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Gothenborg, Sweden: Not Stockholm, But Still Worth the Trip

August 31, 2012 by  

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Gothenborg, Sweden is the country’s second largest city, running drastically behind Stockholm in size, population, and also reputation. In fact, the immediate reaction to my telling people that I was going to Sweden but not to Stockholm was an astounding “Haha… Wait – you’re serious?” It didn’t help my case when I told them I was headed to Gothenborg.

Gothenborg is small, but I have to say I was not disappointed. Furthermore, having been indoctrinated to expect the worst (some warned of blandness and others of a grimy, seedy city with graffiti everywhere you looked), I was pleasantly surprised and more than satisfied. I hadn’t gone to Gothenborg with the image of an impeccable international city in mind; I knew it would be less glamorous and more “local-Swedish” – and it was. And not only did I feel safe and secure, I also liked it. And unlike the graffiti on the buildings that line the West Side Highway in Manhattan, it had a more artsy feel and added to the city’s pleasant character.

Canal through the city

Gothenborg is located in the southwest region of the country and is right on the water. The main downtown area is bustling with shops and cafes, people leisurely walking from one small street to the next as many others sip café lattes and people watch. It’s typical of many smaller – but also large –

European cities, and it has an alluring quiet charm. On nice days, visitors can take ferries and go island hopping just off the coast.

Apparently the city has done some solid renovation in the past few years, which helps to explain the grave discrepancy between my intense overall satisfaction and previous visitors’ memorable disappointment. The city has added new stores, new restaurants and cafes, new luxurious hotels, an enormousnew soccer stadium that is host to many international musicians and artists (all who opt for Gothenborg’s quaintness in favor of Stockholm’s urban to-do!), and more general modernity and city upkeep. I’m telling you, the city’s worth a visit, even if you only stay long enough to stand outside the soccer stadium and sample the decadent offerings of coffee, smoked salmon, and baked goods (rich chocolate balls and apple crumb cake are local favorites).

Smoked Salmon, country specialty (i.e. “Norwegian Nova Lox”)

However, I am still held in contempt by many Swedes and travelers for never making my way over to Stockholm while I was in the country. Admittedly, I tried to get a train at the last minute when I recognized that I could just barely squeeze in a hurried detour in my itinerary; but thanks to a Bruce Springsteen concert that was in town the weekend I was there, there were no trains available, despite the city’s adding of extra departures to accommodate the rush of people they anticipated to be leaving. Therefore, while I cannot and will not make the argument that Gothenborg is more worthy of a trip than is Stockholm, I will argue its worthiness overall. I have been to many large international cities – Barcelona, Tel Aviv, New York, Copenhagen, and more – and although Stockholm likely has its big differences, the merits of a smaller city like Gothenborg remain the same.

So my advice is this: If you find yourself planning a trip to Sweden and intend to explore more than just the capitol and its northeastern coast, look into Gothenborg. You will not be disappointed.

The Swedish: Bruce Springsteen’s Most Crazed Fans

August 30, 2012 by  

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The last time The Boss performed in Gothenborg, Sweden, he rocked the stadium to the ground. Literally. During the show, the stadium experienced structural damage due to the crazed fans’ excited reaction to one of Springsteen’s more popular songs, and the city was forced to erect a new one. Enter Ullevi.

Desperate fans waiting for tickets outside the arena 8 hours before the doors open in hopes of scoring last-minute released tickets!

Calling Ullevi Stadium “big” is like calling the Pope religious. It’s bigger than big – it’s ginormous, for lack of a better word. It fits over 120,000 people, and unlike many other massive venues, it spans out as opposed to up. The perimeter of the place has got to be about a mile long; the general standing area is the size of two or three football fields. And Ullevi has two levels. The energy is palpable.

When you’re there, it’s easy to feel like a tiny baby fish swimming around in an ocean of awesomeness. (The architectural design also facilitates such an aquatic feeling; the structure is white and intentionally wave-like.) It’s easy to get lost both physically and in thought as you bear witness to a scene like none you’ve ever witnessed before and are unwittingly induced into a state of pondering the deeper meanings of life and – forgive my hyperbole (although I totally mean it) – feeling closer to god or something like it.

Crazy, awesome fans!

Back to Bruce. The internationally famous musician and his equally famous E Street Brand finished up their European Wrecking Ball tour in the Nordic countries – a decision I completely understand after witnessing and being pulled into the insanity of the Swedish fans. I’ve been to about 25 Springsteen shows in my life, and no one – not even the Jersey fans – compares.

