Friday, May 31, 2013

Somewhere in Uruguay: Piriápolis I

Well it’s kinda late now but let me tell you about my Easter weekend! I know, I know… Easter was months ago. But hey… I’m in Uruguay. Aaand that is probably becoming my standard excuse now.

The destination of my Easter weekend and the reason why I left one day earlier from Mendoza was a trip to Piriápolis which is a city on the Altantic coast of Uruguay. Though I think technically it is still on the shore of the Rio de la Plata. But you can’t really tell the difference at that point and it’s very close to Punta del Este, where the Atlantic coast officially starts. But we didn’t spend any time at the beach anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter.

But first things first. I went there with Pablo, his sister Lucía, a friend named Rusty and his cousin Lore. And once we got to Piriápolis we also met up with one of their friends, Maxi, who lives there.

Before we got to Piriápolis though we visited a place named Atlantida, where there is a house in the shape of an eagle. That’s right. El Aguila. It looked pretty cool and the view from above the beacon was pretty sweet.

El Aguila - The Eagle

The view of Atlantida

Once we got to Piriápolis we left our things at the house that we rented and went to get some food.  We decided on hamburgers. Which were really slices of toast with burger meat and condiments. But before having a little lunch break we went to see the castle of Francisco Píria, the founder of Piriápolis. Which to me I guess wasn’t all that impressive, since I’m more used to castles like Neuschwanstein. Though I really liked the trees around the castle. They were perfect for climbing in them like a monkey. Unfortunately that was not allowed so I was really only up in one for a minute or so. Stupid rules.

Spot the monkey! Isn't that the coolest tree for climbing?!


Píria's Castle

After that we went on to a park at the foot of Cerro Pan de Azúcar, where we finally had our lunch break. The plan was to go climb the hill/mountain Pan de Azúcar which is one of Uruguays highest points. Though coming from the alpine upland I gotta say it isn’t really all that high.

However, before our hiking adventure we all decided to take a nap. So we got out a blanket and a matress that Rusty had had in his car and slept for a bit. Why rush, when you can have a little siesta instead?

Nap time!

After that we went on our way. Where we passed a zoo kinda area where you could go through little mazes with wild animals in them. Caged of course. There was also a bat cave but unfortunately there were no bats. My favorites were the Pumas though because one of them was all cute and then the other went all “ignore him and focus your attention on meeee!!”

After that we started our way up to the top. And let me tell ya, it wasn’t all pony-rides in May-sunshine.  Firstly, because it wasn’t May and secondly because we lost two of our fellows on the way. Lore wasn’t feeling too well so Rusty took her back and the remaining four of us went on to climb the hill/mountain thingy. I’m still not sure what it is. My intuition tells me hill, but there was no real way leading up to it. The main part was climbing what seemed like the course of a mountain stream. But it wasn’t. It was the official way up to the top. Plus there was a giant stone cross on top which kind of reminded me of the crosses they put up on the tops of mountains. So really it was kind of a geographical hybrid. Neither hill, nor mountain. Maybe a “moull”? …. Or a “hintain”?


And back down with a great evening view

Either way it was a lot of fun, because monkey-me likes climbing things. Trees, rocks, moulls. Always have, always will.

Once we reached the top we had a little break and took some pictures. And enjoyed some trumpet tunes. Wait, what? Trumpet tunes? That’s right. Apparently a guy had brought his trumpet and stood on the edge of the moull, trumpeting into the wide open space in front of him. I really liked the scenery of that.

I can't get that trumpet out of my head...

So then of course we had to climb up the giant stone cross and from there the view was even incredibler. More incredible. Whatever. I was speechless and not able to compare adjectives. We could see the Atlantic, Piriápolis and all the way to Punta del Este on one side and a lot of countryside on the other. So pretty!

Having a little break after we made it to the top

View towards Punta del Este

Pablo and I

All four of us Climbers

The Cross

The Flatlands of Uruguay 

And then we also had some picture taking fun up there… the location was just so much fun! But at some point it was getting close to sundown so we decided to go back down. Where we came upon a lady of 71 years who had climbed the Pan de Azúcar and on her way down injured her leg. So someone had to call the hintain-police so they could rescue her. No fun business. I hope it’s nothing permanent and she’s okay by now.

