, she generally seemed to think it was quite acceptable...

We also did the obligatory gondola ride, unfortunately the city's quite flat with mostly low buildings so not much of a view from the top, but at least it was a bit cooler! When we got back down we bought our bus tickets towards Iguazu, actually we'll get off in a town called San Ignacio, which is famous for some Jesuit ruins (UNESCO site!). 

For dinner we went to a really nice local restaurant and had some traditional regional dishes, mostly empanadas and stews, mine was, as it said on the English translation of the menu 'veal guts', mmm... It was much like the tripe you get at yum cha, really. James had recovered enough from his Mendoza food poisoning to eat a pretty bland grilled chicken breast, while Bruce & Mark had some other stews (also quite nice). We might go back another night!

Anyway, tomorrow we're off to Cachi & Cafayate, will be back in Salta the following night, then after that another two day trip up north to the salt flats, Purmamarca, etc. Hope the weather stays nice so we can get some good photos!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

18 hour bus trip... yay?

Just two more hours before our 18 hour bus trip up to Salta,  thankfully James is feeling a bit better now so hopefully he'll survive the journey... anyway, off to get some breakfast now - if only they had proper bread and a toaster, that always seems to be an issue in non-English speaking countries...

Crossing the Andes to Mendoza

The bus trip from Santiago to Mendoza probably had the most spectacular scenery we'd ever seen by bus, really glad we managed to do that - on top of that, we got to watch Man of the House, Daddy Daycare, and The Italian Job dubbed in Spanish, awesome!

After we arrived in Mendoza we found our way to the hostel pretty easily, and went out to a cheap, and as it turned out, dodgy pasta place for dinner... James and Mark had lasagne, which apparently tasted fine but James' in particular wasn't really that heated-through, while Bruce had ravioli and I had a paella. More on the dodginess later...

The next day James and I joined a winery tour from our hostel while Mark and Bruce explored the city. We visited three places with a five-course lunch at the second one, reeeally nice. Our favourite was probably the first, as the winery guide was really knowledgeable, and we ended up buying two bottles to take with us.
The view from Pulenta winery

We had the five-course lunch at Ruca Malen winery, then the last tasting was at a small boutique winery run by a French couple. This is where it all went pear-shaped for James as he started to succumb to what turned out to probably be food poisoning, probably from the ill-prepared dinner the night before. We've thought it through and I can't think of anything else it could have been... 

So at the moment things are still not that great, hopefully he recovers enough by 11am tomorrow when we have to start our 18 hour bus journey to Salta... =(

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Valparaiso & 'The Fat Cow' for dinner

One more UNESCO site ticked off the list! Valparaiso was awesome, once we found out which area we were supposed to be in... After another ample breakfast at our hostel we caught the bus to Valparaiso from the Parajitos subway station in Santiago. It was really convenient, buses left frequently and connected directly pretty much.

Once we got to Valparaiso we were immediately accosted by a bunch of people trying to sell us guided tours of the city, of course if people accost you when you get off the bus alarm bells go off and you generally don't dive headfirst into their offer, at least we managed to get a free city map and some advice from a guy before we turned down his deal, and wandered toward the touristy bit.

At Plaza Arturo Plat we stopped at a cafe for a quick break and managed to ask the somewhat-English speaking waitress for some advice, which was basically that we shouldn't go past a certain point of the city area since it wasn't safe for tourists - sure enough, when we ventured past a certain square to look at the oldest church in Chile, a policeman (and his police dog) came up and, again, told us we should leave as it wasn't safe for tourists there... Given this was now the second time we'd been told, we thought we should probably listen to their advice and headed back towards the Concepcion funicular, the one that was safe for tourists.

At the top we found a fantastic view of the city and also all the colourful houses and street art Valparaiso is famous for:
This one's for you, Mel! =)

We had lunch up the top there, and again, got told by another waitress where was safe/unsafe for tourists. Fortunately the scenic road to one of Pablo Neruda's houses was safe, so we ambled along that till we got to 'La Sebastiana'. It was definitely worthwhile going in, a great audio tour, and you can definitely conclude by the end of it that the guy was an absolute nutter... 

After that we basically went back down the hill through the 'open air museum' (a bit disappointing actually after all the other street art), and back onto the bus to Santiago. The bus steward (or conductor) was incredibly attentive and nice, he automatically got blankets to tuck in passengers who were dozing off, and also turned on the reading light for someone when it was getting dark, without being asked. Better service than our Aerolineas Argentinas flight! Though that's probably  not too difficult.