The Swedes are obsessed in a way that could be confused with idolatry. (A few hours before the Saturday concert, a mass of fans swarmed the exterior of the Elite Hotel where Bruce and the band were staying and waited for hours just to catch a quick glimpse of The Boss as he got into the private car that was to transport him to the arena. Police officers controlled the scene, paparazzi and media covered it all, and fans drooled – myself included.)

Fans wait outside Bruce’s hotel hours before the start of the show

Now, Gothenborg is a small city. It might actually be better described as a large urban town. But that weekend, what it lacked in size it made up for in enthusiasm.

Bruce took over the town. Days and even weeks leading up to the weekend of Bruce’s arrival, every single newspaper’s front page was dedicated to The Boss; store windows were decorated with Springsteen and the E Street Band posters and

photos; streets were littered with concert announcements; many restaurants were closed because owners planned to be at the show; bars had Bruce events for those who weren’t lucky enough to get tickets (it had been sold out pretty much since it went on sale months before); locals walked around in Bruce t-shirts and hats, and interactions between people boiled down to “How excited are you for tonight?”

From just a few hours in town, I knew to expect two of the best Springsteen concerts I’d ever been to. And that’s precisely what happened – the two most incredible shows, from the set lists to the fan experience to the overall spirit that emanated at the stadium. But afterward, a tiny part of me couldn’t help but wish I’d never went – because now nothing will ever compare.

Trust me – I am open to being proven wrong. But what I experienced at Ullevi legitimately blew my mind… I just don’t think any concert could ever hold a candle…

Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina: Angus Barn Offers Fantastic Southern Food & Charm

July 5, 2012 by  

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When you think of North Carolina, you might think “southern” or “almost southern”; or, you might immediately envision forests of trees or the Tar Heels or the beautiful campus of Duke University. What you may not be immediately prompted to think about is the food – but you should.

Pepsi and the Krispy Kreme donut were both conceived of in North Carolina, hence Pepsi being the most available cola in the state (Coke can be found but at much shorter supply). Typical southern dining definitely has its claim on North Carolina. There is plenty o’ fried food including fried fish, potatoes, and desserts; barbeque and steaks are all over the place, as are chicken dishes, baked and sweet potatoes, biscuits, hot dogs, pickles, cheeses, and fresh tomatoes.

I had the good fortune of eating at the world famous Angus Barn, a barn-style steak house usually on every Top 100 Restaurant list as well as Top 50 highest grossing eateries. What two men built and began over 50 years ago has not only succeeded in its own right but it also overcame a serious obstacle not too many restaurateurs ever have to face: a sweeping fire that burned down the barn just a few decades ago. The people of Angus Barn were distraught but they knew they had a duty to themselves and to their customers to pour their hearts and souls into rebuilding the place, which they did with a burning passion. Now the restaurant is better than ever, boasting a reinvigorated spirit, a life-loving character, and a total staff of about 400 people. Four hundred!

Steak entree at Angus Barn

Steaks are clearly their main forte. You have the option of getting pretty much any cut you like and others you never heard of before. Each entrée typically comes with sides of mixed vegetables and a baked potato, or maybe some fried and caramelized onions (so savory!) or sautéed mushrooms. And each bite is unforgettable.

The sauces they use are out of this world – so juicy, so fresh tasting, as if straight from their backyard. The expertise of the chefs is obvious; the food is great to the taste buds but also to the eyes. As the waiter comes out with each plate, you can’t help but marvel at the artistic presentation that only makes your mouth water even more. And then you take a bite, and each and every expectation you had was blown out of the water.

In addition to steak entrées, there are chicken and fish options that are just as delectable. (Although, one born-and-bred Raleighan told me she tried to “be good” one time and she ordered the chicken, only to be absolutely heartbroken when everybody else’s meals came. (Read: At a steak joint, go big or go home.)

Texas Toast

Appetizers include a range of items from salads (the wedge was crispy and satiating), soups (the French onion was to die for and the vegetable soup was a yummy treat), fried potato wedges with a mayo-based sauce (yummmm), big onion rings, and much, much more.

Additionally, every table is provided with baskets of rich Texas Toast – toasted white bread slathered with melted butter served hot. Not the healthiest option but definitely worth the extra calories. When in Rome, do as the Romans do!