But on we went because when there’s barely any road to travel by, you really don’t need a lot of bystanders to stand in the way of an accident. It had held us up for a while though so our way down was a lot of guessing and walking/climbing in the dark. Probably not the safest way to go down a moull but it was the only option. And don’t worry, we got down safe and sound.

And because such an adventure makes you very hungry we went back home took showers and got some food.  Real burgers this time. And pretty darn good ones, too. After that we went out for some ice cream as a reward for being awesome. Well actually it wasn’t a reward but a treat. Because it’s the best ice cream in Piriápolis and, as a foreigner and ice-cream aficionada, I of course had to try.

Though apparently it is no secret that it is the best ice-cream in town. Because believe it or not, there were a whopping 70 people in front of us and when we went to draw a number the lady at the counter warned us that we would probably have to wait about an hour for our ice-cream. We bought some anyway and went off to pass an hour at the house. At this point I should probably tell you the name of this incredibly popular place, but guess what. I’m not. Because the place is already very crowded and I guess it’s not fair to the employees. Especially when they meet annoying customers like me who don’t know half of the flavors and therefore have to try some of them in advance. Though I bet anyone who would want to have the best ice-cream in Piriápolis only needs to walk along the Rambla to spot that place. Such an amount of people in an ice-cream place really isn’t that hard to miss.

So anyhow, after an hour we went back and as mentioned above I had to try a few flavors before making an informed decision about which ice-cream to eat. You could probably already guess that this decision involved Dulce de Leche flavor. And Flan. Because what is better than dessert in ice-cream form?

So I actually thought I would split that ice-cream with Pablo but he only had a spoon or two and then left all of the drippy goodness to me. I did have some troubles with keeping it from dripping all over the place but of course I didn’t mind eating a lot of ice-cream. Not that I wouldn’t share. But apparently Pablo didn’t appreciate it as much as I did, so fatty-me ate it all. And I enjoyed it. Every single bit of it.

That was pretty much our first day in Piriápolis and with that I am taking a break. Following up, our second day in Piriápolis. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Semana Santa Travelogues: Crayola doesn't have enough Colors for this Beauty!

So this was probably my favorite adventure in Mendoza: going on a walk in the Andes. (I wish I could say hiking but unfortunately that's not really what we did)

It started out when we decided to go see Aconcagua, which is the highest mountain outside of Asia with almost 7000m. So we bought our tickets and thought it was gonna be a 1-2 hour bus ride to get from Mendoza City to Aconcagua and that we might even be able to make it back to the Empanada cooking class at the hostel that evening. But little did we know! We ended up being on the bus for about 4 hours and of course that meant no Empanada making for us that day. But it was definitely worth it!

The bus ride started out in the flatlands of Mendoza but soon we came to the edge of the Andes. We then got a pretty good idea of the Andes in that region because our bus continued towards the heart of the Andes until we were almost in Chile. And even though I was kinda tired from stying up late the night before, I tried to stay awake as much as possible because the landscape was simply incredible!

We eventually got off at a very touristy place called Puente del Inca which was a teeny tiny town that was mainly made up of Artesanía shops. Amongst others they sold lovely Alpaca-wool sweaters, one of which would later go into my possession.

Pretty Artesanía mugs

All sorts of things that had been left in the Andes and some sort of yellow mineral coated it

From there we went on hiking upwards along the only existing road for a while. Unfortunately, Izzie didn’t feel too good that day but I didn’t mind going slow because the landscape was just so breathtakingly beautiful. All the mountains seemed to be different colors. Like god had gone a little crazy with the crayon-box up there. It's not really all that visible but there were patches of almost every color of the rainbow. And all those mountains looked so majestic and strong and slightly intimidating. I felt small up there in the mountains. Very small. But also very happy that I got to see all this beauty. I also felt the urge to climb one of those bad boys but obviously that wasn't gonna happen. I wish I could have seen the view from up on top of one of those mountains though.

