Just a few photos to share from last week’s trip to northern Michigan…
Just a few photos to share from last week’s trip to northern Michigan…
It’s been a long while since I’ve posted, so a few quick updates. Following up on my last post, I am headed overseas in a couple of months and have been busy preparing for my new adventure. I’m sad in some ways, but I wish I could get started already! More to come later…
I’ve also taken my food blogging over to popular group food blog Carpe Durham. This site has been around for years and gets waaaayyyy more traffic than I’ll ever get. Unsurprisingly, posts on Carpe Durham are restricted to Durham restaurants, so it’s more limited in its scope.
Durham has received tons foodie accolades over the past couple of years, including Southern Living’s “Tastiest Town in the South.” Such a fun place to be a food blogger.
In other news, I’m working hard on a fancier new website related to my next chapter. It’s a painful process, since I’m not exactly tech savvy. Once the site is ready for prime time, I’ll be blogging over there and trying to build a professional platform.
No major travels recently. I am headed to northern Michigan so I’ll post some pictures and stories from that trip soon. We’re checking out the Leland and Petoskey/Harbor Springs areas. It’s been years since I’ve ventured “up north”, as we Michiganders say. I’m psyched!
So…some news to report! I’ve been keeping it quiet for the last month or two, but I guess it’s time to let it all hang out. I have an opportunity to temporarily move abroad in the fall. I won’t get into too much detail about it yet, but watch this space!
This is actually a very tough decision for me for a variety of reasons. It’s a great opportunity, but I’m keenly aware of the fact that I have a nice life here in Durham. Do I want to continue nesting or leave on an unknown adventure? I like the home I’ve created in NC, but there’s always part of me that craves new experiences. At the same time, I’ve come to realize that happiness comes from within (and from the quality of my relationships with other people) much more so than from external experiences or factors.
I know that I don’t necessarily need to move away from Durham to get my adventure fix. I was proud of my solo travels in Patagonia earlier this year. Although I’ve done some solo travel in the past, this was by far the most adventurous trip I’ve ever taken. I didn’t know the language and had never traveled to South America. Patagonia conjures up images of barren wilderness, so it doesn’t sound like an ideal travel destination for a female on her own. That said, it’s so tourist-ed that I actually found it was an easy place to conquer solo.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve been cursed with shyness since birth. It’s held me back on many occasions and in many regards. It’s worn off some over the years, but it’s still central to who I am as a person. I’m learning to embrace it…
Because I’m shy, it’s surprising to some that I often take on big moves. I’m cautious, but I’m not shy about tackling a new challenge once I jump in. For some reason, traveling/living abroad makes it easier for me to come out of my shell. My good friend Catherine commented that I’m absolutely glowing in my Argentina pics. It’s true – I had a fabulous time there, even though I was flying solo.
At the same time, the outcome here is unknown, and I find that terrifying. I need to remind myself of my favorite Paulo Coelho quote:
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.”
In theory, I believe this is true, but it doesn’t always feel that way. It’s tempting to play it safe. I don’t risk failure that way…but will I always regret it?
I usually find that I don’t regret doing things nearly as much as I regret not doing them. We learn from failure and move on, but regrets linger.
The best part about traveling to Buenos Aires last month was staying at my friend’s adorable flat in the Palermo section of town. SO much better than a hotel. And free!
My pal Cecilia has been in BA on a 6-month work transfer. Needless to say, she’s enjoying her temporary expat lifestyle. Her flat is located just down the street from the U.S. embassy and the U.S. ambassador’s swanky pad. It’s also just a couple of blocks from a number of major sights and city parks, including the Japanese Garden, the zoo and Tres de Febrero park.
Tres de Febrero has good urban energy – people lounging on blankets, dogs strolling, cyclists, weekend green markets, etc. And there’s a lovely rose garden:
Cecilia’s neighborhood reminded me of a cross between the Upper West Side and Soho…the UWS because of the great big trees and neighborhood feel, and Soho because there were tons of trendy restaurants and cafes.