Sweet Potato with brown sugar

Another perk of eating at Angus Barn is their “buffet” of pre-meal finger foods. From the moment you sit down and begin to contemplate the menu, you are encouraged to head over to the selection of carrots, celery, pickles, olives, cheeses, and crackers. It’s a nice little offering that’s enjoyable to munch on and can hold a growling belly over until the real food arrives.

And the cheeses… well, the cheeses are fresh and cold as they should be but they also have this “melty” quality that allows them to be spread easily onto a cracker or some bread. Mmmm.

Moreover, the atmosphere is awesome. If you thought your local Southern-style eatery was fun, just wait until you walk into the authenticity of Angus Barn and are greeted by the friendliest southerners below the Mason Dixon line.

Literally, every single person who worked there was warm and welcoming, and when the wait for a table for six “was over an hour and a half”, as soon as we told the manager (who happened to be standing with the hostess) that we had come all the way from New Jersey and were told we had to try their restaurant, they immediately accommodated us, claiming in true form that yes, we absolutely had to try it and they absolutely had to have us. Within literally 45 seconds, they sat us upstairs right next to the pre-food buffet I mentioned and our experience was off to a wonderful start.

And then the magician came over. As soon as we finished ordering our meals (and what a fabulously charming waitress we had – she recounted to us the history of the place and offered a post-meal tour of the extensive and famous wine cellar), an older man with a passionate smile approached our table.

He whipped out a deck of cards and enthusiastically went into a few tricks that not only had us entertained but also left us in astonishment. How did he do that!? That’s impossible! Some of us whipped out our smart phones to try and YouTube an answer. This guy was so good that after spotting one of his tricks that was posted online, Google contracted him for one of their corporate events!

Yes, it’s a loud place, and yes, the food comes in large portions that you might not be able to finish. But who would ever complain about too much food, and who would ever be turned off by an authentic soundtrack? The hustle and bustle of the place only adds to its appeal.

Angus Barn is a must if you ever visit the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina. It’s located right on one of the popular highways – very easy to spot and very easy to get to. The food, the atmosphere, the friendly staff, and the fun are all begging to take you away to a food heaven you may never have even known was possible.

 

The Passion to End World Poverty: Living On One Dollar A Day

July 4, 2012 by  

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Claremont McKenna College alum Chris Temple and three of his close college friends wanted to see what it was like to live like a large population of the world – in extreme poverty and despair. Coming from more privileged American backgrounds and with strong educational and professional understandings of economic development, they wanted to see the other side and experience the strife and struggle that billions of people experience on a daily basis. In their own words, they wanted to “understand what needs existed on the ground”.

The four young gentlemen came up with a plan: they’d move down to Guatemala for eight weeks one summer and commit themselves to spending just $1 a day – just $56 in eight weeks, (which was essentially the norm for the community in which they lived) – which would have to cover living, food, and any other amenities they might need along the way. And they’d bring their cameras and inspired determination with them.

Their goal that summer was to use their cameras and the magical tools of social media to share with the world what they themselves saw firsthand. With the ultimate aspiration to inspire more people to get involved in ending extreme poverty through supporting micro-finance initiatives around the globe, they embarked on a journey that would last much longer than just that one summer.

After living in a mud hut in severe squalor and filth for those eight weeks (and after experiencing a whole slew of bacterial infections, digestive problems, weight loss, and an all-around struggle they never knew before), these men were changed. They couldn’t believe what they had just gone through; but what’s more, they couldn’t believe that what they had just gone through was just another day in the life of much of the population of the world. Literally living on one dollar per day – or less. Their work couldn’t end there.

Upon their return to California, they ramped up the blog they had kept throughout the summer to what is now a huge project and a full-time job. With the aim to inform and inspire others about world poverty and to urge the supporting of micro-finance worldwide, these four young gentlemen maintain a website and multiple social media platforms in order to enlighten and engage others, especially those around their own age. They want more people to be aware of just how much poverty there is in this world and just how bad it can be, and they want to offer ways to contribute.

Right now, they are just about to finish a Facebook initiative in which an anonymous donor has agreed to donate up to $4,000 according to “likes” on Facebook. The way it works is that each new “like” of their Facebook page since the launching of the initiative will equal one dollar from the donor. The aim is to raise money but also to grow Living On One’s online presence with the overarching goal of raising awareness about their cause in general. It’s a week-long initiative with only a couple of days left, and thus far they’ve reached about a third of what they’re hoping to achieve by the end of the seven-days. Their Facebook page, and more information on this initiative, can be found at www.facebook.com/LivingOnOne.

