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Sneaky Cheeky London Weekend

28 Nov

I haven’t been to London in a year, and for those that know me and my habits of the past 7+ years, that is nearly unheard of.  I started experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.  See, London is my happy place, the place where I feel most at home and alive, so not visiting it for a year had me basically feeling like I was on life support with someone hovering over me about to pull the plug.  London energizes me, so with so much time in between visits, I was desperate. Miles used for airfare and free lodging at Chez Chris, so I was all set for another crazy (and cheap) 3-day adventure.

Wednesday, 2 November

My flight was scheduled for 8:45pm, so I left the office around 4:30pm and headed to the train station.  This is the easiest and fastest way to get to the airport late afternoon.  The key here, though, is leaving the office by 4:30pm so that you don’t run into all of the Long Island commuters at 5:00pm.  Avoid this and you will be one happy camper sitting at the airport bar with drink in hand while others are cursing at their cab drivers or fellow commuters.

I timed everything perfectly and got to a nearly empty (by New York standards) airport.  I had only to wait for 1 person in front of me to check in and drop my bag.  Quickly at the counter, I was able to charm the check in man, who thought he knew me from TV (Americas most wanted??) and got empty row.  Ah, life is good!  Empty row means lots of sleep and no chance of a smelly, snoring or chatty Kathy next to me.

Checked in and bag dropped, I headed to security.  As I walked down the steps to the shops, restaurants and security lines, I started having flashbacks from last December.  Two days in this terminal cannot be easily erased from the mind, especially when half of that time was spent on the cold terrazzo floor with no food or hope of getting out in sight (refer to NYE Chile/Argentina for that story).  Snap out of it!  Back to the reality that is today and there is almost nobody in these security lines, either.  Karma was working with me this time instead of against me.  Within 10 minutes I was seated at the bar of some generic restaurant near my gate.  Again, life is good.

After 3 wines and my usual pre-flight family phone calls, it was time to head to the gate.  Boarding could not have gone any smoother.  Is this for real or is someone playing a trick on me?  Travel is never this easy and I should know.  The happy little music played in my head and I began my normal pre-taxi pass out for the night when suddenly—–Rrrrrrrrrrrr—–crash.  Some old bird hones in on my empty row and hops in to the aisle seat. I have now gone from relaxed Rita to angry, bitter Barbara.  This little move got me so irritated that it kept me awake and toiling over how to have her removed. Does she not realize that I “worked” for this empty row by looking like a TV personality?  Go back to whichever crappy row you came from! Queen K.  needs to stretch.  What aren’t you getting, lady??

Why I got myself so worked up is beyond me.  The flights I take are almost always full and I never have a problem falling asleep in my single coach seat in my full row.  As I said, I am usually out before take-off, but I let this really get under my skin for some reason.  Bad move. If I had just let this go, all would have been good and I would be asleep already. I have let this intruder shift my entire travel game and all will suffer for it tomorrow.  Now, I need some little green pills.

Did I mention the evil woman that has invaded “my” space is a 60-something nun? As best I can guess, anyway. She has the short, butch haircut and the drab dress of one anyway. I should know. I have some religious folk in the family. Oh, and this one is wearing a bit of tell-tale sign of a gold chalis pin with a cross. Either way, lady, I would like to have my third seat for stretching. I have a bad hip and sciatica.  I made darn sure that I had all of the leg space of the middle seat.  The bride of Jesus was getting none of it! If she were truly tuned in to the Lord, she would have known this.  Moving and allowing me to stretch would be the Christian thing to do. Just saying.

 This attitude, of course, would cost me.  God doesn’t like people being mean to his top people or wishing them ill-will, like say maybe food poisoning that would send them to the bathroom for the entirety of the trip.  I have to learn to think more quietly, so that he doesn’t hear these things.  I was going to pay for that thought, no matter how brief a flash it was.

Temper now slightly less than seething, I am now just looking for a freaking glass of water or wine or anything liquid, so that I can down these sleeping tabs.  Please, dear Lord, I beg of you to send me an air hostess, stewardess, trolley dolly–whatever you want to call them.  Which, btw, I would not need if you hadn’t sent this nun to sit herself where she wasn’t welcome. You, God, have set the entire weekend off on the wrong foot. Wine please, to down my 2 green magic pills. Sorry in advance if I accidentally kick the nun in the face. 

I am not quite sure when in my life I became such a selfish pratt, but I definitely am at the moment, even with the luxury of an empty seat in between me and the intruder.  I haven’t slept well in a week and this was my guarantee of 7+ hours in la-la land with no interruption.  Terrible. Wow. Ok, over it. Where is the freaking wine already?!?!?!

Finally, my water arrived and I was able to take my little green helpers.  These, of course, do not work instantly and since I had 4 liquid beverages I now had to use the restroom. Ugh!!!!!  Naturally, this process could not go smoothly either. The two gay trolley dollies who couldn’t seem to hear my bell or see my light after 12 rings for water were now busy carting around duty-free and blocking access to my seat from either direction.  They were too busy flirting with the 2 gay passengers 2 rows in front of me.  If you have seen gays flirting, you can imagine the scene, especially when talking about products and fragrance.  Dear, Lord, save me.  I knew this was going to take a while.  I do, after all, have about 20 gay friends that I have traveled with on numerous occasions.  I know how this goes.  When that flirting gets started, it is hard to stop!

Amidst their laughter and flirting, I stood there waiting, blood pressure building. After about 5 minutes, one of the stewards looked up from his toned and tanned distraction and noticed me waiting.  He swore they won’t be but another minute.  My a$$!  Honestly, just move the cart into the galley and let me get by! This would have taken less than 1 minute and they could have gone right back to trying to pick up the boys, but noooooo. I waited another 5 minutes for them to move.  At this point in the flight, I was just hoping for 3 hours of sleep.  I would have to catch up on the other side.  I told you I would pay for my attitude toward the nun!

Thursday, 3 November

Landing at Heathrow was uneventful–almost– and all else, including the very long and slow-moving immigration line, was as it usually is.  I collected my bags and headed to the Piccadilly Line to get to London.  The Tube is 25% the cost of the Heathrow Express and about 4% the cost of a London Taxi.  Being that it was 8:30am and I had nowhere to be, I thought I’d save some cash and take the longer route. 

As I said, the Heathrow was experience was almost uneventful.  There was one, brief moment of sheer terror.  That moment came when I was trying to buy a new Oyster card.  The bozo in front of me was so busy looking at his map that he didn’t realize it was his turn on the machine.  I politely asked him if he was waiting.  Eyes glued to the map (thank God), he responded no and I went ahead, my back now to him.  It turns out that this guy was someone I had met a few years ago on a blind date.  Dorky and generally disgusting would be my first description.  Against my better judgement, we had shared a taxi home on this blind date.  When dropping him at his destination, I said a polite good night to which he responded by launching across the cab, jumping on top of me and sticking his pointy, fowl-smelling tongue down my throat.  Needless to say, that evening did not end well and now here he was within 5 feet of me.  Please, please, please, Lord, do not let him recognize me.  Please!

I was able to procure my Oyster Card somewhat quickly and I darted down the escalator to the train platform.  Knowing that he would be right behind me, I walked as quickly as possible to the farthest end of the platform.  I knew he wouldn’t go that far.  Phew!  Crisis averted for now, but that is a sure way to get the heart pumping at 8:30am.  What if I ran into this freak while wandering London.  Fingers crossed I am able to avoid him for the rest of my visit, but the way things are going, I am not so sure.

I had to take a 2 different underground lines and the DLR to get to Chez Chris in Limehouse.  The flat is a 5 minute walk straight down the road from the train station, so quite easy to get to.  Chris met me at the station and walked me back to the flat.

I dropped my bags and had a catch up chat with Chris while chilling on the sofa.  Chris was busy with phone calls and other family madness, so I hopped in the shower and instead of hopping back on a train for my usual city wandering, I had to hop into bed for a very uncharacteristic nap.  Damn nun!  Yes, I know I am going to hell.

I think I finally awoke around 2:00pm.  I pulled myself together and left Chris to his laptop.  This afternoon would be a very short one, thanks to her holiness.  I would, once again, miss the Churchill War Rooms. I was to meet a sales contact of mine at one of the hotels to which I send most of my senior guys for business.  After that I was going to meet my friend, Charlie, and a co-worker at a bar near our London offices.

After a bit of wandering, I emailed my hotel contact to let her know I’d be a few minutes late to which she replied she thought we were meeting next Thursday.  Hilarious.  She had another meeting at 5:00pm, so therefore couldn’t meet me for a glass of bubbly as planned. How could a trip that started so well go downhill so quickly?  Surely, Michael “The Eagle” could help turn things around.  He is one of the funniest Brits I know.

I headed to the meeting spot a bit early and sent Charlie and Michael an email letting them know I was early if they could break free sooner than anticipated.  Charlie was on his way and would be there shortly.  Michael, however, received a panicked call from a neighbor reporting a major leak coming from his flat.  Needless to say, my entertainment for the evening had to head home.  Life delivers yet another crushing blow.  The silver linings here were Charlie and Chris.  At least I had two things going right  for me today, and they would be the only two things, besides the 16 drinks that is.

I have a lot of people ask me why I don’t have a boyfriend, why I don’t have more dates.  I used to ask the same question, but I have given  up.  It seems to be a written law of the universe that the drunkest and most inappropriate guy will hit on me.  This evening would be no different.

I was chatting with the boys on the first floor of The Drift (, a great, buzzy bar in the City, when one of the guys next to us seemed to take notice of me.  I think he was on his 4th shot of some sort of whiskey on top of white wine and some mixed drinks.  Needless to say he was not shy.  He came over to introduce himself and chatted a bit about why they were celebrating.  It seems my admirer, Matthew, had just sold his business for a very pretty penny.  Sounds good, I know.  An admirer with money and lots of it: What could be bad about that?  Well, let me tell you.  Firstly, he had strawberry blonde hair like I do.  There is an unwritten law of the universe that says redheads shouldn’t date other redheads. It looks like you are doing something perverse with a sibling when you hold hands or kiss in public.  Think about it.  When is the last time you saw two redheads holding hands?  That’s right–NEVER.  This was only problem #1.  Problem #2:  Easy, he was too drunk, but that is nothing compared to #3.  Problem #3: Married with kids.  This, of course, didn’t stop him from professing his love for me and telling me how beautiful I was all night.  Why can I not find a sober, single, rich guy to react to me this way?  Never happens, does it ladies?

After enough admiration, we decided to do a pub crawl of sorts up Bishopsgate. Our next stop would be a traditional pub called The Water Poet (  Upon first glance, this place is just what I expected–a traditional pub with good ales on tap.  Charlie, though, was keeping something up his sleeve here.  This place is not just a pub; It is a complex.  There is the busy front pub, a pool room, a back garden area, a dining area, a private dining area and, after passing through the back garden, there is another bar room/dining area in a building they call the barn.  This place is huge.  On top of all of these areas, or should I say under, there is a hidden basement bar.

We ordered a few drinks and headed to the back garden to check things out.  There wasn’t much happening at this particular time of the evening.  There was a decent crowd, but it just wasn’t buzzing.  Maybe it just wasn’t what I was looking for that evening.  I loved the bar and will definitely head back.  Tonight, though, we had other ideas.

Up the road we went toward the Light Bar and Restaurant (  I added this to the list while doing some research for the trip.  Charlie had been there.  I soon found out Chris had been there too and didn’t want to go back.  Ha!  Charlie likes it and I am sure I would have.  I think the pub was enough for my gay friend.  He didn’t want to head into a loud, hetero club for more torture.  Since he was being such a sport, we decided we could hit Light Bar another time.  There was a new place I wanted to check out anyway.  This, I thought, would get no argument from either side. How can you argue with custom crafted cocktails?  Off we went to Worship Street Whistling Shop (

Go to this bar.  It is still under the radar and the cocktails are fantastic.  Do not be discouraged when looking for it, walking down a dark narrow street with not one other thing open on it.  The signage is difficult to detect, but you will be rewarded for getting off the beaten path, descending the stairs and pulling up a stool at this dark, atmospheric basement bar.  The bartenders, dressed in period costume, are extremely friendly and knowledgeable.  Ours were happy to chat with us and guide us through the drinks menu all night. We all ordered something off the cocktail menu.  I cannot for the life of me remember what those cocktails were (good sign, I think), but I can tell you they were delicious and STRONG!  After one of my specialty cocktails, I moved on to old faithful, the Cosmo, but done in a new, delicious way. This place is absolutely worth the trip. You really aren’t far from anything.  Queen of Hoxton is just down the road, L’Anima is around the corner and you are within walking distance of Liverpool Street Station and Shoreditch High Street. It will not be under the radar for long.  Get there if you are in the neighborhood.

Charlie left us since he had to work the next morning, more accurately THAT morning.  It was closing time and I moved out to the street ready to head home.  In my slightly intoxicated mind, it seemed to me that Chris was taking an awfully long time down there.  I decided that he had hit it off with one of the folks we were talking with, so I decided to go it alone back to the flat.  Off I went down the street back to Liverpool Street.  I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get there, but what I was sure of when I turned the corner and saw the golden arches was that I was, once again, going to break my vacation rule, and have McDonald’s at 3:00am.  I hadn’t eaten anything since the airport the previous day, so the hunger pangs were really kicking in.  Looks like I need to change the rule book. I ordered  a cheeseburger, small fries and diet coke.  I also threw a milkshake in for good measure.  I grabbed my chow and hailed a taxi to the flat.  After Hoovering all of that down, it was now time for a good night’s rest, if that was still possible.

Friday, 4 November

As you may have guessed, I had a bit of a slow start to my day.  I did, however, manage to pull myself out of bed, shower and hit the road by noon.  I headed straight for the shopping I knew I needed to do.  If I returned home without my sister-in-law’s Soft & Gentle body spray, I would be blacklisted.  After picking up the necessary gifts that can only be found in London, it was again time to eat.  I had been walking for 2 hours and needed to rest my weary, slightly hungover bones.  I stopped at an Italian place near Leicester Square.  The food and service were nothing to write home about, but it was decent and well-intentioned. It served its purpose and my old lady hips were happy for the rest.

After lunch, off I went to one of my favorite spots, Covent Garden Market.  I particularly love strolling through when the string quartet is playing below.  There were there this day.  The music and atmosphere always transports me and puts a smile on my face.  I am back to that happy place I was before Sr. Steal-a-Seat disrupted my flow.

I like to shop the stalls for handicrafts and handmade jewelry.  On this particular occasion I purchased a silver ring and a pair of earrings for myself, naturally.  I wandered the stores around the perimeter of the square, just window shopping this time.  I headed down Neal Street for some more shopping.  Again, I bought nothing.  Notice the restraint? 

