Posts Tagged ‘Round-the-World’

Round-the-World Honeymoon Pt. 10: Lima (25-27 June)

Monday, August 24th, 2015

From Cuzco, we flew to Lima, where we mostly did one thing: Eat! The Peruvian cuisine is excellent, and there is no shortage of amazing restaurants in Lima. Most of them are not in downtown Lima, but rather in and around Miraflores, which is where we stayed. Here are just a few of the places we went to:

Maido: Maido specializes in Peruvian / Nikkei fusion, which means essentially that you can get fish in various forms from ceviche via sushi to fried fish on “sanguchito” (literally, small sandwich). Everything we had was amazing.

Amaz: Amaz serves food that is inspired by fare from the Amazon. The flavors are fruity / tropical, and  we had delicacies like ceviche cooked in bamboo, fish with chorizo and snake fruit, and palm heart salad. For desert we had the “chocolate jungle”, which was served in a cocoa bean shell (?) and indeed looked like a little jungle. Delicious!

Chez Wong: A unique place, owner/chef Javier Wong Chong (Peruvian with Chinese roots) originally started this restaurant in his garage, and it looks like it still IS in his garage. He only makes ceviche from soles, and there is no menu, he just makes whatever he likes that day. He also stands behind a little counter in the corner of the room where all the guests sit (on maybe 10 tables). The ceviche has been called the best in the world, and it definitely is mouth-wateringly good.

Other than eating, we did not do much. We explored downtown one day, and watched the changing of the guards at the presidential palace, but other than that there wasn’t really that much to see.

Lima was the last stop on the South American continent, our next stop was almost half way around the world, in Tokyo.

Round-the-World Honeymoon Pt. 2: Cuba (18-22 May)

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

After one day in Germany, we left, this time actually on our round-the-world ticket, for the second part of the trip. Owing to how we could best make the routing happen, getting to Cuba from Berlin involved four flight legs and an overnight stay in Panama City, so we only got to Havana in the afternoon of Monday 17 May. Our pickup from the airport to our accommodation was a 1950s Chevrolet – just as you imagine for Cuba, and while there are now some modern, mostly Asian, cars in the streets and there is also a large contingent of Ladas from the years as a Soviet ally, the share of vintage American cars is definitely still quite large.

Eager to move our legs after a day and a half of sitting on airplanes, we used the rest of the day to walk around Old Havana – Habana Vieja – and its four squares. Habana Vieja is full of history and amazing, grand colonial buildings – the city was founded soon after the discovery of the new world in the early 1500s. In post-revolutionary Cuba, many of the buildings fell into disrepair, and some are still literally crumbling or have collapsed. However, over the past couple of decades, the city historian, using tourist funds, has carefully and beautifully restored much of the old town, without completely shutting out ordinary Cuban life. The result makes for an interesting mix of tourists and Cubans going about their daily lives, and of posh hotels in grandiose mansions next to crumbling houses with shuttered windows, that nevertheless are home to Cuban families.

On Tuesday, we further explored the city, taking a hop-on/hop-off bus tour through Centro Habana and Vedado to the western suburbs of Playa and Miramar. We also got off in Vedado, to look at the huge concrete square Plaza de la Revolucion, which sports big murals of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, two heroes of the revolution, as well as the big hotels that in the 1950s were the center of American partying and gambling in Cuba. In the most splendid of the hotels, Hotel Nacional, we had a mojito out in the leafy garden overlooking the water. The most memorable experience that day, however, was the visit to the ice cream parlor “Coppelia”, which was quintessentially communist. The way that this ice cream parlor worked only revealed itself to us gradually: first, we had to get in line. The line had formed around the block, and in the scorching tropical sun people tried to stick to the shady areas, which meant the line was broken up wherever there was no shade. New arrivals would frequently walk past the line asking “¿ultimo?” to see whether they had reached the end, or whether somewhere around the corner in the shade the line would continue. Every 10-15 minutes or so, the line moved when another batch of people was admitted to the parlor. We probably spent an hour and a half in line, but we didn’t really check. When we got to the front and were finally admitted, we realized that there would have been multiple queues, depending on which area of the parlor you wanted to be seated in – we obviously had no idea and just stuck with where we were shown. Entering the parlor, there was a board with the menu and another surprise: there were multiple different dishes (single scoop, multiple scoops, “salad”, …) but only one flavor: vanilla. And while outside, people were standing in line for two hours in the heat, inside there were two waiters for our area with 20 tables, and clearly not in a hurry. So it took a while until we had gotten our ice cream, a mixed plate with five scoops for both of us which to our delight included not only vanilla, but also strawberry. We were stuffed after that much ice cream, but Cubans all around us were eating two, three of these plates each! No idea how they managed that. Then came the time to pay. Cuba has a curious system with two parallel currencies, moneda nacional (CUP) and convertible pesos (CUC). Almost everything you pay as a tourist is charged in CUC, but this ice cream parlor was clearly not a tourist destination, so prices were quoted in CUP (and way below tourist prices). When we got ready to pay and pulled out a 3 CUC bill (which about equals 3 U.S. dollars), the people on the next table got all upset and motioned us to put it away, since it was way too much: for the ten scoops of ice cream we ended up paying only 0.50 CUC!

