A friend of mine posted a link to these amazing outdoor hotel suites on Conde Nast Traveller earlier today and I just want to go to all of them.
A friend of mine posted a link to these amazing outdoor hotel suites on Conde Nast Traveller earlier today and I just want to go to all of them.
It’s late (well, late for me) Tuesday night and I’m dreaming of going to India.
This is my friend Jenn at Bodega Mevi. Both are awesome. This image (and all the images in this post) were taken on my Nikon FM.
When people say “Mendoza” to me, I immediately think “Bikes & Wine”. I love biking and winery-ing. Love it. It’s my favourite way to see wineries. The first time I went biking and wining was in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the hubs and I were in our 8th month of our round the world trip and had discovered a new love. Several months later, we arrived in Mendoza where we couldn’t wait to hit the road with Mr. Hugo. And once again, biking and wine-ing didn’t disappoint.
Fast forward three years to early 2012 when the hubs and I are back in Argentina, where our friend Jenn comes for a visit. Jenn spent several days with us in Buenos Aires, then Jenn and I headed off to Mendoza on a luxury overnight bus, because seriously—I couldn’t let Jenn visit Argentina without 1) a luxury bus, and 2) biking and wine-ing in Mendoza.
But back to the business of wine-ing and biking in Mendoza. In my view, the best way to do the circuit is to bike all the way down to Carinae winery, the very furthest bodega on the circuit. Carinae is run by a french family and they bring in french students to do their winery tours. We loved our guide and our wines. Since it is at the end of the trail, it is one of the least busy wineries as well!
The best thing about going to the furthest winery first is that it is easy to come back up the circuit, one winery at a time. We stopped for the olive & tapenade tasting across the street (I wouldn’t do that next time).
After learning that the beautiful Bodega Vistandes was closed for lunch, we cycled past it and tried out Bodega Familia Di Tomaso. This was probably our least favourite winery—although it is very beautiful. It has a lovely restaurant where most people stop for a bite.
I’d personally skip lunch at Di Tomaso and go instead to Tempus Alba. At Tempus Alba we took a break from the tastings and instead enjoyed a big glass of rose & a tasty lunch on their stunning patio. Tempus Alba is the most modern of the wineries, which is quite fitting for a new world winery! It’s pretty, it’s beautiful, it’s calm. We shared a table with a group of young guys who we first met all the way back at Carinae. These three were serious about their tastings (taking notes) and were mightily impressed with my film camera. (And yes, all these images were taken on cheap Argentina Kodak 400 film on my 35ish year old Nikon FM).
After lunch (and an embarrassing incident walking into a VERY CLEAN glass door) we had time for two more wineries. First, the small Vina El Cerno and then the awesome MEVI, where Jenn and I took fun pictures of one another wine-and-biking and we chose different wines for our tastings so between us we could try as many as possible!
As the sun began to set on our day, we decided to cycle past Trapiche. Though we knew it was closed, we wanted to get a look at this winery that is a serious staple on so many Canadian liquor store shelves. As expected it was grand.
Part of the reason for choosing Mr. Hugo over the other companies is the fun times to be had at the end of the day. Upon your return Mr. Hugo plies you with his house wine (which really, is not very good), but also gives you the chance to relive your days with others from the circuit, which is pretty fun.
Upon our return to Mendoza we had an incident with a map and a ditch, showers, and then went for a spectacular dinner at Florentine Bistro, where we enjoyed a bottle of Tempus Alba wine.
The next morning it was time for Jenn to fly to Iguazu (where I had just been with my mom) and me to fly back to Buenos Aires, to enjoy some of our very last days in the city before returning to Vancouver.
Last Tuesday, I left you in late June 2005 when the (future) hubs and I were leaving Laos to spend just a couple of days in Thailand. The plan? Overnight train from Nong Khai (just across the border from Vientianne), getting off in Ayutthaya at the godforsaken hour of about 5:30 in the morning. Then waiting for the temples to open a few hours later, then spending the morning touring the temples with a tuk tuk driver. Then taking another train to Bangkok where the (future) hubs would get measured for a couple of suits, since he was only days away from moving to Vancouver to start his career.
I remember three things about the overnight train ride: 1) it was hot, and 2) most everyone was drunk (including us and some newfound friends), and 3) I barely slept. But our Ayutthaya stop came ever-too-quickly at 5:30am and off the train we got.
Immediately after storing our bags for the day, a friendly tuk tuk driver approached us and told us we could get started right away! And the best part? We were exploring at the ridiculous hour of 6am, a few hours before the temples officially opened. And the other best part? He really was a friendly tuk tuk driver. No friends’ shops. No detours. Just a friendly man driving us around in the early morning light.
And on top of that we got what is usually an obscenely crowed tourist site all to ourselves. Photographic bliss. Even with two teensy point & shoots.
By about 9am, we had got our fill of wats so we hopped on the next train to Bangkok. We quickly found a tailor for the hubs’ suits (which he still has). Then we spent the afternoon eating som tam (yum!) and shopping for cheapo t-shirts on Khoa San Road. Shortly after nightfall, we happened upon some of our friends from the train at a street bar in Bangkok. Ahh, the Thai tourist trail: I love you so.