These young men may be only four people but they have the passion and determination of many, many more. They know that they “cannot solve world poverty alone”, but they also know that they can “use the skills [they] have, where [they] are, to make a difference”. And that’s exactly what they are doing.

Check out their official website at www.LivingOnOne.org.

 

 

Eat Your Way Through Peru

June 9, 2012 by  

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There is no better way to get to know a place, a culture, or a people than to eat their food. Every country and culture is defined by a characteristic gastronomy that has been their fare since the dawn of time, literally passed down from parent to child for generations.

The Greeks have their mousaka, fish, fried feta and haloumi cheeses, spanakopita, and stuffed grape leaves. The Italians have their penne, pizza, antipasto, and gelato. The French have their crepes, escargot, frogs’ legs, and fondue. Americans have their hot dogs, hamburgers, McDonald’s, and Starbucks.

Ceviche of trout

Peru’s cuisine is equally as distinctive. The internationally-famous dish is ceviche –  or cebiche, depending on where you are, which is a fish dish that could fool you into thinking it was served completely raw because of its rather slimy, shiny appearance. However, this dish is technically cooked, and in fact, the method through which it is cooked is what makes it as unique and as delectable as it is.

Ceviche of corvina (sea bass)

Ceviche is any fish (mainly corvina (sea bass), trout, and shell fishes) marinated for a few hours in a mixture that typically consists of lime or lemon juice, salt, chili pepper, and sometimes a bit of olive oil. The acidity from the lime or lemon juice alters the proteins in the fish, making it a bit more solid and rubbery than raw fish. Since the proteins are altered and the texture more chewy, the fish is technically “cooked”; however, one should note that the acid mixture does not “cook away” any bacteria that might have been present on the fish, and that therefore, the freshest fish possible should be used to avoid any potential health risks. Because it’s a lighter, crisper dish, ceviche is usually served at brunch or lunch, and it usually comes with complimentary sides that include sweet potato, corn, avocado, and tons of freshly chopped red onion. Be sure not to skip out on this truly scrumptious Peruvian dish.

Ensalada Mixta with mucho avocado y tomato

Speaking of corn and avocado, Peruvians are incredibly generous with theirs. Coming from the US where avocado runs you a pretty penny, it is abundant down south and therefore highly affordable throughout the entire continent of South America. Every salad I ate – (the famous Ensalata Mixta, which consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and green beans, was my favorite) – always came with at least half but usually a whole avocado, sliced neatly and sometimes even presented in an artistic ribbon-like fashion. The salads also always included corn, as did many of the entrées; but the corn in Peru isn’t like what you’d get in the US. Although you can find the classic American-style cob in Peru, you’re more likely to find the kind with enormous kernels on your plate – and I mean enormous. When I spotted my first corn on the cob – at the McDonald’s at the major airport in Lima – I nearly fell out of my chair. Enormous!Peruvian corn

Peruvians also love their soups. Perhaps I was a bit over-exposed to this particular dish by virtue of the fact that I hiked Machu Picchu and was served whatever was easiest to cook for four days straight; however, Peruvians do enjoy a good bowl of soup. There are many different kinds including the popular chicken soup, “diet” chicken soup (just the broth), corn soup (served with egg cooked into it), cream of asparagus soup, quinoa soup, and more, each tasty but many quite heavy to stomach. The soup is commonly served as an appetizer, which for a foreigner like me was a bit much – I was often too full to finish my entrée.

Seared tuna, Japanese style sides mmmmmm

As for the entrée, Peruvian menus are stocked with many different types of fish (Peru accounts for about 10% of the world’s fish supply) but also lots of meat and chicken plates. Chicken Cordon Bleu is quite popular, as is beef – fried or grilled and served with rice or potatoes. You can be sure to encounter rice quite often, especially if you’re eating any meals on a long bus ride or flight. On my overnight bus ride, I was served a vegetarian omelet-style offering with a side of rice, and my boyfriend was served chicken pieces with rice. (Both plates were actually decent-tasting.)