The Colorful Andes
...and trust me, this isn't even close to reality's beauty!

Tiny Rachel in the Giant Mountains

Bridget on the rocks

After some time we came to an information center where we paid 10 pesos to get into the National Park around Aconcagua. They also gave us a little booklet with information about the National Park and other useful tips. Amongst others there was a page dedicated to AMS, which is the abbreviation for “acute mountain sickness”. We went through the checklist and diagnosed Izzie with major altitude sickness. Which wasn’t all that surprising because normally we live very close to sea-level in Montevideo and that day we went up to about 3000m above sea-level. But the rookies that we were, we didn’t care about stuff like that. And it was nothing Ibuprofen couldn’t cure. Personally, I didn’t even feel sick at all. It wasn’t until we reached the highest point of our journey, which was a scenic hiking trail at about 3000m, when I slowly began to feel how the air was getting less and hiking was getting slightly more exhausting than before. But I really couldn't care less as I was surrounded by one of the most beautfiul landscapes I have ever seen. 

Beginning of Aconcagua National Park

I think we diagnosed Izzie with "Moderate AMS"... needless to say we did not abort our ascent 

Up up up through the clouds

That's the spirit, Erin!

Hues of blue

So from the information center we continued on to the base camp, where you are supposed to spend some time before hiking Aconcagua. Since however we are rookies and climbing Aconcagua wasn’t on our to-do list, we went on to walk the scenic trail around the Laguna de Horcones. Said lagoon was more a big waterhole. Nothing fancy or impressive, like it sounded to be in the info-booklet.

Izzie and Rachel in front of the very spectacular Laguna de Horcones
..note that I am being sarcastic because really, it's only a water hole

We did however get a great view of Aconcagua, which sticks out between the surrounding mountains because due to its year-round glaciers it was the only one with snow on top. And that sight was truly spectacular! Not as beautiful and colorful as the other mountains but it just sticks out.Well, I guess a 7000m summit is kinda supposed to stick out even though from our perspective we didn't get to enjoy all of its majestic greatness. 

Don't let the clouds fool you, the mountain is huge!

Group picture in the very picturesque scenery

After we enjoyed it for a while we started our way back to Puente del Inca. On the way though we stopped for some picture-taking fun. After all it wasn’t enough to simply document the mountains. And for my part, I was exhilarated and just wanted to spin around in the middle of all the beauty. And so I did. And I was very happy in my very own “Sound of Music”-moment.

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music!

Yes, I was utterly happy amidst all those beautiful and colorful mountains!

We are the Champions!

Back at Puente del Inca we made some (sweater-)purchases and had a bite to eat before getting on the bus that would take us back to Mendoza. And that was pretty much the end of a very long and very amazing day. I’m so glad we went there. I know the pictures don’t even come close to capturing the beauty of the Andes but I hope I could provide you with at least a little impression.

And also this is pretty much where the Mendoza adventure ends. Because the next day was spent enjoying some conversations and just hanging out with the girls before I eventually had to head to the bus terminal where I got on the night bus to Buenos Aires. Since it didn't make much difference in prices I splurged on an Executive Seat. Now the regular seats weren't bad to begin with but those Executive ones... well it's almost like a bed on a bus. No awkward awakeness because you're trying to find a position to sleep that doesn't molest your neighbor. I did wake up a couple times during the night and looked outside the window. But since we were passing the Pampa and other flat areas of Argentina, there was really not a lot to see. So eventually I got to Buenos Aires where I spontaneously met up with my friend Stephan who gave me a quick-tour of the city before I went on to catch my ferry. I'm not gonna write much about Buenos Aires at this point though because Sebastian H. and I are planning to visit our friends Stephan and Laura in Buenos Aires soon, in order to extend our tourist visa.

So as I said this was my favorite adventure in/around Mendoza though the whole trip was amazing. If you haven’t read it yet, feel free to check out what I wrote about the trip that we took to get there, my personal impressions of Mendoza, our wine&bike tour and a horseback-ride into the sunset.

Altogether I had a great time in Mendoza with my dear friends Bridget, Erin, Izzie and Rachel. I enjoyed eating lots of grapes and drinking what felt like whole barrels of wine. And of course I had a great time making all those new experiences and seeing all those incredibly beautiful places.

