Archive | December, 2014

Buenos Aires, Part 3

31 Dec

Parrillas, or steakhouses, are all over Argentina in order to serve up the nation’s most famous food – beef. From what I am told, all the beef here is grass fed. We went to two parrillas to try out this infamous steak.

I am going to start with the second one first, mainly because it sucked. In San Telmo, we went to a place called La Brigade. We had read about it in some blog and the wait was about an hour for lunch. When we finally got seated in this futbol (soccer) themed restaurant, we were served some rolls and breadsticks (the cracker kind).

We ordered a caprese salad – good. We then ordered our two steaks. Emilio had a pork flank streak – not delicious. I had a flank steak – super chewy. I was confused because the waiter cut it with a spoon but I was hacking through it with my steak knife. We had to request the chimmichuri, and before that – it was pretty bland. We also got a ridiculous amount of meat. The waiter gave no indication that our order could feed a family of six. Some waste occurred here, which makes both our hearts hurt. I learned from my dad that throwing away food is one of the worst things to do.

Overall? Don’t go to La Brigade in San Telmo.

Second place? Don Julio. This is the parrilla we read about all over the place.

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This was place was ridiculously packed. From what I could tell, it was mainly tourists (probably because they read about it all over the Internet also), but I think there was a mix of some locals. Since the projected wait is about an hour at 9:30 at night (we only waited for about 30 minutes), they pass out champagne to you while you’re waiting. Nice touch.

Once inside, the place is decorated with wine bottles that guests have drank and then left messages on.

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They start the meal with some delicious rolls – warm and soft on the inside, and nice and crunchy on the outside. I generally try to stay away from bread but I definitely ate two. They are served with butter, but they also serve some of the best chimmichuri I’ve ever had and some type of pico de gallo/bruschetta mix for the steak, and I ate my rolls with that also. We also ordered a butternut squash and goat cheese salad with beet vingeratte.

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For the steaks, we ordered half portions (good choice, since this was more than enough). I can’t remember what type of steaks we ordered. I am no steak connoisseur and without menu pictures, I forget. We also had waffle fries. I know, I know – carbs and meat everywhere. But, I swear, in all of South America, there are potatoes and bread with every single meal!

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Overall, I think there are probably better steakhouses in Buenos Aires, but Don Julio was pretty good. We definitely left satisfied here.

Although one final note – when we read about the parrillas, everyone wrote about how you could get a good steak and a good Malbec (or any red wine either, but Argentina is known for their Malbecs) for about $30-40. I guess this was meant for a single person, because we spent about double each time (once for lunch, and once for dinner).

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Buenos Aires, Part 2

30 Dec

In Buenos Aires, we did a lot of walking and eating. As I previously mentioned, Argentina is known for its grass fed beef. To partake in this red meat eating frenzy, we tried two parrillas, or steakhouses. But first, a few other snacks and drinks from our four days in BA:

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Empanadas. Since he was a young boy visiting Jalisco, Emilio has loved empanadas – a stuffed bread/pastry that is baked/fried. Due to his love of them, Emilio found a place famous for their empanadas, La Cocina, so we went there and grabbed two – one with cheese and onion and the other called “carne picante,” but it’s not spicy, it’s just spiced with cumin.

Emilio loves empanadas, but I think these were just “meh.” These were good, but we later went to a different restaurant and he had ones that he thought were much better.

We also went to one of the bars on a list of the 50 Best Bars in the World – it’s the best one in Latin America and is called Floreria Atlantico.

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It’s literally a flower shop on the front. And then you have to go through a door, walk down the stairs, and then your suddenly in the bar! It’s very Noble Experiment-ish in San Diego with its secret door, etc. But it was actually a pretty cool bar with bartenders making craft cocktails (their food was not recommended when we read about it). The drink menu is divided up by the countries of the immigrants that make up Buenos Aires. For example, the gin comes from the English and Dutch, bitters from Italy, rum from Cuba, pisco from Peru, and beer from the Germans.

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We had some drinks with house made gin and another called “the Hemingway.” The most interesting drink was probably the last one. Emilio ordered a drink, something along the lines of “the man’s drink in Bolivia,” but our bartender was rather reluctant to make it for him. Rather, she decided to make her own concoction. Obviously, I don’t know all the ingredients but it had orange juice and Tabasco – almost like a Bloody Mary, but an orange juice version. Sounds crazy, but actually quite tasty.