The next day, we did a day trip to the valley of Viñales. Unfortunately, we did not have planned for enough time in Cuba to stay in cities other than Havana, so the most we could do to see something else of the country was to leave Havana for a day. On the way, we also stopped by in Las Terrazas, which is Cuba’s first eco-resort and also contains the ruins of Cuba’s oldest, no longer operational coffee plantations. Viñales itself is revered for its landscape of huge limestone rocks and cliffs, that formed when underground rivers ate through the rock and caused much of the former highland to collapse, leaving only isolated mountains standing. One of these underground rivers we also got to see, when we visited the Cueva del Indio, a cave system with a river that tourists get ferried through in small boats. We also visited the town of Viñales in the middle of the valley, and much less busy and more relaxed than Havana. We had lunch on the rooftop of a casa particular (the family-run guesthouses in Cuba) in town, and walked around a bit to look at the picturesque town and valley. Before going back to Havana, we also visited a tobacco drying barn, where a local explained and demonstrated how to make cigars from the dried tobacco leaves. Of course, he also offered to sell us cigars, but as both non-smokers and with only cabin luggage, what would we have done with them? So we only gave him a nice tip and left. In the evening, back in Havana, we took an evening stroll along the Malecón, Havana’s famous seaside boardwalk, and then had dinner at Casa Migla, a Cuban-Swedish fusion restaurant. Decorated with Dalarna horses and other Swedish items, this restaurant is testament to the rapid development of Cuba’s culinary scene. For a long time, options for eating out in Cuba were limited, but since family-operated restaurants, called Paladars, were legalized, interesting and good food has become available, at least in Havana.

Thursday was particularly hot, so we took things a bit more slowly and visited two museums in town: the museum of the revolution, inside the former presidential palace, and the city museum next to the Plaza de Armas. The former was especially interesting, even though without knowing all the minutiae of how the revolution unfolded some of the exhibits that showed military movements and the like were hard to understand. The city museum showed various historic artifacts, but half of the museum was closed and the signage of the rest was not very good. However, the building itself, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, former seat of Spanish captains general, was well worth the visit, grand and imposing, centered around a huge courtyard. In the afternoon, we went to the Casa de la Musica, to witness some Cuban music (other than the numerous street musicians) first hand. The experience was definitely interesting, and we can report that Cuban music is alive and kicking – we knew beforehand that this particular Casa de la Musica was edgy, and the band “Kategoria 5″‘s take on Cuban music that included electronic elements and some mixture of singing and rapping was definitely a case in point. In the evening, we had dinner in another excellent restaurant in the old town, Doña Eutima.

On Friday, we already had to leave Cuba – again via Panama, from where we would depart for our next stop, Curaçao.

Some pictures follow.

Round-the-World Honeymoon Pt. 1: Iceland (10-15 May)

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

The first stop of the eight-week round-the-world honeymoon was Iceland. It wasn’t really part of the round the world itinerary, since we had to return to Germany after a week for another day before going traveling onward on our round-the-world ticket. We departed to Iceland from Berlin on 10 May. Iceland, at this time of year, was still quite cold, with temperatures dropping to freezing overnight, but the days were already very long – at 10:30pm it would still be daylight.

We arrived in Reykjavik in the middle of the night, and went to bed right away. The first full day in Iceland we spent mostly relaxing from the stress of the previous week, which had been filled with last-minute wedding prep (mostly our hugely ambitious DIY plans), and so it was really nice to just stroll around Reykjavik without too much time pressure. We started the day with an Icelandic breakfast at Café Loki, which was located close to our guesthouse – rye bread and different types of fish: herring, mashed fish, dried fish and the Icelandic specialty: fermented shark. The waitress explained that most people take these shark pieces with Brennivin, an Icelandic spirit, to wash down the aftertaste, so that’s what we also did (for breakfast!). We also walked through Reykjavik’s city center, and looked at the humongous concrete Hallgrims church, the harbor, city hall, and enjoyed the sun between the colorful Nordic houses.