Muchas gracias por un viaje inolvidable!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

FC Bayern, Stern des Südens!

So where were you last Saturday?

As you may or may not know, the Champions League Final took place last Saturday night. Well, in the afternoon for me. Yay for time difference! And it was never even a question that I had to see that match as it was between my favorite team in the world FC Bayern München (closely followed by Nacional of course!) and their German rivals BVB Dortmund.

Since it was an all-German final, the German Embassy in Montevideo decided to organize a public viewing event. Obviously that would be the place to be for such an important event so I made plans to meet up there with some Germans, some Uruguayans (with German girlfriends) and one lonely American. Sorry, Grace, but you just don’t seem to fit into either category ;)

As preparation for the game Pablo asked me for my favorite FC Bayern fan song. Without a doubt, that’s “Stern des Südens”! So I had him listen to it and of course he liked it. Now you might think he just said so in order to not upset me. But those of you who know that song also know that it is pretty awesome. I think even Sebastian who doesn’t even like FC Bayern thinks the song is great.  As for Pablo he couldn’t stop listening to it and showed it to all his family. I thought that was quite sweet. I have included the song here so those of you who are not familiar with it can learn about some Bavarian culture.

Stern des Südens!

In lack of my (brother's) Bayern-jersey I decided to wear a red shirt. Not quite the same thing but back when I came to Uruguay I decided to only bring things that I wouldn't mind if they went missing. So no jersey for me :(

Now, against our nature, Pablo and I arrived early (that’s right Anne!) at the embassy to secure some good seats. After all Germans are very well-known for being extremely punctual. And also for being early and then hoarding seats with towels… uh… I mean jackets and other things of course! We even arrived too early (that was a so we decided to go chill at the Rambla for a bit, since the Embassy is right across the street from the River Plate with a great view towards Playa Ramírez.

"Und heute ist wieder ein guter Tag...!"
= And today is a good day (to win) once again...

After a bit it got chilly and we went on to enter the embassy. And we walked tight inside. At first it felt a bit strange to me as I have only ever been to a US embassy where you pretty much have the same security procedures as you do at an airport. Metal detectors, bag scanners, several security guards and the like. But we were at the German embassy and Germans aren’t as paranoid. Or maybe that’s because we are in Uruguay and everything is more relaxed in Uruguay.

Embajada de Alemania - the German Embassy in Montevideo

Upon entering we signed into a list and wrote down our tips for the game. I decided to go with my brother’s guess 3:0 for Munich. I also snatched one of the little paper flags they had lying around. And since coincidentally the flag is made up of the colors of both Bayern and Dortmund, I of course had to remove the ugly yellow part in order to turn it into my very own little Bayern flag.

After that we found some seats together with a bunch of our friends. One of which made me very happy because she had brought “Prinzenrolle” to share it with us.  Thanks, Angela!

Obviously Sebastian H. was there as well, since we have the tradition of always watching important games together. And what game is more important than the Champions League final between Munich and Dortmund. Though he was rooting for the wrong team. But that just continued our tradition of me rooting for the winning team and him rooting for the others. Though I have to admit that Dortmund played well and altogether it was a great game to watch.

Go Germany! ... and Uruguay and the US!

During the break we also got to enjoy Bavarian drinks and South American food: Beer and Empanadas. What a great combination!

And then the game continued. At times I sat on the edge of my seat but then of course we scored the deciding goal and took the trophy. With a result of 2:1 for Munich. Not quite my brother’s guess, but who cares? We won!! 

Mia san mia.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Montevideo & Friends

As mentioned in my previous blogpost Stephan and Laura visited us in Montevideo and we invited our new friends, Misha and Quinnen, that we have met in Colonia to join us on a little city tour.

Left to right: Misha, Laura, Sebastian, Pablo, me, Quinnen and Stephan

The plan was to meet up at 10.30 on Sunday morning to visit one of the most famous markets of Montevideo called “Feria de Tristan Narvaja”. But since being late is a very Uruguayan thing to do, Pablo and I decided to give our friends the whole Uruaguayan experience – and arrived well after 11am.

