A Travellerspoint blog

There’s no place like home

Landing in Sydney - that view flying in over our beautiful city and coastline still gives us goose bumps, no matter how many times we have seen it.

The last nine months have given us memories and experiences that we will treasure for a lifetime. We have strengthened our bonds with family and friends on the other side of the world and we have made new friends along the way, too. We have been challenged and we have learned a lot. We still want to be married after spending 24hours a day together for 270 days!

We have suffered immense heartache with the loss of our beautiful friend Lisa Maree, and learned that even when life feels like it is just too hard to go on there is strength from somewhere within that makes you get up and face another day, no matter how much you are hurting. There were plenty of days where it would have been easier to just come home, but with the love and support of our incredible family and friends we were able to finish what we set out to achieve: a journey that Lisa encouraged us to take.

Thank you to all of you for sharing our adventure with us – the skype sessions, the blog comments, the facebook likes, the laughs along the way and the tears we needed to cry. As if we didn’t know it already, 2012 has reconfirmed how amazing our family and friends are and we cannot wait to catch up with you all.

This is now our last blog entry, the end of this particular journey, and we dedicate it to Lisa Maree:

Darling Lisa - from the tango you will never dance in Argentina, to the wonders of the world you will never see in the Middle East, we carried you with us and thought of you always. We have experienced some of the hardest days of our life struggling to understand why you are no longer here and pray every day that you are at peace, dear friend.

You were the ultimate holiday girl – always having the next one in mind before you had finished the last. We hope we did you proud with our journey…it is in your memory that we dedicate our blog, our record of the ultimate holiday. Safe travels beautiful girl, until we meet again.

Rhi and Koz

Posted by 270days 11.01.2013 04:47 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

270 days! Here are our top 10....

From friends and acquaintances old and new, we have been asked hundreds of times what has been our favourite part of the trip? As you know we have had a myriad of flights, bus trips and long lazy days to debate this very good question….. For years we have both pored over articles and TV shows that list the top destinations of the year, the up and coming destinations of the next year, and mentally prepared our own list that one day we would tick off for ourselves.

After nine months we have crossed a lot off, so where to start picking just 10 days from what has been an incredible journey around the globe? Some were mutual inclusions, others we had to compromise on (10 years of marriage does hone your compromising skills!) but there were a handful that just missed out on a top 10 ranking that we thought still deserved a mention! So in the Highly Recommended category we offer you the following destinations –

Petra, Jordan – for the incredibly preserved architecture of a mystical lost city in the middle of a desert
Iguazu Falls, Brazil & Argentina – an opportunity to be reminded of the wonder that is Mother Nature (don’t forget the birdpark in Brazil for the toucans!)
Cairo, Egypt – an opportunity to be reminded of the wonder that is the human race, and for the only ancient wonder of the world still in existence: Pyramid of Giza
Jungfrau region, Switzerland – for its glaciers, lush green rolling hills and the view you get from a paraglider sailing over the top of it all
Lofoten Islands, Norway – picture perfect scenery in every direction from the ocean to the lakes to the snow-capped mountains

So here they are – our top 10 days from our trip around the world in 270 days!

No. 10. Day #95: Santorini, Greece
With Emily and Mikael we rented a car and set out to explore this beautiful island: the black beaches, the turquoise waters and the sunset that is burned in our memory forever. We ate saganaki and greek salad for lunch in Thera, sipped on cocktails as the sun went down on a roof top terrace in Oia, and indulged in nutella crepes late in the night when we returned to Kamari. Great day, great food, great company!

Picture perfect sunset in Oia, north coast Santorini

Picture perfect sunset in Oia, north coast Santorini

No. 9. Day #77: Longyearbyen, Norway
Literally on top of the world inside the Arctic Circle we spent a day in the northern most populated town in the world, the arrival of our cruise ship more than doubling the town’s population. Donning a sexy one-piece thermal suit we jumped on an ATV tour to explore this fascinating landscape, and as the ship sailed away in the sunlit evening we thought that this might just be the furthest we have ever been from home.

A long way from home in northern Norway

A long way from home in northern Norway

No. 8. Day #257: Machu Picchu, Peru
Boxing Day 2012 will be one etched in our memory for years to come – the reward for our four days of being wet, sore and tired was the view of Machu Picchu appearing from underneath the low lying cloud. That glass of wine with lunch went down very well, even better were the pina coladas we enjoyed in the thermal pool later in the afternoon with our fellow trekkers!

The best reward after four days of hiking - Machu Picchu!

The best reward after four days of hiking - Machu Picchu!

No. 7. Day #171: Goreme, Turkey
Floating over Cappadocia in central Turkey was an unforgettable experience with the sun rising as our balloon left the ground. It was eerily silent and so beautiful. It was just our second day in Turkey and we were already converts to the Turkish cuisine – our gozleme for lunch today would be the best we would have over the coming two weeks.

Sunrise ballooning in Goreme, Turkey

Sunrise ballooning in Goreme, Turkey

No. 6. Day #46: St Petersburg, Russia
The number one reason for boarding the cruise to the Baltic region in May was to see this mysterious city and our efforts and investment were rewarded. We were mesmerised with the beauty and history of this gorgeous city that Peter the Great had built to rival the cities of western Europe. Our tour of the Hermitage Museum was inspiring, and walking the streets was akin to walking through a large open air museum. Seeing Swan Lake in the evening was the perfect end to a perfect day.

The Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood, St Petersburg

The Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood, St Petersburg

No. 5. Day #15: Etosha NP, Namibia
Travelling with Diane and Danny is nothing new to us, and it was magical to share our first game drive in Africa with them. We spent the morning enjoying the comforts of the lodge with a long breakfast and a swim in the pool, and in the afternoon were treated to giraffe, zebras, lions and a rhino – more than we could have hoped for on our first drive! The day ended with a rowdy evening with Danny’s family where we continued celebrations for Peta’s birthday

Amazing Etosha National Park

Amazing Etosha National Park

No. 4. Day #12: Sossusvlei, Namibia
Another amazing day on tour with Di and Dan, another luxurious lodge in Namibia. Our flight over the sand dunes of the Namib Desert was breathtaking in the early light, and we had a ball playing in the dunes afterwards and walking on the salt flat of Deadvlei. The drive from Sossusvlei to the Namibian capital of Windhoek was incredible as we passed from red desert to lush green mountainside and into the city, and the day ended with a cold beer and game meat shared with Danny’s family.

Salt flat in Deadvlei

Salt flat in Deadvlei

No. 3. Day #110: South coast of Iceland
When we set out on this morning we did not anticipate how spectacular our day would be. Lunch was an incredible roast cauliflower soup and homemade bread, dinner was a mouth watering lobster fettuccine. And then there was the scenery! We hiked on a glacier in the afternoon, then took a cruise through a glacial lagoon in the early evening – today warranted the effort to get to Iceland, we were completely hooked.

Glacier hiking in southern Iceland

Glacier hiking in southern Iceland

No. 2. Day #82: Geirangerfjord, Norway
The Norwegian cruise had already impressed us with our stops in the Lofoten Islands and Longyearbyen, and then there was Geirangerfjord. It is regularly referred to as the most beautiful fjord in the world and we could see why. As the ship sailed into the fjord we were blown away by the stunning landscape around us, and it only got better on land when we jumped on pushbikes to ride down the mountain. The day ended with cocktails in a hot tub on the back of the ship as we sailed out to sea. Perfection!

Looking down on Geirangerfjord

Looking down on Geirangerfjord

And this brings us to No.1 – amazing to think that after 270 days tripping around the world three of our top five were within our first month away from home! Africa certainly did not disappoint……

No. 1. Day #26: Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Descending into the crater surrounded by fog we could never have imagined what this day would hold. In Ngorongoro we saw elephants, water buffalo and rhinos (three of the Big 5 by lunchtime!); a hippo, hyenas and loads of zebra and wilderbeest. Then it was into the Serengeti National Park. With just a few hours of sunlight left we scored a pride of lions, and then the elusive leopard sighting on our way to the campsite. The Big 5 all in one day! Watching the leopard stalk and kill a guinea fowl for dinner was just icing on the cake!

The leopard and his fowl!

The leopard and his fowl!

Posted by 270days 10.01.2013 03:26 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Our last country: Chile

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Trying our best to ignore our looming departure date of 7th January we had grand plans of lying on a beach, savouring our last days of South American cuisine and enjoying a lazy week before we returned to a new year in Sydney. We have definitely been lazy and eaten very well, but a chilly Antarctic current called Humboldt ensured we did no laying around on a beach!

90 minutes west of Santiago is the 'Garden City' of Vina del Mar: a resort town of restaurants, parks and beaches and upscale neighbour to the UNESCO city of Valparaiso. When we got off the bus and had to put jumpers on we saw our beach dream slowly slipping away, but the restaurants have gone some way to making up for our diminishing Brazilian tans.

Our view over Vina

Our view over Vina

Sleeping in until midday, enjoying long lunches into the late afternoon followed by a nap and then a late supper around 11pm - life is not bad in Vina! Incredible steaks (we are born again carnivores after South America!) fresh seafood and mouth watering desserts were all on the menu, and even though we knew Chile would be significantly more expensive than Bolivia, we have been surprised to be almost back at Sydney prices in some places. On the bright side it has prepared us for the shock of returning home!

