close

Photo Essay

Medieval Mdina: Stepping back in time in Malta

Mdina Malta

The minute we stepped through the massive gates of Mdina Malta, which are built into the thick sandstone walls, I felt like I had been transported back to the 16th century, when the Knights of St John arrived in Malta and lived in this fortified city, perched high on a hill that made it possible for them to look out over the entire island.

mdina stone lion kings landing

I heard galloping hooves come close behind me and had to jump to the side and press myself against the wall, letting the horse carriage pass by. I wouldn’t have been surprised had a noble lady been sitting in the carriage instead the two wide-eyed tourists who were marveling at the tall sandy buildings that make up the medieval town.

Horse carriages in Mdina Malta

We walked slowly through the narrow alleys, most of which wouldn’t even fit a normal-sized car (in fact, only a limited number of vehicles are allowed to drive within the city walls), and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live here during the time of the knights.

mdina malta street

Since the city is confined by the thick city walls, it is easy to just stroll aimlessly without worrying that you’ll get lost somewhere. At some point, you’ll always reach a wall. And with only around 400 people living within the walls, Mdina is tiny. 

Mdina actually dates back much further than medieval times – the city goes back more than 4,000 years! Over the centuries, or better, the millennia, the city has been inhabited by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Normans and the Arabs.
malta mdina door
Apparently it was here where the Apostle St Paul lived in 60 AD after being shipwrecked on Malta, and the St Paul’s Grotto in Rabat (outside of Mdina’s city walls) shouldn’t be missed on a visit to Mdina.
Mdina Malta
The inhabitation of the city by different cultural groups resulted in a fascinating and quite unique mix of architecture which you can still see throughout town– especially the Arab influence.

Mdina in Malta

The other notable architectural influence is Baroque, which arrived in Malta in the early 17th century. Mdina’s grand cathedral is a fine example of this architectural style.

mdina cathedral

I loved how Mdina still feels and looks the same way it would have looked hundreds of years ago, with well-preserved homes and palazzos and historic churches.
mdina building
The town was actually home to Malta’s most noble families, something that hasn’t changed even today.

mdina balconies

Looking at the fancy buildings, passing by the churches and monasteries, I could picture horse carriages waiting in front of the houses for the noble family to head out into the countryside for a day of hunting.

mdina horse carriages

One thing that struck me about Mdina was how quiet it was. Unless you stumbled upon a tour group, the city was as silent as its nickname, The Silent City, promises. Sometimes we would walk through streets all by ourselves, not a single other person in sight, and just enjoy the quietness. Spending most of my time in big cities, I absorbed as much as possible of the peaceful atmosphere.

mdina limestone buildings malta

I wasn’t the only one who noticed the timelessness of medieval Mdina. When the makers of ‘Game Of Thrones’ first set off to find filming locations, they came here and decided to make it the location for King’s Landing. If you watch Game Of Thrones, some of the places in the pictures might look familiar to you.

Entrance gates Mdina Malta

On the recommendation of a friend, we headed to Fontanella, a restaurant right on top of the thick city walls that offers sweeping views over the countryside surrounding the city and far over the Mediterranean Sea. The selection of cakes at Fontanella is huge so if you stop here, make sure to come hungry.

Streets of Mdina Malta

We later learned that we should have come twice to Mdina – once during the day and once at night, when the city is lit only by the historic street lamps. This is when Mdina is truly silent, and painted in a soft golden tone from the street lights, which makes it feel even more like you’ve been transported back to medieval times.

Mdina Malta

Mdina Malta – The Details

How to get to Mdina

You can easily get to Mdina by bus from Valetta (30 minutes) or Sliema (45 minutes). A day ticket is only €1.50 (compared to a single fare at €1.30)!

mdina plaza malta

Where to Eat & Sleep in Mdina Malta

Stop at Fontanella’s for coffee and cake, or at Xpresso Bistro Café, which has equally fabulous views.

There is a number of restaurants inside the city walls.

The Xara Palace, a 5-star hotel inside a 17th century chateau, is the only hotel inside the city walls. There are a couple of hotels in Rabat, just outside the city walls.

Interested in food in Malta? Read: Eating my way through Malta

Mdina Malta

What to see in Mdina Malta

St Paul’s cathedral has an interesting interior, with the floor covered in marble gravestones (similar to St John’s Co-cathedral in Valletta), and is definitely worth going inside!

The Cathedral Museum is home to a small art collection, including a woodcut print of Albrecht Dürer’s The Life of the Virgin.

 

St Paul’s Church and Grotto are located in Rabat, outside of the city walls (a 10 min walk)

The Roman Villa (Domus Romana) is a fine example of Roman architecture with typical Roman mosaic floors, and is also in Rabat.

Door knockers in Mdina Malta
mdina balcony malta
Lions in Mdina Malta
malta mdina palace
Statues in Mdina Malta

read more

The capital is but a canvas | Street Art in Buenos Aires

buenos aires street art

You don’t need to go on a tour to see amazing street art in Buenos Aires. Like pages from a comic book, the streets of the city host incredible images, from small, political stencils to gifted, large-scale paintings all over its walls.

Street Art in Buenos AiresWe admired the pieces and took tons of pictures for a couple of weeks before deciding to jump on a street art tour. Whether your trip is two days or two months, if you are a fan of street art, we recommend getting on this tour right away and here is why. First of all, the fact that there is a street art tour at all is great. In so many cities around the world we wish we knew more about the street artists, but admire from afar instead.
buenos aires street art palermoMore importantly, unlike appreciating art in a museum, street art doesn’t come with an explanation of the piece and a background of the artist, and just because you see a mind-blowing piece of art one day, doesn’t mean it will even still be there the next. It might be its ephemeral, intangible nature that attracts us or the jaw-dropping skill expressed on everyday surfaces with low-tech materials, usually under the cover of night.

buenos aires street art eyeHere in Buenos Aires, however, artists need not work in the dark, avoiding the police. Instead, for many reasons related to the recent economic crash in 2001 and a relaxed attitude throughout history about writing on walls in the city, street art and graffiti were not seen as criminal activity.
buenos aires street art sprayerThis is why Buenos Aires is home to intricate, two and three story pieces of urban art, created in the light of day over days, even weeks at a time. This was just one of the insights we were told by the non-profit and very cool Graffitimundo organization who has put together the tours.