As it turns out, Sebastian and our German friends Stephan and Laura were even later so Pablo, Misha, Quinnen and I decided to go on and walk through the streets of Tristan Narvaja. At this point I should probably try and give you an idea of what a market in South America looks like but that is practically impossible. Imagine one main street with many side streets full of market stands that sell virtually everything. Amongst other things there were fruits, vegetables, bread, herbs, hygiene products, electronics, toys, clothing, underwear, jerseys, flags, mate-equipment, antiques, flea-market finds, flowers, souvenirs, jewelry, bags, shoes, … Anything from practical to decorative and from normal to extraordinary.

Perfectly stacked everything

After we had crossed the market we decided to wait on Sebastian, Stephan and Laura and Pablo bought us all a bag of roasted peanuts from a man with a “nut cart” that was pretty much an oven on wheels. That alone I didn’t find very uncommon since during winter in Germany they use those to roast chestnuts. What I did however find odd was the fact that the chimney pipe was a cardboard roll. Seriously, hombre?! You use cardboard as a chimney? I mean it’s not like it’s easily flammable or anything… 

Fire hazard on wheels

So after a while the others joined us and we headed towards Ciudad Vieja which is where most of the sights are located. On our way we stopped at the Intendencia (=town hall) of Montevideo where we visited the Museum of Art History. Most of it was about Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, which really isn’t all that new to me. But the basement accommodated an exhibition of Pre-Colombian and Colonial Art which I found pretty cool. There were lots of indigenous pieces of art and sculptures and my favorite, a giant stone that looks like the coin from Pirates of the Caribbean. Better known as “Piedra del Sol” (=stone of the sun). We also had a lot of fun reenacting the battle scene that was painted on one of the walls.

Piedra del Sol

Pablo's new pet-dog-thingy

Walk like an Egyptian

Nose picking

Quinnen and I: "This is Sparta!!" 
All the others: "Let's just smile at the camera"


After the museum we went on towards Plaza Independencia, Plaza Matriz and all the usual tourist sights. I didn’t take all that many pictures because I had visited those places before and taken pictures. What I did take a picture of was the “Locks Fountain” which I had passed multiple times but never really stopped to take pictures of it. Said fountain looks a bit like the bridges with lots of locks that lovers put on them. However, there is no river to throw the locks into. The legend says that two lovers that put a lock with their initials on the fountain they will return to it and live happily ever after. I really like the idea of that. And I liked the collection of locks that had built up around the fountain over the years. Old ones, new ones, colorful ones, simple ones, rusty ones, engraved ones, labeled ones.

Fuente de los Candados - Locks Fountain 

Seems like Pablo's eternal love didn't last... ;)

Our friend Albert is quite the jokester


After that we had some delicious food at a place with the very Uruguayan name of “El Gaucho”. And of course the food had to be Somewhat Uruguayan, so we ordered a “Picada” which is a plate with a variety of more or less typical Uruguayan foods to try, accompanied with some ravioli and fries with mushroom sauce. Need I mention that after that we were extremely stuffed and didn’t think we could ever eat again?

Let the feasting begin!

Yet we made plans to meet up at my place at night in order to have an Asado. Because that’s what you do on a typical Sunday in Uruguay. Anyhow we split up so everyone could mind their own business for a while before the others would meet up to go see Candombe and then come to my house for the Asado.

And because more people means more fun, we also invited Sebastian’s roommates who then brought some friends that were also visiting from Buenos Aires. Then Pablo also brought his sister Lucía and of course my roommates also joined us and we had a nice big group that barely fit into our tiny living room.

Vamos Tricolor!!

Now who can find the mistake here? Of course you don’t have BBQs in your living room. Not even in Uruguay. But since it started raining we decided to cancel our Asado-plans and substituted it with some Chorizos (=Uruguayan sausages) and Pizza bread which was also very delicious.

After that we all hung out at our place, enjoyed some conversations and all the usual. And in the end we decided to convert Sebastian to Nacional-fandom. 

Number One Nacional Fan: Sebastian