Back in Santiago, we got a recommendation to go to a restaurant called 'The Fat Cow' (or in Spanish "La Vaca Gordo'). When we got there it was absolutely choca full of locals, which was probably a good sign, and decided to wait the 20-30 mins to get a table. And wasn't it worth it! Definitely the best steak (and dinner, period) we've had on the trip so far, probably helped that we had a few Pisco Sours (the local cocktail of choice) and a very friendly waiter. Would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone who visits Santiago! Best of all the prices were awesome, I had a 400g Chilean Wagyu steak for NZ$18, the cocktails were about NZ$2 each (and believe me it was much stronger than the usual stuff in NZ that costs NZ$15). Plus we got free empanadas and even a free Armaretto at the end - we probably made up for it in the generous tip we left behind but totally worthwhile!

Tomorrow we have an early start to Mendoza... if we can wake up in time! Hopefully can get some great photos of the Andes as we cross over. 

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Too much walking

This morning we did an excellent walking tour of Santiago, which gave a really good overview of the city and its history, then James and I settled into an Irish pub (yes, Irish) to watch the Spain-Portugal game, where I enjoyed my first Pisco Sour, which was really nice and strong... so strong I had a bit of a nap near the end of the second half, but managed to recover to see Spain finish one-up and go through to the next round.

Next was the funicular up the San Christobal hill, where unfortunately the grand vista of the city was pretty much covered in smog - we could still make out the mountains, not that it really matters since we'll be going over them ourselves soon enough!

Unfortunately I was overruled about buying a return trip down the hill, and we ended up walking... 7.2km back the long way down the vehicle road. As I had suspected, the more direct pedestrian route was completely unsafe to use near sundown, in fact security guards were posted along the entrances to deter dumb tourists from going down, which is probably quite a good idea.

After a dinner of traditional Chilean comfort food/home-style cooking, we took the metro back to our hostel - the metro system here is noticeably cleaner and more modern than Buenos Aires, but still not as good as Hong Kong. =)

Tomorrow we're off to Valparaiso, hopefully can fit in a visit to one of Pablo Neruda's houses there too!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

First impressions of Chile

Safely landed in Santiago last night, once again during the flight the pilot rattled something off in Spanish with the result of the local passengers applauding, though this was near the beginning, and we later surmised he said something about how the football match between Chile & Brazil had just started, and he would keep everyone updated, then 'Go Chile' or something. Later we found out they lost three nil, so no wonder the passengers looked so glum.

After getting past the surly customs staff we were faced with a plethora of taxi-men wrangling for our business, one tried to convince us that the equivalent of US$25 was not that much more than the US$10 it would cost to take the local bus into the city and then walk, even though, uh, it was over twice as much. Nevermind! Once we figured out where the bus stop was and got on, I then promptly got short-changed by the driver by 10,000 Chilean pesos (or about NZ$27) - easily done given I was still grappling with the new currency, and the fact their 20,000 notes omitted the last three zeros on the corner and just looked like a $20...

Luckily James thought something was up, and by the time I mustered the courage to go up and ask the driver for the proper change (while wondering what the hell I'd do if he actually talked back to me in any way), I just wrote down on a piece of paper '$20,000' (what I gave him) and said 'cambio?', he just nodded and nonchalantly reached into his tray and handed me my missing two $5000s, no questions or comebacks. So, obviously a frequent ploy with FOB, non-Spanish fluent tourists like us...

Anyway, I'm hoping our experience in the rest of Chile will be a bit better, obviously we'll be on our guard but really did wish we were fluent in the language, makes such a huge difference! Today we're going to do a walking tour of Santiago, and then try and find a bar to watch the Spain/Portugal match in. Hopefully will get some good photos for tonight's post!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Vamos Argentina!

Yesterday (Sunday), despite being drizzly and grey, there were still plenty of stands at the antiques market by 10am, with more and more opening up. I certainly saw plenty of cool things I wouldn't have minded having at home, but a) would have had to carry it for the next three weeks, and b) they weren't actually that cheap. We did end up getting three flattened glass beer bottles though, just couldn't resist when we saw them:
Which one of these things is not like the others...?