I now figured I should start heading toward the City, where I was to meet my friend, Seonaid, for a cocktail before heading to Chris’ for a cocktail party.  I do this marathon walking most times I am in London and I have the time.  This is always a great way to get to know a city better.  You have a general destination, but you do not take the most direct route. Allowing yourself to get a bit lost and wander off the beaten track will really show you a city and what it has to offer.  This is how I have found most of my favorite spots. Again, always a good idea when wearing appropriate shoes and not carrying 30 pounds worth of gifts for friends and a bottle of Cointreau for a cocktail party.  A five-mile march with a 30-pound rucksack through London with high-heeled boots–not so smart.  I need a drink!

Needless to say, my feet were killing me and I was late to meet Seonaid since my pace got slower and slower with each passing block.  Finally, though, I made it to The Anthologist (  This is the sister bar to the previously mentioned The Drift.  I prefer the layout of the Anthologist.  The place is always buzzing and has a great crowd, plenty of eye candy to choose from with all of the City boys and girls piling in from the offices of the surrounding area.  Seonaid and I had a few cocktails while taking in the sights and catching up.  It was now time to head back to Chris’ for the cocktail party, but not before picking up one last thing to add to the bag–a chunk of parmesan cheese.  What in the world we need this for I have no idea, but I do not argue with the host and manage to find a Sainsbury’s by Bank Station that miraculously has the cheese. I was now carrying the equivalent of some sort of perverse gag bag.  The contents of this purse were strange to say the least.

We arrived at Chris’ and the party was in full swing, as are a few of the guests.  Keep in mind this is about 8:00pm on a Friday night, a bit early to be slurring, but hey, who am I to judge.  Our host with the most springs into action, mixing up Cosmos.  This delicious libation makes the 5 mile painful peregrination through London worth it.  Without the Cointreau, there would be no party!  You are welcome, friends. Most of us have our Cosmo glasses full, but our friend, Simon, who claims to have had the worst week ever, is drinking the liquid love out of a pint glass.  Yes, a pint glass.  We can all see where this is going and quickly.

For the most part, this was just a chilled cocktail party with fabulous friends and a lovely meal of spaghetti Bolognese, hence the hunk of cheese.  It was great to catch up with friends that I hadn’t seen since August in Asia (yet to post about that one, but it was a two-week trip–coming soon).  Lovely cocktails, food and conversation were in abundance.  Some of us took more advantage of this abundance than others.

As I mentioned, Simon was going for triples early.  This coupled with 2 heaping servings and pasta and a loaf of garlic bread put him in bed early.  He was able to recognize the fact that bed was a good idea around 11:30pm.  The rest of us carried on and watched in awe and slight uncomfortable terror as one of the other party guests got to that place that only she does, falling on the floor, slurring drunk.  I somehow missed the show in the living room of her nearly passed out on the floor and then suddenly popping up and ordering her boyfriend to go get more vodka tonics, and he did.  Is tha a good boyfriend or a bad?  Whatever the case, at least she has a boyfriend, which is more than I can say at the moment and at most moments of my life. I am not sure what time they stumbled out, but that left 5 of us sipping Cosmos and chatting. Six bottles of Vodka later and approximately 3:00am, it was time to shove off to bed. Tomorrow was going to be another jam-packed day and I needed some serious rest.  Off to la-la land I went.

Saturday, 5 November

Dear, God, where did that slumber time go?  I do not have the luxury of lying in bed and leaving the flat when I’d like.  I have to meet two people in West London and get myself all the way back to East London by 2:30pm.  Why did I stay up until 3:00am?  My body seriously cannot take this punishment anymore.  I am too old for these tricks.

Showered and looking surprisingly better than presentable, I shuffle off for Earl’s Court.  I am headed to a Luxury Travel Show where I am hoping to meet up with a few contacts I have made via social networking sites.  I am ready for a career change and I think the travel industry needs me:-)  I arrive at Earls Court and have everything timed to the minute as to how much time I have to spend in the show, how much time it will take me to get back to the tube and how much time it will take me to get to the stadium for the football match.

So much for timing!  Dopey didn’t read the ticket closely enough and was supposed to go to Olympia Exhibition Centre, not Earl’s Court.  The two are fairly close to one another–fairly.  This was a 20-minute walk I had not anticipated and that would certainly cut into my travel show time.  Damn you, dopey!  Read the ticket next time!

I arrived at Olympia, which is in quite a pleasant neighborhood near Kensington.  Had I more time, I would have stayed for lunch at one of the nearby pubs or restaurants and wandered the streets for shops.  I did not have this time and it was time to enter the show and meet my yacht charter friend from Turkey and my luxury travel concierge friend from London.  The show, thankfully, was a small one and I was able to walk it all quickly, grabbing pamphlets of information from those that most interested me.  I did a drive by of Jeremy’s booth, but he was nowhere to be found.  I had switched my show day to Saturday because he told me that was the day he would be there.  He better be here!  I figured maybe he went for a quick bite or drink, so I headed over to yacht territory.  Ozgur was there.  Ozgur is a partner at 4U Yachting based in Turkey( We had a nice conversation, but short. I am hoping to charter one of his small yachts with friends in the next year or two just for a few days.  He has quite a selection and does everything with regard to arrangements, including stocking the boat with provisions, aka alcohol.

  I had to get to the stadium to pick up  my match ticket before it started and I was running out of time.  I did another pass of Jeremy’s booth and found him conspicuously absent.  C’est la vie!  I headed for the door and shot him an email while waiting for the train.  I would have to catch up with him on the next trip. Off to Arsenal I went. Turns out that my friend, Jeremy, was at the Arsenal match as well, which is why he had to leave the travel show early.  Had I been able to get myself out of bed any earlier, I would have caught him.  According to his email, I missed him by about 20 minutes.  Damn that walk from Earl’s Court and damn Chris’ fantastic Cosmos!

I arrived with about 15 minutes to spare and got my ticket no problem.  Charlie was also at the match, but sitting at the opposite end of the stadium.  We would meet afterward for a drink, but for now I was on my own, or as alone as I could be in a packed stadium. My seat was fantastic!  I was 8 rows from the pitch near the corner.  There would be a good deal of Van Persie viewing happening in this first half.  God is starting to like me again!

Arsenal have not had the most stellar start to the season, so I was doubtful as to how this would all end, but it ended in a 3-0 win for my boys.  Nicely done. Time to meet Charlie for beers in his old stomping grounds.  Highbury is where sweet Charlie grew up and he would take me to a neighborhood pub to meet his school chum, Christian, and grab a pint.  We hit a place called the Highbury Barn (  Considering this was Saturday night and Arsenal actually won, this place was pretty quiet.  I was expecting a bit more of a celebratory atmosphere, but this was a chilled pub, which is really what I needed.  My 2 nights of revelry were catching up to me at this very moment.  I felt like crawling under the table and taking a nap.  Instead I had 2 Stellas.  Is there any wonder my body is in constant rebellion?  I never give it what it needs.  In fact, I do just the opposite.  Time to really do some damage and head out for my last night!

Charlie and I headed for the tube.  He made his way to Bow Road and I was heading back to Limehouse for a quick change before heading out for my last hurrah in London.  I really wasn’t sure that I was going to make it.  I found Chris chilling on the sofa in front of the TV when I got back.  We chatted for a bit, but I knew if I sat there any longer it would be the end of my night.  I couldn’t do that to myself.  If I had a full week in London, I would have had no issue having movie night on the sofa, but since I was leaving the next day I had to get out and about, at least for a little while.

Dressed and ready for action, I sadly left Chris behind and ventured out to meet another contact, a tall, dark and handsome man from Milano.  We had traded emails earlier and he said he would definitely be about in the evening and we would meet t up.  We had no definitive time or place, so I just headed for Central London, Covent Garden.  Chris had recommended a nice little bar of the beaten path and close to the tube station.  I headed to Cafe des Amis ( on Hanover Place.  They have a cozy little wine bar in the basement.  I pulled up a stool and ordered a glass of wine.  At this stage I still hadn’t heard from my Italian stallion, so I occupied my time with one of those free area newspapers.  I was able to find 2 places in the vicinity to try after this one should my friend actually show up.

It was getting later and I was tired, so I figured I would go scout out the club across the road.  If he showed, great.  If not, I had done the recon on another late night bar for the next trip.  I headed to a place called Foundation Bar on Langley Street (  The place was full and the music was good.  I made my way to the corner of the bar, where I would perch for a bit taking in my surroundings.

There, of course, was a bachelorette party in the club and the drunkest girl in the party was next to me trying to order drinks.  A friend swept in to help her complete the order, but it seemed neither of them had enough money to pay for them.  After about 10 minutes of digging through bags, the more sober of the two was able to scrimp together enough coins to pay the patient bartender.  They did so and then proceeded to turn around and head for the dance floor–without the 4 drinks. Now, can we take care of this not-so-patient lady, please?

I have my friend, Jenny, to either thank or scold for putting the idea of Red Bull and vodka into my head.  On our Asian adventure and most recently in New York, she shared her trick for not wasting a night and getting over jet lag by drinking Red Bull.  As I was really hitting the wall at this point, I decided to try her method of reviving oneself. Again, a bit of body abuse, but what is one more night?

It seemed my Prince Charming wasn’t going to show, but I was waking up at this point thanks to the stimulants in my red Bull and there were plenty of other people to talk with, including my new-found bachelorette buddies who were now feeling indebted to me for letting them know they left their drinks on the bar.  Both had completely forgotten about them.  I, however, declined their kind offer to join them on the dance floor and went back to my perch at the bar.  The gentleman next to me struck up a conversation with me.  He was handsome.  Young, but handsome.  Fifteen minutes or so into this conversation, his friend handed me my phone from the bar because it was ringing.  Prince Charming was in the area, but couldn’t find the place.  Better late than never, I suppose.  Looks like I would have done alright without him, but being that he is here and everything…

I went up to the corner to meet my sweet Italian, Alberto.  We headed back down to the basement bar to chat over cocktails.  This place closes early because of issues with noise and neighbors, so Alberto had a spot nearby that he likes to frequent and we headed there.  Foundation stays on the list for next time. Good spot.

A short stroll away and we entered Circus (, a nightclub/cabaret space on Endell Street.  This place has a surreal interior with a catwalk and dozens of mirror balls hanging from the ceilings.  I think we arrived just as the “show” was ending and I am pretty sure the girl on the stage was almost completely naked.  I chose to walk right by that and head to the bar in the back.  Alberto and I ordered a cocktail and found a cozy seat in the back to get better acquainted.  After some lovely conversation over fun music, it was time to call it a night.  It was near 2:00am and the place was closing down.  I was heading for a cab and Alberto was heading home, or so I thought.

It ends up we walked and talked for a few more hours, so much so that my brand new boots needed new heels when I got back to New York.  Cleary neither of us was ready to call it a night and were enjoying one another’s company.  It would have been nice to have another day or two so that we could have done a nice dinner or something, but it was now early morning and I needed sleep before packing and heading to the airport. We would stay in touch (and we have) and try to get together again next time, there or here.  We’ll see.

After a 4 hour nap and a shower, I packed my bag and said goodbye to my host. I was off to Heathrow, reluctantly, to catch my ride home.  I always get really sad leaving London, and this day would be no different.  This is truly where I feel like I am home and I am already missing it the second I head for the airport.  Someday, I will live there and I hope that someday is very, very soon.  In the meantime, I made some good connections and new friends and I will look forward to returning and seeing what adventure the next trip brings. Hopefully that trip is very soon and I am only buying a one-way ticket!

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21 Oct

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I can provide you with travel itineraries custom-tailored to your individual wants and desires.  Tell me how long you will be away and what your interests are, what the budget is and we can take it from there. In addition to personal experiences and obsessive research, I have resources on the ground in a vast array of places, so you receive the latest information on where to stay, where to eat, where to drink and what to see on your next trip.

I can help you find your ideal hotel, book an ideal restaurant for that special occasion or tell you where the best party places are. I can map out your daily itineraries, giving you the most efficient plan for your time there. 

With an  itinerary from me, you’ll save yourself hours and hours of time on the computer or somewhat lost in your destination city (Where do we eat?, Which way should we go?, How do I get there?, etc.). 

Contact me here if interested.  I look forward to making your next trip a better one!



Paris Recommendations

21 Oct

I have a good friend traveling to Paris for the first time.  I have been there numerous times, so she asked me for some hotel and restaurant recommendations.  I figured I would post them here for your use.  By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive guide; It is simply a few recommendations.  Maybe when I catch up on my postings for this year’s trips, I will settle in and actually post some comprehensive guides with recommended itineraries .  Maybe I will even start with New York, the city I live in.  Novel idea, I know. Stay tuned…



NOTE: Rooms will be very small in most hotels.  Very small.

Arioso Hotel – 8th – boutique hotel with cozy lobby lounge – clean and classic rooms. Under 200 Euro

Hotel Athenee – 9th – boutique hotel  – Under 300 Euro

7 Eiffel – Left Bank – 7th – very clean and contemporary.  Under 200 Euro

Hotel Varenne – 7th – clean and classic rooms. Under 200 Euro

Hotel Londres Eiffel Tower – 7th – classic rooms with view of Eiffel Tower.  220 Euro for Eiffel view on 6th floor.

Hotel Wilson Opera – 8th – clean contemporary boutique. Under 200 Euro.  Have rooms with balcony

Banke Hotel – 9th – boutique design hotel – Under 300 Euro

Hotel Ares Eiffel – Left Bank – 15th – small boutique hotel.  Under 250 Euro

Le Burgundy – 8th – beautiful boutique, but pricey – 400 Euro

Le Belle Juliette – Left Bank – 6th – 400 Euro

 Hotel Thomieux – 7th – trendy design boutique

Castille Paris – 1st – 250 Euro – GREAT location

Hotel Keppler – 8th – beautiful boutique – Under 300 Euro – packages start at 229Euro

Hotel Le A – 8th – trendy contemporary (very white) – under 250 Euro



La Petite Chaise – 6thOldest restaurant in Paris

La Closerie de Lilas – 14th (?) near Luxembourg Gardens– Famous café where many writers and artists used to frequent. Piano Bar

Vivant – 10th – Hip bistro

Rino  – 11th (46 Rue Trousseau, Tel: 01 48 06 95 85), keeps locals coming back for more with a laid back atmosphere, creative combinations, and reasonable prices.

Restaurant Les Ombres – 7th – Eiffel Tower views

Pramil  – 3rd (9 Rue du Vertbois, Tel: 01 42 72 03 60) is an underrated gem. Chef Alain Pramil, formerly a Physics professor, is a self-taught chef who uses only market fresh, seasonal ingredients.