Awesome steaks at El Gaucho in Vina del Mar

Awesome steaks at El Gaucho in Vina del Mar

After two days of doing not much we made our way to Valparaiso to see what makes it so special. Reading a little about the city in advance we came across a vast spectrum of opinions with some insisting it required the effort even from Santiago, whilst others recommended it be left off a Chile itinerary altogether. To repent for the gorging we had indulged in for the first 48hrs we walked the 7.5km along the Pacific Ocean, looking for home on the horizon.

Walking the coast from Vina to Valpo

Walking the coast from Vina to Valpo

The port city is very colourful and built on a group of hills right on the water, requiring furnicular vehicles to deliver residents to the upper areas of the city. Climbing the hills and stairs in search of lunch with a view, we stumbled upon the open air museum of Valpo that gives it its UNESCO protection - an area of street art murals and graffiti that give the city its reputation as a destination for artists, bohemians and photographers.

Colourful laneways of Valparaiso

Colourful laneways of Valparaiso

Street art at every turn

Street art at every turn

It is interesting, and walking the narrow and artistic streets does have a certain charm, but our memories of this city will be a crab and almond ravioli, an unforgettable lasagna and the best desserts we have had since France! In other words it was worth the effort from Vina next door, but not sure you would need to make the trip from Santiago (unless you want to try the best creme brulee outside of France!).

Lunch complete with a view and a mojito. Perfecto!

Lunch complete with a view and a mojito. Perfecto!

Back to Santiago, our last 48hrs on tour were spent chilling out and enjoying the sunshine as we explored the city. Like Buenos Aires the Spanish colonisation of the country is evident in the architecture of some of the important buildings, but Santiago is a lot cleaner and feels more relaxed than BA, possibly due to the fact it is approximately half the population of BA.

Architecture in Santiago is a blend of old and new

Architecture in Santiago is a blend of old and new

Last day on the continent

Last day on the continent

All in all it has been a relaxed and mouth-watering end to a very full nine months, but we both agree that Chile's Santiago and Vina are no match for Brazil's Rio and Buzios! We suspect the real treasures of Chile are to be found in its wilderness regions in the Andes mountains up north and Patagonia down south but we are all out of time....... Sydney here we come!

Posted by 270days 06.01.2013 13:06 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Far above sea level in Peru & Bolivia

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One thing has become painfully clear in the last two weeks – we will never be mountain people! Effects of altitude sickness generally kick in at around 3000m above sea level, but it varies for different people. The minimal oxygen in the air (up to 50% less than at sea level) has left us both suffering from headaches, nausea and tight chests, then add to that the aches and pains from hiking for four days – who said travelling is relaxing?! Of course we have seen some amazing things to warrant the discomfort and as an added bonus have made some great friends along the way too.

Amigos out on the town

Amigos out on the town

So we tried the Peruvian specialty, guinea pig. Tastes like chicken!

So we tried the Peruvian specialty, guinea pig. Tastes like chicken!

As our group waved goodbye to Cusco (3300m above sea level) and left behind the walking sticks and the socks that could not be salvaged, we boarded a bus to Puno (3800m above sea level) – a small town in south east Peru and gateway to Lake Titicaca. The lake is one of the largest, deepest and highest lakes in the world and sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It has a strong connection to Incan myths and in 2000 a temple was discovered submerged in the lake, believed to be between 1000 and 1500 years old.

On the shores of Lake Titicaca

On the shores of Lake Titicaca

On a sunny morning we jumped on tricycles in the centre of town to be delivered to the water’s edge for a tour out on the lake. All of a sudden it felt like we were in South East Asia! The 6 tricycle drivers that ferried our group raced through the streets of Puno, ducking and weaving in the traffic and occasionally bumping into each other. Getting on the boat was a welcome relief!

Street race through Puno

Street race through Puno

There are many islands to explore on the lake if you have time on your hands, but the ones we were headed for were close to shore and very curious: floating manmade reed islands that are home to the Uros people and need to be rebuilt every 25 years or so. They are actually quite surreal – you can feel the water soaking through the reeds as you walk on them, which is why it is a full time job to continually lay down dry reeds across the islands.

The island is completely built from layers of reeds

The island is completely built from layers of reeds

Each island is home to approx. 3-6 families with the total estimated population just a few hundred people. Most have moved to the mainland now, and children over the age of 12 are schooled on the mainland too. The women stay in camp to receive the tourist visitors and demonstrate handicrafts, whilst the men are out on the lake collecting yet more bundles of reeds to bring back and dry out. The reeds are used for everything - building homes, as a food and medicinal source and for handicrafts too.

Jen tries her hand at being a local

Jen tries her hand at being a local

It did feel a bit touristy taking a boat out to the group of 42 islands, each one set up for the imminent arrival of a boat full of tourists to whom they could sell their handicrafts, and the children were well schooled in the art of performing for the westerners! We played along and boarded a reed boat for a paddle out into the lake to take in the scenery with our fellow tourers before it was back to town for a well-earned afternoon off.

The lake covers an area of 8,372 km²

The lake covers an area of 8,372 km²

Andrew and Miles have a little friend

Andrew and Miles have a little friend

From Puno it was back to La Paz in Bolivia (3650m above sea level) where our eight day Geckos tour would end. The view of the city on approach is unbelievable – the city has an estimated population of between 500,000 to 1 million but the larger metropolitan area is estimated at just over 2million. As the city has grown the spread of buildings has scaled the sides of the mountains, creating an effect not dissimilar to the urban sprawl of Rio de Janeiro.

The sprawling city of La Paz

The sprawling city of La Paz

With a final night out on the town with our fellow Aussies and our token American, we ate and drank and talked of our plans for NYE: some were off to the Amazon, others to NYC and Buenos Aires, one to Cancun and our tour leader Gasbar home to Peru. For us and our new American friend Jamie, it was a night out on the town in La Paz! After a few false starts and a deluge of rain as we wandered the streets looking for action, we ended up at the bar in Jamie’s hostel drinking very strong drinks ($3.45 each!) with a crazy American man, a Dutch couple and the Portuguese barman as fireworks went off across the city and we welcomed 2013.

Happy New Year with Jamie, La Paz style!

Happy New Year with Jamie, La Paz style!

With 8 days left of our 270 day adventure it’s time to get back to sea level and dump the jackets…. Santiago is our last stop before home!

Posted by 270days 02.01.2013 19:14 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu

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It has been a Christmas like no other, an undertaking that has left us feeling sore and tired, but oh so proud of what we have achieved. And the view at the end of the four days was pretty spectacular!

It should come as no surprise that our hiking group was predominantly Aussies, with one token American. There was Matthew, Mike and Miles; Jennifer and Dan; Alex and Evan; Derek, Rick and Hilary flying the Australian flag with us, and Jamie representing the stars and stripes for the US. We made a great team pushing each other through the hard sections, sharing stories and laughs along the way and even when we were wet, cold and suffering from altitude sickness reminding each other that we were on an amazing adventure!

Rhi, Koz, Alex, Hilary, Evan, Jamie, Mike, Matt, Miles, Jen, Dan, Derek and Rick - ready for adventure!

Rhi, Koz, Alex, Hilary, Evan, Jamie, Mike, Matt, Miles, Jen, Dan, Derek and Rick - ready for adventure!

So while you were wrapping presents, preparing gourmet feasts and then gorging on Christmas Day this is what we got up to…..

Christmas Eve eve - 5.00am wake up call.
Highest point – 3000m above sea level. Distance covered – 13km.
With our day packs, ponchos and walking sticks at the ready we departed Cusco headed for the point where we would join the Inca trail, approx. 2.5hours away. Over the course of four days we walked 45km, just a minute section of the estimated 22,000km of trails found in this region. Our guides Yugo and Bruce called today the warm up day – an undulating path that will take us past some Inca ruins and get our bodies ready for the challenge that will be Day 2.

Let the fun begin: 15m down, 44.985km to go!!

Let the fun begin: 15m down, 44.985km to go!!

This was our first opportunity to see the porters in action too – our group of 13 hikers, 2 guides and a chef had a team of 17 porters who carried EVERYTHING! Tents, cooking equipment, chairs and tables, food for 33 people for three days, and the 5kg for each hiker that we are allowed to bring with us – all bundled up into 25kg loads and strapped to their backs. These men are truly incredible and left us all marvelling at their strength and speed, but also concerned about the toll this type of work must have on their bodies over time.

13 hikers, 17 porters and 1 chef

13 hikers, 17 porters and 1 chef

After a three course lunch and four course dinner (unbelievable!!) we were all feeling pretty good about Day 1 and collapsed in our tents to get some sleep for Day 2.

Christmas Eve - 5.30am wake up call.
Highest point – 4200m above sea level. Distance covered 11km.
The day started well enough with Bruce bringing tea to our tent with our wake up call. Most things you read about the Inca trail suggest that Day 2 is the hardest and they are not wrong. We climbed 1200m to an altitude of 4200m in just under five hours, but just as hard was the steep descent of 600m that took us another two hours. There were tears (from Rhi), sore knees and asthma trouble (for Koz) and rain coming at us from all angles (well we did do this in wet season!). We were wet and cold and on a few occasions asked each other why the hell we had paid to do this!

We walked on paths like this....the porters ran!

We walked on paths like this....the porters ran!

When we reached the highest point of the trek at 4200m we were supposed to have views that make the last five hours seem worthwhile but the weather was so bad at the top we barely stopped, eager to keep moving to retain body heat. Inspiration to get to the campsite was provided by the porters: in horrid conditions they raced along the path like mountain goats and with 25kg on their backs too. Every time one of them races past you take stock and say to yourself if they can do this every week, I can do it once. We were the last two to arrive at camp today but were greeted by our team who clapped us in and assured us they had found it difficult as well.

