Sounds good on Paper – top ten

Italy

I’m changing the name of my blog to “Sounds Good on Paper.”

The reason…because all travel sounds good on paper, at least to me.     We’ve done so many things that sounded so good on paper.  It’s funny how the fantasy of travel can be so different than the reality. Not that it’s worse than planned, but almost always different.

Here are some travel related things we’ve done that sounded so good on paper and turned out so differently than planned.

 

1. Live in Italy for a year on a tourist visa.

On paper – We’ll move to Italy with eight pieces of luggage, a tandem and tourist visas.  We’ll hop over the border every three months to renew our visa.

Reality – Turns out after three months you have to leave Western Europe all together for the next three months. We ended up moving to Malta. I had never even heard of Malta before moving there.

Malta - not too shabby

2. Take a tandem bicycle to Europe.

On paper – We’ll take romantic rides all over Italy, have picnics.

Reality – Tandems are long and don’t fit in most rental cars and no taxi’s. Winter in Italy is not a good time to ride a bike.  Malta and Sevilla are not good places to ride tandems.  It took us eight months and a move to northern Spain before we ever went for a bike ride.

3. Take malaria medicine for 6 months while traveling SE Asia.

On  paper –  The chance of going crazy from the malaria medicine is small.   Besides, if either of us goes crazy we’ll see warning signs and stop taking the medicine.

Reality – I pretty much went crazy overnight. Poor Jeff had to deal with Thailand, Malaysia and a crazy wife who couldn’t function for over a month.

4. Visit a monkey forest in Bali

On paper – We’ll see amazing temples and baboons in a sacred forest.

Reality – I got in a fight with a baboon, Jeff took the monkey’s side. I’m still mad about it.

 

5.  Learn Thai language in Bangkok

On Paper – We would take a week long intensive language course.  We’d learn the language for a richer, local experience.

Reality – I had a panic attack on the taxi ride to class, and it went downhill from there. Turns out Thai is really hard.

 

6. Travel through southern India in April

On paper – Off season is the best time to visit India. Sure it’s hot, but we’re from Chicago. We can handle hot and humid.

Reality – No we can’t.  India is a special kind of hot, only a few degrees cooler than hell.

 

7. Take Jeff’s racing bike to Argentina

On paper – Jeff will ride through idyllic mountain roads with malbec vineyards and gauchos.

Reality – The bike suitcase is too big to fit in taxi’s and buses .  The idyllic roads are too dangerous. He’s told he will get mugged and the bike stolen if he rides on those roads.

8. Live in Argentina, travel throughout South America

On paper – We’ll rent a cheap apartment in Argentina.  On weekends we’ll fly to all the other countries.  It will be so cheap it will almost be free.

Reality – Airfare is expensive.  South America is big.   Buses are cheap, but 50 hours on a bus on way? I’m too old for that.  We’ll see those other countries on some other trip.

9. Ride an elephant in Thailand

On paper – We’ll sit in a little chair on an elephant and ride through through the forest, cross a river, laugh our heads off

Reality – No chair on elephant, Jeff told to stand on elephant’s neck, elephant doesn’t like Americans standing on its neck, begged to get off elephant after five minutes. Scared to death.

10. Camp on beach in Baja, Mexico.

On paper -We’ll camp on deserted sandy beach, no one in sight, just us and the sea.

Reality –  Spent first night with locals driving up and down beach in a pickup truck yelling at us.  Following nights spent looking for biggest, best lit, most Canadian RV to camp next to.

Categories: travel blah blah blah | 13 Comments

Wind – Mendoza style


It’s hard to take a photo of wind, so here is a photo of me in the wind.   This isn’t just any old wind. This is me facing the camera in a Viento Zonda.    We first heard of Viento Zonda in Salta. Jeff’s cycling friends told him about it.  It’s a dry hot wind from the Andes.   Coming from the Midwest where there are tornadoes and Seattle where there are wind storms, we weren’t impressed. We thought it was kind of cute that the Argentinians would name their winds.  We kept waiting to experience a Viento Zonda.