buenos aires street art mao zedongFriends with the actual street artists themselves, this collective are super passionate about the work on the street and also supporting the scene in the city. Obviously, we loved the tour, which took us to beyond the central Palermo neighborhoods and out into pockets of the city most tourists wouldn’t just happen to see.
buenos aires street artWe spent a good half an hour circling an out-of-the-way bus depot, talking existentialism, graphic design and that there were actually three pieces by international street artists on that one block alone. There was plenty of walking through more popular areas of Palermo as well, but this was not a city tour with some graffiti info sprinkled in.
buenos aires street artWe talked urban art for three hours and still walked away feeling like not only did we understand the scene here better, but also Argentine history and culture as well. We may have also taken hundreds of pictures, a select few of which can be found below.

buenos aires street art post street bar
buenos aires street art elk
buenos aires street art with whale
buenos aires street art pig
buenos aires street art horse rider
Street Art in Buenos Aires Palermo
buenos aires street art and laundry
buenos aires street art wall

Graffitimundo Buenos Aires Street Art Tour:

  • Tours take place every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, starting at 3pm and lasting around 3 hours
  • The tour is partially walking, partially driving in a minibus through the neighborhoods of Palermo, Colegiales, Villa Crespo and Chacarita
  • Tours are available in Spanish and English
  • Price: US$20 per person

Check out the graffitimundo website for more information, private tours and bicycle tour, hidden wall tours and stencil workshops.

Want more street art? Check out our Flickr album with our favorite Buenos Aires street art!

 

read more

Photo essay: Saguaros of Southern Arizona

Tucson foothills cactei

When I visited Arizona for the first time in 2010, I immediately fell in love with the scenery there. I loved the diverse Arizona landscape, from the deep red canyons and pine forests of the north to the rough, other-worldly areas of the west. But my favorite is the desertscape of the southern part of the state. Despite an intense immigration policy (we always get stopped by overly-firm, threatening border control agents without ever crossing a border), I love driving through the incredible Saguaros in Southern Arizona.

saguaros in arizonatucson cactitucson cactus flowerWhen we were asked to return to housesit again in Tucson this past June we didn’t think twice and booked two one-way tickets from India, trading the balmy Asian summer for the scorching desert heat. For the first time we could feel what everyone says about it being a dry heat, with 100+ temperature coming as a relief from the same humid temps in India. Our permanently tanned skin easily took the temperatures as well, such a difference to the first time we came to town pale and pasty after four years of living in England.

jess sunglass reflection saguarossouthern arizona cacteitucson cactus flowers
cactus bush arizonaThe minute we stepped out of the airport though I knew that we had made the right decision, with huge Saguaros right in the parking lot and the mountains in the background.

saguaros southern arizonaThe Sonoran desert surrounding Tucson spans across the South West and into northern Mexico – covering 311,000 square kilometers (120,000 sq mi).

arizona saguaroscactus in southern arizonaIt is fascinating how many plants you actually find within what seems like such a barren place. But there are over 2,000 plant species there, and these plants are hard-core, having adapted to such harsh living conditions.

arizona desert flowerstucson cactus flowersouthern arizona desert flowersThe Sonoran desert is the only place in the world where the Saguaro cactus grows in the wild, and not only few of them but millions! Tucson’s Saguaro National Park alone is home to over 1 million Saguaros that grow to be 20 meters, or 70 feet, tall.

saguaros southern arizonaarizona saguarossaguaros in southern arizonahuge saguaros in arizonaA ‘spear’ is what they are called until they grow an arm. This phase in growth deserves its own name, considering it takes over 75 years to grow that arm! This is only mid-life for Saguaros, though, that reach ages of 150-200 years old.

saguaro cactus sonoran desertIt takes a Saguaro up to 10 years to reach a height of one inch (2.54 cm), 15 years to reach one foot (30.5 cm), and 40 years to reach 10 feet (3 meters).

saguaro cacti in arizonasaguaros southern arizonacactus bush and saguaroWhen it rains, you can actually see how the cactus expands, soaking up all the rain water, and then slowly consuming it over the next few weeks.tucson cactus saguaro cactus armAt the age of 40, they start producing flowers, mainly on top of the cactus. Older saguaros have hundreds of flowers when they blossom in May and June each year.tucson saguaro flowerscactus needles and flowerWe have always been in Arizona at the time when the sweet, ruby-colored fruit matures in June. The fruit is edible, and found in local jams, syrups and candies.cactus fruit arizonaThese big, tall and very stationary plants rely on cross-pollination to reproduce. This is mostly done by bats or gorgeous doves who transport seeds from the fruits from one plant to the next. This is such incredible work; it is a wonder there are so many millions of Saguaros!doves on saguaro cactiIn exchange for the help, many different bird species make themselves at home inside of the spine of the Saguaros.saguaro with holeUnfortunately saguaros are actually endangered due to over-development, wildfires, livestock grazing, and ‘cactus rustlers’ who cut them down and sell them elsewhere.dead saguaro cactus arizonaIn their normal life cycle, Saguaros die from drought or frost. Their skeletons remain intact for years, sometimes even petrifying, while the skin erodes away quickly.dead saguaro close-up arizonadead saguaro cactus close-up arizonaRightfully referred to as ‘skeletons’, the remaining bones often stay proudly standing for many years.dead saguaros arizonaPrickly pear is another cactus that is widely spread across the Sonoran desert, and the big red fruit can be eaten or are used in drinks, most commonly in Mexico. They are pretty cold-resistant and  found in the northern States of the U.S. and even southern Canada.arizona cactiThey are also the main food source for the desert tortoises who live here – they don’t seem to be bothered by the sharp cactus needles!saguaros southern arizonacactus with bite in arizonaThe Sonoran desert south of Tucson is actually the only place in the U.S. where jaguars live, but the only mammals that come out of their dens during the hot summer months are little rabbits.arizona desert rabbit

You can see plenty of colorful lizards!colorful lizard in arizona

Our favorite time of day is usually when the sun starts to set  – the sunsets of  the Sonoran desert never disappoint and the skies change colors in the most amazing ways – from purple to bright orange.tucson sunset skies & cactussaguaros southern arizona

read more

New Mexico’s White Desert: The Bright and Beautiful White Sands

white-sands-new-mexico

It didn’t happen gradually, but all of a sudden. The paved road we had been following for the last 30 minutes was walled by tall, hilly sand dunes, as far as the eye could see. White Sands, New Mexico.