View from our tent on Christmas Eve

View from our tent on Christmas Eve

In dry clothes and with more good food served up for both lunch and dinner (including a Feliz Navidad cake!) we settled into our wet tent, dreaming of the turkey and champagne we were missing out on at home….

Christmas Day - 5.30am wake up call.
Highest point – 3900m above sea level. Distance covered – 15km
It was really hard to get up today – the rain had already started and as we put on our wet clothes from the day before we prayed for the day to be over quickly. But it was Christmas Day, and joy was delivered with a visit from Santa (aka Rick) who made us all smile and forget about the wet clothes and the sore knees.

Rick brings Christmas cheer to the campsite

Rick brings Christmas cheer to the campsite

Day 3 is the longest distance of the trek but a much more enjoyable walk with less inclines and multiple Inca sites to stop and explore along the way. A few of us sang Christmas carols along the trail and hikers and porters alike were exchanging Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad wishes throughout the day. We were blessed with sunshine and little rain and after another impressive four course meal we were sent to bed early in anticipation of our very early start the next day that would take us to Machu Picchu.

Christmas morning on the Inca trail

Christmas morning on the Inca trail

Boxing Day - 3.30am wake up call.
Highest point – 2780m above sea level. Distance covered – 6km
Yes, 3.30am wakeup call! As we started walking at 4.30am in the pouring rain, torches strapped to our heads, the positive vibe of the day before seemed to be slipping away from a few of us. We were sore and tired and desperately hoping for the ‘money shot’ of Machu Picchu from the Gate of the Sun, which we arrived at around 7am. It would be fair to say that we were all feeling a little deflated to find ourselves looking at clouds so thick that there was no evidence of a lost city underneath them….

But onwards we went and within the hour we were standing within the walls of the lost city of the Incas – Macchu Picchu. The tears, the altitude sickness, the wet socks and shoes, the less-than-sanitary toilets all fell away – we had done it! After three long days and a very early start on Day 4 we had reached our destination, and in honour of the colossal moment the clouds rolled away and the sun came out.

The final destination - Machu Picchu!!

The final destination - Machu Picchu!!

The clouds rolled across the mountain all morning

The clouds rolled across the mountain all morning

Considered to be the most impressive Incan ruin in the world, the city was built in the 15th century and abandoned around 100 years later when the Spaniards arrived in South America. It was rediscovered in the early 20th century by Professor Hiram Bingham, completely covered by the jungle surrounds. It is a complete city with crop terraces, an estimated 140 structures including temples and houses, and to this day the water canals and fountains still deliver water across the site.

The jungle covering the city for so many centuries has helped preserve the buildings

The jungle covering the city for so many centuries has helped preserve the buildings

Llamas wander around the site freely

Llamas wander around the site freely

It is truly remarkable from every angle and although our legs felt like jelly we traipsed up and down even more stairs for hours exploring all corners of the site. The ponchos and sunglasses went on and off as rain and sun took it in turns to grace us with their presence. Whilst as a group we all agreed the sight of the magnificent site made the four days worthwhile, there is a lot to be said for taking the three hour train from Cusco and experiencing the same views without the strenuous lead up!

$7 poncho - essential purchase!

$7 poncho - essential purchase!

The constant rainfall up here keeps the grass looking lush

The constant rainfall up here keeps the grass looking lush

To ease our aching bodies we all went to the hot springs in the little town of Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Macchu Picchu, where we reflected on the last few days and enjoyed some Peruvian hospitality as pina coladas and pisco sours were delivered poolside and we began to erase the memories that we were happy to lose from the last few days.

For the two of us it was physically challenging with old knee and ankle injuries and Andrew’s asthma, but there is no doubt that we feel like we have accomplished something pretty amazing. It is a once in a lifetime experience but if wet tents and clothes, camp toilets and intense physical activity with no showers are not your thing we recommend you take the train!

We made it!!

We made it!!

Posted by 270days 30.12.2012 17:48 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

5 countries in 6 days en route to Cusco

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It is really not as bad as it sounds! It came about due to the complex path we had to follow to get from Buenos Aires in Argentina to Cusco in Peru for which there was two options – spend 60 hours plus on buses to make the journey across the continent, or pay an exorbitant amount of money on a one way airfare. Neither option was appealing so with valuable tools like internet and time on our hands, we made the journey a little more interesting……

Day 1 – Argentina & Uruguay
Ok, so we didn’t really have to go to Uruguay to get to Peru - it was an easy day trip from Buenos Aires (and 5 countries in 6 days sound better than 4 countries in 5 days, right?). We woke up and went to sleep that night in BA, and in the hours in between took a one hour fast ferry to Colonia Del Sacremento on the coast of Uruguay.

The quaint church and cobble stone streets of Colonia del Sacramento

The quaint church and cobble stone streets of Colonia del Sacramento

This little colonial town on UNESCO’s protected list has been preserved really well, with cobbled roads and a great range of cafes and restaurants to spend time in. We were looking for an escape from the heat of BA and had hoped to spend a day on the beach but the weather had other plans, so it was begrudgingly that we indulged in some local wine and food for the afternoon before catching the ferry back to BA!

Lazy afternoon in Uruguay

Lazy afternoon in Uruguay

Day 2 – Argentina
Today was the day we lazed in the park and wandered through the Recoleta cemetery, soaking up our last few hours of BA before boarding an overnight bus to Mendoza – Argentinian wine country.

Day 3 – Argentina
14 hours on a bus and we arrived in lovely Mendoza: an adventurer’s dream and foodie heaven. The wide streets lined with shops and restaurants almost had a western movie feel about them, and the range of activities on offer seems endless – rafting, hiking, gliding, horse riding and more. But the food! We had our best two meals in Argentina here, accompanied by local wine too. Our 24 hour stopover was primarily to have a break from the bus but if there is a future trip to Argentina, Mendoza will be getting a lot more time from us.

Mendoza = amazing food and wine!

Mendoza = amazing food and wine!

Day 4 – Argentina to Chile
Breakfast in Mendoza was followed by a 7 hour bus trip to Santiago in Chile which took us through the Andes mountain range. We were happy with our seats right at the front of the bus on the upper level so we could enjoy the view, but hadn’t expected it to be so harrowing. Double deck buses and semi-trailers were negotiating the narrowest, steepest roads we had encountered in a while and it was a little scary!

Bus journey through the Andes

Bus journey through the Andes

Now these are what you call hairpin bends!

Now these are what you call hairpin bends!

Off the bus, on to the metro and to our hostel for the night. A local tip for dinner had us eating excellent steak and drinking gin for the grand total of $30 between us.

Day 5 – Chile to Bolivia
Air travel between countries in South America can be really expensive: one way fares are extortionate but return airfares make things a little more viable. A return airfare from Santiago, Chile to La Paz, Bolivia fit in with the rest of our trip and although still expensive, saved us from another 24 hours on a bus! After a 4.30am wake up call, and a 5 hour flight with 2 stopovers, we arrived in La Paz.

The main square of La Paz

The main square of La Paz

The city feels like it is in a time warp, it was worlds away from the cities of the last few weeks and even the regional areas of Brazil and Argentina. Women in traditional dress sit on the footpaths selling their handcrafts and home cooked goods, and the buses look like they are from a movie set in the 1950’s. Imagine our surprise then when we sat down for lunch in a tourist friendly café, i.e. English on the menu, and Rhi hears a Glee soundtrack playing! (expecting that only Gleeks will appreciate this piece of news!!)

Retro Bolivian bus

Retro Bolivian bus

The La Paz airport is 4,200m above sea level and altitude sickness is a real possibility with symptoms including headache, nausea, lethargy and loss of appetite. We suffered from them all! On arrival at the airport there is a medical assistance office before you even get to the baggage carousel which indicates how common it is to be unwell. It is cold here too in summer – we are back in jeans and boots with jackets and beanies.

Day 6 – Bolivia to Peru
We walked the markets of La Paz before boarding our third and final (hurrah!) overnight bus that would take us to Cusco in 14 hours. We got to the border around 7pm where our lack of Spanish made things a little confusing, but with passports stamped we walked out of Bolivia and across the border into Peru ready for the adventure that the next week would bring.

The colours of Peru

The colours of Peru

We arrived in Cusco at 6am and found a city very different to La Paz. Cusco is Peru’s wealthiest city and it shows – beautiful manicured gardens and fountains in European style piazzas, impressive churches, mansions now converted to hotels and restaurants to suit every budget. It was far more developed than we had anticipated, and much prettier too. In centuries past it was the centre of the Incan empire until the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century.

Cusco's main square

Cusco's main square

With a few days in the city to acclimatise before we started the Inca trail we made the most of the cafes and restaurants which, although more expensive than Bolivia, are still reasonably cheap and really good. We have tried alpaca in a few different dishes which is ok, but we just can’t do the guinea pig even though we are told it is delicious!

Machu Picchu is of course the main reason everyone is in town, including us, but there are many other Incan ruins around Cusco that deserve a visit. We took a day trip to see three of the Incan sites in the Sacred Valley but you could easily spend more time in the area and explore more thoroughly. The size and location of the sites are evidence of the intelligence of the Incan people – much like our awe in Egypt, we found ourselves wondering how they were able to construct these buildings with the resources that would have been available in the 13-15th centuries.