For more of a scene, go to Thomieux (7th/Eiffel Tower) (79 Rue Saint-Dominique, Tel: 01 47 05 49 75), an updated 1920’s brasserie.

Les Bouquinistes    
  53 quai des Grands Augustins F – 75006 Paris 06  
  Distance : 0.7 km
Opposite the second-hand bookstalls of the embankments.  Go for the dessert!

Le Comptoir    

  9 carr. de l’Odéon F – 75006 Paris 06  

 This very famous bistro is more often than not busy and reservations are hard to come by..awesome food (steaks, pates etc)..see if you can get a table..if you can’t, sitting at the counter is lots of fun!

Mon Vieil Ami  
Address 69 r. St-Louis-en-l’Île F , 75004 Paris 04,  Phone 01 40 46 01 35,  Fax 01 40 46 01 36 E- 

This one is a beautiful..very quiet..very good restaurant right on the Ile St Louis in the middle of the Seine

Maison Blanche     

  15 av. Montaigne F – 75008 Paris 08  
On top of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.  This is a very cool restaurant..great views of the city glass ceiling..terrific food.

Marius et Janette      

 4 av. George V F – 75008 Paris 08

Very famous seafood…oysters etc..traditional..been around for years.

Le Bistro Paul Bert – 11th – Steak frites – Open Tuesdays through Saturdays noon to 2 pm and 7:30 to 11 pm

Chez l’Ami Jean – 7th – reservations required

Jadis – 15th – French bistro with inventive food


Septime – 11th – Inventive French


Le Servo – 14th – steak frites – need reservation


Relais de L’Entrecote – 6th (and other locations) – steak


 Le Verre Vole – 10th

Sassotondo – 11th – Italian

More Restaurants:


Patrick Roger – There are so many places for good sweet treats.  This guy, who has 5 shops in Paris, makes his own chocolate from bean to finished product, whereas most use pre-formed chocolate bars for their confections.

Chocolate Waffles: Grab a chocolate waffle across the street from the Eiffel Tower by the river and the carousel.  Yum—ME!



Stolly’s – 8th –“Classic Drinking Bar” – very small but cool spot 


Bar of Plaza Athenee or Le Meurice – Fancy drinks

5e Cru – 5th  – wine bar

Harry’s Bar – 1st near Opera Station – Classic cocktails and piano bar

Any bistro or bar along the river where you can sit outside with a glass of wine and a book and just take it all in.

More Bars:

 How is it possible the I have more restaurants than bars listed?  What?  Looks like I need to head back soon and lengthen that list!

Barcelona Recommendations

21 Oct

 As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here is a list I have compiled of hotels, restaurants and other miscellaneous information for Barcelona.  I have stayed in a few of the hotels.  Others I have found on various websites and in magazines and have added them to my list for next time.  I do not include the top end, such as Hotel Arts and the W.  These, of course, are great, especially in the summer. They are also pretty expensive.  I stayed at the Arts a couple of years ago at the end of May.  Perfect!  I wouldn’t stay down here, though, if it was not beach weather.  You are a little out of the way as far as sites and restaurants. The places below are trendy, chic, geographically desirable or all three.

As far as the restaurants go, there are places I have tried and places I would like to try.  The list is ever-growing and I will never get to them all.  New and tastier places open all the time, but there are the tried and true that have stood the test of time, such as El Xampanyet.  A must when in Barcelona. 

Happy planning.  Adios!



Hotel Espana Ramblas Mod hotel, centrally located. 170Eur gets you a top floor room with balcony.


Hotel Olivia Plaza – modern property.  Rooms a little blah, but fine.  VERY centrally located. 175Euro overlooking Plaza Catalunya.


Hotel Pulitzer – another Plaza Catlunya hotel.  About 160 Euro


Hotel Omm– modern boutique hotel that has a good bar scene in the lobby and a club in the basement. 215 Euro.


Hotel Villa Emilia – modern hotel, decent location and CHEAP – 107 Euro

Mur Muri – boutique design hotel.  A little off the beaten track, but in a good, central spot to get to everything – 160 Euro


Hotel Soho – terrace rooms for 140 Euro


Hotel Neri – gorgeous boutique hotel in a great old town location. – 228 Euro


987 Hotel – mod boutique chic, 3 blocks from the main Passeig de Gracia–  130 Euro

Hotel Sixtytwo – modern hotel on one of the main thoroughfares – 165 Euro



Bubo – Sweet treats to die for and tapas.

Tickets Tapas Bar – RAVE reviews for this place in every travel mag and website.  Probably need a reservation


Pinotxo – Tapas in the fresh food market off Ramblas.


Dos Cielos – good restaurant in the ME Hotel


Xemei –  Italian/seafood in a quiet area near Montjuic


Bar Mut – Tapas and wine


El Quatre Gats – Bar, brewery and restaurant. Cool old school spot in an old building not far from La Rambla.  Worth stopping in just to see the architecture and inside.

Bar Lobo – good for lunch


 El Principal – Beautiful designed restaurant in Eixample with a lovely interior courtyard.  Great for a date.

Cal Pep – Rave reviews!  Lots of seafood dishes.

Da Greco – Italian restaurant in Barcelona.  Quiet and off the beaten path.  The signage for the restaurant doesn’t jump out at you, so it is easy to walk right by it.  When you see the brass hand as door knob, you have found it. The family that owns it actually lived in Brooklyn for a time and moved the restaurant to Spain.

Los Caracoles – Old Catalan restaurant off of Ramblas with multiple levels and dining areas.  Fun atmosphere. It is a bit touristy since it is so close to Ramblas, but I thought it had a nice atmosphere.  That may have been due to the 10 drinks we had while waiting for the food.

La Luna – restaurant and bar with a lively scene



Mirablau – great views

It’s all about the location at Mirablau. You go for the view, as Mirablau is near the top of Tibidabo hill and has a huge window overlooking the lights of the city from the hill to the sea. Go at at night.
Read more:

Omm Hotel – good lobby bar.  There is also a club in the basement.


Arts Hotel – on the beach, good for drinks

Bar Raval – chic bar

Calle del Doctor Dou, 19
08001 Barcelona
Tele: 93 302 41 33


Dry Martini – Yummy and very strong martinis in a very old school bar. Think waiters and barmen in white coats and black ties.

Monvinic – Wine bar

Otto Zutz – Club with multiple levels


 La Fira freaky circus bar

 Zsa Zsa: more of an adult scene, on the quieter side

 El Xampanyet – Old school cava bar stuck in yesteryear. Great spot!



Catch a match at Camp Nou – check the schedule here:

Magic Fountain Show – November 19TH  and 20TH

Fridays and Saturdays from 7 in the evening until 9 at night


I recommend using the hop on/off bus to get to all of the different parts of the city.  Subway is quicker, but you don’t see anything underground.  It is an easy way to get to everything you will want to see.  Maybe a 2-day pass.  You will walk a lot, but the things you will want to see are pretty spread out.

El Born Area –  Great area to wander for shops and restaurants. 

            Restaurant Montiel

            La Luna

Beach Area has a bunch of clubs, but I would avoid most and head for the below

Arts Hotel

ShôkoGood bar (club) on the beach where you can sit outside and listen to live music.  I am told the food is good as well, but I didn’t eat here.  I am not a big “club” fan, which is why I liked this place.  There is a big dance floor inside if that’s your thing or you can head outside and chill by the beach.
• Passeig Marítim 36, +34 932 259 200,

Carpe Diem Lounge Club & Restaurant ( Passeig Maritim 32, next to Aqua restaurant and very close to the Arts hotel) is right on the beach. You can also eat dinner in the club earlier in the evening and chill out on the terrace overlooking the sea.   I believe Friday nights are champagne nights.

The CDLC closes at 3 a.m. – next door is the Opium club, which stays open until dawn.

Some sites with more recommendations:

Barcelona – February 2011

20 Oct

Barcelona is a city I cannot seem to get enough of, a city where I always find something and somewhere new to try.  How could I say no, then, to an American Airlines flash sale that would bring me to the beauty that is Barcelona for a mere $270USD (taxes included) roundtrip?  I couldn’t.  I booked and sent the info to my friends certain someone else would jump on the deal.  Not so much.  I am not quite sure from what mental issues these friends suffer, but to pass up a chance at Spain for less than half of normal airfare is plain nuts. I would find someone to take the bait or, as I have done numerous times before, I would go it alone and enjoy every minute of my freedom.

Being that I just returned from South America in January, I could only justify this trip if I did it over a holiday weekend, so as not to take too many days off from work.  I choose President’s Day weekend and I found someone who doesn’t need a holiday weekend to justify travel.  Enter Chris, my retired friend from London.  I couldn’t ask for a better compadre for this short adventure.  As I have mentioned before, Chris is the perfect wingman, completely laid back and just generally fun to hang out with wherever we are. He has nothing better to do these days anyway.

I have been to Barcelona a few times.  Each time I have stayed in a different area of town.  This time would be no different.  I found a deal on one of the hundred travel sites I receive emails from on a daily basis.  There is almost always a deal to be had.  If you look hard enough, you will find one.  My search brought us to Mur Muri (  This is a modern boutique hotel on Rambla de Catalunya in the Eixample district. The area immediately surrounding the hotel is quiet compared to hotels near La Rambla, yet full of fashionable, upscale shops and restaurants and only 1 block from Passeig de Gracia, the central avenue in Barcelona’s heart. La Rambla was great when I was 25.  Now that I am oh so grown up and sophisticated (cough-cough), this area is perfect. The hotel is within walking distance to La Rambla, Diagonal Avenue and Sagrada Familia and only a few meters from Gaudí’s major works. It is also extremely close to transportation.  We took the train from the airport to within a block of the hotel, which was very quick and easy (for one of us).

Looking back at the itinerary I created before I left for this trip, I see that I did almost nothing on it.  This is the beauty of vacation.  You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to do it.  Sleep until 2:00pm?  Why, yes I think I will.  Have a drink at noon on Thursday?  Cheers!  To have someone who travels in a similar, if not the exact same manner as you, is priceless.  Chris is one of those people.  I don’t have to worry about being by his side 24-7.  He doesn’t gripe about walking too much or stopping in too many shops, etc. We come up with a general game plan and then see what happens.  It is all so chilled and laid back, the way vacation is meant to be and since the Spanish people are the epitome of laid back and relaxed, there is no choice, really, but to follow suit.

People kill themselves on vacation trying to fit every single thing into a few days.  They are missing the point.  The idea is to relax and take it in, to live in and enjoy every moment, not run from place to place checking off a list.  I can understand wanting to do that because you think you will never get back.  The truth is that if you allow yourself the time to connect with a place and the people, that place becomes like a magnet.  Having just a small taste of what a city has to offer and truly savoring that taste at a relaxing pace is a sure way to guarantee you will return. 

Friday, February 18

Upon landing in Barcelona, I made my way to the train for the short trip into town.  Passeig de Gracia is 2 stops from the aiport on the RENFRE train.  It is cheap and easy.  Naturally, I exited at the wrong place and found myself a bit turned around when I reached street level.  I took a seat on a sidewalk bench and looked around for any signs or landmarks I would recognize as I puffed on a cigarette and sipped my Diet Coke–breakfast of champions!  It took a few minutes, but I got my bearings and I started walking in the right direction.  I walked just around the corner to Passeig de Gracia.  Had I looked at a map closely, I would have been at the hotel in less than 5 minutes.  BUT, dopey me did a quick glance, saw the words Rambla and Catalunya and thought I knew where I was going.  Afterall, I had been here before.  I was like a local.  Ha! What a jackass!  I walked all the way down to the top of La Rambla at Plaza de Catalunya.  At this point, I am beginning to sweat, getting frustrated and being Bitter Betty to anyone dumb enough to get in the way of me and my rolling duffel bag.  After several scowls and snarls at passers-by and random mother-f’ers flying out of my mouth as I walked in a few circles, I finally gave in and popped into another hotel for directions.  The kind front desk receptionist took pity on the road-weary, distressed traveler in front of him and pointed me in the right direction. I was on my way to Mur Muri.

I towed my bag up Rambla de Catalunya.  At this point I was tired, sweaty and just ready to sit down.  Block after block I trekked.  Did I mistakenly land on the El Camino de Santiago? This was definitely beginning to feel like a pilgrimage, only I wasn’t looking for God. I was looking for address 104.  It felt like the address numbers went up by only 2 numbers per block.  I started at 1, so in my mind I walked 50 blocks; In reality it was about 5. After what seemed an eternity, I finally reached my destination.  The good Lord tested me and I passed.  I was rewarded for showing grace and dignity in the face of adversity (cough-cough) by being given the keys to my room even though it was only noon at this point.  I could take a hot shower and get out of my sweaty clothes!  As I said, this would have been a less than 5-minute walk from the train station.  I somehow turned it into an hour.

Showered and changed, I met up with Chris, who arrived shortly after I did, in the lobby of the hotel. It was now time to head out and take in the sights, sounds and smells of Barcelona.  We wandered down Rambla de Catalunya to La Rambla.  It is amazing how much quicker and pleasant that stroll is when you are not somewhat lost and lugging a bag behind you .

This was Chris’ first visit to Barcelona, so we were going to try to hit a few of the highlights.  We walked through Mercat de la Boqueria, one of Barcelona’s oldest markets selling all sorts of fresh food and flowers.  Locals wander the market for fresh food to cook that night.  You are wandering the market to get a seat at one of the pintxos (tapas)bars to enjoy some of the freshest food with a cold beer, cava or wine.  Patience, my friend.  Patience is key.  Every single time I have been in this market every seat at every tapas bar is full.  You have to play it like you would at any other bar in the world.  Stalk someone who looks like they are close to wrapping up and get in position to pounce on their stool.  You know how it works.  All of your hard work will be rewarded, I promise.

After that patience lecture, I have to now admit that we were not.  Correction.  Chris was not.  I wasn’t fussed either way, but since it was his first time here we should have waited.  At this point he was just hungry and wanted a snack or two and since most people do not eat dinner until 10:00pm, we had a long way to go before another solid meal.  We wandered a bit further down La Rambla and into Plaza Real where we pulled up a chair in the sunshine at one of the many tables circling the plaza.  Chris ordered several tapas dishes and I ordered vino tinto.  For a February day, this was an unusally warm one, so we lazed at our table taking in the scenery and soaking in the rays of the sun.

After our snack and sufficient sun time, we wandered the narrow, maze-like streets of Barri Gotic and El Born.  We wandered into the cathedral and also had a peek at the cloister area where we found the Well of the Geese.  After watching them waddle around a bit, it was time for us to waddle on down to Plaza de Santa Maria, a small square behind the church Santa Maria del Mar, to meet a friend of a friend of Chris’.  