White Sands New Mexico streetIt was somewhat surreal, since we had been driving through the barren desert of Southern New Mexico for a while without even seeing any sand dunes yet, and within a couple of minutes, we were surrounded by them completely.

White Sands New Mexico sand dunesThe further we drove into the dunes, the less we could see of the road, and at some point it was covered in sand completely. We were driving through a sand desert.

White Sands New Mexico sandy streetNew Mexico’s Sand Dunes were one of the things we were most excited about when we planned our New Mexico road trip – you might have seen them in music videos like Boyz II Men’s Water Runs Dry or P. Diddy’s Best Friend – and while sand dunes are certainly not uncommon, there are only very few that are bright white.

White Sands New Mexico sand duneTogether with the azure blue New Mexico skies, the constellation of just white and blue as far as the eye can see is incredibly beautiful.

White Sands New MexicoThe dunes sit at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert in the Tularosa Basin, a mountain-ringed valley. In total, they comprise of an area of 710-km² (275-mi²), and we learned from our visitors brochure that they had actually all been part of a massive lake during the last ice age.

White Sands New Mexico waterAfter the lake dried out, it left a large area of selenite (gypsum in crystalline form) on the surface, which were broken into sand-size grains over thousands of years through erosion and weathering. The winds that blow over the basin eventually formed the sand dunes.

White Sands New Mexico white dunesDepending on wind and weather, they actually change their shapes all the time.

White Sands New Mexico flowersThis is why it is nearly impossible for any plants to grow in White Sands New Mexico – if the plants are not very resistant and fast-growing, they get blown over by the moving sand quickly and don’t survive.

White Sands New Mexico dry flowersHence, you don’t see any plants in the middle part of the dunes – only sand.

White Sands New Mexico jess hikingTowards the edges, there are some plants and flowers, but they are likely to get covered in sand sooner or later, as the dunes change their shapes and the sand moves further.

White Sands New Mexico yellow flowersThere is just as little wildlife as there is flora and fauna – it is barely impossible for anything to survive in this dry, sandy environment.

White Sands New Mexico dunesApparently, there are some mammals, such as foxes, coyotes, rabbits, rats and mice, and several kinds of lizards, but the only sign of life we saw was a lonely black little beetle.

White Sands New Mexico beetleWe loved how empty the dunes felt – even though there were quite a few other cars in the park with us, once we hit one of the hiking trails that led away from the street into the dunes, it felt like we were the only ones in White Sands.

White Sands New Mexico dani hikingWe had planned to hike the Alkali Flat Trail (4.5 mile / 7.2 km round-trip), the longest possible hike in White Sands. By the time we reached the trail head though, it was close to noon and the desert sun was burning down on us with over 100 °F / 38 °C.
White Sands New MexicoWe had already done two hikes under similar conditions through Arizona’s desertscape before heading to New Mexico though, so we still set off on the hike, ignoring the hot, relentless sun.

White Sands New Mexico jessWe followed the posts with orange tape that marked the trail and after five minutes, we were encircled by white sand dunes, there were no people, and we couldn’t see the street anymore.

White Sands New MexicoThe further we walked into the dunes, the quieter it got. It got to a point where the tranquility felt almost spooky.

White Sands New Mexico sandWe saw how easy it was to get lost in those dunes – a horrible thought considering the heat and that there was absolutely no shade – if you didn’t look for the trail markers. In fact, several hikers have gone lost in White Sands, overestimating their ability to walk without water or underestimating the heat.

White Sands New Mexico sand dunesAt the 1.5 mile marker, we made the decision to turn around. The hike through the sand was beautiful, the peace and quiet was relaxing, and the solitude felt liberating, but the burning heat had finally defeated us. We knew that we didn’t have enough water to fully enjoy the hike, so we headed back to the car.

White Sands New Mexico daniLooking around us, it was easy to think that we were walking through a huge snow field – had it not been so hot that sweat was dripping off our forehead constantly.White Sands New Mexico jess layingThe vastness of the dunes was simply stunning.

White Sands New Mexico panoramaWe returned to the parking area where there is also a huge picnic area with silver-roofed futuristic-looking picnic tables – the only shaded areas in the dunes!

White Sands New Mexico picnic areaMany of the sand dunes are tall enough to enjoy a ride down on a sled or even a sand board. Sadly, we had missed our chance to pick up a sled at the visitor center, but it was fun to watch other visitors boarding and sledding down the dunes.

White Sands New Mexico sleddingIf you’re planning to sled down the dunes, don’t forget to stop at the visitor center BEFORE entering the park!

White Sands New Mexico sand boarder

How to visit White Sands, New Mexico

White Sands, New Mexico is a 30 minute drive from Alamogordo. We stayed at the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, for which we found a great rate ($49 per double room per night) on Booking.com, and which we found clean and comfortable (the room had a kitchenette and free wifi and the hotel is close to all restaurants and supermarkets).

Before you go, check on the White Sands National Park website if the park is open at all – when there are missile testings (which happen up to twice a week at certain times throughout the year), the park stays closed (usually only for a couple of hours though).

A car is absolutely essential to visit White Sands, the National Park is not served by public transportation.

White Sands New Mexico carAdmission is $25 per car, and valid for seven consecutive days. Tip: You could go one day for sunset and come back the next morning for a hike.

There are guided sunset walks at 6pm. Look out for the meeting point inside the National Park, near one of the parking lots.

If you want to sled down the dunes, the gift shop in the visitor center lends sleds for a fee of $7 (you pay $10 but get $3 back if you return the sled). Make sure to stop there BEFORE you enter the park. The best place for sledding are the dunes near the picnic area (they’re the steepest ones).

The easiest way to see the dunes is by following the 8-mile scenic drive through the National Parks. There are several hiking paths (ranging from the short 0.2mile /0.3km Playa Trail to the more challenging 4.5mile /7.2 km Alkali Flat Trail)  throughout the park and enough parking available.

Dani running in White SandsMake sure to bring sturdy shoes, enough water, sun screen and sun glasses – it is extremely bright. A hat would also be recommendable, especially if you’re planning to visit around noon and/or going for a longer hike.