Chicken Cordon Bleu

 

Ayillu's chicken, cheese, tomato and avocado overflowing (and delicious!) sandwich

Another popular meal is the sandwich. I had one of the best sandwiches of my life in Cusco, which is where you’ll likely find yourself if you plan to tackle Machu Picchu. The café was called Ayillu and it was in the center of the city, and while it once served only coffee and tea drinks, it now serves sandwiches and baked goods. The sandwich offerings included many chicken, cheese, and veggie combinations, and there were also breakfast offerings such as egg, cheese, egg and cheese, veggies and cheese, and bacon combos. Another item on the breakfast menu was “Yogur Especial”, which was plain yogurt topped with tons of tiny-cut pieces of mango, banana, apple, papaya, and flaxseed, and drizzled with a generous amount of honey. It was fresh, healthy and, above all, heavenly.

Ayillu's "Yogur Especial"

 

 

 

 

Local market in small Andean town of CalcaWhile on the topic of fruit, it was pretty tasty (and if you’re counting avocado as fruit, then it was unbeatable). There are tons of local markets with fresh fruits much like any corner store you might see in New York City; the only issue is that depending on where you are, it might not be trustworthy. Our tour guide at Machu Picchu warned us against eating fruit from some of the more remote towns and villages in the Andes areas and even from some of the larger cities like Cusco itself.

A huge contributing factor to the sketchiness of the produce is the water. Cusco has one of the worst water purification systems in the country, and it’s a city of almost half a million people… Just imagine the tap in a place like Nasca, (a desert city of no more than 60,000, including the suburbs) or Calca (a village located in the middle of the Andes Mountains with a population of about 10,000… and that’s one of the larger Andean communities). In short, don’t drink the water. Always buy sealed bottled water. Yes, it can get costly, but allotting the extra cash will be worth it. (Some people even brush their teeth with bottled water. I did not do this, although I did get a stomach bug at one point on my trip…)

Pizza with bacon, ham, and sausage!One last thing: pizza! We kept seeing pizza joints in each city, and when we asked our tour guide why, he said that Peru “wants to keep its tourists happy”. Makes total sense considering the fact that tourism makes up a lot of Peru’s economy. And while our tour guide warned us against some of the less mainstream pizza places attributing his caution to poor sanitation, the pies we tried at the safer-seeming places were surprisingly delicious.

Pisco Sour

 

 

And finally… the drinks. The “national drink” of Pisco Sour, which translates to something along the lines of “Sour Bird”, is a concoction of a pisco liquor base, egg whites, syrup or sugar, ice, lime/lemon juice, and angostura bitters, is reminiscent of a margarita and is quite tasty. It’s a must if you visit Peru, even if just once to be able to say you tried it. As for wines, there are tons of Peruvian options but also many varieties from around the world. The local beers are Cuzqueña, Pilsen Callao, and Cristal. More information on the beers can be found here.

Coca tea, served daily and nightly by our cook on our Machu Picchu trekAs for tea and coffee… Tea is widely consumed, especially the famous coca leaves, which help soothe altitude sickness when chewed or consumed in hot water but will not get you any sort of high as rumored worldwide. It’s a cultural thing, but worth the try (and trust me, if you experience altitude sickness, you’ll try anything to make it go away). As for coffee, Peru is the 10th largest coffee exporter in the world and has some of the best and fair-trade beans to be found. A local Peruvian insisted that other South Americans tend to import Peru’s beans and pass them off as their own (although that might just be a cultural myth!).

If you find yourself in the Peru, the cuisine will not disappoint. Since returning from my Peruvian adventure, I have actively sought out local Peruvian restaurants in search of the best American versions of the dish. And while I don’t miss the coca tea or the lack of American-style iced coffee drinks, I certainly miss the abundance of avocados, the freshness of the sea bass, and the novelty of the enormous corn kernels that not only taste great but also make you smile.

Fancy version of ceviche of sea bass

Squid at the most romantic and beautiful restaurant in Lima, "La Rosa Nautica"

Peru: Pushing Through Machu Picchu

June 8, 2012 by  

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Barring the extreme treks such as Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest, hiking to Machu Picchu is the Mecca of all moderate-to-difficult hikes, and it has by far one of the most rewarding destinations (now one of the New Seven Wonders of the World). While there’s no doubt it has been highly popularized to tourists and may not involve ropes and clips, it would be foolish to think that the treks offered by the many trekking companies are easy or for the faint of heart.

There are thousands of kilometers of popular trails throughout the Andes mountains (and thousands more of less traveled but still hike-able terrain), so it comes as no surprise that there are quite a few options to choose from when deciding to hike to Machu Picchu. The four-day/three-night Inca Trail is the main trek, the one that most people sign up for.