We met Ernesto, a tall, thin, brooding artistic type, at a place called Bubo (  I have been to this spot before and I was not bothered a bit by going to the same place twice.  This sweet shop/tapas bar has some of the most delectably beautiful desserts I have seen anywhere in the world.  This is true eye candy.  Each creation is like a little gem. They taste, though, even better than they look.  Truly out of this world.  Order a glass champagne or a coffee to have with your chocolate sponge cake with bittersweet chocolate truffle and raspberry compote or one of the many other heavenly desserts.  Apropos that it lies in the shadows of a church.

We enjoyed our beverages and treats at an outside table listening to Ernesto’s tale of woe.  He was telling us about his recent breakup and the situation he finds himself in now.  Drama.  I love it!  This story was followed by the one explaining his broken arm.  It seems Ernesto had one too many and crashed his bike.  No, not a motor bike, an actual bicycle.  Somehow he crashed, flew over the handle bars and now finds himself with a cast for the next 10 weeks.  This, we would find out later, is the reason he no longer drinks. I decided immediately that I liked this guy.  He is interesting and quirky and does dumb stuff while drunk.  I was going to get along with this guy famously! I was sure he would show us some interesting and quirky things when we met him later that night for drinks and dinner.  With our plan made for the evening, Chris and I headed back to the hotel to relax and change before heading out.

We met Ernesto at Banker’s Bar in the Mandarin Oriental (, a cleverly designed bar with old safe deposit box doors and other authentic items to fit the theme. Chris and I had, what else, Cosmos.  Ernesto had a non-alcoholic beer.  After 2 drinks, we wandered off to dinner.  Ernesto lined up Restaurante Noti (, a retro chic restaurant offering modern European cuisine where his friend, Elena, runs the front of house.  Elena showed us to a table at the back and offered us some cava.  How could I refuse?  I like this place already!  After a quick look at the menu, we all ordered mains only and we all ordered beef.  The meal was good as was the atmosphere and service, but I wouldn’t say it was spectacular and for the price it should have been.  After we finished our meal, it was time for some fun.  Little did I know what Ernesto had in store for us next.

We wandered a few blocks to Bailen 22, an infamous address, I have come to find out, in Barcelona.  Bailen 22 was a strip club back in the day before a neighborhood group had it shut down.  After multiple reincarnations it is now Cafe Berlin, a burlesque club.  Ernesto had promised this was not a gay club, but you could have fooled me on this night.  We watched the incredibly camp show, which thankfully ended about 20 minutes after we arrived. After a few drinks Ernesto left us to our own devices and carried on home. A DJ started playing and the club started filling up with 99.9% young, gay boys.  There were a few other females there, but I do not think there was one straight male.  C’est la vie.  This would be Chris’ night.

We made out way toward the dance floor to check out the selection for Chris.  As we scoped the joint, Chris got pulled out to the dance floor by a woman Ernesto had introduced to us a bit earlier.  Wacky, but I would expect nothing less from my new eccentric friend. After a few rounds on the floor, Chris returned to the bar, where a conversation was struck with a cute young man.  We chatted with him for a bit and there seemed to be some chemistry, but then he did the forbidden–he lit a smoke.  That was it for Chris.  The promise of the evening went straight down the tubes.  Chris will not date a smoker.  That is probably his #1 rule when it comes to potentials.  Multiple drinks in, zero men for me and one smoker and we were ready to call it a night.  Better luck tomorrow!

Saturday, February 19

After a nice lie-in, Chris and I headed out to take in some sites.  Sagrada Familia was first on the list, but we would need food first.  We stopped in a local coffee shop along the way for a muffin and tea.  We grabbed some water on the way out the door to rehydrate from the prior evening’s festivities and made our way to Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  It never ceases to amaze me, this peculiar, spectacular architectural wonder.  I could spend a day here, exploring the intricacies of the design inside and out.  Chris, on the other hand, could not.  We walked around the outside and he shot a few pictures.  He was ready to move on to the next stop on our itinerary for the day.  Hilarious!  He didn’t even want to walk inside.  What??  I understand he is not the least bit religious, but that is not the point.  This is a UNESCO heritage site.  This is amazing architecture.  This is something he doesn’t give a shit about, so on we go.  I’ve seen it already, so I don’t argue.

The weather started turning on a bit on us and, let’s face it, we were hung over.  We decided we could save time and ourselves by taking the hop on/hop off bus tour.  We hopped on at Sagrada Familia and made our way to Park Guell.  This is one place I never managed to make it to on past trips, so I was excited to check it out.  It did not disappoint.

After climbing a very steep hill, we made it to the entrance which is flanked by two buildings Gaudi built.  They resemble large gingerbread houses.  Everywhere you look you can see Gaudi’s work with one exception: Gaudi’s house, which was designed and built by someone else.  From the “bird’s nests” built into the sides of the mountain to the roadways resembling aqueducts, this place is a Gaudi fantasyland.  This guy was truly an architectural genius. It is all somewhat psychedelic looking, which makes me wonder what he was on when conceiving his building plans.  Photos taken and jewelry purchased, we were off down the hill to hop back on our bus.

It was getting colder and rain clouds were moving in, yet we thought it would be a good idea to sit up top in the open air.  We passed several stops, including Palua Reial and Camp Nou.  It is not clear to me now, but after Camp Nou we got off the bus and tried to walk to the Red Line (we were on the Blue Line).  Clearly, this is something everyone does because when we got to the stop there was a huge line.  Chris and I decided to skip it and walk to one of the stops farther down the line.  It was good to get up and stretch the legs, but we soon found ourselves walking around a very quiet residential neighborhood where absolutely nothing was open.  Dehydrated and lacking sleep, I would have paid a pretty penny for a Diet Coke and some Pringles to tide me over until dinner.  No such luck.

We made it to some really out-of-the-way bus stop and had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one to pick us up.  Once again we went up top.  Why??  I have no idea.  The ride back from here would take us to absolutely every corner or Barcelona that we hadn’t already seen.  We were on that bus for at least and hour and a half.  Freezing and now getting wet from the rain, the bus finally made it to Plaza Catalunya after the sun had gone down.  That is a seriously long bus ride! Tired, hungry and wet, Chris and I broke one of my cardinal rules while on vacation.  We went to McDonald’s for lunch/afternoon snack/dinner.  We hadn’t eaten since early that morning and we only had a small muffin.  We were feeling tired and beaten, so good greasy food was the immediate answer.  Those golden arches were absolutely calling us in and at this point it had started pouring.  It was easy and we knew it would satisfy.  After our gluttonous McDonald’s feast, (someone had 2 quarter pounders) we made our way up Rambla Catalunya to the hotel.  Time for a hot, hot shower and a serious nap.

Showered and refreshed, I met Chris in the lobby bar where we had–you guessed it–a Cosmo before heading out in the neighborhood.  Since we both ate enough for the entire day in one sitting a bit earlier, this was going to be a cocktail only night.  We headed for the Dry Martini Bar (ó.htm).  This was a place on my original list and it was close to our hotel.  This is an old-school boys club with bartenders in white coats, serving drinks on silver trays to businessmen sitting in green leather chairs.  The clientele would be smoking cigars if smoking wasn’t now prohibited.  This is definitely an older crowd, but the cocktails were worth the trip.  Chris ordered one of the specialty martinis and I ordered a Cosmo-type drink with some fresh puree in it.  Holy Hannah!  Those drinks were potent, but yummy.  I had a sip of Chris’ and almost choked on the strength of it.  When he tried to argue that mine was just as strong as his the bartender was quick to correct him and let him know that his cocktail was at least 2x the strength of mine.  He was already on #2.  We decided we should gracefully exit before we were unable to do so.  One more of those diabolical cocktails and we may have been on the floor.

We headed to another spot on my list, Hotel Omm (  The hotel has a trendy lobby bar and lounge.  It was crowded when we got there, but not overly so.  We were unable to get a prime spot at the bar, so we grabbed a table along the side and place our order for–wait for it–Cosmos!  This was a primo people watching spot.  As we chatted over several rounds of drinks and scanned the crown for potential victims, the place was really filling up with all sorts of well-heeled people of varying ages.  Thankfully this wasn’t a teeny-bopper crowd.  To our very pleasant surprise we learned of a night club within the hotel in the basement level.  How did I miss that detail when researching?  C’est la vie.  The important thing is that we found it. By the time we did, it was pretty jammed.  We managed, however, to squeeze in at the bar right in front of the DJ.  The bartender took an immediate liking to Chris, which was perfect.  We never had to wait for a drink and he even bought us a few.  The DJ’s girlfriend ended up moving in next to us and the next thing I know all three of us are dancing on our own mini dance floor we boxed out for ourselves.  The bartenders were dancing behind the bar right along with us.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, this guy appears on my righthand side practically on top of me.  He began chatting me up and about 5 minutes into the conversation, he clearly decided he liked what he was hearing because he just went in for a kiss.  What??  In the middle of a bar?  Craziness, but harmless and fun.  My new friend, Eduardo the sailing instructor, and I went upstairs for a smoke and some quieter conversation.  His English was really excellent and the conversation was very nice.  After a while in the fresh air, we headed back down to the dungeon for some more dancing and debauchery.  Chris left me there with our new friends in pursuit of some “much-needed sleep” (yeah, right) and I proceeded to talk and dance with Eduardo into the wee hours of the morning.  I finally met a tall, dark and handsome man.  How much do sailing instructors make??  Looks like I am missing one of the key attributes for which I am searching. Oh, well.  There was the possibility of  free sailing lessons and a good deal more. We made a real connection and it was lovely. What a great night!  Could we repeat it for our last night?  Time very soon would tell.  It was now 6am.

Sunday, February 20

As I said, it was now 6am.  Eduardo and I said our goodbyes and Chris was just walking in the door.  Heading home my a$$!  I love it!  Well done, Chrissy.  Sleep, please.

After a fairly long nap, I pulled myself together for the afternoon and desperately needed food.  My co-pilot wasn’t feeling quite as energetic, but I convinced him food would make him feel better.  We headed out in search of steaks.  We wanted simple and close, so nothing on my list was going to do.  We wandered down La Rambla and went into El Raval.  Why I cannot say.  Oh, yes I can!  I just remembered that there was a bar on my list that was in that area.  Described as one of the oldest and most genuine places still open in the city.  We went in search of it and when we found it we burst out in laughter.  The place was quite literally crumbling to the ground.  I think they are closed for renovations.   Obviously, heading in this direction was a mistake. There are so many great places in the other direction and Raval is a bit dodgy.  We found ourselves in what looked like the dodgiest part and quickly turned around to get out.

After about 10 minutes of walking and a Diet Coke break for me, we were now on the “right” side of Rambla and in front of a place called Los Caracoles (  I ate here the first time I was ever in Barcelona and have very fond memories of it.  I have read many reviews saying it is a tourist trap and that may be true, but it is an atmospheric restaurant that, in a way, resembles a fun house with all of the steps and different rooms in the place.  The decor is reminiscent of the time it was open, 1835, and I found it quite cozy.  The menu is vast and everything we had was good.  The servers are a bit curt, but efficient.  After telling Chris all of this, he wanted to keep looking.

Somehow, we made it down some dark, narrow street until we were on top of a place called El Paraguayo (  Chris said this was the one.  I was hesitant, but agreed.  Nothing about this place from the outside was inviting whatsoever.  After walking in, I had the same feeling.  The decor is God awful.  As a matter of fact, decor is a kind word.  We were one of 3 tables in the place, so we got very prompt attention.  I was a bit nervous to eat in the place, but Chris was excited by everything about it, especially the menu. I guess I was just being a bit snobbish, which is usually his job.  This is one of those small family run joints that are all about the food and nothing else.  Decor doesn’t matter if the food is good. We ordered a bottle of wine and our steaks.  Chris had his morcilla as an appetizer and was in heaven.  We were transported back to Argentina for a couple of hours.

After dinner we had a wander.  Party boy was feeling the fatigue from his all-night festivities and a cold was coming on.  We stopped in to a bar called Cafe Schilling (, which had a mixed crowd of locals and tourists.  We ordered drinks and scanned the room for potential people to chat.  The atmosphere in here was good.  I could have chilled here for a few hours, but about 5 minutes after the drinks were on the table Chris had to wave the white flag of surrender.  The mind was willing, but the body was completely unable.  He had shut down.  He left me with his Cosmo and headed off for the hotel.  I wasn’t ready to retire on my last night in the city and my new friend, Eduardo, was going to email if he could get back from his client dinner meeting down south, which he was hopeful he could.  I was going to stick it out a little longer in hopes that he could too.

I moved from our table to the bar in hopes of striking up a conversation with someone to kill time waiting for Eduardo.  The only available chair was next to a couple that were very into one another at that moment in time, so there was no chance of chatting with them.  I decided to finish my drinks and head down the road to a familiar spot, the Irish pub called Molly’s Fair City (

I entered Molly’s, a familiar spot from previous trips.  It is a typical Irish bar with multiple levels and Guinness flowing.  This is always a good spot to meet expats and football fans.  The atmosphere is typically very lively with music cranking. On this particular night, it wasn’t very crowded at all.  I pulled up a stool and ordered a harp.  The two gents next to me didn’t wait long before they struck up conversation with me.  They were also Americans from the west coast.  Beer and conversation flowed for quite some time, but still no word from Eduardo:-(  I continued hanging with these two guys.  We were having a good time and suddenly they got really weird.  It was time to go for sure.  Eduardo clearly wasn’t going to make it and I couldn’t hang with these clowns any longer. I made a run for it and took a cab back to the hotel.

Monday, February 20

My flight was at 12:40pm, so it would be an early departure from the airport.  Chris and I wandered over to Passeig de Gracia to grab a bite before I headed for the train station.  This time it really would only take 5 minutes!  We pulled up to an outdoor table at a restaurant on the street.  It was an average place, but did the trick.  Chris and I rehashed the weekend and had some good laughs over our foolishness.  That is what these weekends are all about.  I headed out for the airport and Chris headed back to the hotel to rest up before his flight.  Good time had by all.  I met tall, dark and handsome and we actually stayed in touch for a bit, but what’s the point, really.  I am not moving there and he is not moving here.  Clearly, that would go nowhere.  He is now a distant memory like the trip, but a good one for sure.  Next time I am going for the full package-tall, dark and handsome rich man. 