You are not allowed to enter the Missile Range that is located in White Sands, but there is a ranger-led hike to Lake Lucero in the Missile Range once a month ($3 per person). You can check the schedule for the tours and make your reservation here.

PIN IT!


White Sands New Mexico

read more

Salta, Argentina has all the makings of a charming city – so what was missing?

<Digimax S500 / Kenox S500 / Digimax Cyber 530>

Our trip to Salta, Argentina, was a case of inflated expectations. Most people we had met raved about Salta and for a long time we even considered finding an apartment and really soaking up the city for a month. We needed the rest. So much non-stop long-distance travel had been wearing us out and even though we loved Buenos Aires (population 3 million) and Rosario (population 1 million), we had built Salta up to be our ultimate relief and recovery.

Laid-back, colonial, small – the description made it sound like just the kind of city we love in Latin America. When we arrived after a 20-hour overnight bus from Puerto Iguazu, we had high expectations about this northern city.

salta iron signSalta ArgentinaOur posada (guesthouse), Casa de Borgoña, was only a few blocks from Salta’s central plaza, Plaza 9 de Julio. We put our bags down and headed straight there for a cup of coffee and some people watching.

salta alfajoresMany memories of Salta, in fact, involve spending time whiling away in cafes, working on our laptops and enjoying the sugary, delicious sweets served alongside our cafe con leche.

salta colonialAfter we caffeinated our way out of our foggy haze, we toured the streets of Salta, taking in the colonial architecture and its colorful neo-classical churches. But neither of us clicked with the city. We liked it enough, but there was no excitement for it the way we had unexpectedly fallen for  Rosario a couple weeks earlier.

salta argentinaSalta san francisco iglesiaAlthough half the size of Rosario and a fraction of Buenos Aires, somehow Salta felt really congested and overpopulated in parts of town. Especially during rush hour, cars stop and go at snail’s pace and pedestrians are forced to choke down fumes between sidestepping hordes of people in no hurry along the sidewalks. And yet, somehow, at other times of day, the city feels downright sleepy.

salta colonial architecturevintage car saltaIn our experience, you can easily pick up the vibe of a city by its street art and in Salta, even though we spent hours padding the pavement far and wide, we just didn’t come across much that had much of an edge to it at all.

salta street artSalta street art argentina

Salta Highlight 

We decided to take the 1,000 step challenge, and hiked up to the top of Cerro San Bernardo. This is one of the peaks surrounding the city and offers magnificent views out over town. Most tourists opt to take the cable car ride up the mountain, but we wanted to sweat out the challenge.

salta view and cable carAnd we weren’t the only ones! Salteños of all ages use the 1,000 steps as a workout track. Some people sprinted up, down and passed us again in the relatively quick time it took us to ascend to the top of the peak. Once at the top, there is space to continue your workout – like these spinning bikes used for a class right after we arrived. We opted to head back down on foot instead.

salta workout machinessalta viewSalta was the first place we noticed coca leaves becoming more present, and it only becomes legal in this province. It increases in popularity the further north in the Andes regions of South America you go. Any further south, and it’s frowned upon and technically illegal. Shops all around town sell coca leaves and tea, and people chew it everywhere. When we first got off the bus, we noticed the big piles of chewed up green leaves all down the taxi queue, as the drivers chew it up and spit it out between passengers. Coca leaves help reduce high altitude sickness, but is popular for its effects of enhanced energy and reduced hunger – to a far lesser degree than its white powdery cousin.

salta coca storeWe passed this street vendor every day who sells coca along with popular fruits like chimoya, peaches and papaya.  You might see Viagra on his sign as well, though he doesn’t not have any to sell you – Viagra no, Mani (peanuts) si.

salta fruit vendorThe reason for the colonial style of the city is that Salta was founded by Spanish conquerers in the 16th century. It was an important supply station for the Spanish silver mines in Bolivia, just a few hundred kilometers north of Salta. The vibe of the city, today, however, is a balance between Spanish colonial and the indigenous spirit of the Andes, visible in beautifully carved wooden doors, llama wool on sale in the markets and the abundance of native Andean foods like quinoa – which we ate in everything from Empanadas to salads and pasta.

salta monasterySalta ArgentinaAs in any colonial city, the Plaza de 9 Julio is anchored by a stunning cathedral on the north side, and lined by restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating to take in the grandeur of Salta’s most attractive square.

Salta plaza 9 de juliosalta cathedralA few times we snacked at restaurants on the plaza to take it all in, but we also made sure to explore far outside of the tourist center as well to get a true overall feeling of the city.

Overall, it was….fine. On paper, we should have loved everything about it according to our travel style and tastes. But restaurants here do not impress, especially for vegetarians, museums didn’t feel spectacular, and much of the charm we might have felt was numbed by the congestion and busy streets. We didn’t dislike it, but we weren’t impressed either. Was this a case of our expectations being too high?Salta ArgentinaBut we definitely recommend you visit the city – if only as a starting point to escape two different areas we fell over heels in love with: the charming village of Cafayate in the stunning wine country two hours south of Salta and the villages along the Quebrada de Humahuaca a few hours to the north.

Argentina Quebrada de las conchas

Travel Notes on Salta, Argentina:

The cable car up to Cerro Bernardo runs every day from 10am to 7pm and takes 8 minutes. It is AR$25 each way, or 45AR$ return trip. The 1,000 steps take about 45 minutes and are free.

Our favorite spots included Cafe Balcarce (Balcarce 1) and Cafe Teuco (corner of 20 De Febrero and Santiago Del Estero) for good coffee, alfajores and wi-fi and El Patio de Empanadas (corner of San Martin and Las Malvinas) and El Buen Gusto Empanadas (O’Higgins 575) for empanadas.

We stayed at Casa de Borgoña on España 916, which we recommend. Read our full Salta hotel review here.

Have you been to Salta, Argentina? What were your impressions? Share in the comments below.

read more

Following the Freedom Trail through Boston

boston beacon hill houses

The two quick days we spent in Boston were far from enough time to explore the city properly, and it was decided that the best way to maximize our time in town would be to take a Freedom Trail tour. There’s no need to join an organized tour – the 2.5 mile long trail is marked by a red line on the ground which takes you through different neighborhoods and combines historic and contemporary Boston sights. Even total map-o-phobes should have no problem sticking to the trail as it passes 16 significant historical sites that played a role in the American revolution, such as the site of the Boston Massacre, Bunker Hill monument, a Benjamin Franklin statue, the Old North Church, the Old State House and the Old Southern Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party was initiated.