Exploring Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley

Exploring Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley

An unfinished Incan sun temple

An unfinished Incan sun temple

Incan crop terraces just outside Cusco

Incan crop terraces just outside Cusco

Peru is a beautiful country with magnificent landscapes and the temperature right now in the summer is perfect for hiking, although it is wet season and the nights are still cold enough for beanies and gloves. Ahead of us is a four day trek to the magical Machu Picchu, lost city of the Incans, where we will be hiking the 45km Inca trail and camping along the way, so it will not be a typical Christmas for us this year. Everything we have heard and read tells us the view at the end will be worth the effort. We will let you know!

Rhi and Koz

Rhi and Koz

Posted by 270days 22.12.2012 19:19 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Learning to tango in Buenos Aires

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Travelling is all about perception – what you know, what you think you know, and the stories and anecdotes you hear from others all shape your ideas about how a place or experience will affect you. There is no doubt that there have been stops along our journey that have exceeded our expectations and others that have left us wondering what all the fuss was about? Sometimes it pays to research in advance to prepare for a destination, whilst others are best left as a mystery for you to explore on arrival.

One of the things we had read about Buenos Aires before we arrived was that on first impressions the city can be underwhelming, but if you scratch beneath the surface you will discover its true character. On the short taxi ride from bus terminal to hotel it would be fair to say we were underwhelmed – the rubbish management system is poor; the arrogance of the people behind the wheels was matched by pedestrians who sauntered out on to the streets without a second thought for traffic; and whilst there were a few beautiful buildings to admire many were in disrepair.

Architectural treasures are to be found all around the city

Architectural treasures are to be found all around the city

We needed to get out on the streets and go scratching to find the real BA (that is after we recovered from the 17 hour overnight bus trip to get there from Puerto Iguacu!) and we could not have found a better way to do it than with BA free tour (bafreetour.com). This approach to exploring a city really appealed to us – there was no booking required and no set fee, you simply arrive at the designated meeting point and a local guides you around the city for a few hours. At the end you pay what you think the tour was worth.

Starting point for our walking tour in the suburb of Congreso

Starting point for our walking tour in the suburb of Congreso

Seeing a city through the eyes of someone who lives there is always a plus and we hit the jackpot with Juan. He was 24, extremely well read and educated and so passionate about Argentina you couldn’t help but get caught up in his story telling. He covered everything from political history and economics to food and the coffee culture and went to great lengths to explain the Argentinian psyche including that famed ego and arrogance that we had already picked up on in a few interactions with the locals.

The Congreso Nacional building took 40 years to complete in the early 20th century

The Congreso Nacional building took 40 years to complete in the early 20th century

For three hours he guided a group of about 30 people through the central district of the city, offering restaurant recommendations along the way, and when it was over he invited anyone who was interested to join him for lunch. What better way to experience the food of a culture than with someone who knows a little place hidden away in a backstreet!

Along with ten others (from Ireland, Norway, Canada, US and of course another Aussie!) we drank local wine, ate a lot of meat and shared our impressions of the city. It is in situations like this that you really understand how different people see and experience things – just 24 hours in we were still a bit indifferent to the appeal of the city, where the Norwegian was enamoured and had spent her whole 3 week holiday in Buenos Aires alone and the Aussie had returned after falling in love with the city 2 years ago.

Public art by the Plaza de los dos Congresos

Public art by the Plaza de los dos Congresos

One of the first things that strike you about this city is its size but even though it is spread across a large area it is still easy to navigate on foot if you are up for some exercise, and there is a metro network too for when the heat gets too oppressive (and it does!). Just be mindful of the potholes and missing grates on the sidewalks, and the sidewalks do tend to stop abruptly too leaving you stranded in traffic on a corner!

There are so many different faces to the city, evidence of the blend of cultures that have shaped Argentina over its history. The Spanish were here first, but there is a very strong Italian influence too thanks to an immigration campaign in the early 20th century that saw Italians flood in. Some of the beautiful buildings around town are French in their architecture, and then you have the flashing billboards and bright lights in the city centre that are reminiscent of NYC.

The obelisk marks the centre of the city and sits on Avenido 9 de Julio (9th of July Avenue)

The obelisk marks the centre of the city and sits on Avenido 9 de Julio (9th of July Avenue)

There is the modern harbour front area Puerto Madero lined with bars and restaurants and the lovely wide promenades in the centre of the city, the 9th of July Avenue holding the title of world’s widest avenue for a period. In the neighbourhood of La Boca we found the little enclave called Caminito where brightly coloured buildings line the cobbled streets, a vestige of the Italian immigrants who settled in the area years ago, and tango dancers perform on the sidewalks amongst the bars and cafes. For the truly brave you could get tickets to a soccer match in La Boca but even the locals we met advised against going, and most info on BA suggests avoiding the area at night…..those soccer fans can get a little crazy.

Tango dancers perform at one of the many restauarants

Tango dancers perform at one of the many restauarants

Enjoying a cold drink in Caminito

Enjoying a cold drink in Caminito

Recoleta and Palermo are arguably the prettiest parts of the city and most popular with tourists. This side of BA felt a world away from the crazy traffic and noise filled streets of the central district and is characterised by its parks, cafés, restaurants and boutiques. It felt a little like Melbourne with its coffee culture and strong art and design focus (there were definitely some furniture and homeware stores that we could have gone nuts in!). On a lazy Saturday afternoon we laid in the park by the famous Recoleta cemetery amongst tourists and locals listening to music and eating from the food stalls that were interspersed with the art and craft stalls around the edge of the park.

The hauntingly beautiful Recoleta Cemetery, resting place of Eva Peron

The hauntingly beautiful Recoleta Cemetery, resting place of Eva Peron

Our favourite BA experience that will shape our memories of this city was our introduction to the tango. Yes, it is a cliché and because of that we were really keen to find an authentic way to be introduced to this famous aspect of Argentinian culture. We didn’t want to go to a dinner and show with busloads of other tourists and so we were thrilled when our research led us to We Are Tango, an enterprise that is passionate about creating a genuine and intimate experience (wearetango.com). Facundo is the creator of the event and in between the dancing he talks you through the history of the dance and its cultural importance over its evolution. Meanwhile we were fed the best empanadas we have had all week and our wine glass was never empty for the four hours we were there.

With only four other couples in the venue (maximum on any night is 20) we got an up close and personal experience with live music and vocals and a couple who were mesmerising to watch as they moved around the dance floor just beyond our feet. They were so close in fact that at one point one of the dancers kicked a table almost sending a glass of red flying! After the show the ten of us were given a tango lesson by the couple we had just watched. Girls on one side of the room, boys on the other, we were taught the basic tango and had a ball. Some of you may be surprised to learn that Rhi was chastised by our male teacher for being too bossy and trying to lead, so he put her back in her place by demonstrating how it should be done!

Street art in La Boca

Street art in La Boca

As we drove through the city at sunset on our last day we agreed that there was a certain charm to the city with its numerous parklands, complex blend of cultures and passion for food, dance and socialising. In general we didn’t find the Argentinians as welcoming or laid back as the Brazilians, but we did meet some great people who are proud of their culture and city and work hard to share its secrets. From our experience we will take away a greater understanding of the history of the country, a renewed love of steak and we might just take up dancing lessons when we get home!

Posted by 270days 20.12.2012 16:09 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Iguazu Falls from all angles

sunny 38 °C

We came, we saw, we were dumbfounded. We marvelled at them from Brazil, we were in awe of them from Argentina, we got a bird’s eye view from a chopper flying over the top and we got drenched in a speed boat getting close to the action. The falls are on the border of Brazil and Argentina and if you can fit it into a South American itinerary you should - it was unforgettable.

An unbelievable sight - completely overwhelming

An unbelievable sight - completely overwhelming

Hanging out at Iguazu Falls!

Hanging out at Iguazu Falls!

The National Parks on both sides are well established with services and offer different ways to see the falls. On the Brazilian side you take an open top bus through the park and can get off at different points for walks and extra activities like a canyon swing or boat safari. The boardwalk leading to the Devils Throat, the apex of the falls, gives you amazing views on approach and most travellers agree the Brazil side offers the best panoramic views and photo opportunities. You almost feel like you are in them, with the boardwalk reaching far out into the ravine.

The crowded boardwalk in Brazil

The crowded boardwalk in Brazil

The end of the road on the Brazilian side

The end of the road on the Brazilian side

Rhi contemplating this awesome place

Rhi contemplating this awesome place

In Brazil you also have the helicopter option which is pretty hard to ignore at US $105ea (thank you Aussie dollar!!). All those months ago when Di and Danny took the chopper over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe we promised ourselves that we would do it over here and it was worth the wait.

Coming in for a close up! You can see the Argentinian boardwalk to the left

Coming in for a close up! You can see the Argentinian boardwalk to the left

Spectacular view!

Spectacular view!

In Argentina, the park is traversed by foot or train and again there are stops along the way for walks, vantage points and snacks. It takes longer to get to the Devils Throat on this side and the views along the way only build the suspense. Even though we had already seen the falls from the other side, it was no less spectacular when we reached the end of the 1.1km boardwalk that places you almost on top of them. It was here that we had an experience like Victoria Falls where the spray is so close that it soaks you, although it was welcome in the humid heat and not nearly as relentless as the drenching we received in Africa.

Almost at the end of the boardwalk....

Almost at the end of the boardwalk....

Getting wet in Argentina!

Getting wet in Argentina!

We had two days in the area which was perfect, spending our last night in Brazil in Foz do Iguaçu and our first night in Argentina in Puerto Iguazú. Many travellers view both sides in just one day which can be done but you would probably need to enlist the services of taxi drivers who, for reasonable prices on both sides, are willing to drive you around and wait. We met some people who had hired a car to get to everything in a 24hr period and found this easy too, but if you have time the buses are much cheaper and run frequently. It is fair to say that both border towns have set themselves up well for the hordes of visitors they receive each year.