As I said, Chris and I never made it to most of the places on my list, but no matter.  We made it to places that weren’t on my list and that I would definitely go back to on another visit.  The places I missed will have to wait until next time, and there will be a next time. Every time I make it back to Barcelona I discover a new area, new shops, new restaurants and I am pleasantly surprised. The city is an old friend, but a friend  that is constantly growing and evolving, revealing qualities and attributes that I have never before seen.  To think of Barcelona as merely a place to see Gaudi architecture and stroll La Rambla is to cheat the city as well as yourself.  Barcelona’s layers are many and you will be rewarded for digging for the deepest of them.

South America Post Trip Report: Argentina

19 Oct

Well, back in January I said I would be back with the post for the Argentina portion of the trip.  Yes, I realize it is now September–a full 9 months later.  I could give you many excuses, best of which could be the 9 month timeframe actually did mean I was focused on nurturing a baby.  Not so, I am afraid.  I have no excuses.  The only baby I have been nurturing is this over-grown one. I am back, as promised, and ready to give this all a go again.  This posting may not be as colorful as the last and may run a little long, but I will try to recall as many details as possible and present them as concisely as I can.  Note to self: Do not wait 9 months to post details of your vacation.

Thursday, December 30th

Were was I?  Oh, leaving Santiago for Buenos Aires.  After a very early morning wake up call, Debbie and I made it to the airport only for me to have to trek to some mildew-infested office to track down my luggage.  I gave the airline employee my luggage tag with my name and the numbers on it.  She disappeared into a storage room to pull the bag.  After what seemed an hour, she came back only to tell me she couldn’t find it.  Deep breaths, Kelly.  Deep breaths.  I was then invited back to the room to see if I could identify my bag myself.  Seriously??  What is wrong with these people?  Is there nobody in the airline industry that can think logically?  Instead of throwing all of the delayed luggage into a room willy-nilly, how about we arrange the bags according to their numeric tag numbers.  There’s one option, or, call me crazy, how about the novel idea of alphabetically?  This, I realize, is all a bit too organized and efficient for an airline, so instead I spent another 20 minutes climbing over piles of luggage, tossing–seriously tossing–other passenger’s luggage aside to dig for my own.  Every man for himself here.  I had a flight to catch.  Sorry! 

FINALLY–cue the heavenly harp music–the bag appeared from the very bottom of the pile at the very back corner of the room.  Yeah!  Clean clothes, jewelry, shoes and actual outfit choices for the remainder of the trip.  Visions of me strutting down the streets of BA in my newly purchased, sexy clothes played in my head. Come on.  You know you’ve been there thinking that somehow you can go from boring, corporate girl to irresistible girl when you hit foreign soil.  Somehow, these foreigners will not be able to resist the temptation of you and your average American self.  The millions of people in your own city clearly have something wrong with them if they cannot see the super model in you. Life is more interesting when you are pretending to be someone else.

Now, do I still have time to make my flight?? Make it I did and we were on our way to BA for fun and festivities.  Our little duo would add a key ingredient to the party here–Chris, the instigator and wingman extraordinaire! Let the birthday party really begin!

Deb and I took a taxi to the hotel (about 45 minutes and 60 pesos or 15USD).  On this drive what struck me was just how large and spread out this city is. I did not expect that. Deb had used her points and booked us in at the Marriott Plaza Hotel on Florida in the Retiro district.  Not my kind of hotel and I would have preferred staying in San Telmo or Palermo, but free is always good.  It is listed as a “luxury” property.  It was built in 1909 and certain features, like no elevator access on the lobby level, make this fact very clear.  You have to drag your suitcases up or down a set of stairs to get to an elevator.  This, of course, is why God created bellmen.  Thank you, God! Rooms are a bit dated, but very large and clean.  The property has a pool, which came with the hottest lifeguard I had seen since my teenage years on the beaches of Jersey.  Seriously, Wow is all I can say–athletic build, deeply tanned skin and piercing blue eyes.  Again, Wow!  They don’t grow them like that in NYC. Suddenly, there was no need to do anything but sit by the pool on afternoon #1.  We were thoroughly content and entertained.

Chris met us at the pool.  It was crowded with few chairs.  We were lucky to snag a few precious lounge chairs, but they were not quite far enough from the obnoxious group of drunk American dirt bags. Lounge chairs in Santiago wouldn’t have been far enough away from this group.  Why?  Why do these people exist and how do they afford these trips??  This is when I claim Canadian citizenship if anyone asks.  It was like Jersey Shore hits Buenos Aires.  Thankfully, it didn’t take long for this band of idiots to get kicked out of the pool area, so we could get back to sunning and staring at the hottie lifeguard without distraction.

As the entire pool discussed the idiotic behavior of these muppet heads, we got to chatting with the girl next to us, a young, thin, beautiful blonde from Australia.  We came to find out that she was “stuck” in Argentina because she didn’t have the proper visa to go to Brazil to meet her boyfriend for New Year’s Eve. Do a little Google search before you leave, people, or you may get stuck spending  days with the likes of us.  We couldn’t let this poor girl spend days by herself in the city, so we invited her to join us for dinner and drinks that night as well as got to work securing her a seat at our table for the sold-out New Year’s Eve party we had reserved.

After sufficient pool time, we all headed to our respective rooms for some rest and showers.  We met in the lobby and headed out in search of some Argentinean meat, both of the bovine and the male homosapien types.  First things first.  We headed to El Trapiche in the Palermo district.  The place was huge and the menu was even larger.  This is a typical Argentinean family spot and was filled with locals, who it seemed all knew each other and the owners.  There was a very homey and friendly vibe. I do believe we were the only tourists in the place, which is a good thing.  You know if the locals are eating there, it has to be good and it was.  Chris ordered a rather large slab of meat, which he ordered as his always does–still moving.  This is hard to translate from English to Spanish, so Chris took to using sign language of sorts, quickly turning over his hand from one side to the other making a searing noise.  It was something like “sss, sss, off”, trying to convey his raw message.  After sending back 2 steaks, they got his Neanderthal message and Chris got his raw steak with sear marks.

After paying the extremely cheap dinner bill (something like $20/person for apps, mains and drinks), we were off for some nightlife.  We walked down the road from the restaurant to find several bars to try out.  We landed at Carnal (, a bar with a rooftop terrace.  We made our way up to the terrace level and tried to order drinks from the waiter, Mr. Grumpopotamus.  It took a while, but with a bit of persistence and charm we finally got his attention and placed our order for Cosmos all around.  Since Captain Slow was our waiter, we ordered another round the next time we saw him even though we were nowhere near finished the first round and asked for the check.  We were going to search out some other signs of life in the neighborhood. We stopped in another unremarkable spot for a drink and decided to then call it a night.  It had been a very long day for Debbie and me and we wanted to get our beauty sleep for the big NYE celebrations.

Friday, December 31st – New Years Eve

We spent the day wandering and taking in sights.  We hit the obligatory Recoleta Cemetary and the surrounding area in the morning.  Debbie and I then moved on to Palermo/Palermo Soho for shopping.  There are so many great boutiques–too many to single out.  Spend a day wandering the streets and shopping.  grab lunch at one of the many restaurants with sidewalk tables.  One place in which I found several things was a place called Calma Chica (  They have great animal skin pillow covers and hide rugs.  There are other nice leather goods on offer as well. Check out for a comprehensive list of Buenos Aires shopping (

After purchasing our wares, we headed back to the hotel for some afternoon sun.  Deb and I sat by the pool with our new Aussie friend, Nadine, and Chris hoofed it over from his apartment rental to join us for some pre-NYE cocktails poolside.  No awful Americans in sight and the hottie lifeguard was back on duty.  Life is good!

We had booked a Tango show and dinner at El Querandi ( Milena Scarcella was extremely helpful in helping me book and made the impossible 4th seat appear for our new Aussie friend. New Year’s Eve options are very limited (see previous post for more info), so this seemed like a good option. We had complementary transportation included in our NYE booking.  The transport would pick us up from the hotel at 7:30pm.  The 3 beauties were ready and waiting with the rest of the crowd, but the man of the group was nowhere to be found.  As I nervously texted him to see what the holdup was, I gave false, reassuring smiles to the 20 other passengers that were growing ever impatient while we waited for my wingman. Suddenly, at about 7:40pm Chris came flying down the street, sweat dripping down his temples.  He had underestimated the time it would take him to make the roundtrip between the hotel and his apartment.  We kept the entire bus waiting, but only encountered a few nasty looks upon boarding.  Off we went to El Querandi.

Upon arrival, we were escorted to our table and immediately served champagne.  The place was full of NYE revelers ready to have fun and party.  After a few rounds of champagne, the stage show began.  Strangely, the tango show started with a comedian performing some terrible magic tricks while telling jokes in Spanish.  Our energy level went from high and excited to low and disappointed.  I didn’t pay $250 for some cheesy magic show.  We all glanced at one another over the table with the same look.  No need to say anything.  If this is what our NYE had in store for us, we were in for a very long night, and not in a good way.

Thankfully, our comic bomb left the stage and dinner was served, along with more alcohol of our choosing.  We all needed a few to help erase the memory of those tragic “comic” moments.  The dinner was quite good, surprisingly, or at least much better than expected.  The tango show began after dinner and the drinks kept flowing.  The tango show was decent.  Our seats were not the best for viewing.  We had a bad angle, but the upside to that is that we were pretty close to the bar:-)  This was New Year’s after all!  The tango show wrapped up close to midnight.  We were not quite sure what to expect after the midnight toast.  Do we go home?  Can we stay and imbibe for an hour?  What was included?  We had already gotten $250 worth of alcohol for sure. To our surprise, there was a DJ playing tunes.  The crowd, including our table, hit the dance floor.  At this point we all had enough drinks to help us believe we were part of Paula Abdul’s dance troop.  One of the bartenders joined us on the dance floor and proceeded to grab me for some salsa dancing.  That’s right, Sally-Sit-in-the-Corner was dancing salsa with a hot bartender.  I have never danced a step of salsa in my life.  At this moment I was wondering why.  I was feeling so free and alive,  like I haven’t felt in a very long time.  Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone has its rewards, like dancing and flirting with hot Argentinean men into the wee hours of the morning.  As a matter of fact, there was a competition for my attention between 2 men.  The one I liked naturally gave up first.  Wingman to the rescue! Chris swooped in, gave him a few well-phrased lines and the next thing I know he was at my table asking me to dance.  Mission accomplished.  Georgie and I continued our New Year’s celebration with more dancing and laughing into the early hours of the morning. I think it is actually better when you cannot understand a word each other is saying.  It makes for a much more enjoyable date.  You cannot tell if he is full of shite or himself and you don’t care! 

Party over and reality raining down, or should I say sun coming up, I had to hit the hay.  We were flying to Iguazu Falls that afternoon. Georgie dropped me off at the hotel and carried on home.  I knew I would never see him again, but that didn’t matter.  I had an amazing night with a wonderful group of friends, old and new, and Stella got her groove back by stepping out of her comfort zone and just having fun.  If day 1 was any indication, this was going to be a good year!

Saturday, January 1st

Thankfully, our flight up to the falls was not until mid-afternoon.  This gave us time to sleep in, pack up AND get an hour or so by the pool before leaving for the airport.  We said goodbye to our now single friend, Nadine, and headed out. (remember Nadine was supposed to be meeting a boyfriend in Brazil and said boyfriend basically said I am not coming to Argentina to rescue you.  You are on your own.  See you back in Australia.  Not so much.  Adios, jacka$$). 

The flight up is a short one, only 1 hour and 45.  I had researched many hotels and decided upon La Aldea de Selva (  After driving by the many hotels, which were right  along the main road, I think we made a good decision.  La Aldea is off the main road in a natural setting. This place is more like a lodge with separate cabins.  The staff was wonderfully warm and welcoming and the grounds were lovely. 

We settled in to our rooms and rested before dinner, which was served in the main lodge.  They had a special BBQ theme that night and served continuously a selection of meats and side dishes until everyone was full.  Dessert was also included and, naturally, we had red wine.  Still suffering from our New Year’s extravaganza, we were all ready to head back to the rooms to relax.  I brought our bottle of wine back and we sipped it out on our private deck swinging in the hammock listening to the harmonic jungle symphony under the night sky, which was now blanketed with stars.  What a wonderfully relaxing night!

Sunday, January 2nd

We booked our falls excursion through the hotel.  We decided on the “Great Adventure” excursion, which included roundtrip transport from the hotel, entrance into the park, a guided walking and jeep tour and a boat excursion into the canyon of the Devil’s Throat under the waterfalls.  By far the best bit of the trip was the boat trip.  First of all, after trekking through the jungle for 2.5 hours in the middle of the summer, these sweat-soaked travelers were in dire need of any breeze or spray the boat could throw our way.  Packing on a rather large life vest was the last thing any of us wanted to do, but once that boat got moving, we got exactly what we needed.  These speedboats hurl themselves up river and into the path of the falling water.   After about 20 minutes and three falls, we got soaked!  What fun!  Can we do it again?  Unfortunately, we had to disembark and take another trek through the jungle to jeeps that would bring us back to the park entrance.  There are a bunch of shops and some restaurants serving really crappy food.  I got–what else–Pringles and a diet coke to hold me over until dinner back at the lodge.

We made it back to the lodge by 5:00pm.  The sun was still hot enough to spend a couple of hours by the pool.  We sipped some cool Caipirinhas as we baked in the hot summer sun.  Life doesn’t get much better than this!

The dinner choices were to eat at the lodge again or head into Puerto Iguazu to check out the locale scene.  I voted for the latter, but my cohorts out-voted me.  We ate in the lodge again and had a repeat of the night before.  It would have been nice to see what there was to see, which probably wasn’t much, but c’est la vie!  You cannot win them all.

Monday, January 3rd

Our return flight to Buenos Aires wasn’t until 2:00pm, so we were able to squeeze in a bit more pool time before heading to the airport for some fun with check-in.  Chris and I had no issue checking in.  Debbie, however, did have an issue or, more accurately, a breakdown.  Her traveling companions were of no support. As she struggled with the desk agent, pulling document after document from her bags with things sprawled all over the floor, we sat back gasping for breath because we were laughing at the scene now being created and the stares coming her way.  Oh, and we took a few pictures for posterity.  Nothing like supportive friends to help you get through the first few hours of your 30-hour journey home.  The last time I saw this sort of display from Deb was the morning of our transfer from the W to the airport in Santiago.  I heard more F-words dropped from her mouth that morning than in the entire time I have known her.  Again, a very comedic situation in which I enjoyed several belly laughs at my friend’s expense (hiding in the bathroom, of course, so she couldn’t see me laughing right at her and this unreasonable behavior). 