We should have known something was up today when this was the forecast on weather.com

Any time “widespread dust” is the forecast and the sun is blurred out and brown, you know it’s a weird day.  We went outside and it was unusually warm and windy. But, the wind felt great, warm instead of cold.

View from our balcony. Everything looks normal.

As we drank our coffee on our balcony the wind picked up.   We have a great view of the Andes, and by looking at them, you’d never guess that they are causing this crazy wind.   My friend Nati explains both the reason for it and the mythology behind it on her blog  Nomadic Behavior.

After breakfast we went off to workout – Jeff on his bike, me to the gym.   After a few blocks I understood what Viento Zonda feels like.   If Hell is windy it feels like this.  If you put a wind tunnel in your oven, and opened the oven door it would feel like this.  If you had a giant hair dryer and tried to blow your hair on a sand dune it would feel like this.    The dry hot wind whips up all the dust and throws it in your face. It should be called Viento Antipatico. (nasty wind).

By the time I walked home from the gym, my eyes were burning. My hair was full of leaves, and my lungs felt like they would explode.  Luckily Jeff gave up on his ride minutes after starting.

We watched from inside our apt as the wind whipped the trees around, kicked up dust and blasted us with hot dry air.  Luckily, this one wasn’t bad. There wasn’t any damage. Afterward,  it was weird to see Mendoza’s normally pristine streets full of leaves.

But, strangely, a lot of leaves blew into neat piles.

So, while it is kind of nice that they name their winds in Argentina, there is nothing cute about a dry, hot wind whipping dust and leaves in your face and down into your lungs.  Next time the forecast calls for widespread dust I’m staying inside.

 

 

 

Categories: Argentina, Mendoza | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Wine tasting without Mr. Hugo


Everyone in Mendoza loves Mr. Hugo.    I’m sure Mr. Hugo is fabulous. But, we decided to wine taste without him.   It was a hard decision, one with many concerns.  Could it really be done?

Mr. Hugo rents bicycles in the town of Maipu, which is near the city of Mendoza.  He rents bikes, gives out a wine map, bottle of water, and drink at the end of the day.   So many people rave about him, I assumed it must be all hype, until several different friends that live here year round also recommended him.

Who wouldn't want to rent from Mr Hugo? (photo from Mr. Hugo website)

We would have rented from Mr Hugo except for two things.  I am terrible on a regular bike and Jeff is too smart to go wine tasting with me on a tandem.   He knew that after my first sip of wine I would have refused to pedal and he would have had to drag me all around town.    But, could we do it without Mr. Hugo?  We didn’t know.

In Mendoza we called a taxi to take us to the first winery.  Even he was dubious of doing this without Mr. Hugo.  He pointed out Mr. Hugo’s storefront as we drove by just in case we changed our mind.   For the equivalent of $15US  we arrived at the first winery.

This is easy.

 

Our first stop was the winery Trapiche.  We’ve seen this label in the US, so we were excited to try their wine.

Two of Mr. Hugo’s rental bikes were parked in front, taunting us.

You should have rented us.

There were four Mr. Hugo riders on our tour.   They ignored us older taxi-riding wine tasters.

Hey cool kids...wait for us.

In the tasting room, Jeff was able to engage the youngsters in conversation while I became fixated with the world’s fanciest tasting room bathroom sink.

fancy!

After the quick tour and tastings the Mr. Hugo riders rode away while we waited for a taxi.  The winery called us the cab, but we had to amuse ourselves while we waited for it to arrive 30 minutes later.

practicing my fancy arm movements

practicing fancy dance moves

harvesting some snacks

When the taxi showed up I was dubious since it didn’t look like a taxi. But, for the equivalent of $6 US he took us to the next winery.