The next day, the hubs picked up his suits and we boarded a plane for Hong Kong, where we would meet my parents. I would continue on for another three weeks of Asian adventure, while the (future) hubs would head to Vancouver to start his new career and to start making some moola.
Looking tres cute, all the while.
Last week I told you all about our trip to China in 2005. And when I left you we were just about to cross the border into Laos, where we were about to become millionaires.
To give you a flavour of just how I was feeling at the time, here is an excerpt from an email I wrote to my parents shortly after our arrival in Laos. (Please forgive the epic run-on sentences you are about to read. I was both excited and 22.)
Well, I made it to laos and whoa, holy tourist. I can’t believe how many westerners there are here, it’s a little bit overwhelming, we were sort of expecting ‘undiscovered’ laos as the guide book says and we were on a bus yesterday with 9 westerneres on it, compared to china, that’s just insane. Two days ago I was SO sick on a bus ride – but the busses in China don’t like to stop for anything, luckily there was a stash of plastic bags right next to my seat. Yesterday I was feeling ok (good thing too, cause there was 2 + 4 + 5 = 11 hours on busses) and this morning my tummy is still feeling a little off, but not too too bad. We are in Luang Prabang, then we will go to Vang Vien and then we will go to Vientianne and then bangkok!
I wish I had pictures of the border towns in China vs. Laos, and why don’t I? Well, because the border is ridiculous, that’s why. It opens at 9am on both sides (despite the 1 hour time change). And the only bus to the first town in Laos—Luang Nam Tha—also left at 9am. Making it seemingly impossible to catch. So, needless to say we were rushing.
But back to the towns themselves, China seriously builds up their border towns. No matter that Mohan is in the middle of nowhere, it was full of paved roads, big shiny new hotels and official looking buildings, and featured a opening-the-border 9am army show (imagine a mini changing of the guard).
And then you cross into Laos (and need to wait 50 minutes for their border to open).
Laos. Wow. Imagine walking, virtually across the street, from shiny new buildings to mud huts and paths. For serious people. It kind of hurts your brain.
And it turns out that even though we didn’t catch a bus (presumably because it left while we were still in line at the border), at least one truck plies the route after 9am. Much after 9am. I think it didn’t leave until it filled up around 11:00. And 11 hours later, we arrived in tourist-haven Luang Prabang.
The highlight for me was the Kuang Si waterfalls just outside of the city. Seriously people, how beautiful can you get?
The town itself was also very cute, and we did a fun hike up the karst peak in the middle of town that afforded some fun views. But apparently we just wanted to take pictures of each other and flowers and not of the views. Oh well, we’re cute too!
Next on our list was Vang Vien. A town that while surrounded by natural beauty, is actually pretty ugly itself. Vang Vien is a little too drugged up and full of special bars serving special everything and showing epsiode after episode of Friends (at least in 2005) for my taste. But it did have karst peaks. And also tubing.
A warning: every year a handful of tourists drown from tubing drunk or high. If you are going to tube, please be careful. If you easily cave to peer pressure, go out in the morning like we did, and you’ll have a peaceful tube down the river before it turns into a crazy (and dangerous) party on the river.
While in Vang Vien we also rented scooters and toured the gorgeous countryside. We may have had a few mishaps (as usual with us and scooters), but over all it was a wonderful way to spend some time.
Our trusty Lonely Planet told us about a tour from Vang Vien to Vientianne (the capital) by kayak and bus! While the “bus” part of the tour turned out to be the tour company dropping us on the side of the road to catch the public bus, the kayak part was pretty awesome. Though they did want us to jump into piraña(ish) infested waters, which was a little crazy.
And then we got to Vientianne. Big city. Capital city. Full of shiny wats and pretty buildings. (Also, I’ll have you notice I was color blocking like 7 years ago…)
And lots of beer.
So, our 10 days or so in Laos was a very fun, and very beautiful introduction to a wonderful country. And the next evening, we were off to Ayutthaya. But that is a story for next week!
Way back in 2004 and 2005 I was really adventurous. 2004 was the year I spent 6 months travelling by myself, and June 2005 was probably the high watermark of adventurous Al. I decided to take the (future) hubs way (way) off the beaten track into middle of nowhere China to go see a town I read about on the internet. A town that would later be submerged underwater by the building of a dam 40km downstream on the Wu Jiang Gorge.
The hubs and my China adventures started when we both were exchange students in Hong Kong in early 2004 (at the ripe old age of 21 years). We covered a good part of Southwest China, both together and separately on various trips over this time period. In 2005 we decided to go back and spend about five weeks in China and Laos following the (future) hubs’ graduation from university, and before he started his career as a consultant and I law school.
Back then I could speak some basic travel Mandarin, I’m not sure if we could have done this trip without it.