Took heaps more photos of the market (James might say too many) but will leave them for when we've actually had time to sort, tag them properly and upload to Flickr. Afterwards we wandered down to Cafe Tortoni just in time to catch the second half of Germany's thrashing of England at the World Cup... I have to say I was a bit disappointed in their churros, even the ones I've had at a restaurant in Albany were better, and you can really tell it's recommended in every tourist guidebook (and website) as the whole place was probably 95% filled with tourists. And probably American ones, as very few other people bothered to watch the game.

For lunch we enjoyed a ham and cheese pizza at Guerrin (recommended on Chowhound), and in contrast it was full of locals, and also very nice! Their specialty was lots of cheese, which was evident:

When we finally got to Av. 9 de Julio (9th of July) and saw the Obelisk and later the Congreso building, I have to say it was a bit anticlimactic, having been to Washington DC... Plus, the buildings on either side of the 'grand', twelve-laned avenue kind of ruined the look of the whole thing. Still, we were tourists in BA and it was just one of those places you're supposed to go to I guess!

By the time we were heading into a subway station the whole city was like a ghost-town, probably due to the combination of it being Sunday morning, wet/cold for BA standards, and the big game was about to begin. There were still a few enterprising individuals hawking Argentinian flags, shirts and vuvuzelas at various streetcorners and intersections up until the last moment. 

Portenos combining their love for dogs & football

When we finally got back to San Telmo we (luckily) managed to get a seat in a crowded bar back in Plaza Dorrego just before kickoff, after already failing to find a spot at two other places. Good thing it was mostly full of locals too, because they just went absolutely nuts when Argentina scored the first goal! 

Of course the fact that it was offside didn't matter in the least, and there was wild applause for the ref when he let it stand. Then it was just all downhill from there for Mexico, except for one goal in the second half. Overall, definitely glad we managed to catch that game while we were here in Argentina, a bit of a shame the weather was bad and we didn't end up in Plaza San Martin with the big screen, but given the choice between sitting in mud/standing for two hours, and being in a warm bar, definitely would go with the latter...

At dinner we chose a local joint close to the place we went on the first night, and I ordered the offal:

Plus a chorizo sausage. In retrospect I probably felt more like a steak and got this dish just for the sake of being adventurous - I still don't know exactly what part of the (I presume) cow this came out of, I assume some part of the digestive system (and no, you don't need to tell me if you know), but it didn't taste that bad, though the appeal of eating it definitely lessened as it cooled and I became less hungry. Still, good to try it I suppose! The sausage was very tasty.

We're off to Santiago this afternoon, just hanging around the hostel for another hour before our taxi to the airport arrives, unfortunately not quite enough time to have another excursion, but overall I think we've seen all that we set out to see here on this trip!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Tren de la Costa and the Tigre Delta

After two days in Argentina, I have to say that our Spanish is still quite rusty - this morning when we were trying to buy the train tickets to transfer from Retiro to B. Mitre to catch the Tren de la Costa, at the ticket window when the guy said 'quatro' I just went blank because I thought there was no way it was going to be FOUR pesos only! That's like NZ$0.35 each for a train trip from Auckland Central to Papatoetoe. In fact, all subway trips are capped at ARS$1.10 (about 40c NZD) each way no matter how far you go or how many transfers you make. Really wish Auckland had at least something remotely resembling a decent public transport network...

Anyway, after we got all that sorted and arrived at the first Tren de la Costa station, it seemed a little bit weird how run down it was given it was such a popular (local) tourist route.

Still, the trip was nice and we saw plenty of kids playing Saturday morning sports in fields along the way, and we got a glimpse of BA from across the water as well (though passed by too quickly to take a photo).

At the end was the 'Delta' stop of Tigre, where, on our way to the Tourist Info Office, James made an important discovery!
That's right, turns out you can get V in Argentina too... good to know!

Then it was a river ferry up to Tres Bocas, where three of us had a lovely lunch of grilled fish, the local speciality (James got grilled short-ribs).

I also finally gave in and decided to give beer another go, since it was so much more economical to get a bottle of that instead of wine or anything else - Quilmes seems to be the local choice, and the main reason I can tolerate it is because it tastes more like just cider, lacking the strong barley/hops aftertaste. I like how they brought it in an practical though not particularly attractive polystyrene enclosure to keep the bottle cool.