I enjoyed my morning ritual of coffee and breakfast at a cute cafe in the ‘hood. The Argentinians aren’t big on breakfast. You won’t find much in the way of eggs and heavier fare. Most people I observed opted for a croissant or bread basket, served with dulce de leche and various other spreads.
I usually picked up breakfast at a bakery-cafe named Nucha, which is part of a chain similar to Au Bon Pain. My favorite item at Nucha was the diminutive (yet filling) croissant sandwich with ham and cheese:
I encountered quite a few ham and cheese sandwiches during my trip.
My best meal of the entire vacation was lunch at Rio Alba, a nearby steakhouse. I was fueling up before a late afternoon bike tour around the city, so I went for it and ordered the rib eye (half portion, which was still huge) with fried potatoes and a glass of Malbec. Delish.
On my last night in BA, I checked out a supper club. Five Mediterranean-inspired courses, served in a private flat and enjoyed with 9 other travelers? Why not?! The food itself was so-so on that particular night. That said, the presentation was impressive, the wine pairings were great and it was a fun group. Definitely a worthwhile experience if you’re game to do something unique in BA.
If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know how much I enjoyed Patagonia. I’m already planning a trip back to hike the “W” circuit in Chile’s Torres del Paine. Last month, I only had time for a day hike near El Chalten in Argentina, but it was spectacular.
The day trip to El Chalten started bright and early at 7:30am. Unfortunately, I had a serious issue with my cell phone alarm and awoke abruptly at 7:25am. I bolted out of bed and somehow made it onto the bus in a somewhat disheveled state. I knew a long day was ahead – the trip to El Chalten is about 215 kilometers each way along Ruta 40 – but I was excited for a road trip!
The landscape along the way is as barren and wild as you’d expect. If it wasn’t so beautiful and unusual, the drive would be extremely boring. There’s absolutely nothing along the road, other than the steppe, mountains and various bodies of water. The colors are difficult to describe – blues, oranges, yellows and browns unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Literally, there are no motels, gas stations, rest stops or fast food restaurants along the way. The only possible stop is the Hotel La Leona, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once hid from the law. It’s about an hour into the journey.
Just outside of El Chalten, we stopped at Salto el Chorrillo, a very pretty waterfall:
Once we arrived in El Chalten, our group split up. The majority of my fellow travelers opted for a glacier boat tour, while a few of us headed off on a hike to Laguna Capri.
Our tour guide left with the boating group and turned us loose on the mountain. She said it would take about 3 hours of uphill hiking to reach Laguna Capri. We brought our lunches with us and set off on the trail.
With a couple of friendly young Brazilians leading the way, we hiked up that hill at a ridiculously fast pace. Boy, was I winded! We actually made it to our destination in about an hour, instead of the three we expected. If I’d hiked at my own slower pace, I suspect it would’ve taken about two hours.
There were some really unique trees and awesome views along the way. The trail often ran along this valley:
Laguna Capri is well worth the challenging hike. There’s a small sandy beach there, and we kicked back for a bit before starting our hike back to El Chalten. It was a clear day so we enjoyed some great views of Mt. FitzRoy.
The hike back down was much easier and more leisurely. Eventually, El Chalten came into view:
A post-hike beer never tasted better.
Flying into El Calafate was a pretty cool experience – and a fitting kick off to my Patagonian adventure. The airport was built in 2000, and it’s still quite sparkly (and also small so it’s easy to navigate). It’s located right next to gorgeous Lago Argentino, with dusty, barren mountains looming nearby.
I was pretty charmed by El Calafate, even though it’s basically a tourist town. Like the airport, the town is right there on Lago Argentino. Redonkulous views abound.
My hotel, La Cantera Boutique Hotel, was up on a hill about a 15 minute walk away from downtown. Fortunately, the hotel provides a free shuttle service into town after 8pm. And like most visitors, I was busy on excursions to El Chalten and Perito Moreno basically all day. It wasn’t like I needed to trek back and forth into town.
Overall, I really liked La Cantera. The hotel provides a nice breakfast with fruit, eggs, bread, cheese and tons of sweets, if that’s your thing. The rooms are spacious and clean, and the staff helped set up my excursions and airport transportation ahead of time.