Koz at the Lower Falls in Argentina

Koz at the Lower Falls in Argentina

As amazing as the falls were, there was an unexpected delight just outside the entrance of the Brazil NP in the Parque Das Aves, a bird conservatory and rehabilitation shelter. Conscious of the day slipping away and with a border crossing ahead of us we agreed we would go in for a short visit due to the promise of seeing a toucan. Not only did we see one, the aviary they are housed in was open for us to walk through and there were heaps of them.

The toucans were super playful and definitely not shy

The toucans were super playful and definitely not shy

Inquisitive little guy!

Inquisitive little guy!

Cheeky rascal!

Cheeky rascal!

They were really cheeky and blatant posers knowing exactly how to perform for a camera! It was such an incredible experience. On top of the toucans we got flamingos, macaws and so many others.....it was like the David Attenborough special edition bird park! We had completely underestimated how rewarding it would be and would say to anyone going to Iguazu Falls that you must make time for a visit.

Walking through the macaw aviary

Walking through the macaw aviary

Can't get enough of these birds - so beautiful

Can't get enough of these birds - so beautiful

It was the perfect finish to our Brazilian experience, a great intro to Argentina, and impossible to tell you which was better between Victoria and Iguazu! They are both beautiful sites in their own way although there is no doubt that the infrastructure is better established here in South America, encouraging you to stay longer in the area. Next stop for us is Buenos Aires.

Posted by 270days 16.12.2012 13:30 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Our Buzios hideaway

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Just three hours east of Rio de Janeiro on the coast is a tropical paradise called Armação dos Búzios – where the rich and famous come to play in their holiday homes, the seafood is fresh and abundant in restaurants that line the cobbled streets, and you could stay for weeks and explore a new beach every day. The quaint town was made famous in the 1960’s by actress Brigitte Bardot who holidayed here with her Brazilian boyfriend and fell in love with the place, staying for a lot longer than she had intended.

These days the small fishing village is a holiday mecca for Argentinians, Brazilians and cruise ship passengers who come for the perfect beaches, upmarket boutiques, art galleries and to be seen at the hot restaurants and bars around town. Having not yet had our fill of Brazilian beach life, we thought we should join them and see it for ourselves.

Ossos Beach, a little treasure with not too many people around

Ossos Beach, a little treasure with not too many people around

Accommodation in Buzios can be as expensive as you want it to be, so we were pretty happy to secure accommodation for under $100US per night at a four star resort right on the beach. The resort had a gym, restaurant and bar on site and a shuttle into town which was 8km away. Sounded idyllic and it was with great anticipation that we arrived at the resort ready for four days of relaxation.

Perhaps the first sign that we were in for a few surprises should have been the empty carpark on arrival? We got to Reception and were greeted by a Brazilian lady with an Australian accent (Aussies really are everywhere!!) who informed us that the resort was a ‘little quiet’ this week so we had been given an upgrade to a beachfront room and that breakfast on our first morning would be served on our veranda. Very happy with that! After admiring the view over the ocean from our bed we set out to explore the resort, first stop being a late lunch by the pool.

Room with a view

Room with a view

No cushions on the deckchairs or sunbeds, no one at the pool or bar and no one to ask how we could order lunch……where was everyone? A quick trip back to Reception and we discovered the chef had not arrived for work today. Ok….. so we asked about the shuttle into town to go get something to eat only to be informed that the shuttle doesn’t operate anymore….. Our idyllic hideaway was starting to feel like a lot of hard work! You can imagine what the gym looked like when we eventually found it (which is also where we found the cushions for the daybeds!).

Our host kindly dropped us into town and suggested we rent a buggy so we could get in and out of town (thanks, but our budget had just been blown on accommodation that offered a shuttle for that!) and so it was that we spent the next three days in a piece of junk that was to be our transport. Lucky for us, Buzios was pretty spectacular so we put our first day of challenges behind us and settled in for the ride.

Colourful Buzios

Colourful Buzios

Cafes and bars line the beach

Cafes and bars line the beach

There is plenty to do on the peninsula if you are looking for an active holiday – wind and kitesurfing, snorkelling, hiking, fishing and boat trips. Or you could be lazy like us and spend your days lying on the beach, eating frozen yoghurt and napping in a hammock late in the day. Nights are for perusing the boutiques in town, watching sunsets and enjoying the lively atmosphere on the main street where everyone eats out on the tables that line the pavements and live music rings out from multiple venues. Buzios is the epitome of a beach resort holiday.

Loving summer with some seafood and wine

Loving summer with some seafood and wine

Turns out staying in a resort on your own has a few benefits too! Breakfast in the room continued for another two days (until someone else checked in), and with the pool area set up for guests on day two we had our choice of day beds and the entire pool to ourselves. We also didn’t have to share sunset on the pier with anyone except the birds. There still didn’t appear to be a chef around, but our little death-trap-of-a-buggy got us in and out of town easily enough where the restaurant choices were unlimited.

Our own private pier

Our own private pier

Ours was the only car in the carpark for four days!

Ours was the only car in the carpark for four days!

All in all, we ended up having the relaxing few days we had counted on despite the dubious start. No doubt with high season just days away the resort will be in full swing for the next few months with staff behind the bar and the ability to offer lunch to their guests, but we were happy to ditch these services in exchange for our ocean front upgrade and having breakfast delivered to our room so we could enjoy the view. Brigitte was definitely on to something all those years ago.

Posted by 270days 13.12.2012 16:38 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Rio de Janeiro: the city of the decade

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There is a buzz in the air in Rio de Janeiro, anticipation of what lies ahead in the next few years, and it is infectious. In the next four years Rio will play host to the two largest sporting events in the world, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, and also World Youth Day in 2013. You can’t help but feel that the locals are a little smug about their city taking its place in the world spotlight, and as we discovered they have a lot to be smug about. Just this year UNESCO has granted Rio a world heritage site between the mountains and the sea calling it “an exceptional urban setting”.

This is what we thought we knew about Rio before we arrived – it is the home of the fabulous Carnivale, the city and surrounding favelas (shanty towns) are rife with reported gang and drug related violence and there is a big statue on a hill. What we found was an energetic and dynamic city, cariocas (Rio locals) with a passion for a healthy lifestyle and great food and even though English is far from widely spoken, everyone we came into contact with did their best to communicate with us. Like any city you need to be careful with your belongings and stay where the action is after dark, and wandering through a favela would not be recommended, but we never once felt unsafe in the beach district.

Very Brazil - bikinis for sale beachside!

Very Brazil - bikinis for sale beachside!

So many people ‘welcomed’ us to Rio, and indeed Brazil – like each individual took great pleasure and pride in the fact we had chosen to visit their city. Most welcoming was our Rio host Marcia, whose spare room in her apartment we called home for our city adventure. Booked through a B&B website, we ended up with a room just two blocks from Copacabana beach, breakfast laid out for us each morning, and our own local guide who advised us on things like where to eat, what time of day to visit certain areas and how to take the public transport and avoid taxis in tourist destinations. She was quick to tell us that Rio was not as dangerous as everyone made out and was keen for us to explore the city she calls home. After five days in the city we were navigating the streets and eating like locals, i.e. sitting down to dinner around 9.00pm.

Less than a five minute walk from our apartment we were standing on the famous Copacabana Beach. It’s a little bit dated, and lacks the polish of other international beachside destinations, but there is still an old world charm about Copa that makes you feel at ease. The entertainment along the beach can keep you occupied for hours, and even though the water is too cold for the majority of people to go in, the beach is packed all day every day.

Two icons - Copacabana beach with Sugarloaf in the distance

Two icons - Copacabana beach with Sugarloaf in the distance

Ipanema, made famous in the 60’s hit song Girl from Ipanema, is a glossier, younger version of Copa – the trendy little sister. Wandering the streets here you can see straight away it is the more modern of the two neighbourhoods – the restaurants are sleeker, the clothing stores more upmarket and our sunset cocktails by the lagoon were about 30% more expensive than around the headland in Copa.

Sundowners at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon

Sundowners at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon

There is no doubt that this is a city that needs to be viewed from above, and we were blessed with a clear afternoon as we jumped in the cable car to alight on Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese. You need to know this if you intend to catch the bus there!). Two cable cars take you to the summit of the mountain where you can look down on Copa, Ipanema and beyond, survey the Tijuca National Park and mountain range and if you are lucky see Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer, that big statue!) on his Corcovado mountain when the clouds break.

Sun goes down over Rio and its beautiful coastline

Sun goes down over Rio and its beautiful coastline

The buildings appear to flow around the base of the mountains like a river with the favelas clinging to the sides of the mountains above the city. It may be one of the only places in the world that the lower income residents get the better views out to the ocean. We timed our trip to the top perfectly as we got to see the city in full daylight and then snare a position to witness a gorgeous sunset. The cable cars run until 10pm so there is no need to sacrifice beach time during the day! So Brazil!

View over Copa from Sugarloaf

View over Copa from Sugarloaf

The other view that you simply must see whilst in town is from the base of Cristo atop Corcovado mountain. Be warned – it gets busy up there, so plan an early start. We were on the second train of the day at 9am and did not have to wait in line at all, but heaven help you if you arrive with a swarm of tourist buses during the day. On the bus trip through the city and on the train up the mountain skirting a favela it occurred to us that we were going to a lot of effort to simply see a statue, after all we had already seen the view from Sugarloaf and Egypt had already given us plenty of ‘large statue’ experiences. But this really is something else.