After that, we had intended to do a loop walk of the island, but thanks to some bad planning and lack of map/sign reading, we crossed several bridges that we shouldn't have and ended up 3km south of where we were trying to go... was finally forced to turn back when we ran out of track. Oops! Oh well, at least it was still a nice walk, and we made some canine friends along the way - basically these dogs would just follow us around for absolutely ages, for no particular reason.

Eventually we got all the way back safe and sound, and tired! Tomorrow is the antiques market in our neighbourhood so really looking forward to that, afterwards will finally check out 'El Obelisco' and Congreso, maybe go up the tower at Palacio Barolo.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


Well, despite my best intentions we all overslept - it's now past 9am and we're not off yet, but I guess that may be what happens when you get woken up at 5am by locals arguing (or something) passionately in the street. Have noticed that the traffic never really stops here, not sure if it's just where we are or what BA is like, but the frequency of the cars never really wanes, usually in other cities (even HK) there would be a bit of a lull between, say, 2am and 5-6am, but not here...

Anyway, Colonia side-trip has been canned due to the exorbitant price of the ferry - it would've been around the same as how much we're paying for accommodation for four nights! No matter, instead we're heading off to Tigre via train upriver, hopefully the weather stays nice for us!

Lots of walking (+ a bit of subway)

Today we wandered all over the place, covering Puerto Madero, Retiro and Recoleta, and visiting Plaza San Martin (where we might return on Sunday afternoon for the Argentina vs Mexico 'mundial/World Cup game), an arms museum, a Cloister, and of course the famous Recoleta cemetery.

The Hyundai 'Mundial' Fanzone

Eva Peron's grave

I actually walked right past Eva Peron's grave and wouldn't have turned back if Bruce hadn't told me, I was probably more interested in the cats wandering around.

Lunch near Plaza San Martin.

Took the subway (or 'subte') all the way from Pueyrredon to San Juan at rush hour, wasn't too bad actually - I really do miss living in cities with a subway system, just so much easier and more convenient than the alternatives...

Anyway, tonight we'll probably head to a tango show, and then tomorrow a day trip to Colonia in Uruguay. Looking forward to the antiques market here in San Telmo on Sunday!

Friday, 25 June 2010


Meat & potatoes, the staple of the South American diet... And our dinner! Delicious.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Safely landed in Buenos Aires

Which is apparently a pleasant surprise, given the applause from the locals when we touched down! I had been given quite low expectations of Aerolinas Argentinas, and while it certainly wasn't the worst airline experience I've had (that honour probably goes to Lufthansa and Frankfurt Airport, a charming pair), it wasn't exactly overwhelming either. Everything on the plane was generally quite worn, but the main downer was the surly attitude of the flight attendants. I mean, I know your airline has a bad rep but at least crack a smile once in a while!

At least I got through two books on my Sony Reader Touch Edition, The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Kite Runner - probably was a mistake to read them one after the other given neither are exactly feel-good stories, but I was particularly unimpressed by the rather contrived plot of the latter. All the 'coincidences' were just too much to bear! Would not recommend it, personally.

Anyway, not much to discuss Buenos Aires-wise yet as we've only just arrived at our hostel, we're staying in the relatively historic district of San Telmo, and from what we can see from our balcony the buildings on our street look impressively historic so far! It's currently 5.40pm but I'm already feeling the hunger (didn't help that I didn't eat the dry croissant and cheese bun on the plane for breakfast), which is a bit of a concern since dinner here isn't usually until 8-9pm or later... Hopefully we can find a touristy spot that serves meals a bit earlier, and definitely looking forward to the grilled meats!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

New Trip!

We're off to South America next week so thought it was about time I dusted off this old blog to document our trip. Looks like I never bothered writing about our time in San Francisco after all, probably due to the fact that we were unfortunately a bit disappointed by the whole city, plus travel fatigue had set in... At least we got to enjoy Pixar's Up! in 3D about six months before it was released in New Zealand, and the highlight was definitely going to see Alcatraz.

Anyway, our plan for South America at the moment is to fly into Buenos Aires, stay for four nights, then fly to Santiago to take the bus over the Andes to Mendoza, and then it's up to the Salta/Jujuy area. This is where it gets a bit flexible and hazy, but basically depending on how we go, we'll probably end up at Iguazu Falls during the FIFA World Cup final, then a final epic twenty hour bus trip to Rio, where our trip ends when we fly back to BA to catch our flight back to Auckland.

Really looking forward to it all, and if we manage to come back with all our possessions it will be a success!