I went with the company Peru Andean Experience, which I highly recommend, as do many of my friends. While the treks are bound to be similar with any company, my descriptions are primarily based upon this particular company.

On the Inca Trail, you’ll start by bus and begin your hike in a small touristy town called Oyantaytambo, where you’ll have the chance to buy items in the local marketplace that might be handy on the hike (think coca leaves for altitude sickness (more on that later), apples, water bottles, day packs), and from there you’ll mostly be hiking moderately uphill and at points up steep terrain towards Machu Picchu. The hours and kilometers that you will hike per day will vary by the day and by the whim of the tour guide; however, you can count on sweating for a few hours a day, usually getting most of the day’s goal out of the way before a lunch break. After lunch, you will continue your trek for a few more hours until you reach your campsite and the porters set up your tents for a relaxing and early night. Count on being exhausted and embracing the circa 8:00pm bed time. Trust me. Also trust me that you WON’T want to carry your own frame-pack. I would not have been able to, and I am very fit. My boyfriend also admitted that he would never have been able to make it through had he been required to carry his own frame-pack, and he was a college athlete. A small day pack is the way to go. (You will see your frame-packs upon arriving at the lunch and camp sites).

The Amazing Machu Picchu

What I’ve gathered is that this particular Inca Trail trek is the one to do if you’re in less than tip-top shape or if you’re traveling with family or older people. When in doubt, I’d recommend going with this one – there’s a reason it’s the most popular.

Other options (by Peru Andean Experience) include:

  1. The much lazier version of the Inca Trail, which is two days/one night and involves much less hiking and much more bussing. This is for people who don’t really wish to experience hiking for all its worth or to exert much energy other than to step up onto the train.
  2. Lares Trek: This is the trek that I personally completed. It was NOT easy in any sense of the word… although we definitely had a highly unique experience because of the fact that our tour ended up being private. It was just me, my boyfriend, and the guide, the cook, and the porter. Because of this set up, our guide felt at liberty to experiment with his navigation, which some people may have resented and reported but we absolutely adored. What was sure to be more difficult than the Inca Trail to begin with turned out to be one of the toughest and most physically demanding experiences of my life, but not completely unmanageable. I’ll put it this way: I was exhausted and ready to stop an hour or so before we were done for the day each day, and although the experience of summiting the highest point of any of the hikes was life-changing and absolutely beautiful and worth it, I don’t think I could ever get myself to do it again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but definitely once. Choose this trek if you’re up for literally anything including unanticipated changes in route, scaling down mountains in the rain, risking breaking your ankles, falling in llama and alpaca poop, freezing in tents, and experiencing what might qualify as the worst pounding headache of your entire life. That part was NOT enjoyable, but much like what I’d imagine a mother feels post giving birth, it was worth the serious and unmatched pain (although at the time, if I could be airlifted out of there, I would have been. That’s probably the most emotionally-affecting part of the trek; you will likely feel like absolute crap with a headache you never knew was possible, and you are practically alone in the PITCH black with nothing to save you and thanks to being in the middle of absolutely nowhere, no one to call).
  3. Salcantay Trek: At five days and four nights, this is the longest of the hikes. It is physically demanding at a moderate to difficult level, and much like the Lares Trek, you are likely to see fewer tourists along the way. I don’t know too much about it other than that it’d the longest and probably much more demanding than the Inca Trail.

Morning wake-up in the clouds

There are two more treks to choose from, and the information about them can be found at the following links. I do not know too much about them, so it would be best to research thoroughly to see if they might interest you. However, the Inca Trail, the Lares Trek, and the Salcantay Trek will cover about 90% of Machu Picchu hikers.

-Choquequirao Trek

-Huchuyqosqo Trek.

 

Our campsite

Whatever trek you choose, whether it’s from Peru Andean Experience or one of the many other companies that exist, you are sure to do tons of walking, hiking, bussing, training, complaining, and spirit-building. You will see the most beautiful scenery you have ever seen – snowcapped mountains in the near distance, miles upon miles of open green spaces, trees interspersed with ancient stone Incan ruins, cloud-covered hills, pristine lakes that amplify the surrounding beauty in their reflections, and so much more. You might pass through local communities of pre-Spaniard invasion populations called Quechuans, many of who do not speak a word of Spanish or English and many of whom have never heard of the internet, and you might interact with some of the local children playing marbles in the streets. You will set up camp (read: tents, poles, sleeping bags, the works) in campsites along the way (the ones on the Inca Trail are obviously quite populated at night, but the ones on the Lares Trek, for instance, are decided randomly on the go and make for extremely interesting stories. For example, we slept next to a tiny ancient church and graveyard, and, I kid you not, there were eight human skeletal remains just 20 feet away from my face as I slept). (Not to mention the pack of wild dogs barking through the night…)