The drinks weren’t cheap (about $9 each), but definitely worth a stop in if you’re ever in BA. Just know they aren’t open till 7pm – but it is open till 3:30am (like I could ever stay up that late!)

We also went to San Telmo for its Sunday Market. It was a huge market. If you’re an antique fan, this is definitely the place for you.

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There were some beautiful glassware and vases – I wish I could have brought some home, but they were rather expensive and heavy to carry home in our backpacks. They also had some funky antiques – old dolls, fashion jewelry, knives, and old door handles and light bulb holders.

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In San Telma, there is also an old famous bar called Bar Dorrego.

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Emilio had a beer and I just ordered a lemonade since it was super hot. The lemonade came with about half a glass full of straight lime juice, a bottle of water, and some sugar packets. Mix at your own leisure.

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Supposedly, it’s been around since the 18th century, so the bar has been marked up pretty good over the years.

Alright, I think that wraps up all the odds and ends of Buenos Aires – I will post about the steakhouses next! This is getting too long already.

Buenos Aires

28 Dec

The second we stepped off the plane to Buenos Aires, I was happier. At 8:00 at night, it was 80 degrees! That’s what this SoCal girl is talking about. Yes, yes, I know I am from Washington State, but I hate being cold these days and Peru was cold!

Our first night, we just arrived to our studio AirBnB and just chilled – it was Christmas Day and nothing was open, and it had been a long day.

But in the morning, we were ready to go! For our first day, we decided to explore the neighborhood Recoleta and visit the Recoleta Cemetery. Although visiting cemeteries isn’t really my thing, this one is famous.

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It’s basically a bunch of raised tombs – some of which are really fancy, and others that have broken windows and lots of cobwebs. I believe it’s maintained by the city, but families still own the plots. There were many tours being led through the cemetery, and I heard one guide sharing that a tomb had recently sold for $220,000 – after being listed for three years and originally priced at $300,000. This kind of blew my mind. He said that the family had to clear their family’s remains and then would turn the tomb over. I always thought something like that would be a one time deal, but apparently not.

Anyway, what makes this cemetery so famous is the grave of Eva “Evita” Peron, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946-1952.

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You might better recognize her as Madonna, signing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”

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She is beloved in Argentina for being a women’s right activist and fighting for the poor. Sadly, she died at only 33.

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After walking through the ceremony, we decided to get some lunch. Argentina is famous for three culinary things: beef, pasta, and pizza. We went for the pizza.

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I had read about El Cuartito as being the best for Argentina’s famous variation of pizza – the fugazetta. All pizzas here are served on a focaccia type bread, lots of cheese, and a little tomato sauce. The fugazetta is a pizza just like that but topped with sweet onions. We ordered a slice of that, along with a slice of mozzarella y jamon (mozzarella and ham with sliced bell pepper and olives), and napolitana (served with fresh tomato slices).

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All three were pretty good, but the fugazetta was actually my favorite. The onions were caramelized and sweet.

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Look at how thick that focaccia bread crust is! I am actually a thin crust and extra tomato sauce pizza kind of girl, but this was pretty good – especially compared to the fake pizza I had in Aguascalientes (didn’t even write about it, not delicious).

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After some delicious gelato and strolling around, we headed home to get ready for our puertas cerradas dinner experience. Puertas cerradas are closed door restaurants and are essentially dinners held in the private homes of chefs. Reservations are a must and they are usually pretty small. We chose a puertas cerradas called Cucina Sunae by Chef Christina Sunae and with Asian influences – we really needed some spicy food (nothing is served here with heat or salsa!)

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This is the front of the restaurant. They don’t give you the address until you make the reservation and this man in front (like a bouncer at a club?) ensures you have a reservation before you’re allowed in.

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We chose to sit outside.

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The menu. Delicious food. Same starter, salad, and dessert but you choose your entree.

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Homemade siracha sauce. I don’t like siracha at home. We used the whole bottle here.

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Chicken satay with peanut sauce and pickled vegetables. Delicious.

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Seafood salad. Probably my favorite course, and that’s with tough competition. It was spicy, but had nice fresh herbs to balance it out and was served with these succulent shrimp and calamari. Sooooo good.