Starting Tuesday, we had a rental car. We first used it to drive up north to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Outside of Reykjavik, Iceland quickly becomes very sparsely populated, but provides amazing sceneries between lava rock fields, glacier-covered peaks, and fjords. The peninsula itself was very beautiful, with picturesque small villages and fjords. On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped at the Lagfellslaug baths in Mosfellsbær – our first of multiple bath visits. Iceland is of course equipped with lots of geothermal energy – a curse in the case of volcano eruptions such as Eyafjallajökull, but a blessing for the hot springs that power 90% of Icelands hot baths, in which you can sit in various “hot pots” – small pools of temperatures between 38 and 44 centigrade, which was amazingly relaxing in the cold Icelandic climate.

On Wednesday, we undertook an even further expedition: we drove along the southern section of the ring road, which circles all of Iceland, to Jökullsárlón, which meant more than four hours driving time each way, but it was definitely worth it. Jökullsárlón is a lagoon just off the coast, in which the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier dissolves into icebergs, which gradually melt and float down a short river to the sea. The lagoon is quite big, 18 square kilometers, and the scene is stunning: thousands of icebergs of various sizes, in colors from white to transparent blue, floating silently in the water. The drive there and back was also well worth it, through different types of Icelandic landscape and passing tiny towns, most of which had about two or three houses, sometimes a small church. Even though of course quite different in climate, the barren land and sparse population made me think of our long drive through Namibia. Back in Reykjavik, we went for a quick hot bath at Laugardalslaug, Reykjavik’s biggest bath, which we didn’t like as much as the one in Mosfellsbær, and then went for an excellent dinner at the small restaurant Resto in downtown Reykjavik.

For the next day, we had planned one of the highlights of the Iceland trip: diving the Silfra fissure. Since that is located in Þingvellir, which was the seat of Iceland’s first parliament in 930 AD, and our dive didn’t start until the afternoon, we also took some time in the morning for the Þingvellir and the two other “golden circle” sights which are nearby, namely the Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir, the hot spring which has lent its name to all geysers worldwide. Geysir itself erupts only very infrequently, hurling water up to 80 meters in the air, and while we were there, we didn’t get that lucky. Thankfully a somewhat smaller fountain, Strokkur, just a few meters next to Geysir, spits hot water up to 30 meters every few minutes. At around 1pm, we arrived at Þingvellir for our dive. The Silfra fissure is a unique dive site, and its main draw is not, as in many other places, the fauna. In fact, the opposite is true: we didn’t see a single fish. The reason is that the water in the fissure is Glacier water, which is seeping through lava rocks for years before it arrives in the crack. By then, it has been thoroughly filtered and purified, meaning amazing visibility when diving. It also, however, has almost no nutrients, which explains the lack of fish. Additionally, Silfra was created by the forces that push the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates apart – the fissure essentially separates the two plates, meaning in some narrow bits you can touch both plates at once. The dive itself was amazing. This being Iceland and glacier water at four centigrade, we needed to dive in dry suits with multiple layers of warming undergarments underneath (and carrying many kilos of additional equipment and weight, which made the walk to and from the water quite an ordeal). The crystal clear water and the serenity of floating weightlessly in between the rocks more than made up for it – this was a special experience which can’t be had anywhere else in the world.

Friday was our last day in Iceland. In the morning, we visited the museum “Reykjavik 871+/-2”, which recounts the history of the settlement of Iceland in the 9th century and is centered around the remains of a dwelling from that area that was dug up. On our way to the airport, we went for one last dip in a hot pool, namely the famous blue lagoon. The lagoon is filled with geothermally heated sea water, which is full of silica which is deposited on the rocks enclosing the lagoon, covering them with a solid white layer. The lagoon also sports steam baths and a sauna, and is clearly one of the main tourist drags – even though we were in Iceland outside the peak season, the lagoon was still packed with tourists when we arrived (in contrast to the other baths we had visited, which had mainly Icelandic guests). Thankfully, we had come quite late in the day, and shortly after our arrival many of the tourists that probably had come from Reykjavik on organized bus tours left, so that we had one last relaxing bath before flying back to Germany overnight.

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