Local Quechuan children in the Andes

You will most likely experience a lot of pain (altitude sickness is not a joke) and anguish and cursing yourself for ever agreeing to such a trying and, at times, miserable adventure. But that’s what it is – an adventure – and you will thank yourself once you reach the top and see how incredible the world’s offerings truly are and realize that you personally just trekked kilometers and kilometers of wild terrain – uphill, through rain, over rocks, through altitude sickness, and through inevitable fear – to see it.

I highly recommend the company I went with – Peru Andean Experience (http://www.peruandeanexperience.com/). If you do go with the Lares Trek and you want the adventure of your lifetime (and are willing to experience much of the craziness that I went through as described above), request Rodney as your guide. (He is actually named after Rodney Dangerfield, something you will totally believe after spending a few days and nights with him).

Reflective lake, at about 4,300 meters above sea level

Frequently Asked Questions about the treks can be checked out here. The answers provide a wealth of information.

But if Peru Andean Experience’s offerings do not necessarily speak to you, here is a list of some other Peruvian-recommended reliable companies to check out when considering trekking to Machu Picchu:

-Peru Treks & Adventure (http://www.perutreks.com)

-SAS Travel (www.sastravelperu.com)

-Enigma (www.enigmaperu.com)

-Llama Path (www.llamapath.com)

-Or one of the recommended trekking companies listed here.

Tips for picking the right trek can be found here.

Tips (from actual hikers) for what to pack on your trek can be found here.

Whatever trek you choose, go with an open mind, big water bottles (they will boil water for you at each meal), a day pack with some granola bars, a camera, face and hand wipes, Purell, layers of clothing (the temperatures vary drastically), a hat, and Motrin – trust me on that one. And remember – when you’re terrified at 3:00am in the pitch-black of the night alone in your tent with nothing to save you from yourself (or from the altitude, for that matter), cling tight to the fact that it will all be over soon enough. You will end up a better person for it.

American and British Dance Companies Come Together in San Francisco

April 24, 2012 by  

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California’s AXIS Dance Company is teaming up with UK native Marc Brew’s Marc Brew Company in a dance-filled weekend presented by the San Francisco International Arts Festival.

 

 

Show times: Saturday May 12, 7:00pm, Sunday May 13, 4:00pm

Location: Marines Memorial Theatre

 

 

 

 

Performances will include Brew’s own Full of Words (2011), a solo titled Remember Me (2008), and a duet section of another Brew choreography entitled Nocturne (2009), and the shared program on Sunday will feature AXIS Dance Company performing Sebastian Grubb’s The Narrowing (2011).

 

Barcelona’s Chupitos: Hundreds of Shots on the Menu…

April 4, 2012 by  

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If you love a good party or frankly, just like to try different kinds of alcohol drinks especially as “shots,” then Chupitos in Barcelona Spain is a must-go bar for you.

“Chupitos”, which means “shots” in English, has a menu of hundreds of different types of shots, all invitingly listed on a huge board on a wall in front of the bar. All you have to do is turn around and pick.

They have everything from your average shots of house vodka to the most undreamed of concoctions featuring things like mint syrup, M&Ms, and S’mores ingredients. And don’t flee for the nearest exit when you see raging flames; the bartenders like to put on a show for their drunk customers by setting the bar on fire.

With shots such as the “Cub Scout Shot”, the “Camp Fire Shot”, and the “M&M Shot”, your night is sure to be entertaining. But the item most tourists enjoy ordering for their friends is the “Monica Lewinsky Shot”. I’ll say nothing other than that it involves a blindfold, a big hollow dildo, whipped cream, a yelling dominatrix, and lots of photo-documentation of the poor fool who agreed to take such a ridiculously-named shot in the first place.

The bar itself isn’t the cleanest place in the world, and as the crowd tends to be quite rowdy, many people opt to make Chupitos their first stop of the night before heading on to other bars or clubs.

Address:

Carrer d’Aribau, 77  08032 Barcelona, Spain

Phone: 699 77 36 74

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