Climbing the stairs to the top

Climbing the stairs to the top

He (i.e. Cristo/Jesus!) is so lifelike, so formidable in height and position and yet like a guardian angel looking over the city. He is elusive too – in one second you have clear sky and no clouds and before you can find your next vantage point he has disappeared in a cloud. It was almost magical watching him, and mesmerising to watch the city and beaches below come in and out of view as the clouds moved around us.

The statue and its base are almost 40m in height - no wonder you can see it from everywhere!

The statue and its base are almost 40m in height - no wonder you can see it from everywhere!

Cristo - an icon of Brazil, not just Rio

Cristo - an icon of Brazil, not just Rio

One of our lasting impressions of Brazil, and specifically Rio, will be the music – it’s everywhere. A lone guitarist on the bus to Sugarloaf in the afternoon; a quartet of musicians on the train down from Corcovado in the morning; blaring from shopfronts on the street; from drink carts on the beach….. to be Brazilian is to have rhythm and the desire to dance seems to be genetic. There is always a sense of fun, like a party could break out at any minute. We can’t even imagine what the vibe would be like for Carnivale – it no doubt lives up to its reputation as the world’s best party and is on our bucket list.

Being December we were far too early for Carnivale but got to see the next best thing by attending a rehearsal of one of the local samba schools. What an experience! We were collected in Copa at 10pm and it took us two hours in Saturday night traffic to reach the suburb where the rehearsal was taking place (this is Rio, of course rehearsal didn’t start until 12.30am!). We were ushered into a hall the size of a plane hangar and our guide got us a few seats, told us to stay put and raced up to the stage to take his place in the band.

Words cannot describe the deafening noise we were subjected to for the next few hours, nor the speed with which the dancers could move – it was phenomenal. Unbeknown to us we happened to be there on the night when they were selecting the girl that would lead their float in the parade next year – like our own live version of Brazilian ‘So you think you can dance?’!! Six girls auditioned for the part with a guy who had already been selected, and it was at the end of the evening that he chose his girl. The reaction from Monalisa, her family and basically everyone in the hall was incredible – like she had just been crowned Miss Universe but better! It is obviously a huge honour to be selected for this position, we felt pretty lucky to watch the whole thing unfold.

Monalisa and partner will lead their samba school in the 2013 Carnivale parade!

Monalisa and partner will lead their samba school in the 2013 Carnivale parade!

Having just arrived from chilly Europe our focus was on the beach, and we didn’t even make it into the historical centre of the city nor did we visit any of the museums or galleries that all receive great reviews too. Frankly, we needed time out from beautifully preserved buildings and information overload – we just wanted to enjoy summer! The good thing about Rio being such a diverse city is that it will definitely be on our agenda again one day so we have left lots to uncover next time.

The 'Two Brothers' at the western end of Ipanema beach

The 'Two Brothers' at the western end of Ipanema beach

There is absolutely a lot of work to do in anticipation of the big events to come but from our experience the locals can’t wait to showcase their city and country on the world stage. It is an exciting period of growth for Rio, and the country, and we are looking forward to watching it all unfold. Rio is apparently the most visited city in the southern hemisphere, but will soon be hosting a lot more people!

Posted by 270days 11.12.2012 13:57 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Lazy days on Brazil‘s endless beaches

sunny 33 °C

A few months ago we didn’t think we would make it to Brazil. In early October we thought we should start doing some research in preparation for the South American leg of our trip and were not surprised to discover we would need visas for most of the countries we had on our hit list. What we hadn’t counted on was that for Brazil we could not purchase the visa at the airport on arrival – we had to apply in person at a Brazilian consulate and be prepared to leave our passports for up to 10 days. Somewhat difficult when you are travelling through Europe and a passport is essential!

After our flight arrived in the UK from Israel at 1am one cold day in early November, we made a beeline for the consulate in London. We had each completed the five page form, we had copies of the requested bank statements and our travel arrangements, and we had the passport size photos ready to go…… we also had a flight to France booked in 8 days that we would need our passports for! We got lucky with our consulate guy who made the process very easy for us, and guaranteed that we could collect our passports in just 7 days. It was at that point we could get excited about the prospect of Brazil!

Canasvieiras beach on the north coast of Florianopolis

Canasvieiras beach on the north coast of Florianopolis

We certainly have not been disappointed. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of land mass, just edging out Australia in sixth position, comprising 26 states with a coastline that provides infinite opportunities for lazy days in the sun. A coastline that is said to be between 7000 -8000km long! It is a country that feels very close to home – great climate, pristine beaches and lush vegetation, unlimited seafood options, laid back and friendly people and an infectious beach culture that has everyone flocking to the beach at every opportunity.

Our diet of seafood and salad

Our diet of seafood and salad

The Brazilians speak Portuguese but if you know a little Spanish the challenge of communicating is somewhat eased. Of course if you are like us and do not know a little Spanish, it can prove to be difficult! We had great plans of learning Spanish before we got here – podcasts are on the ipod ready to go, as well as a “Learn Spanish” app on the ipad, but November just came around too quickly! We have often (and rather embarrassingly) fallen into that horrid tourist habit of just speaking in English slowly and loudly, hoping that by some miracle the pace and volume at which we speak will magically transpire into some sort of mutual understanding. Sometimes it works, but hand gestures and pointing have been effective also whilst we got our heads around some basic Portuguese!

Our first stop in the land of the tiny bikini was an island called Florianopolis, just over an hour by plane south of Sao Paolo in the state of Santa Catarina. This is where Brazilians go for holidays and we certainly jumped in at the deep end with regard to negotiating the language barrier. Florianopolis was slightly off the ‘gringo’ (foreigner/tourist!) track but everyone we came into contact with was so nice and helpful, and we managed to negotiate the language well enough to be able to eat and drink!

Lagoa da Conceição - a 13km long, fresh and saltwater lagoon in the centre of the island

Lagoa da Conceição - a 13km long, fresh and saltwater lagoon in the centre of the island

The beaches here are phenomenal – they stretch for kilometres and the sand is golden and soft. The water temperature however is freezing and even though it is almost high summer there are very few people in the water on any of the beaches we have been to. Thankfully in Brazil going to the beach is not about getting in the ocean – the beach culture here really is something else.

Anything and everything you could want or need is available on the beach: food carts are pushed back and forth all day with empanadas, corn cobs and churros; drink carts pumping music are supplying mojitos, caipirinhas and fresh juices; hawkers walk past with earrings, bikinis and sarongs. There are bars and restaurants that line the shore, kayaks for hire, massage tables, tour operators…. the chaotic blend of activity, paired with the spectacular locations really make hanging out at the beach quite eventful!

Sunset on the northern tip of Florianopolis

Sunset on the northern tip of Florianopolis

We stayed on the northern end of the island and from our fantastic hotel (the Porto Madero Hotel – highly recommended!) we could walk just a few hundred metres to the main street filled with restaurants and shops, and explore multiple beaches within walking distance. After a few days on Brazilian soil Andrew was confident about getting behind the wheel, and we had a hot tip from our hotel manager about a beach back on the mainland that was a local secret. It took us almost two hours to get there, but it was worth it.

The perfect vista of Guarda do Embaú on Brazil's south east coast

The perfect vista of Guarda do Embaú on Brazil's south east coast

Guarda do Embaú was a little piece of paradise. You can’t see it from where you park your car – there is a short walk through dense vegetation before you come out on to a rock ledge overlooking the area. Alternatively, you can take a boat across to the sand bar and set up camp for the day. You just can’t beat the local knowledge! We would never have found this place on our own.

Rowing boats waiting for passengers

Rowing boats waiting for passengers

From the laidback island of Florianopolis it was a 90 minute flight to the city pace and general fabulousness of Rio de Janeiro where we found more of paradise in the bay of Ilha Grande, a 3 hour drive south of the city. There are 360 islands in the bay and our day trip was going to take us to three of them. Clear aqua waters, white sands and a boat that opened the bar from 11am – yes, life is pretty good in Brazil! Along for the ride were a few musicians that kept the atmosphere pumping as people baked, danced and swam. It was a gorgeous day and reminded us a little of cruising the Whitsundays, although a lot cheaper at less than $60 each and with much smaller swimsuits (on the men and women!).

Crystal clear waters of Ilha Grande area

Crystal clear waters of Ilha Grande area

Another day in paradise

Another day in paradise

Although it is a long day trip from Rio we would highly recommend you set aside a day to get to this bay from the city. It really was beautiful and if we ever find ourselves back in this part of the world we will be allocating more time to the Ilha Grande Bay with its 360 islands and accommodation options ranging from camping to 5 star boutique hotels.

Straight off the boat, into the luke warm water

Straight off the boat, into the luke warm water

Cruising Brazil style

Cruising Brazil style

So far so good in Brazil - great food, cheap cocktails and hours of entertainment watching the beautiful people on the beautiful beaches. And then there was Rio…….

Posted by 270days 06.12.2012 05:12 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

French finale to the Euro leg

overcast 13 °C

Unbelievably six months have passed since we arrived in Copenhagen in May, tired and exhilarated from our African adventures, ready to call Europe home until the end of November. And now here we are with our final few days on the continent, savouring our last few French meals and soaking up some history too. We left Paris in a rental car with a plan to do a loop around the outskirts of the city before making our way to Zurich to fly onwards to Brazil.