Here are our favorite pictures from our Freedom Trail walk:

We started in Boston Common, the oldest public park in the United States. The famous Ducklings statues refer to the main characters of the popular children’s book – Make Way For Ducklings.

Boston Freedom TrailThough not technically a part of the Freedom Trail, we were very excited about the street food vendor selling Peruvian arepas in Boston Common. We stopped and chatted with him for a bit before heading to the Massachusetts State Capitol with its distinct golden dome and further on towards the King’s Chapel & Burial Ground.

boston common arepas
boston freedom trailThe architecture in the city is as intricate as the Irish Famine sculpture is vivid. It depicts the tragic of the first Irish immigrants in Boston and the triumph of later arrivals.

boston building balcony
freedom trail tour
Freedom TrailWe finally arrived at the Old State House, and it was on this balcony where the Declaration of Independence was read to the crowds on July 18, 1776.

boston old state house balcony

Love that contrast between the Old State House and the modern architecture of the surrounding skyscrapers along the Freedom Trail!

Freedom Trail tour
boston skyscrapersNext stop – Sam Adams. Not a beer, but the actual sculpture of Samuel Adams, leader of the American Revolution and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Mr Adams stands proudly in front of another historic building: Faneuil Hall, where he had held many important meetings and speeches, which eventually led to America’s independence.

boston freedom TrailThe red line then led to Boston’s famous Quincy Market, but just before that we bumped into a terrific group of break dancers who entertained a huge crowd with their moves. Check out this guy flipping over five fully-grown adults! Amazing!

boston freedom trail tourQuincy Market was easily one of our favorite stops along the trail – a paradise for foodies! There are dozens of food stands lined up, and while they ain’t healthy, they sure offer up some delicious concepts and cuisines.

boston quincy market food
boston quincy market mac n cheese stand
boston quincy market browniesWaddling full and content out of the market, the red line then lead us to North End…

boston freedom trail tourWe now found ourselves in a part of Boston that, with its red brick buildings, could have been central London.

Freedom Trail TourThe North End is not only Boston’s oldest neighborhood (since 1630), but also serves as one of the best ‘Little Italy’ neighborhoods we have come across in the U.S., from the buildings to the food.

boston north end
Freedom Trail TourThe Italian bakeries have some seriously amazing goodies and we immediately picked up a pair of cannolis (which were the best we’ve ever had). With the crumbs still on our lips, we stumbled upon an Italian food market. Every.single.dish made our mouths water – from fried artichokes to lasagna, and all kinds of pasta dishes… we wanted to try everything!

boston italian food market artichokes
boston italian food market
boston italian food market lemonade

We then followed the Trail to the Charlestown Bridge and picked up the pace to make it to visit Old Ironsides just as the sun began to set. The ship, otherwise known as the U.S.S. Constitution,  is the world’s oldest floating commissioned naval vessel and stuffed with navy officers who, along with their active duty, help run the ship as a tourist attraction.

boston uss constitution sunsetThe sweeping views over Boston’s skyline from the Charlestown Navy Yard where the perfect finish to an unforgettable day in Boston…

boston skyline & yachts

How to plan your own Freedom Trail Tour:

Where to start walking the Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail starts at the Boston Common, an easy to find park in the center of Boston. The end is Bunker Hill Monument

There’s a self-guided Freedom Trail tour (around US$6) which you can download to your phone. The audio tour provides you with interesting commentary along the way. You can download this free PDF which provides detailed information on each of the 16 stops along the Freedom Trail tour. GoogleMaps has a map of the Freedom Trail – simply click onthe red markers to get more information about each stop.

How long does it take to walk the Freedom Trail?

If you walk the Freedom Trail at a brisk pace and don’t stop a lot for photos along the way, it’ll take about 90 minutes to walk it. However, most people stop to roam the markets, grab some food, admire the 16 historic sites. I’d recommend planning in 3- 4 hours for your Freedom Trail Tour.

Guided Freedom Trail Walking Tours

There is no need for a guided tour, since it is very easy to walk the Freedom Trail independently. But if you prefer walking the Trail with commentary, the Freedom Trail Foundation runs walking tours for only US$14. They are 90 minutes long and tickets can be purchased at the Boston Commons Visitor Center. (I think these tours do NOT cover the entire Freedom Trail, however – double check before purchasing a ticket.)

Other Boston tours that include the Freedom Trail / the history of Boston include:

 

Any questions about the Freedom Trail? Share them in the comments below…

 

read more

Photo essay: The Sunday Antiques Market in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

The Sunday market in Buenos Aires’ San Telmo neighborhood is one of the city’s busiest events. Every Sunday, hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists head to La Defensa avenue, where nearly 300 market stalls stretch over several blocks in the neighborhood.
san telmo antiques marketsan telmo market crowds on defensaFounded in 1971, it was originally known as the San Telmo Antiques Fair. There are still pockets of fascinating antiques to be seen, but the market has since developed into much more than that, with stalls that offer tourist trinkets, jewelry, wool scarves from Patagonia, handmade dolls, street musicians and performers, food and tango.
san telmo market antiquesThe oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, San Telmo still has cobble-stone streets and beautiful colonial buildings. Some buildings are well-preserved, while others are crumbling, but they all add to the character of this part of Buenos Aires. Even if you don’t visit the neighborhood when the market is up and running, San Telmo is a great area to visit. You can pop into the many antique shops or have coffee in one of the bars and cafes that transport you back to the turn of the 20th century.
san telmo restaurantPlaza Dorrego is a little square where tango shows are performed on market days. When there is no market, it is easier to sit and enjoy a cafe con leche and watch the world go by.
medialunas buenos airesOn Sundays, the neighborhood is packed from morning to late afternoon, when the market vendors begin the daily toil of carefully packing their treasures back up in newspapers and boxes. There certainly are treasures to be found here! Have a look at all the fun stuff we saw at the San Telmo Sunday Market:
san telmo antiques market telephonesOf course there is a lot related to tango…

san telmo market tango couples

san telmo market tango statuesAnd mate in many forms and colors…

san telmo market mates
san telmo market mate stallColorful old-fashioned soda bottles…

san telmo market soda bottlesChess games that let you reenact the fight of the Incans vs. the Spaniards…

san telmo market incas vs spaniardsI am pretty sure that selling these in a market in Germany would be unconstitutional…

san telmo market fuehrer symbolsTwo of Argentina’s most beloved exports: Dulce de leche and Che Guevara