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Emilio’s entree. Sea bass curry. It was delicious. Until he tried mine.

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Prawns in tamarind sauce. I usually think tamarind is too sweet, but this was balanced with salty peanuts and was just awesome. I am used to shrimps being called camarones, but here they are referred to as langostinos (which to me, are the small lobsters that Emilio and I drive to Puerto Nuevo for). Emilio kept sneaking prawns off my plate and pretty much licked the sauce clean off the plate (well, he used a spoon but that dish was clean!)

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And then, dessert. A delicious fried banana puff with omg good passion fruit sauce, some chopped fruits, homemade ice cream, and then this crazy green marshmallow thing.

Overall? Amazing meal. It’s 250 pesos/person and well worth it. Next time, though, I want to go to a closed door restaurant that is even smaller and where all the guests sit together communal style.

What makes Buenos Aires awesome, beside the warmer temps? Significantly better food (than Peru).

Machu Picchu

27 Dec

Oh, Machu Picchu.

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The “lost city of the Incas” and definitely one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

To get to Machu Picchu, Emilio and I took a 3.5 hour train ride from Cusco (and a 30 min taxi ride from where we were staying in the center of Cusco to the train center). The train was called Peru Rail. Although trains are not really my thing, it was actually a beautiful ride as you traveled through the rainforest and some some beautiful landscape – if not a little disruptive and the train honked its way through every small little town we passed through. We then arrived in Aguascalientes, which is the closest city to Machu Picchu. It then proceeded to rain the entire day and make us (well, me) a little nervous about Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu.

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(Representing for UW!)

We met our tour guide (from Llamas Path) at 6am to catch about a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain and arrived at Machu Picchu at about 6:30am. The bus ride is a little intense. A one way path (but with buses going both directions) that zig zags up the mountain, few railings, and steep cliffs.

A few side notes upon arrival: the only bathroom is located outside the entrance, so use it before going in. Daily tickets allow you to go in/out, but that’s not really convenient. There is a small cafe that opens at 7am and a restaurant that opens at 11am. We ate at the cafe and it was stadium prices and not delicious. I recommend packing snacks.

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At 6:30am, it was still wet and cloudy. And overwhelmingly beautiful.

We typically travel and tour without a guide, but I am actually really glad we had one for this trip because I didn’t know much history before entering. For example, these terraces were for gardening. Because Machu Picchu is situated in between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Jungle (think half the circle of each and Machu Picchu in the dead center) , they had lots of rocks and little soil. All the soil for their crops was literally carried up the mountain – by individuals (no horses or donkeys).

And the Inca’s were geniuses. Our tour guide repeatedly called them “masters.” Machu Picchu is where the Inca masters came to hone and teach their craft.

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One of their skills? Architecture. These walls are made from all the stones in the mountain. The Inca’s arrived to Machu Picchu (since they did not have a writing system, no one knows what they called it) in approximately 1430. All of their buildings and walls are still intact – through earthquakes and time – because of their skills with architecture. All their buildings are built with the mountain and rocks, rather than against them.

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Case and point. This room is referred to as the “womb,” and you can see how they kept the natural rock formation as a wall.

Even more impressive? Look at that previous wall picture. That’s for “regular people.” Then, look at this wall:

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These walls are used only on the temples.

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That detail is crazy. Again, 1430 – no modern tools and technology.

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This is the Father and Son Temple – showing off both skills in architecture and astronomy. Notice the two windows. The sun goes perfectly through one on June 21 for summer solstice and the other on December 21 for winter solstice.

The Inca’s also created “looking mirrors” for their astronomy.

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These are perfectly placed so that the water reflects the sky and the stars, etc. could be studied.

Ok, and now just some pictures…

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After our roughly two hour tour ended, we had free time. After stopping in at the cafe I previously mentioned, we decided to hike up to Sun Gate. This is a free, on your own, two hour hike that goes to 8,900 ft elevation (Machu Picchu is at 8,000 ft), but the path is decent – this is in comparison to the people who bought the extra ticket to hike Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu only allows 500 people per day and you have to buy your tickets pretty in advance. We didn’t. I didn’t mind.