As for downtown El Calafate, it felt part ski town, part throwback. The downtown strip consists of restaurants, shops and bars perfect for a post-hike Quilmes. In terms of food, you’ll find Argentine pizza, Patagonian lamb and enormous ham and cheese sandwiches like this one:
Even though it’s been taken over by tourists, El Calafate retains some of its uniqueness and character. It’s a dusty place and there are lots of ancient, beat up cars on the road. It felt a bit like the Old Wild West, in a way.
There are also tons of dogs roaming the streets – friendly, sociable, confident and seemingly well-fed hounds. I suspect that some are strays and others have homes but are allowed to cruise during the day. I found them lounging on windowsills, making friends with diners at outdoor restaurants and chilling in alleys. I patted one on the head and he/she tried to follow me home. Tragically, we had to part ways…
Although there were many highlights from my Argentina trip, the “mini-trek” on Perito Moreno glacier was by far the coolest thing I did.
There are several different ways you can experience the glacier. If you’re short on time, you can visit the viewing platforms facing Perito Moreno. We stopped there after our trek, and I took the photos at left and below. As you can see, it’s not a bad viewing option!
Alternatively, you can take the Todos Los Glaciares Boat Tour, which covers all of the area’s glaciers during a full-day cruise. And for the adventurous, there are the Big Ice and “mini-trek” tours organized through Hielo y Aventura. I opted for the mini-trek, which cost about US$125. (Note: it costs AR$140, or about US$25, each time you enter Los Glaciares National Park for any of these options).
I scheduled my tour with Hielo y Aventura about a month in advance through my hotel. I’d heard that Hielo y Aventura doesn’t directly take advance reservations, so I was glad my hotel was able to take care of this for me. I like having things scheduled in advance…especially when I’m traveling so far, and with a specific goal in mind!
Big Ice trekkers walk for about 3.5 hours on the glacier, while you’re on ice for 1.5 hours during the mini-trek.
The tour company picks you up at your hotel and takes you to a mother load destination, where everyone climbs onto a bus for the journey to the glacier park. The drive to the park takes about an hour and a half, but there’s beautiful scenery along the way: mountains, Lago Argentino, vast plains and, finally, Perito Moreno in the distance across a sparkling blue lake.
This is really a special place. And it was a gorgeous day in early fall – low 60s and perfectly sunny.
After the scenic drive through the park, we loaded onto a small boat and headed across the lake to the glacier. The boat trip lasts 20 minutes or so. My fellow tourists were snapping pictures of the glacier as we approached, but as a shorty I couldn’t get any decent photos that didn’t include the tops of people’s heads. I figured we’d have all day to photograph the darn thing though.
We arrived at a base camp area, where we were able to leave non-critical belongings. My hotel had provided me with a somewhat heavy and cumbersome box lunch, which I happily ditched in one of the cubbies. From there, we walked about 15 minutes down a hiking trail towards the glacier, with more great scenery along the way.
I’d brought my waterproof hiking pants and jacket with me, but I didn’t need them on that beautiful and clear day. The guide did insist that everyone wear gloves, since you can hurt your hands on the ice if you fall.
The guides helped us strap on our crampons, and off we went. We crossed a rocky beach area by the water and climbed up onto the glacier from there.
After the glacier walk, we took off our crampons and headed back through the woods to base camp for lunch. We had about an hour to lounge on the rocks and enjoy the scenery before getting back on the boat.
The coolest part about this place is how pristine they’ve managed to keep the park. There’s not a single souvenir shop selling t-shirts. No overpriced restaurants peddling sandwiches and bottled water. There were no boats on the lake, other than the one shuttling us across. There wasn’t even a trash can at base camp – you bring your trash back into town with you. I doubt there are many places left on earth that are as well-preserved as this glacier park. It’s just nature…all around you.
The mini-trek was an awesome experience, and a great way to experience the glacier up close. If you’re in good health and not pregnant, I’d recommend you put it on your bucket list.
I got back from Argentina yesterday morning, after a 15-hour journey via JFK, feeling refreshed and renewed. Okay, I was exhausted yesterday, but after a good night’s sleep, I feel so re-invigorated.