Dulce De Leche & CheLots of street musicians and performers entertain the crowds…

san telmo market drummers
san telmo market street musicians
street performers san telmoIncluding these lovers who need money…

los enamorados san telmoAnd of course there is food! You can get anything from empanadas to vegan hamburgers…

vegan hamburgersPopcorn with strawberries and honey
san telmo sunday market popcorn…and lots of other quirky things…
san telmo market gnomes
san telmo market accordeon
san telmo market handmade dolls
san telmo sunday market flat bottles
san telmo market defensa
san telmo market garbage bin

The San Telmo Sunday Market: Practical Information

The San Telmo Sunday Market is held every Sunday on La Defensa, starting at the Plaza De Mayo and ending at the Plaza Dorrego. It starts around 10am and wraps up around 5pm.

Take any bus or Subte (subway) to the Plaza de Mayo, where La Defensa begins.

Cash is king at the San Telmo antiques market!

read more

Through the glass: Scenes from the road in Argentina

road through patagonia

If you love to travel – which seems obvious if you have found your way here – you have heard the old saying: Travel is about the journey, not the destination. That might really hit home with you or just seem like something you read everywhere but this was never more true for us than the roughly three months we spent driving up, down and all around Argentina. We have written extensively about all our favorite destinations – like Buenos AiresIguazu Falls and Rosario, but in Argentina, travel is truly all about the journey. We spent countless days and nights traversing Argentina by bus – from top to bottom, but most certainly not in that order. Argentina by busIn fact, we crossed the Andes four times, criss-crossing back and forth from Chile, watched green meadows turn to tropical climates with palm trees lining the roads near the Brazilian border, drove through the dust and salt near the border with Bolivia and froze in the permanent winter climates on Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of the Americas. Each ride was an adventure in itself, and almost always with awe-inspiring views. Scroll down for our scenes from the roads through Argentina.

Argentina by bus – what is it like?

First things first – buses in Argentina usually look like this:

1 bus argentinaFor our very first ride, which was 24 hours from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile, we splurged on first class seats which turned out to be big, comfy leather seats with our own TV screen and meals that included free wine.
2 argentina bus3 argentina bus tv

Eating on the road in Argentina

The food was surprisingly good, with a vegetarian option available when booking the tickets and we were relieved. 24 hours is an eternity on a bus with very few stops. Unfortunately, we would never have that kind of food quality again – and not all buses offer any vegetarian options at all. These little perks also seem to have nothing to do with the price of the ticket – which can vary but is always fairly high.

4 Argentina bus foodBreakfast on buses usually consisted of crackers, a couple of different kinds of cookies, dulce de leche and jam (pictured on the upper left side of the above photo).

6 argentina bus breakfast dulce de lecheOn our bus ride to Salta we collected three sets of sandwiches each, all of them were white bread, ham and cheese. The stray dogs of Salta were thankful for them, though. If you’re a vegetarian and are planning to travel Argentina by bus, do yourself a favor and pack snacks. Lots of them – especially for longer rides.

5 argentina bus breakfastOn shorter rides we were usually just given cookies and a cup of instant coffee, always styrofoam. On the overnight buses, coffee was pre-made in a big container, which they loaded with sugar, as per the Argentine palate. Yuck! All long-distance buses have attendants who serve meals and drinks an collect the trash. This is all included in the ticket price.

6 bus snackWhen we didn’t have first-class seats, we shared TVs with the whole bus and enjoyed Lady Gaga and other pop videos together. Well, sometimes we enjoyed them, other times we wished we had opted for noise-cancelling headphones to block some of it out.

7 argentina bus with tvs

From Buenos Aires West To The Andes

From Buenos Aires to Santiago, the entire first day heading west consisted of pretty unexciting views – until the Andes Mountains could be seen on the horizon. We passed the vineyards around Mendoza and finally drove straight into the mountains, following the winding mountain road until we hit the border to Chile at the Los Libertadores mountain pass.

7 argentina mendoza and andes8 andes mountains9 andes mountains argentina

The Road Through The Lake District 

After two months in Chile working our way south, we re-entered Argentina about 1000 kilometers further south via San Martin de los Andes, driving back east straight into the beautiful Lake District around Bariloche.

11 andes mountains argentina19 andes mountain drive11 jess argentina border10 andes mountains towards chile2Our highlight here was visiting Nahuel Huapi National Park and the Black Glacier before we headed further south towards El Chalten on what was the longest and most grueling of all our bus rides.

13 argentina lake district13 nahuel huapi national park5At 27 hours, this ride was intense and bumpy, too. It started off with a gorgeous drive further into the Lake District and with the Andes mountains painted red by the setting sun. But then…

Argentina by bus15 argentina andes sunset…the road became gravel for hours and hours. And hours. We would see the same exact view out the window, unchanged, from the start to finish of a movie or hour-long TV show. Mountains, rocks, and the most barren landscape we had ever seen. Even in its most boring spots, it was still awe-inspiring how incredibly big Argentina is and how intense it is to drive straight down through the center of it.

Argentina by bus16 argentina pampa520 argentina pampa3That bus ride was when we started wondering: was it really worth enduring 27 hours through Argentina by bus instead of forking out the money for a plane ticket? For us, it was worth it because we were traveling on a tight budget and the difference in price between bus and plane was staggering.

The Road Through Patagonia

When we finally reached El Chalten it was so gorgeous and so worth it. We really enjoyed the incredible vistas of Mount Fitz Roy.

16 el chalten river and mountains3We followed the paved road alongside the Andes down to our next stop: El Calafate. This three hour ride felt like a snap of the fingers after all those long rides before. El Calafate was our base to explore Perito Moreno Glacier.

Argentina by busThe drive to the glacier was one of the most scenic in Patagonia, passing mountain lakes and leading straight into the Los Glaciares National Park, surrounded by the Andes.