In early June we flew into Hong Kong where we spent a couple of days getting our China visas, shopping, and getting ready for our trip. From Hong Kong we took the KCR to Shenzhen and the boarded a train for Zhangjiajie (张家界), a quintessentially Chinese national park that was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. It was beautiful, and we saw maybe 2 other western tourists during our time in the park. Zhangjiajie seemed surprisingly deserted on the hike up to the viewpoint. But when we got to the top we were mobbed with tour group after tour group after tour group of domestic tourists. Turns out the tour groups prefer the cable car!
The next stop on our itinerary was the town I alluded to earlier. Gongtan (龚滩). But to get there we had to experience one of my top three “memorable” transportation days ever:
Zhangjiajie to Jishou (吉首) (by bus) to Youyang (酉阳… I think) (by bus) to Gongtan (by taxi).
This day involved many a bus. Also, towns with multiple bus stations. Attempts at robbery. Crowds protecting (and helping) us. Holding babies. Late arrivals. And getting further and further and further away from the southwest China backpacker circuit.
And at the end of this long and amazing (and trying) day, we arrived in Gongtan on the Wu Jiang (乌江) Gorge. And it was late. Very, very late. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the only modern hotel in town (since the proprietors of all the cute b&b style hotels/rooms in old houses were presumably sleeping, or possibly because why would we want to stay at an old place when we could stay somewhere new?) and we had a sleepless night. Our room was infested with thousands (or maybe even tens of thousands) of tiny little creepy crawlies. We don’t think they bit. And they weren’t gross individually. But in the thousands, they were so very gross.
But we awoke to this wonderful view. A view which, it is crazy to think, has no longer existed since 2007.
We had intended to stay longer in Gongtan, but type A travellers that we were, we thoroughly explored the tiny town in a morning and decided to move on that afternoon. We caught the afternoon boat down the river to Pengshui (彭水) which we shared with several local farmers and their bags of produce. And arriving in Pengshui, we boarded motos for Chongqing (重庆). Why we didn’t wait for the bus, I don’t remember, but thus began one of the craziest moto rides of my life to date (matched 3 years later by an equally crazy moto ride in Kampala).
And yes. That is a fanny pack (or “bum bag” if you are English and easily offended). I used to travel with one back in the day. I would still if the hubs wasn’t so against it.
But back to my story: after spending several days in middle of nowhere China, Chongqing came as a serious (and an awesome) shock to the senses. I loved it. I didn’t love the epic battle the (future) hubs and I had in the main square while trying to find our hostel, which in a somewhat hilarious twist of fate, stood approximately 15 feet from the scene of our battle. And hey… we’re married… so it clearly all turned out okay.
But back to Chongqing. I loved the bustle-ingness, I loved the shopping, I loved the river port, and mostly I loved the burn-your-face-off street hot pot, one of my most memorable meals of life.
And after a few days in Chongqing, we were off to Kunming (昆明) where we arrived and then immediately departed (ok… after dumplings…) on a long, long bus ride for Lijiang (丽江). I love me some top bunks of sleeper busses.
Lijiang was such a beautiful (and touristy) city. But seriously, how happy were we to be there. The weather couldn’t have been better. And Lijiang is (or at least was) one of the only places you would want to breathe deeply in China.
And the whole point of going to Lijiang? (At least for us?) Well, this beautiful mountain city is the jumping off point for the Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡), which we hiked over two awe-inspiringly beautiful days.
We met another couple on the walk, and together decided to press on to spend the night at the Five Fingers Mountain Guesthouse. What a great decision that turned out to be, we were the only guests at this beautiful “farmstead”. It’s about 7 hours along the trail, and if you have got it in you, I highly recommend it. (And because that was 7 years ago, you might be wondering about the quality of my recommendation. But never fear, in April 2012 someone on Wikitravel said it was well worth it as well!)
Because we had gone so far along the trail the previous day, day 2 of our hike was quite leisurely and filled with more beautiful views. And serious excitement at the end (this just happens to be one of my favourite pictures of us).
Here is an excerpt from an email I sent to friends and family shortly before departing from Lijian, you will see that I haven’t changed much in tone (though I may have toned it down *just a bit*).
CHINA IS GREAT! I love it here! We have been to some wild and crazy places,seen some wild and crazy things (too bad you can’t take pictures of experiences!).
These have ranged from 6 hour bus rides to middle of nowhere china where truly we may have been the first caucasians to ever arrive there (a place that’s not in the Lonely Planet… talk about tough to get to!) to incredible limestone pinnacles in a national park to the last experience in tiger leaping gorge… WOW, what a beautiful hike!
We’re off from the lovely town of Lijiang tomorrow to Dali, then we fly to Jinghong in southern China and will cross the border into Laos within the next couple of days – it is just fantastic! The people are incredible, and my manadarin skills are improving daily!
And onward we went to Dali. A small village that I had visited with some other friends in 2004. It was so fun to share this quaint little town with the (future) hubs, and was full of delicious tourist-track food (banana pancake, anyone?) and bike rides down muddy, muddy paths.
When we left Dali, it was off to the deep south of China by air and by bus. This time to cross over into Laos. But that, my friends, is a story for next week!