It sounds cheesy, but there are trips that just give you a new lease on life, and this was one of those trips for me. Especially the Patagonia section of my travels. It was so incredibly beautiful there – words and pictures can’t begin to describe it.
The best part of it all: being home feels great too! Today, the most basic things – like having my morning coffee, going to spin class and walking Emma – make me smile and feel good about life.
I sure hope this feeling lasts for a while…
I’ll post more photos and stories from my trip to Patagonia and Buenos Aires later.
I wrote a lengthy and very positive post on Oakleaf restaurant after my inaugural visit at the end of 2012. I really loved my dinner experience there, but it’s a bit of a hike to Pittsboro, so I knew I wouldn’t make it out there very often. Well, I finally returned for brunch last weekend. I came straight from a morning spin class (my new exercise addiction!), and I was ready to indulge.
Oakleaf is closed on Sundays and is only open for brunch on Saturdays, which is a little unusual in the Triangle…and especially in traditional Chatham County. I’d emailed several days ahead to secure a reservation, but discovered the joint two-thirds empty upon arrival. I loved the energy during my prior meal there, so I was a little disappointed to find it so empty and quiet.
On the bright side, we had our choice of tables and settled into a roomy four-top table in the corner. I ordered a coffee as we studied the menu, a brunchy mix of egg dishes, sandwiches and salads. They serve cute little individual French presses for coffee, but I was a wee bit sad that it took a good twenty minutes for my coffee to materialize. Our server brought warm beignets to the table while we waited.
For my meal, I ordered the aged Gruyère, sage and farm egg breakfast sandwich. The menu touts that it comes with “extra cheese sauce,” and they’re not kidding! Between the dousing of cheese sauce and the runny egg, this is definitely a knife-and-fork dish. That’s no bad thing, but be forewarned that it’s a pretty heavy brunch. My favorite part of the sandwich was the addition of the sage.
The sandwich came with frites (although our sleepy server forgot mine, and I had to chase the hostess down to claim them). I won’t wax poetic over the frites but they were really good!
I leave for Argentina in less than 3 weeks, so I’m in full-force planning mode at this point! Most of the details of my 3-night jaunt to El Calafate in Patagonia are squared away, so my attention has now shifted to Buenos Aires.
Other than catching up with my fabulous hostess Cecilia and exploring her ‘hood, I’m excited to bike, imbibe and taste my way through the city. As far as tasting goes, I’d really love to check out a supper club while I’m in town.
The pop-up restaurant and supper club trend is not exclusive to Buenos Aires. On the contrary, they’re popular pretty much everywhere these days, from New York to Berlin. Here in Durham, culinary incubator The Cookery recently unveiled a new event space for pop-up dinners. The team from Toast hosted the first dinner earlier this month, and it sold out within minutes. I have yet to locate an active supper club in Durham though…
Known in Buenos Aires as puertas cerradas (restaurants with closed doors), underground supper clubs have been around for a while – some for decades. Behind the closed doors of someone’s private flat or in an intimate event space, you can find pretty any cuisine your heart desires. Perhaps more importantly, these events provide an opportunity to mingle with locals and tourists alike. You never know who you might meet!
One of the best-known supper clubs in BA is Casa Saltshaker, held in the Recoleta flat of an expat couple and featuring “fancy home cooking” for US$65. The meal includes wine pairings, a welcome cocktail, five courses and spirited conversation at a communal table.
Another supper club that caught my eye is Jueves a la Mesa, hosted in a private residence in the San Telmo neighborhood. This dinner is held only on Thursdays (hence the name, which means Thursdays at the Table) and features scrumptious vegetarian fare, including hearty salads, soups and homemade chocolates. Sounds like welcome relief from the steaks and heavy empanadas I’ll be indulging in the rest of the week. The chef is a local yoga instructor and is said to be a great hostess to the guests who mingle at her communal table. Also, it’s a steal at AR$120 per person, or about US$24.
For an extensive list of clubs around the world, check out this list on Casa Saltshaker’s website. Have you ever been to a pop-up restaurant or supper club?