18 patagonia panoramaArgentina by busFrom this point, now fairly far south, we crossed back into Chile to visit Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Punta Arenas, where we took the ferry to Porvenir and set foot on Tierra Del Fuego for the first time.

14 argentina river3This is where things got a bit complicated and we were forced to hitchhike back across the border  into Argentina in order to reach the End Of The World, also known as the southernmost city in the world or Ushuaia.

21 Ushuaia mountains

The Road To Iguazu Falls 

At that point, the only way to go was back up north – or down to Antarctica, but that is an adventure for another time. After freezing on our way down through Patagonia, we couldn’t wait to get to Montevideo, Uruguay, and since a three hour flight is the same price as the 50+ hours it would have taken by bus, we decided to give our knees a rest and flew up to Montevideo. After a couple of weeks in Uruguay, we headed west again back into Argentina, to explore the northern part of the country.

21 argentina cows3During our time there, heavy rains had flooded big parts of the country, and some fields were still covered in water when we went up to Iguazu.

Argentina by busAll of a sudden, we found ourselves in tropical climates with jungles and palm trees surrounding us. Those 24 hours on that bus brought us to an entirely different part of Argentina.

22 argentina sunset from the busUp here near the Brazilian border, it was hard to believe this was the same country that was home to Buenos Aires, or the Lake District, or Rosario…scenes would have felt at home in Nicaragua than the booming cities or tranquil tourist enclaves further south.

Argentina by bus

The Road Through Northwest Argentina

And then, just like that, the 20 hour ride to Salta brought us out of the tropics, through countless quiet villages and into a sophisticated Spanish colonial city.

24 argentina north east argentinaFrom Salta, we headed to El Cafayate, and even though this was only a four-hour drive, it was easily one of the most spectacular in all of Argentina.

quebrada de las conchas roadquebrada de las conchas red cliffsWe passed through the red rock formations of the Quebrada De Las Conchas on a long, winding mountain road to Cafayate, a dusty winery town surrounded by vineyards and mountains.

quebrada de las conchasquebrada de las conchas29 argentina quebrada da cafayate vinyardOur next stop was equally as stunning: A trip along the Quebrada De Humahuaca, a road which leads from Salta to the Bolivian border. We stopped in Jujuy, just two hours from Salta.

Argentina by busHere we rented a car to do this Quebrada de Humahuaca road trip at our own pace.

andes mountain roadThis freedom and flexibility allowed us to take a detour through the Cuesta De Lipan, or Lipan Rise, at an altitude of 4,170 meters / 13,700 feet above sea level, on our way to the Salinas Grandes, Argentina’s salt flats.

30 llamas on the roadArgentina by busIn this mountain range we saw more guanaco families hanging out than anywhere else in Argentina!

3quebrada de humahuaca andes guanacosquebrada de humahuaca andes mountain roadThe salt flats in Argentina are much smaller than the famous Salar De Uyuni in neighboring Bolivia, but they were still an incredible sight to drive through.32 argentina road to salinas grandes salt flats road through salinas grandes salt flatssalt flats argentina dani & jess with carThe next day we continued on toward the indigenous town of Humahuaca, passing more guanacos and alpacas, plus some of the most colorful mountains we have ever seen. Here we could feel how close we were to Bolivia – the people, the air, the traditional clothes and tourist trinkets for sale in the markets.

 quebrada de humahuacaA few days later, it was time for our fourth and final Andes crossing. From Jujuy we caught a bus that would take us west through an incredible no man’s land, a vast expanse of sometimes mountainous and other times flat land. As far as the eye could see, the road stretch out ahead on what felt like an entirely different planet for hundreds of miles at a time. This final leg through Argentina would take us into Chile to the Atacama desert, almost 4000km north of our last crossing point in Patagonia.quebrada de humahuacaTo find out how much all that cost us, read our post on The Blue Dollar and the real cost of traveling in Argentina.

 

read more

Photo Essay: A stroll through Montevideo

montevideo ciudad vieja buildings

Touching in down in Montevideo Uruguay, the two of us city girls were giddy with excitement. Six weeks of traveling through barren landscape of Patagonia and the green spaces of Chile and Argentina’s Lake District had been unlike anywhere we had ever been, but we missed the buzz of a big city: culture, people, diverse food, art. After such great experiences in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, we also had high expectations for Montevideo, our third South American capital and Jess had even harbored some ideas about living there for a few weeks at one point. When we walked out of a gleaming, futuristic airport terminal to catch our bus into the city, we were convinced that Montevideo wouldn’t disappoint.

A few minutes in to the ride, however, and we had passed the first of many horse carriages and dirt roads. We wondered if maybe Uruguay’s capital wasn’t as modern as its airport had teased?

horse carriage ciudad viejaWe started our exploration in Ciudad Vieja, the original colonial part of Montevideo Uruguay. As we explored around our hotel, we discovered historic colonial buildings either in a charming state of disrepair or beautifully restored.

montevideo old buildingmontevideo confiteria montevideo architecture lionmontevideo uruguaymontevideo sheep sculptureThe Mercado del Puerto, the port market, was originally built in 1865 to be a train station. This wrought-iron construction now houses an array of restaurants that specialize in meat and seafood dishes. While there wasn’t much for us vegetarians to try, people rave about the restaurants in this market.

montevideo mercado del puerto We loved the little restaurants,cafes and shops in the old town, and the old-fashioned fruit and vegetable stores.
montevideo booksmontevideo ciudad viejamontevideo uruguaymontevideo street signThis charming antique flea market sprawled out on the tiny Plaza Constitución, the oldest square in all of Montevideo, Uruguay. montevideo flea marketmontevideo flea market glassesLined by beautiful grand buildings and a fountain in the center, the plaza made for a great place to sit down and (crazy) people watch for a while.

montevideo fountain angels and fishmontevideo plaza constitucion arch and lionThough it seemed impossible at first, Uruguayans are even more obsessed with drinking their mate, a South American herbal tea drink, than in Argentina. While we saw people walking around with mate gourds in Argentina occasionally, it seemed that everyone in Uruguay was bringing their mate gourd and a thermos with hot water with them, where ever they went.
montevideo uruguaymontevideo mate gourdsDrinking mate out of hoofs seemed to be particularly trendy.

montevideo mate hoofsOn our walk through Ciudad Vieja, the ornate and restored buildings were contrasted often with a bit of an edge, including street art in many areas.