Tempus Alba had even more Mr. Hugo bike renters.

The winery was beautiful with a self guided tour, vineyards overlooking the Andes and a fabulous patio with a wine bar and restaurant.

If you really look hard you can see the Andes behind me.

We were the only non Mr. Hugo renters and also the only people over the age of 22.    I haven’t seen this many college kids trading travel stories since 1989 when I was one of them.  Although lacking the youthful exuberance and travel bravado of the youngsters, we did have something they may not have, money to spend on wine and good food.   We went wine tasting crazy.

7 glasses between the 2 of us? No prob we don't have to ride a bike back.

this baked brie went really well with wine.

this carmelized onion quiche also went will with wine.

pork, sweet potatoes and onions in malbac sauce doesn't look like much, but was one of our best meals of the entire trip.


After a very long and lavish lunch, we decided to walk to the next winery.    The walk itself was really nice along a shaded street with views of the vineyards and mountains.

Unfortunately, a city information guide had told us earlier we might get mugged in this town. So, although there were bikes, police cars, trucks and cars whizzing by, I was sure we were lost and about to be attacked.  We weren’t.

This third winery was just OK. The wine was good, but there was a strange vibe inside (not to mention about 30 Mr. Hugo bike renters).  Unfortunately, instead of doing the tasting outside it was in a weird smelling basement like room.

 

 

We skipped the tour and went back outside and waited for a bus home.  The bus cost the equivalent of 30 US cents.  And, best of all it dropped us off  at a bakery.

Would I recommend Mr. Hugo? Sure, everyone looked like they were having fun, the bikes looked good and I’ve heard nothing but good things.  Would I suggest still going by taxi, walking and bus if you don’t want to bike? Absolutely!

Categories: Argentina, Mendoza, videos, Wine | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Wine before Liquor?

Everyone knows the saying wine before liquor never sicker.   We set out to answer the question, does wine tasting before liquor tasting make you sick?    I’m happy to report that the answer is no.  It just makes you very sleepy on the bus home.

Our first question was actually how to even go wine tasting. The normal way of taking a tour was too expensive and the budget way of renting a bike was too dangerous for me.  There is a reason the only cycling I do is from the back of a tandem.

Our new friends Jeff and Romi helped us by giving us exact instructions on how to take a bus to a winery and distillery.  Jeff is an amazing photographer. Check out his photos.   www.photojbartlett.com.

They told us to take bus 182 and exactly where to pick it up.  It was lucky because without their help we never would have figured out which bus to take.

 

Looking slightly drunk before even getting there.

The bus took a long time, I think we stopped at every person’s house between Mendoza and the winery.

But once we got there.  We had a fabulous tour through the vineyards and olive groves.

grapes

olives

It was a hot day, so by the time we got to the tasting room I was already light headed from dehydration.   After a few tastings I was even more light headed and slightly giddy.  I figured I better really test out our wine before liquor question by drinking enough wine.  Our guide helped us out by refilling our glasses several times.

We stumbled out of the winery and headed directly across the street to the distillery.    Our guide at the winery told us to ring the bell at the distillery “really really hard and loud.”  I’m not sure if this is really a giant door bell, or a warning to the people in the distillery that drunk gringos are on their way over.

 

We probably should have asked for a tour first in order to sober up.  But, we felt it was important to get straight to the tasting in order to put  the wine before liquor saying to the test.

We got to taste quite a few different liquors.   My favorite of course being  the dulce de leche liqueur.

dulce de leche liqueur - heaven in a shot glass

this gin was also a favorite

Urs, our Swiss distillery guide was very helpful in our testing of wine tasting before liquor tasting.

We caught the bus back. I couldn’t tell you how long it took on the way back because I feel alseep the second we got on the bus. It wasn’t the little head nod nap. It was the full on sprawled on the seat, drooling type of sleep.  Not pretty, but at least we did not find “wine tasting before liquor tasting never sicker” to be true.