Debbie was heading home to Chicago while Chris and I stayed on in BsAs for another week.  We got Deb in a cab to get from Jorge Newbery Airport (domestic) to Ezeiza International.  Chris and I cabbed it to our apartments.  Chris was in the same apartment for the entire stay, so we were able to leave most of  the baggage behind when traveling to the falls.  I was able to rent an apartment in the same building, which made it easy for us.  I researched many, many rental companies and properties.  Since Chris and I went back and forth for much too long on hotel vs apartment/house rental, most of the really good ones with pools or backyards were rented. 

As I said, I was able to get two studio apartments in the same building.  Chris had a 3rd floor apartment with small terrace.  I had a slightly larger apartment on the 6th floor (top) that was slightly larger and had a nice sunny balcony.  There is where the niceness sort of ends.

Upon entering my apartment I was knocked over by the smell of cigarettes and dirty ashtrays.  It was absolutely disgusting.  This coming from a smoker, so you know it was bad. Whoever was in that apartment before me did nothing but smoke for a week non-stop and clearly didn’t open the terrace doors to let any fresh air into the apartment.

The apartment was dirty when I arrived with no towels or toilet paper.  No TP?  Come on!  Throw me a bone here.  I’ve just traveled from northern Argentina only to find no TP in my dirty, smelly apartment.  I would have to borrow some from Chris until I get myself to the store for that a nd the largest bottle of Fabreeze air freshener I could find.

When you rent, you are responsible to buy your own food, shampoo, etc., but you think they could throw in a roll of TP until you are able to get to a store to buy supplies.  On top of the TP emergency and the stench that made me feel like I was EATING an ashtray instead of just breathing in the after effects, the towel bars in the bathroom were broken, the window cranks no longer existed, the kitchen lacked a corkscrew (May Day!  No wine with no corkscrew) and several other basic kitchen utensils, the window shade for the sliding glass door was rolled up in a corner and the 2 chairs on the terrace had holes in the seat clear through.  Is this a joke and why wasnt I invited to that party?  Must have been a hell of one for sure.

According to my rental company, Rent in BA, the apartment was definitely cleaned before I arrived. BsAs–BullShitASs_ _ _ _ _!  If the maid had even given the cleaning agent one squirt in the sink or on the floor, you would have been able to smell it.  Any differing scent from the smoke, good or bad, could have been detected.  I was too tired to fight, so decided to leave that for my departure and take a nap on the bed before heading out for the night.  If the rest of the apartment looks like this, what is going on with the sheets??  F-it.  I am willing to take my chances. I have slept in worse places. I am tired and diving in for a nap.

Other than the fact that this apartment was dirty and in ill-repair, it was actually a nice building with a pool, elevator and 24-hour doorman.  I might give Rent in BA another chance, but would insist on some sort of cleaning clause in the agreement and be sure to inquire about smoking v non-smoking apartment.  As I said, I smoke, but that is for outside the apartment on the terrace, not in it!

Chris and I headed out for dinner and drinks.  Since it was Monday night and we were still a bit tired from our travels, we decided to stay pretty local.  We ate at the steak place across the street from our apartment. Parrilla la Dorita is on Bulnes and Cabello (  It is one of about five in the city.  They offer a typical Argentinean menu of steaks and other meats.  When I say typical, keep in mind that Argentinean beef is probably the best in the world, so this place was typically delicious.

Monday nights in Buenos Aires, like most cities in the world, are not the most exciting.  People are recovering from the weekend and getting ready to do it all over again come Wednesday, at least that’s how I do it here in NYC.  Monday is always a day of rest after Sunday Funday.  Chris and I, however, decided to venture out to see what trouble we could find.  We took a stroll to Mundo Bizarro in Palermo on Serrano  This place felt like other bars I have been to before in Chicago and Santa Barbara.  It has a sort of 50’s American vibe serving cocktails of the era with their own spin on them.  Cocktails were yummy and the service friendly.  The crowd, however, was thin.  We were not going to find the trouble we were looking for here or anywhere else in the neighborhood.  After a few drinks and some nice conversation with fellow travelers, Chris and I wandered Palermo and ended up in the area of Armenia and Costa Rica. 

Plaza Armenia (Armenia Square) is an area with several old school as well as trendy bars and restaurants.  Great place . for people watching. Unfortunately for us, many were either closing early because it was Monday and slow or they were full with no seats.  We ended up in a bar called Sugar on Costa Rica near Armenia (  The bar was a sort of sports bar with a lounge area in the back filled with 20-something girls and boys.  A 30-something gay man’s hell, but Chris got through it by flirting with the bartender even though he knew this god, I mean guy, wasn’t on his team.  This man was WOW–6’4″, built like an Adonis and with the looks of an Armani model–the hottest man I would see in Buenos Aires or, as it turns out, in all of my travels to this point this year. It is not often that I cannot control my staring or am at a loss for words, but it is not often that you are treated to a vision like that.  After we picked up our jaws off the bar, we ordered some drinks and chatted with the 2 bartenders for a bit.  We were the only 2 at the bar, so they had nowhere to run or hide.  After a few cocktails, Chris left in pursuit of–how shall I say–more attainable (and desirable) things and I called it a night and headed back to the smokestack, aka my apartment. Mr. Rich Wonderful Millionaire would have to wait another day to meet me.

Tuesday, January 4th

All of Chris’ late-night shenanigans finally caught up with him. He wasn’t feeling fabulous with a head cold coming on, so he decided to stay in bed and chill.  I ventured out and decided I was going to finally hit the San Telmo area.  Armed with a suggested walking tour, I headed out the door in Palermo and walked my way to San Telmo.  I knew I had a long walk ahead of me, but I love to walk and I think this is the best way to get to know a city.  Walk, get lost and stumble upon things the guidebooks don’t point out.  I did not, however, realize that the walk was 8.3 miles ONE WAY!  I would not be making the roundtrip via foot.

Along the way, I saw many of the “required” sights, Casa Rosada (think “Dont Cry for Me, Argentina” scene in Evita) being one of them.  I walked through Plaza de Mayo, the center point of political life and the continued scene of protests by the mothers and grandmothers of desaparecidos, those who “disappeared” during the Dirty War. I recently watched a documentary featuring one of the children that survived these atrocities only to find out that her “father” was actually the man who killed her biological mother and father and then took and raised her as his own.  She, of course, didn’t know this until she was in her 20’s. How does one grapple with that realization??

After strolling through this beautiful, but somber place, I carried on walking through Montserrat. This is Buenos Aires’ oldest neighborhood and even today, very little of the cityscape here is less than a hundred years old. I stopped in a ubiquitous church, as a good Catholic girl always does.  After some photos and a few prayers (family, friends, health, blah, blah, blah…now give me that winning lottery ticket already!  I have been more than patient, dear Lord…) I strolled down Alsina in search of my rest stop.

My road-weary bones needed a rest and a snack before dinner, so I stopped at La Puerto Rico Cafe, and old-school cafe started in 1887 on Adolfo Alsina These are the kinds of places I seek out on vacations, places steeped in history and oozing character from every crevice.  With the exception of the new-ish stage for the tango shows they now host, this place is like stepping back to another time.  Despite soaring ceilings held up by massive old columns, this cavernous space manages to feel small and intimate. At the heart of it, this place is still an old school cafe and gathering place for locals where they can sip their espresso while enjoying small sandwiches and sweet treats over lively conversation.  Being it was after 12 o’clock and I was on vacation, I felt it was only right that I order red wine and a jamon crudo y queso.  Tea and sweets weren’t going to do the trick.

I spent a good hour sipping my wine (it was a half carafe, and, yes, I drank it all) while reading at a table in the front window.  My timing for this pit stop couldn’t have been better since it started raining very shortly after I sat and stopped just as I was paying my bill.  Maybe that stop in the church up the road was a good idea.  The Lord was looking out for me weather wise.  A lottery win can not be far off.

I wandered the small streets of Montserrat toward my end goal, Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo.  This was the Buenos Aires I was waiting to see.  I travel for many reasons, but one of the biggest is to experience the architecture of old places like this.  The buildings, many decaying and suffering from neglect, take me to that place where I start seeing what could be and, more importantly, what was.  I can envision these streets 100 years ago.  Even though most of these buildings are suffering from a bit neglect and age, I can see through that and see them as they were in their glory days and as they can be today if given some love and attention.  Am I still talking about buildings or myself?  Anyway, this wonderfully bohemian area has much to offer the eye as well as the stomach and I was careful to take note of several spots Chris and I might try after dinner.

After stopping in numerous antiques stores and other fun shops, I finally made it to Plaza Dorrego. This square is surrounded by bars and restaurants of all types. Take your pick.  Mine was Bar Plaza Dorrego, the oldest bar in Buenos Aires, established in 1881. You can feel the history in here and you can also become part of it by etching your name in the wood panels. Grab a seat by the window or across the street in the plaza for a beer and complimentary peanuts. I believe there is a daily tango show in the plaza at 1:30pm.  There is also dancing action after the antiques market breaks down on Sundays and, I imagine, almost any other time the spirit moves these people.

I sat at a table in the window, watching the world pass me by and soaking in the atmosphere of this place while I waited for my partner in crime to head to dinner. Chris showed up looking pale and tired.  The head cold was in full force, but since he hadn’t eaten all day and he is not one to give up a fight, not even to a cold that dares to challenge him on vacation, Chris was ready for a meal.  I was armed with a few recommendations from friends that had been here recently.  Sagardi or Amici Miei?? Both had gotten rave reviews. Sagardi has a Basque menu and is know for their pinxtos, or tapas  Amici Miei is a modern Italian restaurant in a lovely 2nd floor location overlooking the plaza If you are looking for a little romance, reserve one of the balcony tables for 2. Chris and I chose this one because, well,  it was 2 doors down from Bar Plaza Dorrego. Additionally, neither of us had eaten Italian since arriving in Argentina.  It was an easy choice and Chris being in the condition he was in didnt want to fuss.  The atmosphere was nice and the service very good. Chris had the duck and I had pasta.  Both were very good.  I can also remember the bread served being delicious.  Neither of us being huge dessert people, we decided to go for a wander around the area.

We strolled around and happened upon one of the places I had noted earlier. Bar El Federal ( has been around since the late 18oo’s and is another of those places overflowing with character and atmosphere, especially at this time of night.  I think we got there around 10:00pm and the place was bustling with portenos enjoying an evening meal or catching up with friends over drinks. This isn’t a bar in the American sense of the word.  Sure they serve drinks, but it is a restaurant, coffeehouse, dessert bar and social club all in one. 

We managed to get a small table at the front.  After searching through the wood-covered menu, I decided on a glass of sangria.  It was apparent that Chris’ full medicinal assault on this cold was a lost battle, so he ordered a Coke. Our drinks arrived after a few minutes and it was very clear that  my sign language of pushing my hands together to indicate a small glass of sangria was read a small pitcher.  Ooops.  Ah, how I love when things get lost in translation!  More for me.  The good Lord truly was shining favor on me today.

I was just hitting my stride and ready to paint the town red, but with my co-pilot down for the count things were not looking good.  Half pitcher of sangria remaining, Chris needed his bed which meant it was time for us to hit the bricks and call it a night.  Damn!  The Lord’s luck was lost already??  I knew it was too good to last, but he could have at least given me a full 24 hours.  Keep the lottery win, dear Jesus.  Just bring me a tall, dark and handsome millionaire.  Ask and ye shall receive, my a$$!

Wednesday, January 5th

You know you are on a fabulous vacation when you can sleep in until noon and not care.  There is no panic that you are running out of time and missing half of the things you need to see.  The key to this, of course, is taking at least 2 weeks.  We Americanos are extremely unfamiliar with this concept.  We get 1 consecutive week, if we are lucky, and try to shove as much into 6 days as one could fit into 6 months.  We return more exhausted than when we left.  Why are we torturing ourselves?  Where is the balance?  I am one of the lucky ones that gets 4 weeks paid vacation plus holidays and personal days.  I could do with 1 more. My brother gets 1 week.  Can you imagine?  Working 53 weeks a year with time for only 1 short break or 2 mini breaks. It is ludicrous and nobody should be asked to do that, but I digress.

I slept in and Chris needed more rest.  After pulling myself together, I wandered around the neighborhood and hit Alto Palermo shopping mall.  This is a very modern shopping mall with all the shops you could want under one roof.  Being told how cheap things were in BsAs, I was looking forward to finding a few bargain treasures to add to my closet.  Find I did not.  Clothing, leather and most other items were as expensive if not more expensive than in New York.  You can get a cheap cab ride and a cheap meal. Sadly, however, you will not be building a new wardrobe in Buenos Aires unless, of course, that elusive tall dark and handsome millionaire is by your side.  God, a little help here, please! Mama needs a new pair of shoes…and a dress and…

I had a bit of a rest back at the apartment and then Mr. Sniffles and I headed out to have some cocktails before dinner down in Puerto Madero.  Chris had 2 friends from London coming into town and we were going to meet them for a bite port side. Puerto Madero is the old port area which has been revitalised.  Restaurants, bars and shops have taken the place of decaying warehouses.  Chris and I had decided on a steakhouse, who name now escapes me, which is of no consequence since after several strolls up and down the cobblestones in heels, we came to the conclusion that it was definitely closed for business.

Feet sore and blisters developing (Self, remind me why I chose to wear heels when I never, EVER do?  Rookie vacation mistake), we headed down the waterside promenade to another place called El Potrillo(  We grabbed an outside table and settled in for our meal.  Cosmos ordered, we were now faced with the difficult task of choosing items from the menu.  Everything sounded fantastic. This place is a what I can only describe as a meatateria and it is fabulous!  We walked in from the waterside.  What we missed from the street side was the massive open grill where our Flintstone-sized steaks would be cooked.  There is also a wonderfully expansive wine room holding over 200 different wines.  God is back on my side!

After an extremely filling and delicious meal and 4, maybe 5, rounds of drinks, we were ready to head up the promenade to make our way to my Argentinean birthday celebration.  On our walk up, we were treated to a wonderful fireworks display.  we have no idea what is was for, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  It is always great when traveling to get caught in the middle of a locale celebration you knew nothing about. It is these little surprises that are most memorable.

Jon and Clive decided they needed to call it a night since they had basically come straight from London to dinner in Buenos Aires.  Disappointed, but undeterred, Chris and I headed to the Faena Hotel’s Library Lounge ( , where a hotel industry acquaintance of mine did me a VERY nice favor and reserved an area for us to celebrate my birthday.  We were happy for the table and he mentioned we could have a drink on him.  Little did we know he had something else entirely arranged.

Walking into the Faena Hotel + Universe is enough to make you feel like a rock star with its Phillipe Starck interior and top-notch service.  Doors are open for you while warm welcomes abound.  Walking along the grand hall with its red carpet and the 2-story tall mirrors and doorways running symmetrically down the length of it, you feel like you are in a mini, modern-day, Asian inspired Versailles.  Starck certainly knows how to make an impact, and he didn’t miss here.