Heading north first, we visited the D-Day beaches of Normandy on France’s coastline – where the allied forces arrived in Europe on 6 June 1944 during WW2 in the assault on Hitler that would ultimately end the war the following year. In order to get troops and supplies onto the European continent a floating harbour was constructed in England in sections and towed to France across the English Channel. Twenty or so concrete pieces (caissons) are still strewn along the beach: a haunting reminder of the atrocities of the war, and also the engineering marvel that the harbour represented at the time. The museum right by the beach is well worth a visit – really well curated with some amazing video footage from the events at the time.

The harbour was decommissioned in 1944 with most of it recovered and recycled for use elsewhere

The harbour was decommissioned in 1944 with most of it recovered and recycled for use elsewhere

In the area not too far away is the site of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, one of fourteen permanent US cemeteries on foreign soil. Much like Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC, this is a powerful place that really affects you. The immaculate gardens and serene location combine perfectly to honour these people who gave so much. Inside the museum there are personal stories of individuals buried here, including the heartbreaking story of five brothers who all went down on the same ship just off the coast. Lest we forget.

9387 headstones in total, with another 1557 commemorated in the Garden of the Missing

9387 headstones in total, with another 1557 commemorated in the Garden of the Missing

Heading west on our loop around Paris, we came to the familiar image of Mont St Michel, the abbey and small town perched high on a solid granite outcrop off the French coast. Until the late 19th century before the causeway was built, the only way to access the island was by foot at low tide. Once you are within its walls a secret little world of shops and restaurants opens up (a bit like Carcassone that we visited in southern France back in September). Dating back to the 11th century, the abbey is enormous and now doubles as a tourist attraction and conference/events venue.

Instantly recognisable - Mont St Michel

Instantly recognisable - Mont St Michel

Making our way back toward Paris we skirted the bottom of the greater city area to the Loire Valley – home to France’s rather extensive collection of chateaux. To have the time to see all of them you would have to allow weeks in this region, so with barely enough time to see one we had to make it a good one. We chose Chambord for our chateau experience and it was very impressive. Pretty amazing weather too – in a few hours we had brilliant sun, dark storm clouds, rain and then sun again.

The spectacular Chambord Chateau

The spectacular Chambord Chateau

Storm clouds rolling in....

Storm clouds rolling in....

Intended as a hunting lodge and used by the Kings of France in centuries past, the sheer size and spectacular roof on this building was incredible. Building commenced in 1519 directed by King Francis I who never got to see his chateau completed. Successive Kings completed the chateau which is an indicator of why so many styles are represented in the architecture. The chateau sits within a park that covers 5440 hectares, the largest enclosed forest park in Europe, and we were again treated to a beautiful autumn display of colour as we drove through the estate.

It is thought Da Vinci may have had some involvement in the design of the Chateau

It is thought Da Vinci may have had some involvement in the design of the Chateau

Roof with a view

Roof with a view

And that was about all we could fit in before it was time to head to Switzerland to catch our flight (couldn’t afford to miss that one!!). Six action packed months, almost every weather combination imaginable, and memories that will be with us for a lifetime. From Longyearbyen in far northern Norway, to Abu Simbel in southern Egypt, and as far west as the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland, to Jordan’s Petra in the east. We feel so fortunate to have seen and done so much, and so lucky to have the best friends and family who have encouraged and supported us every step of the way.

We left a cold Zurich on Friday evening to arrive in warm and sunny Sao Paolo on Saturday morning, the launching pad for the South American (and final!) leg of the trip. On the agenda are Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile….. bring it on!

Posted by 270days 26.11.2012 14:13 Archived in France Comments (0)

Pas de deux in Paris

overcast 14 °C

It would not have been right to have spent six months in this part of the world and not make a return trip to romantic Paris. Second time around it is still a city we love spending time in, and even in the cold it has the power to lure you out onto the streets to explore new places and encourage you to reacquaint yourself with familiar ones.

The Sacre Coeur - one of the best views of Paris from up here, if you get a clear day

The Sacre Coeur - one of the best views of Paris from up here, if you get a clear day

Artists at work in the Montmartre district

Artists at work in the Montmartre district

This leg of the trip was originally planned for a trio + 1 (i.e. Rhi, Lisa and Diane plus Andrew!). We had grand plans of drinking champagne and eating macaroons as Diane experienced the city for the first time, Lisa having spent her 32nd birthday here last year. It has been a difficult few days wandering the streets knowing how much she wanted to be here with us and still trying to process why she is not. In honour of our special friend it was now just the two of us on a mission to have the Parisian experience we had all hoped to have together.

The symbol of Paris - Tour Eiffel

The symbol of Paris - Tour Eiffel

The Louvre courtyard at twilight

The Louvre courtyard at twilight

Paris is a beautiful city for walking, but when it gets too cold above the ground their metro system is fantastic – every corner of the city can be reached, it’s fast and it is warm! With some of the world’s most recognisable monuments littered around the place and scenic city parks we did our best to stay above ground, and when admiring the city in the cool November weather became too much we retreated inside for coffee and pastries.

Autumn days in Parc Monceau

Autumn days in Parc Monceau

The Arc de Triomphe - great entertainment watching the cars negotiate the traffic here!

The Arc de Triomphe - great entertainment watching the cars negotiate the traffic here!

In the Opera district in the heart of the city you can find the famous Parisian department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, both perfect options for an escape from the weather. Whilst Rhi was enamoured by Dior, McQueen and Blahnik, Andrew took equal pleasure in admiring the Parisian women. Every Friday afternoon the Galeries has a fashion parade that is open to the public which was a bit of fun (albeit torturous) and another great way for us both to be entertained!

Christmas has arrived at the Galeries Lafayette

Christmas has arrived at the Galeries Lafayette

Dior ladies in Printemps. Tres’ beautiful!

Dior ladies in Printemps. Tres’ beautiful!

The city was well dressed for the festive season (with the Galeries’ store windows glamorously dressed by Louis Vuitton) and it was a great surprise to stumble along the Christmas markets on the Champs Elysees. Locals and tourists mingled with food and mulled wine, and the kids had a ball in the ice skating rink. Being away from the usual routine of home the season has crept up on us quickly, so it was nice to wander the streets with the carols sounding and the street decorations alight to get in the spirit.

Winter wonderland on the Champs Elysees

Winter wonderland on the Champs Elysees

Place de la Concorde: home to an obelisk that used to stand at the front of Luxor Temple in Luxor, Egypt

Place de la Concorde: home to an obelisk that used to stand at the front of Luxor Temple in Luxor, Egypt

As with any trip to France, we spent a lot of time eating and achieved the perfect balance of sleepy mornings, a little bit of sightseeing and savouring the local fare. We drank champagne, ate croissants and generally filled up on all things French in between visits to churches and museums and of course an evening at a French cabaret venue. We chose the Crazy Horse this time around, but if you have not seen the Moulin Rouge that is the best one to see!

Coffee and macaroons at a Laduree Tea House

Coffee and macaroons at a Laduree Tea House

Champagne (of course!) at the Crazy Horse cabaret show

Champagne (of course!) at the Crazy Horse cabaret show

One church that is a must see is the Notre Dame cathedral – one of the most visited attractions in Paris. Ironically we skipped it the last time as there were too many people trying to get in! Built in the late 12th century it is considered to be a gothic architectural masterpiece and whilst the inside is beautiful, it is possibly more captivating to walk around the outside of it marvelling at the details and of course the gargoyles.

Notre Dame Cathedral, viewed from the quiet side

Notre Dame Cathedral, viewed from the quiet side

Another beautiful chapel that we had picked out for this visit was Saint Chapelle, a site described as a ‘jewel box’. Easy to see why on arrival – the floor to ceiling stained glass windows on the upper level of the chapel are unlike any we have seen (and we have seen a lot of churches this year!) The chapel is currently undergoing restoration where each panel is removed and painstakingly restored to its original glory. King Louis IV had the chapel built to house the recent acquisition of the Holy Relics, most notably the Crown of Thorns (the cost of which exceeded the cost to build the chapel). The relics are today housed in the treasury at Notre Dame.

1113 scenes are depicted in the 15 stained glass windows at Saint Chapelle

1113 scenes are depicted in the 15 stained glass windows at Saint Chapelle

One of the things we love about Paris is that we have now been here twice, and there are still loads of things we haven’t seen or done which makes it the perfect place to return to again and again. Museums, cathedrals, restaurants and then there are the sights just outside the city too. No doubt we will be back again one day, maybe next time we will get to share it with Diane.

How could you ever get tired of this view?

How could you ever get tired of this view?

Posted by 270days 24.11.2012 16:35 Archived in France Comments (0)

A holiday from our travels

sunny 14 °C

After three weeks of tummy aches, intense heat and early starts it was a welcome reprieve to arrive in Bath for a well-timed holiday from our 270 day adventure (yes we can hear you all groaning from here!). Whilst this travelling game is great fun (and no doubt beats sitting at a desk every day) it is a lot of work to plan, book and coordinate transport, accommodation and activities within time constraints and on a budget. To be honest we wanted a week off, which is exactly what we did!

A stroll through the English countryside

A stroll through the English countryside

It was home to our 5 star B&B in Bath with Rhi’s cousin Lynn and after a few weeks in average accommodation the lure of a comfortable bed, endless hot water and a well-stocked fridge was very strong! Late starts, long pub lunches and lazy afternoons spent indoors as the sun disappeared around 4.30pm were all on our UK agenda. Colder than our last two visits to the UK, it was amazing to see autumn in full swing and we were treated to some beautiful clear days.