This is what I heard people saying about Wayna Picchu – the hike is also about two hours but the path is so slim, you often have to take the steps sideways and in some places, climb ladders. I won’t climb a ladder leaning against a house where I could only fall about five feet – much less than falling from almost 9,000 ft elevation. No thanks. Emilio was bummed, though. When we come back, he can do it. I was good with the Sun Gate, or Inti Punku, hike. The Sun Gate used to also be the main entrance to Machu Picchu.

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As you can see, the view from the Sun Gate is breath taking, as you can look down upon the entire city. Definitely a hike worth taking! Although holy crap – pack bug spray and sunscreen! As the day wore on and the clouds broke away, it got rather warm. I had to take off my poncho, North Face, and sweatshirt to get comfortable – but this meant exposed skin – and we both left with shoulder burns and more than our fair share of bug bites.

Alright, so that about wrapped up our Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu. A final history lesson though: the Inca’s only inhabited Machu Picchu for about 100 years, or till 1530, because of the Spanish conquerors. Below them, they heard of the Spanish conquering Cusco and other people and decided to leave, but no one knows where to. They thought their city would be next, but the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, which is also part of the reason that it stands in such good shape. Machu Picchu is referred to as the “lost city” because it wasn’t discovered until 1911 by some Yale archeologist, when he was actually up in the Andes looking for something else. The history of Machu Picchu is still really unknown because of this. I just wonder what happened to the people. It’s amazing to think of what he Inca’s built in only 100 years, but how little they probably got to enjoy it.

Overall, Machu Picchu was an incredible highlight to our trip. It was breath taking, mesmerizing, and also a little sad when thinking about the people who have come and gone from there. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. Emilio will give you tips on how to do it on a better budget than we did, because he’s already planning out how visit #2 will work. I am just grateful we had the opportunity to spend our Christmas Eve in such a place of history and natural beauty.

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P.S. If any of my history or facts are wrong, in the words of my Obachan, “so sorry ’bout that!” I am simply regurgitating the facts as given to us by our tour guide. I am no history major.

Cusco

23 Dec

The second we stepped off the plane in Cusco, it was hard to catch our breath. Cusco is at an elevation of 11,150 feet and that altitude sickness shit is for real. Within the hour, once we arrived at our hotel, I was extremely nauseous and puking. Both Emilio and I couldn’t walk anywhere without getting winded. I was dizzy and lightheaded. Not pleasant.

But Cusco’s tourist area itself is cute. It is much smaller than Miraflores/Lima. I was fooled into thinking it was all cute until we drove out of the main area – the rest of Cusco is stricken with dire poverty. What really hurt my heart is the insane number of homeless dogs walking around. Dogs always get to me.

I think I was so ill- feeling that I forgot to take pictures of the town. But we go back Christmas Eve night, so I will try to take some then.

Anyway, the day was a bit hectic. We had to go to Llamas Path, our tour guide company, and finish paying off for our Macchu Pichu trip. Note – getting a guided tour for this is not cheap. We got one that was all inclusive (a train, a hotel, and our own personalized your with an English speaking guide, etc) and it was expensive. We saw others for cheaper once we were in Cusco, but we bought this online back in August. Emilio has already been taking notes about how we will do it cheaper next time – it really just requires some planning since the company is mainly just doing that for you.

Then, our flight back to Lima (where we continue to Buenos Aires) on Christmas Day got canceled so we had to run around and fix that. Mind you, I just said run – but that actually meant walking around town very slowly so that my heart wouldn’t beat out of my chest and I could keep breathing. The altitude is intense!!!

We only had one meal this day (maybe to make up for all that eating the previous day? Maybe because I was already eh feeling?) Emilio had Lomo Saltado – which is an example of the Asian (not sure if it’s the Japanese or Chinese influence) mixed with the Peruvian flavor. It’s basically a stir fry served with fries and rice. It is normally served with beef, but Emilio got alpaca.

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Alpacas look like this:

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Alpaca is traditional to eat in this region. It was pretty gamy and tough. Also, after looking at pictures of alpacas right now, I probably won’t try it again.

I ordered the meal that every other person in the restaurant ate (and is very popular in many places we went to) – a quarter rotisserie chicken and fries.

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It was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Except I felt like an ass because I could barely eat half of it (with Emilio’s help) and everyone around me picked theirs clean.

My only issue? I went home and got sick. Needless to say, our (mine, particularly) day in Cusco was a bit rough.

Never mind that though – now to the journey toward Macchu Pichu!