Categories: Argentina, Mendoza, videos, Wine | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

Is Mendoza dangerous?

Is Mendoza dangerous? The answer is yes, no, maybe and I hope to never find out.   If you listen to everyone around us, you would think this is the most dangerous city we’ve ever been to.   The warnings come at us from everywhere, landlords, doormen,  expats, travelers, tourist offices, locals, Jeff’s cycling friends, everyone has warned us about the dangers of Mendoza.

After many questions and inquiries I think these are the dangers.  They seem similar to all big cities.

1. Bad areas – we’ve been warned against certain streets, neighborhoods, towns and country roads.  We’re not supposed to ever enter some ares, some only in the day, and no park at night.   Jeff is not supposed to ride his bike in certain areas at all, and some never alone.

2. Muggings – we’ve never seen any, but it sounds like if you’re careful with #1 you should be OK.   I hate this one, not because it’s so scary, but because I find myself looking over my shoulder now all the time. But, better safe than sorry.

3. Pickpokets – we shouldn’t leave anything in our pockets or unattended.  This one is obvious everwhere, but never a bad reminder.

this translates to, don't leave your stuff unattended

3. Home invasions – this one is the scariest to us.   We are in a giant apartment building with a 24 hour doorman, so we feel secure.  We’ve heard some horror stories that makes us understand why houses have so much security.

gates, bars, spikes, and security window shades

this is no different than a garage I guess, but looks heavy duty

Is the danger real? Overblown? Is everyone paranoid or just overly careful?  It doesn’t really matter. It’s hopefully something we’ll never be able to answer since the only way to know for sure is to be a victim.

I hope that with caution, luck, and common sense we’ll avoid the above dangers.    Not to make light of this, but I have come up with my own dangers and fears that I think could cause me more harm on a daily basis.

1. Fear of tripping

This fear I have all over the world.   I have been known to trip on my own two feet, air, dust, and carpet.  Here in Mendoza the tripping hazards are real.  The sidewalk often goes up, down, slants, or disappears altogether.

 

random step up

2. Fear of Jeff tripping

I’ve gotten really good at looking down while I walk, but Jeff isn’t so used to falling onto the ground for no reason.   He doesn’t study the ground, so I do it for him.  I’ve come to add warnings into my normal conversation.   For example, “So for dinner why don’t we fry STEP UP chicken and add some veggies to it and HOLE then make some brown STEP DOWN rice and open that bottle of BROKEN TILE malbec.

3. Fear of falling into a hole

All the many trees in town are watered by the irrigation ditches that run along the side of every street.   Love seeing the trees, live in fear of falling into the ditch.   One too many glasses of malbec and I think I’d be spending the night in one of these things.

balance beam curb

 

4. Fear of seeing a rat

These ditches look really cool when the water rushes through them. But, if you look closely you might see a rat, like I did one night. Now, I’m doubly afraid of falling in.

imagine a rat running around in here

 

5. Fear of empanadas

I absolutely love empanadas.  But, after many many tries, I find that when I eat them, the next day…let’s just say I have stomach distress.  I find I can’t stop eating them, but I do have a healthy dose of trepidation before scarfing them down.

6. Fear of taxi doors

The taxi drivers in town all seem pretty nice unless you slam their taxi doors.   Then they freak out.  The taxi doors even say “close with love” or something like that in Spanish.   The cars all look sturdy, so I don’t understand why you can’t slam the doors. You can’t even close them forcefully.  You’re supposed to lightly close them.  How poorly are these cars made that slamming the doors will break the car?   I try and try to remember, but I’ve been slamming car doors for over 30 years now it’s a hard habit to break.

—————

As much as I fear the above six things,   I will happily eat an empanada while a taxi driver yells at me, as  I trip and fall into a hole with a rat in it over ever getting mugged.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Argentina, Mendoza | Tags: , , | 8 Comments