Gold, red and orange trees lined the streets everywhere

Gold, red and orange trees lined the streets everywhere

A gorgeous autumn day in London

A gorgeous autumn day in London

It was also a great opportunity for one last catch up with some of Rhi’s cousins before we all said goodbye for who knows how long, and the weather was just right for one of Lynn’s roast dinners. We have been so well looked after by our UK family, it really has been home away from home spending so much time with everyone.

Jacob and Megan - their great-grandfather and Rhi's grandfather are brothers

Jacob and Megan - their great-grandfather and Rhi's grandfather are brothers

But the holiday could not last forever!! For the third and final time this year we said goodbye to our honorary European mum, and made our way into London one last time to catch a flight to France (that we ended up missing! Thank you, London traffic jam!) where we would finish the Euro leg of our trip. With a few hours to kill in the morning we made a stop in Greenwich – home of the Prime Meridian line dividing the Earth into east and west, and the home of time.

One foot on either side of the world!

One foot on either side of the world!

London City viewed from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich

London City viewed from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich

The area is UNESCO listed for the significance of the architecture which includes the Royal Maritime Museum, the Queens House and the Royal Observatory, the view from which is said to be one of the best in town. We were blessed with a blue sky in London in the middle of November – unbelievable but true!

Royal Greenwich under a blue sky

Royal Greenwich under a blue sky

Historical buildings in Greenwich

Historical buildings in Greenwich

Time out from our travels gave us a great opportunity to reflect on the last few months and really appreciate what we have seen and done – and it also made us realise how close we are getting to the end of our adventure. We have less than eight weeks to go until we arrive in Sydney and whilst South America is sure to bring another raft of incredible experiences, being away this long really makes you appreciate home. Flying in over that gorgeous harbour and coastline, with our one-of-a-kind bridge and that opera house will be the perfect finale to a trip that has taken us to so many other identifiable landmarks around the world. See you soon Sydney!

Posted by 270days 22.11.2012 14:05 Archived in England Comments (2)

The melting pot that is Israel

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Israel: a small country on the Mediterranean Sea, difficult to get in and out of, and a mecca to three of the world’s religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Both being Catholic we had an interest in visiting the holy land and the sites that are referenced in the Bible, and to see for ourselves this country that has been coveted, conquered and fought over for centuries. We were not really sure what to expect from our Israeli experience, but the difficulty getting over the border into the country gave us our first insight into how things work here.

This little stretch of land has had a difficult past and the long struggles for independence have no doubt led to the high levels of security and visibility of service men and women on the streets. The border crossings were the toughest we have ever encountered, and in no other country have we witnessed so many service men and women out in public areas with their weapons on full display. The young men on our bus from Eilat on the south coast to Tel Aviv on the north west coast could not have been older than 20 and we admit that watching them get on the bus with their rifles casually slung over their shoulders was a little unnerving.

Tel Aviv is a city by the sea with locals and tourists congregating on its wide beaches and eating in the restaurants and cafes that line the promenade. It felt to us like a city that could have been in any country – there was a wide range of accommodation and restaurants, and if you have no interest in the religious or historical sites of Israel you could easily fly into Tel Aviv and just enjoy a city/beach break. We met a German girl who was doing just that – having a long weekend in Tel Aviv to escape Munich in November!

Sunset on the beach in Tel Aviv

Sunset on the beach in Tel Aviv

Accommodation in Israel is expensive in comparison to Egypt and Jordan and it was difficult to make the transition from our beachside resort in Sharm for US$52 per night to a hostel with shared bathrooms for US$65!! We are not anti-hostel at all and have stayed in some really good, well priced hostels in recent months but this was surprising. Getting around the country is relatively easy with the national bus service operating between all major destinations, and there are so many tours and guide services you can choose from depending on what you want to see and your budget.

With only five days left before our flight back to the UK we elected to do two day trips for two reasons: someone else would be arranging the travel and entry into the places we wanted to see, and we would also have the benefit of learning about the country and the sites from a local. Our guides were great at their jobs, passionate about their country and its history and did a good job of keeping everyone happy. (There is always one in every group who is not happy! Seriously, these people should just stay at home rather than complaining to the guide about the itinerary they were happy to pay for. Rant over!)

No trip to this region would be complete without a soak in the healing waters of the Dead Sea and it was the novelty we expected it to be. You could spend hours bobbing up and down in this water with a temperature close to bath water. After making your way in you lean back into a sitting position and your legs involuntarily lift off the ground leaving you to float effortlessly. The sea is 422 metres below sea level and is so dense with salt it is impossible not to float (we tried, you can’t sink in here!).

Floating on the Dead Sea

Floating on the Dead Sea

Not too far away is Masada, site of a fortress and palace complex commissioned by King Herod around 40 BC. It was also the location of a fierce battle between the Jewish Zealots and the Romans in 72AD which resulted in the Zealots committing mass suicide rather than being caught by the Roman army. It is said that there were as many as 15,000 in the Roman army and just short of 1000 Zealots, including men, women and children who had taken refuge here after Jerusalem had been captured by the Romans.

The remains of King Herod's palace on the side of the cliff

The remains of King Herod's palace on the side of the cliff

The ruins still standing at the top of the Masada site, this was most likely a storage area for food

The ruins still standing at the top of the Masada site, this was most likely a storage area for food

After a short ride in a cable car you reach the top of the site which still has remains from buildings. From the top you can see the Dead Sea just a short distance away and the ruins of the Roman camps that were built around the site before its capture.

Remnants of a Roman camp, now almost 2000 years old

Remnants of a Roman camp, now almost 2000 years old

Having visited the Dead Sea and Masada in one long day we arrived to our (less than pleasant, shall we say!) hostel in Jerusalem. This was the city we were most eager to explore and the guide we had was excellent, taking us through the history of the country and its people, and expertly guiding us to the important sites of the old city, including the path of the Via Dolorosa. It is along this path that the Stations of the Cross are believed to have occurred and whilst we were in the city we witnessed many pilgrims following its trail, some even carrying a cross above the crowd replicating Jesus’ journey.

The 9th station of the Stations of the Cross

The 9th station of the Stations of the Cross

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most important locations in the city: it is believed this church is built on the site where Jesus was crucified. Some of the Stations of the Cross are marked inside the church, including the place where the crucifix is thought to have stood and the granite slab on which Jesus’ body was prepared for burial after his death.

On this granite slab Jesus is said to have been prepared for his burial

On this granite slab Jesus is said to have been prepared for his burial

A mosaic masterpiece in the Holy Sepulchre Church

A mosaic masterpiece in the Holy Sepulchre Church

One of our lasting memories will be standing in this church contemplating the history and its ties to Christianity, and hearing the call to prayer from the nearby mosque. It is evidence that despite setbacks, the city has come a long way in terms of acceptance and co-existence of the different religions that have fought for supremacy in centuries past, and continue to do so today in some areas.

From Christianity to Judaism, we spent some time at the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall), a holy and sacred place for Jews the world over. The wall is said to be a remnant of a retaining wall around the original site of the Temple of Jerusalem and is a shrine for prayer and reflection. There are periods in history when Jews were denied the right to be in Jerusalem at all and the wall is a symbol of their faith that they would one day be allowed to return. Men and women are welcome to pray at the wall but are separated.

The Western Wall, with the Dome of the Rock seen behind

The Western Wall, with the Dome of the Rock seen behind

The recognisable gold dome is the Dome of the Rock – an important site for all three religions due to associations with both the first and second Jewish temples (both destroyed), the Bible and the prophet Mohammed. Built in 691AD it is the oldest example of Islamic architecture to be found in the world. It is history like this that makes Jerusalem such a fascinating place to visit – that on one site the most important religious locations for three different religions can exist.

The Damasacus Gate - one of the entries to the old city of Jerusalem

The Damasacus Gate - one of the entries to the old city of Jerusalem

After an action packed and information loaded morning in Jerusalem it was on to Bethlehem which was an interesting experience. Run by the Palestinians, the city is completed surrounded by a wall and we had to pass through a border check almost as if we were entering another country. Life on the other side of the wall appeared to be little different to Jerusalem, but our young driver tells us it is the safest way for them to go about living and it is a better arrangement for both the Palestinians and Israelis if they keep things separated in this way.

The key site of interest for Christians in Bethlehem is of course the birthplace of Jesus and we were taken to the Church of the Nativity which is said to have been built on the site where the holy family had stayed in the stable on Christmas Eve (for those who have forgotten there was no room at the inn that night!). Two markers are to be found in the basement area of the church – one is believed to be the place where Jesus was delivered and the other where the manger stood.

We found this experience a bit surreal and challenging – watching hundreds of people line up to place their hands on these identified special areas does lead you to question the accuracy of the information and to question your beliefs altogether. On the other hand there is something spiritual about being here with so many people who have all been raised to believe the same thing – no matter their race, or the country or when they were born.

The Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem

The Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem

If we had given ourselves more time in Israel we think we could have visited Masada and the Dead Sea on our own as it was too rushed doing it with a large group and there is a range of transport options on offer. For Jerusalem and Bethlehem though the tour was a good option and gave us the knowledge to be able to go out into Jerusalem again on our own and navigate the four quarters of the city – Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian.

The old town is like one large Grand Bazaar with shops and stalls lining many of the streets

The old town is like one large Grand Bazaar with shops and stalls lining many of the streets

It is probably not a country that will sit high on our ‘must return’ list, but we did leave plenty unexplored so there is scope for a return trip someday. We left feeling grateful that we had been and stimulated by the discussions and debates we had with fellow visitors about what we had experienced and learned. Whether you are a believer or not, there is a spiritual element to a visit to Israel and it does affect you.

Posted by 270days 20.11.2012 15:39 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

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