street art montevideomontevideo restaurant signmontevideo uruguay street artThe historic Teatro Solís is one of the most elegant buildings in Montevideo. Renovations only finished in 2004, six years and US $110,000 columns designed by French designer Philippe Starck, later.

montevideo teatro solis montevideo teatro floorOur next stop was the Plaza Independencia, Montevideo’s most important square, which separates the old town from the commercial downtown center.
montevideo uruguayThis modern office tower right on the square, the Executive Tower, is the workplace of José Mujica, the current Uruguayan Head of State.
montevideo glass towermontevideo plaza independencia buildingThe Palacio Salvo is the most impressive building on Plaza Independencia, however, with its 100 meter tall ornate tower (below on the right), designed by the architect Mario Palanti, who designed a similar building, the Palacio Barolo, in Buenos Aires.
Historic buildings in MontevideoPalacio Salvo marks the beginning of the Avenida de 18 de Julio, Montevideo’s most important shopping street which is also filled with gorgeous art deco buildings and old-fashioned shops and restaurants.
montevideo opticianMontevideo Uruguaymontevideo door with stone lionsmontevideo clock towermontevideo bar grillWhile shoppers go about their business, there are always groups of men playing chess on the sidewalk.

montevideo chess playersThe smell of roasted peanuts hangs in the air, wafting from several stands where they cooked them fresh along the avenue.

montevideo peanut vendormontevideo peanutsIt is no secret that I am obsessed with love padlocks on bridges (and we even put our very own one on the Brooklyn Bridge!), so I was beyond excited to stumble upon an entire love lock fountain!

montevideo love lock fountainmontevideo fuente de los candadosmontevideo fuente de los candadosThe fountain says: “The legend of this young fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked”.
Love locks MontevideoWe loved the Diego y Jose lock – and were surprised to learn that the country is actually very gay-friendly, having recently passed a bill that will make same-sex marriage legal in Uruguay as of 1 August 2013 – making it only the 14th country in the world to legalize gay marriage. The Old Town even has a dedicated Espacio Libre de la Diversidad Sexual Montevideo, a square dedicated to sexual diversity!
montevideo love lock fountainAnother thing we loved about Montevideo were the many tree-lined boulevards everywhere.

montevideo streetThe trees seem to form a natural arch over the streets.
tree-lined street montevideo Uruguaymontevideo french windows

montevideo facade with womenmontevideo angel balconyAfter marveling at some more of the city’s extraordinary architecture, it was time for us to hit the beaches. Montevideo has over 13 kilometers (8.1 mi) of sandy beaches. We rented bikes, but you can walk or even just drive along the Ramblas, the coastal road, for over 20km of beach after beach after beach.
montevideo beachmontevideo beachPlaya Pocitos is the best-known beach in the city, lined by luxury apartment buildings in this upscale part of town.
montevideo uruguayMontevideo does have all the ingredients of what makes a great city, but this particular recipe just didn’t impress us much. We weren’t captivated the way we were in Buenos Aires or even Santiago, which took longer to win our hearts. We might be biased because of the attempted robbery, but overall we felt that the city is a bit rough, lacking in much diversity and just doesn’t have the interesting, laid-back vibe that makes the rest of Uruguay such a great destination.

Door with ironHave you been to Montevideo Uruguay? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the city in the comments below.

read more

Views from above: Mexico City

Torre Latinoamericano & Palacio de las Bellas Artes

The best way to get an overview of a city, especially one that sprawls like Mexico City, is to see it from above. So we headed to the top of the Torre Latinoamericano, the only skyscraper in the historic center of Mexico City. However, at only 183 meters /597 feet  and 45 stories high, the Torre does not compare to towers in the U.S. or Asia, though respect must be given for the fact that Mexico City is hit with many earthquakes. The Torre Latinoamericano certainly towers over the rest of Mexico City’s skyline – even though that since our first visit to D.F., it is NOT Mexico City’s tallest building anymore.

The views from the top are stunning – both daytime and nighttime, as long as the city is not too shrouded in smog:

Torre Latinoamericano viewsTo the West you see the Alameda Central, a public park with lots of street vendors.

The food stalls at the Alameda seen from the Torre Latinoamericano.

Torre Latinoamericano viewsLooking East you see the historic city center, the Zocalo (the main square), the Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional.

Mexico City’s Cathedral close-up. It is the oldest and largest cathedral in Latin America.

The Zocalo with the huge Mexican flag and the Palacio Nacional. The Palacio is the seat of the federal government and houses various murals by Diego Rivera, including one of his biggest and most famous, which depicts the history of Mexico stretching from wall to wall in an intricate, elaborate piece.

Torre Latinoamericano viewsThe view to the North offers vistas of the mountains that surround the city. The big building on the right side in the front is the Museo Nacional de Arte.

To the North you can also see the Plaza Garibaldi, famous for its Mariachi gatherings (especially on Fridays and Saturdays), when hundreds of Mariachi musicians congregate and bring the Plaza to life with their music.

Torre Latinoamericano viewsThe Palacio de las Bellas Artes is well worth a visit as it not only shows murals of Mexico’s greatest muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, but also for the building’s interesting architecture itself.

Torre Latinoamericano viewsLocated East of the city center is the Zona Rosa, the business district of Mexico’s capital, with the only tall buildings in the city.

Torre Latinoamericano viewsThe buildings of the Zona Rosa and Paseo de la Reforma covered in smog.

Seeing the lights of the city at night reveals the entire dimension of this 10 million-strong metropole. The fluorescent strip is the Eje Central, the main 6-lane drag that goes from North to South through the entire city.

Mexico City view to the North at night.

West of Mexico City with Alameda Central.

Torre Latinoamericano viewsThe Palacio de las Bellas Artes at night.

The Torre Latinoamericano is open daily from 10am to 8pm and costs MXN140 (just under US$7) – certainly worth the price, even if you’re visiting Mexico City on a shoestring. The entrance fee allows you one hour at the viewing platforms and includes a museum on the 38th floor which gives more information on the history of Mexico City, the earthquakes and the construction of the Torre Latinoamericana. There is also a fine dining restaurant on the 41th floor.

Address: Eje Central & Avenida Juárez
Metro station: Bellas Artes

You can book your tickets online here.

.

 
read more
1 2 3 4 6
Page 2 of 6