When we approached the Library Lounge the hostess greeted us with her clipboard.  It was nice to know we were “on the list”.  When I gave her my name, glanced at the list and seemed to be at a loss.  Chris and I looked at one another thinking this was a wasted trip.  Where to next?  To our complete and utter surprise out came the hotel manager to greet us personally and escort us to our “table”.  This explains the questionable look and the frazzled reaction to our arrival.  We really were rock stars for the night.

The manager took us to our area in the back of the room.  We had an entire lounge area to ourselves–large comfy sofa, oversized lounge chairs and ornate cocktail table.  There was a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for us along with a 3-tiered dessert tray with all sorts of confections.  If we were half empty, the manager came running to fill our glasses.  Now that’s what I call service!

Happy with our drinks and sweet treats, we sat back and enjoyed the music.  As we lounged on the sofa withy bubbly in hand, another manager came out carrying a birthday cake with a sparkler.  With only one person by my side instead of the expected three, the singing of happy birthday was a bit weak, but Wow, what a birthday surprise!  Ted rocks! (Ted being my hotel acquaintance.  I am not just drunkenly shouting random names, though I wouldn’t be surprised at this point in the evening.  Let’s see, cosmos and wine at dinner, bottle of champagne, 2 more cosmos…)

As the band wrapped up and the crowd thinned, Chris and I figured we would have a Cosmo poolside.  The manager shuffled us out to a lovely table and brought us the requested drinks.  This, we were sure, was now on us.  Wrong!  After 2 cosmos each, we requested the bill from our waiter only to be told there was none.  Ted, you really rock!

As drunken intelligence as does, it told us we needed more.  Off we went to Asia de Cuba ( for a nightcap.  It is now Lord knows what time, probably 2:00am.  This is prime time in Buenos Aires when things are just really kicking off.  Chris and I entered after being carded by a doorman I lovingly dubbed Lurch–this guy was massive and not very attractive, but lovely to talk to on my smoke breaks.  We headed for the bar for our 27th cocktail of the evening.  Nobody explained this crazy nightclub system to me and I didn’t read about it in any guides.  To me it is ass backwards, but clearly I am missing something.  You have to flag down a “bartender” to order your drinks.  This can take anywhere from 5 minutes to an eternity.  Drinks ordered, you pay and the bartender then gives you drink vouchers.  Que???  You then have to flag down someone else behind the bar to take your vouchers and actually make the drinks.  The whole process took over 20 minutes.  Annoying as it was, Chris and I really didn’t need any more alcohol, now did we.  It gave us time to scan the crowd and look for potential victims.  Drinks in hand, we decided to do a loop and take a closer look.

Somehow in the chaos of the crowd, I lost my wingman.  I finished my loop and returned to where we started thinking Chris would have gone back there as well.  He would show up eventually.  The place is only so big, right? In the meantime, I struck up conversation with those around.  None of them the future Mr. Right, but a few potential Mr. Right Nows.

At least an hour passed and there was no sign of Chris.  I did several more loops in search and had several more drinks.  Doing loops makes you thirsty.  I gave up and figured he had just had it with this young, hetero scene and made a break for the young, gay scene.  I would catch up with him in the morning.  Who am I kidding?  It was morning.  I would see him that afternoon.  In the meantime, I picked up conversation with a tall, dark porteno (notice I did not include handsome or rich) and danced the night(morning) away with him.  With the sun up and the sunlight shining a clear light on my Asia de Cuba partner, I decided it was time to head to bed, but not before having to give my little local friend cab fare to get home.  He had spent all his money wooing me. See, neither handsome nor rich.

Thursday, January 6th

OUCH!!  This was hangover day.  Holy Cow. Cosmos, wine, champagne, cosmos, rum, vodka…I stayed in bed until at least 2pm.  Nursing my hangover with cigarettes and Diet Coke (there were no Pringles left), Chris sent me a text on his way home from his early morning activities.  He was feeling the pain as well and wanted greasy food.  He was in front of McDonald’s and taking orders.  Yes, please! I love you, Chris!! 

Having felt like I just barely cheated death, I managed to get myself in the shower and slowly pull myself together to head out for–you guessed it–more drinks.  Lord, save my liver.  This is my last night in South America. The birthday trip was coming to an end and I had yet to meet the tall, dark and handsome millionaire. Why do you hide?  It is inevitable, so might as well surrender now, luv.

Having caught up on rest, Jon and Clive were ready for a night out.  Chris and I headed to their hotel and had cocktails poolside while we waited for them to get pretty.  After–what else–cosmos, we headed to one of the many places on my list of restaurant/bars to try.  We piled in a cab and headed for Grand Bar Danzon (

All of the write-ups and personal recommendations on this place must be right.  The place was packed and we would have to wait over an hour for a table. With no seats at the bar, we decided we would head for another spot on my list, Casa Cruz (

Casa Cruz is a fabulously chic restaurant, oozing with class and style.  Chris managed to sweet talk our way in.  We hadn’t booked in advance and they were not happy about that, but they finally caved and sat us for dinner.  The food here is like no other we had in Argentina.  It is on par with that of the finest restaurants in London, New York and the world over.  Beautifully executed and sophisticated, we were all blown away with this meal from starters to mains to desserts.  We ate it all!  The service, as well as the food, was impeccable.  Find this restaurant in Buenos Aires, but don’t forget to make a reservation and make sure you are well dressed.  The waiters wear Converse, but they frown upon guests doing so.

After our fabulous meal we headed next door for an after-dinner drink.  Here we go with the crazy drink process of  buying your drinks and get a ticket only to go to the bar to order all over again.  I really don’t get how this is more efficient in any way other than pissing me off.  Normally it takes a good 5 minutes before I lose it on a bartender for being so slow.  This takes 2 seconds.  Regardless, we stay for 1 drink.  The crowd is very young, Jonathan and Clive are tired, so Chris and I leave with them.  They head back to their hotel and we head to my first gay bar of the entire trip.  How I was able to avoid this for so long is beyond me, but clearly Chris has been a good sport.  That is not to say that Chris hasn’t  had a chance to enjoy the gay culture of the city.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He saw more of gay Buenos Aires than I did of hetero.  We will leave it at that.

After about 45 minutes of house pumping music, watching multiple sets of boys make out on the dance floor, and numerous other “sightseeing” activities, we decided to call it a night. Things were only going to go very far downhill very quickly from here.  Back to the apartment in a cab I went with no tall, dark and handsome millionaire escorting me.  sadly my birthday blowout would end without finding Mr. Rich Wonderful.  C’est la vie.  There is always Barcelona in February and there is still hope in the airport or on the plane, right?

Friday, January 7th

Sadly, the trip is over and I cannot go on to Brazil with Chris.  We decide to have a wander around Palermo for some last-minute shopping and lunch before I have to head to the airport.  This is Chris’ last opportunity to gross me out with his menu choice and he takes full advantage.  He naturally has to order the morcilla, an oozey sausage that is enough to turn any normal person’s stomach by just watching someone cut into it.  I had a terrible hamburger and cold french fires.  How could this be my last meal in Buenos Aires?  What a bad pick, but anywhere we would have chosen couldn’t have topped the meals from the past two nights.

After picking up my bags at the apartment, Chris got me into a taxi and I was on my way to the airport.  Depression starts setting in.  Every time I am away this is the case when I am forced to face the facts that I have to go back to reality, which for me is a very boring job and somewhat boring social life.  The monotony of it all sucks the life out me, but I realized some things on this trip that could help change the picture.  I didn’t find Mr. Rich Wonderful, but I did find a bit more of me.  I learned a bit more about myself and what I need, instead of focusing on what I want.  I have a clearer picture of where I am headed and for that I am grateful.  I am sure the path is still not a straight one for me.  Not a chance in the world. I think it would be incredibly boring otherwise.  I will continue to live somewhere between the firm earth and the clouds and believe that good things are coming my way, even my tall, dark and handsome millionaire.

South America Post Trip Report: Chile

13 Jan

As my computer has died, I was unable to post throughout the journey, so here I offer a summary of the 2 weeks in South America.

Scheduled Departure Date: December 26th from JFK.  Yes, you read that right.  I was due to depart the day the blizzard hit the East Coast and hit it hard!  Naturally, I called LAN, my service provider, before heading to the airport and, naturally, they told me all flights were still scheduled to depart.  The chances of that were about as much as me fitting into my high school jeans, but I jumped in a taxi and headed to the airport early for fear that I wouldn’t even be able to get there if I waited much longer.  I was so early that I couldn’t even check my bags, so bag in tow I headed straight for the Palm Bar in Terminal 5.  Afterall, snow or no snow, this was my birthday trip.

Glass of wine in hand, I waited for my co-pilot on this adventure to meet me there.  While waiting, I chatted with the bartender and a lovely girl, Ashley, from Chicago on her way back to Dubai.  Little did I know at this point that these people would be my friends for 2 days as we endured the cold, food shortages and general discomfort of being in an airport for 2 days.  Thank God for alcohol! They never ran out of that.

After sleeping on the cold terrazzo floor overnight with no indication if or when we were going to get out, my co-pilot threw in the towel and headed back to Long Island.  I was now flying solo, navigating the obstacle course of bodies in terminal 8, trying to find something other than potato chips and diet coke before I boarded my plane.  The quest was in vain.  It seems I was always just a few minutes too late.  When I went back to the Palm Bar, they had just stopped serving, but promised they would re-open the kitchen soon.  My server from the night before, Hector, happily served me another Malbec.  Deja vu.  We were repeating Sunday all over again.  After 2 Malbecs, I was no longer hungry for steak or fries, so I just relished the fact that I had a comfortable seat in a warm spot instead of the cold floor of the terminal.

In spite of all of the horrors, the camaraderie of my fellow stranded travelers and terminal workers was something to appreciate.  I did not once see anyone lose it.  We were surprisingly calm and relaxed in the face of horrific conditions.

December 27th – My BIRTHDAY! After spending 32 hours in what was really airport hell–no food, massive, confused crowds, bodies lying everywhere and general hygiene issues, my flight for Santiago finally boarded.  Yeah!  I boarded the plane and was asleep before we even left the gate.  I went in to a 13 hour coma, not knowing I would wake up on the other side completely road- worn and without baggage.  Happy friggin’ birthday to me!

December 28th – I arrived Santiago late in the afternoon.  Dazed and confused, I made my way to immigration.  TIP: Pay close attention to signage.  I headed straight to immigration.  Mistake #1.  There is an area just before immigration, and it is very easy to walk right by it, where you need to pay the USD140 visa fee.  You must have this paper in your passport before heading to immigration.  Lesson learned and 40 minutes wasted.

After getting through immigration, I headed to the baggage claim area.  As I approached the belt with one lonely, green backpack working its way around and around again, my spirits sank.  One and a half days delayed? Not a big deal, I thought, and I was just so happy to be starting the big birthday trip.  No luggage?  Crap.  I needed a shower and a drink, and not necessarily in that order!

I grabbed a taxi to the W Hotel.  Taxi ran about USD40.  My friend, Debbie, who had been sitting poolside for days while I rolled around the floors of JFK, met me in the lobby.  It was decided that we needed to immediately head for the nearby mall before everything closed to pick me up a few shirts, etc.  To the relief of my liver and the peril of the general public within sniffing distance, my drink and shower would have to wait.

We were able to grab 3 shirts, a skirt and undergarments to get me through the next few days.  Tired and relieved just to have a few things, we decided to just eat in the outdoor food court area of this mall.  There were at least 10 restaurants to choose from and we choose, what else, Italian.  Italian in South America makes perfect sense, no?  The meal was ok, the wine delicious and the company great.  I was finally there and, baggage or no baggage, I was celebrating this birthday they way I intended, or at least as close as I was going to get it that night.

December 29th – I arranged a private tour guide/driver to take us to a few vineyards and down through Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.  Our guide, John, picked us up at 9:00am.  We had little idea what we were in for that day, but it did not take us long to figure out that this was going to be a day full of laughs.  I cannot say enough about John Gottlieb, his sense of humor and his warm, welcoming personality.  His energy is infectious. He is extremely knowledgable and has seen a great deal in his 60+ years.  It seems, though he never directly said it, he is connected on many levels within Chile.  Definitely a good person to have showing you the country. He is completely young both at heart and in mind.  As we were to find out, he is only one of 8 certified guides in Chile.  Chile actually has no tourism board and he is trying to build and grow this business with certified guides and build the reputation of Chile worldwide.  In a way, he is trying to start the Chile Tourism Board himself.

I would highly recommend him as a guide.  He has a unique outlook on life and is more than happy to share it with you.  This fact made the journey all the more interesting.  I really feel like I took away a great deal from this day spent with a wonderful stranger from Chile. One of my favorite travel quotes, which has become my mantra, is one from Miriam Beard.  “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sites; It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” I generally feel like my outlook changes with each new adventure, each new connection made, but I know for sure John changed my outlook in the 12 hours we spent together.  Maybe it was because I was looking for a change or needed a change or maybe it was because he just struck a chord with me.  Any way I shake it out, it doesn’t matter.  My ideas of living were changed that day and changed for the better, I think.

At some point in our journey between the hotel and our first stop, my friend, Debbie, told John a bit about her background.  Specifically, she told John that her grandfather, a Chicago police officer back in the day, used to play cards with Al Capone when they were teenagers.  John was so taken with this story that for the rest of the day that was the story he introduced us with to the dozens of people we would encounter that day, from the checkout clerk at the gas station mart to the construction workers at the vineyard to some police officers and more. Though my Spanish is less than up to snuff, it was very easy to understand Ca-pon-eh as is was coming out of John’s mouth.  The looks of amazement on people’s faces were priceless.  He turned us into stars for a day by making sure everyone understood this connection to a “celebrity”. 

We first headed for the Casablanca Valley and visited a winery called Vina Indomita.  For a very small amount in Chilean Pesos, we were shown to a private tasting room where an adorable, young man named Felix, guided us through 4 different wines, 2 white, 2 red.  At the insistence of our guide, John, he poured us a fifth–a bold, peppery red–that was their grand reserve.  As I said, John is a good person to have around!

After we completed the tasting and finished our photo shoot (at the insistence of John, of course) with the workers replacing the stone pavement outside, we hopped in the car and headed for Casas del Bosque.

Casas del Bosque is an absolutely beautiful winery–modern and aesthetically pleasing.  We found ourselves a spot on a sofa outside under the covered patio where we would have our tasting.  We requested reds only here.  Neither Debbie nor I care for white wine, really.  We tasted several good wines, but my favorite was a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah (I think).  We could have spent the entire afternoon lazing about in these beautiful surroundings, but it was time to forge on to the seaside towns of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.

As we wound our way down the mountain toward the seaside of Vina del Mar, I didn’t really see what I was expecting.  I had it in my head that these two towns were going to be polished, popular beach resorts.  To my surprise, Vina del Mar was less than polished.  It is an old seaside town that definitely shows its age.  Not that this is a terribly bad thing.  It is just not what I really expected.  In a way, this area brought me back to South Africa and my drive from Cape Town to Cape Point–the small seaside restaurants, the homes built into the hills–a quaint snapshot of South American living.

Our lunch stop was at one of these small seaside restaurants.  Had John not recommended it, I wouldn’t have even come close to walking in the place.  It was one of those family joints, where locals love to congregate but that hasn’t been touched as far as decor or upkeep goes in about 25 years.  The kitchen resembled that of my grandmothers–very small and antiquated.

We grabbed a table upstairs in the screened-in area.  John ordered some of the seafood specialties of the area.  I, of course, had chicken.  For those that do not know, I am allergic to shellfish, which was the one consistent ingredient on the menu.  We were all happy to get some food into our bellies.  None of us had eaten since our Pringles and Diet Coke at 9:45am.  It was now almost 3:00pm.  The restaurant was called Pica Higuerillas.  We struck up a conversation with a lovely family dining next to us who were spending time in the area for vacation.  John, of course, started with the Ca-pon-eh story and the conversation flowed from there.

Feeling satisfied (or as satisfied as I was going to get in a seafood restaurant), we hopped back in the car and headed for Valparaiso.  My comments on this town are much like those on Vina del Mar.  Not what I expected, especially when you hear about all the great nightlife and what a great place this is to spend a few days.  No matter.  You have to take these places for what they are and find something to appreciate about them.  Since we were not staying overnight, I could not appreciate the nightlife or Chilean men, so it would have to be the view.

John took us on a wild ride up Valparaiso’s most steep street, Calle Ferrari.  Did I mention that John builds race cars and had a Ferrari engine in our “tour” van?  He thought he would show us what it could do, racing up the street, making the wild turns and, oh sh!t, narrowly escaping head-on traffic coming down this road!  Yes, the street barely wider than most driveways was a 2-way street.  With John catapulting this van up this street in the manner of a rally racer, we saw our lives flash before our eyes and it was fantastic!  What fun!!

We parked the car on a random street above the city.  As we strolled, we passed a small hotel/bar that Debbie had talked about with the friends she made in Santiago while waiting for my arrival. It was called the Brighton and the view was fantastic.  We stopped here for a drink.  Much to Debbie’s surprise, her W Hotel pool friends were there when we arrived, so we all sat and enjoyed some wine and a plate of olives and cheese.  Our new friends were from New York, like me.  They were a mother and a set of twins.  One of the twins was spending 6 months in South America for school and then moving on to work on an organic farm in Northern Chile.  It was lovely to spend an hour or so with such nice people discussing ideas and travel.  Three more people to add to the travel contact list.  Life is good!

After wrapping up drinks and taking a few photos, it was time to head back to Santiago.  Poor John thought we would be back by 6:00pm, and we were already past that time.  We hopped in the car and started our journey back to Santiago.  The trip was mostly uneventful.  Mostly.

As we climbed a hill on the highway, a Chilean policeman waved us over to the side of the road.  John thought that then  would be a good idea to tell me I had to wear a seatbelt in the front seat. (I know.  I know.  I should have had it on anyway.  Thanks, mom.) As we both clambered to buckle up before reaching the officer, we were in hysterics.  Too little effort too late!  The jig was up.  John had to go over to the policeman’s car with paperwork, etc.  As they are looking at the paperwork and discussing matters, we can hear him telling the two officers the Ca-pon-eh story.  After that, they were all laughs, smiles and hand shakes.  As John came back to the car, so did the officers, who were now intrigued to meet this famous girl from Chicago and her New York sidekick.  Needless to say, John got off with a “warning” and we carried on, but not before the one officer made some pretty serious eyes at me.  Hilarious!

We finally made it back to the hotel around 9:00pm.  After some freshening and a bit of rest, we head out to the Bellavista area of Santiago for a nice meal and a bit of atmosphere.  Bellavista is a bohemian sort of area with lots of restaurants, shops and live music.  It is an area that is always buzzing, apparently.

We wandered a bit and finally decided on Como Aqua Para Chocolate, mostly because there was no line and we could sit outside.  Most of the other restaurants in the area were completely packed.  We just really needed a seat and some decent food.  Remember, we were working on Pringles, Diet Coke, a bit of dry chicken and a loaf of bread at this point.

The restaurants atmosphere inside is lovely.  I went back to read reviews of this place and saw a lot of negative.  I have to say our server was terrific and the food was delicious as well.  This could be because we were starving, but I really do not think that is the case.  I had a steak in a 3-pepper sauce with potatoes.  Delicious!

Wiped out from our long day and dreading our early morning wake up call, we headed back to the hotel to pack up for our flight to Buenos Aires the next day. I was very disappointed that I wasn’t able to  see more and get more of the flavor of Santiago, but Debbie wasn’t having it.  I would have gone out, but reluctantly headed home with her to “pack up” my handbag with my mall purchases. (I wouldn’t have my luggage until we reached the airport, where it was waiting with 150 other bags). I did, however, convince her to join me at the rooftop bar for one drink.  I choose this hotel specifically for the rooftop pool and bar and had yet to see it.  I would be damned if I was leaving without a rooftop cocktail.  Cosmo ordered, we sat back in the slinky lounge furniture and took in the view.  Beautiful!

We hit the hay after 1:00am and put in the dreaded wake-up call for 6:00am, I believe.  Yikes!  Maybe I should have skipped the Cosmo.  Nah!

I am sorry I didn’t get to see more of the city, but that is the way things go sometimes.  It also gives me a great excuse to go back!

I will come back with the Argentina installments in the next few days.

Tour Guide Details:

John Gottlieb Bracchi

Private Tour Guide Driver in Chile

Chile Touring

Certified Tour Guide

Local Phone 56-2-3215213

Mobile: 569-92998258

Restaurant and Bar Recommendations from a local that I never had time to check out:

Rstaurants: Mestizo, La Mar, Osaka at the W, Osadia, Maltido

Bars: Bar Liguria, Eve, Whiskey Blue, Bar Constitucion, Amanda

Buenos Aires NYE

15 Dec

For those who like to plan in advance like me, I am sure you have found it just a bit frustrating that it is near impossible to find any information whatsoever or reserve anything for NYE ahead of time in Buenos Aires.  I read in numerous articles that this is a quiet evening typically, with locals spending time with their families and hitting clubs after 2am.   Who wants to travel 11 hours to be stuck in their hotel room for the midnight toast with a bottle of wine or champagne waiting for something to open?

Since I have friends traveling with me who are only staying for a short time and none of us has ever been to Buenos Aires, we figured we would check the required tango show off the list, guarantee a dinner reservation, NYE party and transportation all in one shot.  We will be attending the NYE tango show at El Quenrandi (, Peru 302, Buenos Aires). Milena Scarcella was fabulously helpful in the booking process. Ask for her when you call. If you are envisioning a nice dinner and a bottle of wine with your honey, you might think the evening is not cheap at 250 USD, but a 3-course meal, open bar, a show and a party with transportation is a bargain at 250 USD, really, and after reading the horrors of finding transport on this eve as well as the fact that most places do not open until the small hours of the morning, we bit the bullet and booked a table for five.

I have been planing this trip for 5 months.  I have just today received some information from one of the many people I contacted over these months. Some NYE options (as well as Christmas Eve) are below, which you may find helpful if you are still in the dark and have as Plan B  mapping out the liquor stores close to your hotel in order to guarantee that toast on NYE!  Those I spoke with months ago warned me that no “events” would be posted until we got closer to the date, but I had no idea they would wait until this very late date.

Good luck, happy planning, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  I hope this helps.

Christmas Eve

  • Quimbombó: Nature restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. They will also have a buffet table at your service the whole evening. ARS $380 per person.
  • La Ventana: Tango show. It does include a three course dinner with all drinks included during the special Christmas show and after plus a glass of champagne to toast after midnight. A deserve table will be at your disposal and after midnight a DJ will play music during the party. Transportation included. US 150 per person.
  • Bice: Italian restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, plus a ‘Santa Claus’ surprise after midnight. US 140 per person.
  • El Baqueano: Steak house restaurant. A five steps menu with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, plus a Christmas’ deserves table the whole evening. ARS $ 440 per person.
  • Lo de Jesús: Steak house restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. They will also have a buffet table at your service the whole evening. ARS $400 per person.
  • Pampa Picante: Steak house restaurant & tango show. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne extra-brut to toast at midnight. They will also have a buffet table at your service the whole evening (they do also include another table with several deserves, buffet as well) plus a coffee service & petit fours. ARS 360 per person.
  • Casa Cruz: International cuisine restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, plus a coffee or tea cup and Christmas’ sweets. US 200 per person.
  • La Vinería de Gualterio Bolivar: Argentinean restaurant. A sixteen steps menú, deserves and all drinks included. ARS 600 per person.
  • La Cabrera: Steak house restaurant. A three course dinner meal with all drinks included plus deserves table and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. ARS 280 per person.
  • Piazzola Tango Show: As the name suggest, is a tango show and will offer that a night a tango gala with a special tango show for that evening with a three course dinner, all drinks during the event (including a glass of champagne to toast at midnight) and a party after midnight with surprises. Transportation includedUS 180 per person.
  • Sagardi – Euskal taberna: Bar & Spanish restaurant. A three course meal which does also include a two steps menu plus drinks included during the evening except alcoholic ones, they do include a glass of wine from ‘Torello Reserva’. ARS $320 per person.
  • Astrid & Gastón: Peruvian & International restaurant. Menu a-la-carte, all drinks included during the meal, they do require a minimum amount of ARS $300 total, not per person.


New Years’ Eve


  • Janio: Italian restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. ARS $350 per person.
  • Ayres de Patagonia: Argentinean restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included until 1 AM, there’ll be also a party after midnight with dj, fireworks and surprises. ARS $580 per person.
  • Casa Cruz: International cuisine restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. US 240 per person.
  • La Ventana: Tango show. It does include a three course dinner with all drinks included during the special Christmas show and after plus a glass of champagne to toast after midnight. A deserve table will be at your disposal and after midnight a DJ will play music during the party. Transportation included. US 230 per person.
  • Astrid & Gastón: Peruvian & International restaurant. Menu a-la-carte, all drinks included during the meal, they do require a minimum amount of ARS $300 total, not per person.
  • Pampa Picante: Steak house restaurant & tango show. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne extra-brut to toast at midnight. They will also have a buffet table at your service the whole evening (they do also include another table with several deserves, buffet as well) plus a coffee service & petit fours. ARS 360 per person.
  • El Baqueano: Steak house restaurant. A five steps menu with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, plus a Christmas’ deserves table the whole evening. ARS $ 440 per person.
  • Rojo Tango: They’ll offer their traditional tango show with dinner & all drinks included during the show plus a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, after that, all guest can join ‘Latin Fever Party’ at Faena Hotel. Transportation included. US 600 per person.
  • Sagardi – Euskal taberna: Bar & Spanish restaurant. A three course meal which does also include a two steps menu plus drinks included during the evening except alcoholic ones, they do include a glass of wine from ‘Torello Reserva’. ARS $320 per person.
  • Café ‘Los Angelitos’ Tango Show: Regular program including a three course meal, the show, a midnight toast plus a celebration after midnight. Transportation included. US 380 per person.
  • Lo de Jesús: Steak house restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. They will also have a buffet table at your service the whole evening. ARS $400 per person.
  • La Vinería de Gualterio Bolivar: Argentinean restaurant. A sixteen steps menu, deserves and all drinks included. ARS 600 per person.
  • Esquina Carlos Gardel: Tango show. It does include they tango show, a three course meal plus a party after midnight, all drinks during the event, a champagne to toast at midnight and it will be several surprises during the evening & night. Transportation included. US 300 per person.
  • Tegui: International restaurant. A five steps menu with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. They will be a surprise after midnight. US 240 per person.
  • El Querandí: Tango show. As the name suggest, is a tango show and will offer that a night a tango gala with a special tango show for that evening with a three course dinner, all drinks during the event (including a glass of champagne to toast at midnight) and a themed party (20’s style) after midnight with surprises. Transportation included. US 250 per person.
  • La Cabrera: Steak house restaurant. A three course dinner meal with all drinks included plus a deserve table and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. ARS 380 per person.
  • Cabaña Las Lilas: Steak house restaurant. A three course dinner meal with all drinks included plus a deserve table and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. Tango quartet with dancers after midnight and live DJ. ARS 980 per person.
  • Marcelo: Italian restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, a DJ will play music the whole evening. US 190 per person.
  • Chila: French & Argentinean fusion restaurant. A five steps menu, deserves and all drinks included. US 230 per person.
  • Asia de Cuba: Disco & Restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. The disco will start at 1 AM. US 290 per person.
  • Piazzola Tango Show: As the name suggest, is a tango show and will offer that a night a tango gala with a special tango show for that evening with a three course dinner, all drinks during the event (including a glass of champagne to toast at midnight) and a party after midnight with surprises. US 180 per person.
  • Quimbombó: Nature restaurant. A three course meal with all drinks included and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight. They will also have a buffet table at your service the whole evening. ARS $380 per person.
  • Señor Tango: As the name suggest, is a tango show and will offer that a night a tango gala with a special tango show for that evening with a three course dinner, all drinks during the event (including a glass of champagne to toast at midnight) and a themed party after midnight with fireworks, lived DJ & surprises. Transportation included. US 350 per person & US 450 VIP.


As I mentioned above, the amount of taxis and private cars over the streets will be reduced due to the holidays; taxis and private cars could be requested until 18:30 hs at December 24th and December 31st, after that time, radio taxis will not be taking any services at all.

Hello world!

8 Dec

Welcome to my travel blog!  Please bear with me as I find my way around the site and get up and running.  In the very near future I will posting re: my upcoming birthday and New Year’s extravaganza in Chile and Argentina! 

This blog is being created to provide some laughs, which you will undoubtedly have at my expense, as well as valuable information and recommendations for other similar-minded travelers.  I am happy to answer any questions or provide accommodation, restaurant and itinerary tips for fellow travelers. Not only do I travel quite a bit for personal interests, but planning and sorting of travel logistics is a large part of my job.

I look forward to the journey!