Friday, 14 December 2007

Blowing this coconut stand

So, today was my last day in the office for 2007. I’m taking the last week off before the office closes for Christmas to fly to London and visit friends before heading ‘oop north’ to spend a week with my family in Yorkshire before heading back to NYC in time for the New Year blow out, although I am not sure I will make any plans. I’m quite bah humbug when it comes to New Years Eve. It’s one of those evenings where high expectations of a good night out pretty much guarantee a mediocre evening, plus the over-priced nature of the festivities always makes me feel a little resentful, especially as it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact my best New Years Eve was probably one of my cheapest. I’ve yet to beat the year I spent in St Ives with 7 gal pals back in…hmmm, I’m not quite sure….I think it was 1998. I probably killed a few brain cells that night which is why my memory of it is spotty.

St Ives is a small, pretty seaside town on the north coast of Cornwall and on New Years Eve it seems that the entire population gets dressed up in costume and hits the town. Everyone, young and old, joins in the fun, you meet so many people. You also don’t have to pay fees to get into the bars and the prices seemed to be pretty much the same as usual. I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to go. We had a grand old time.

I’ll be flying off to London tomorrow, several hours ahead of the severe winter storm that’s heading to the north east of the US this weekend. Leaving a week early means missing the office Christmas shindig, but to be honest it’s a bit of a lame effort compared to the fun parties I’d got used to in London, since it’s usually combined with the annual general meeting!! Can you believe that? We work our arses off all year and how are we rewarded, -certainly not with bonuses I’ll tell you that for, literally, nothing - with a pigging meeting. Hmph!!

Christmas parties in London were an entirely different state of affairs; they were typically themed costumed parties with vodka ice statues and all that jazz. I remember one year the theme was underwater and was held out at some place in the depths of Fulham. It had a courtyard where they’d put a giant inflatable octopus – unfortunately you couldn’t go outside and jump on it – with the interior decorated like the sea bed. A few of us from the department went the simple route with our costumes and dressed as deep sea divers – all in black with snorkels and flippers. It didn’t take us long to start drinking vodka down our snorkels. As the party degenerated into a drunken haze I spent a good hour fending off the attentions of an amorous client – not a client of mine, I might add – who was dressed as a yellow submarine - a concoction he’d made from cardboard boxes – who chased me around the party trying to snog me under the mistletoe. Fortunately for me his costume was so big it prevented him getting within 3feet of me. As you can imagine we were always a bit worse for wear in the office the next morning, and the last one in had to buy bacon sarnies for the team.

Anyway, who knows what I will come back to at the office in 2008 since rumours abound of significant redundancies come the first week of January, which is not great at all, but we’ll see. I’m not going to let it mar my trip, although I am going to try and be careful with money. No rampant spending sprees in Top Shop for me this year. Fortunately I don’t have to shell out on a hotel since Miles has kindly offered to let me stay at his lovely Kensington pied á terre while I’m in London. Fabbo!!

I’ve only stayed at a hotel in London once before; it was a few years ago with my friend Kimberly. I was staying with her that year and on the Saturday I arrived (on the red eye) we had a 9.30pm dinner reservation with a pile of friends at
Locanda Locatelli, a restaurant which at the time one of the ‘in’ places to dine according to my in the know friends, but which I remember being extremely unimpressed with, especially the service, we were halfway through our mains – this was around 10pm - when the wait staff started putting the chairs on tables around us.

Tsk!! Talk about making us feel unwelcome.

Anyway, since Kim lives on the fringes of London, beyond the reach of the tube, she typically ends up hot footing it off to Marylebone to catch her last train come 10.30pm, but neither of us wanted to cut the evening with our friends short, so we decided we’d stay at a hotel for one night.

After rummaging around the internet for hotel availability I found out that, the usually pricey, One Aldwych, a lovely hotel perfectly located close to Covent Garden and very convenient for the ice skating at
Somerset House, had an internet special. I emailed Kimberly who gave it the thumbs up, so I wrote to them from my work email to reserve us a room.

Now, I make a point of mentioning that I made the reservation using my work email address because, by default, my work email adds my job title to the end of any message I send, a job title that by UK standards is rather fancy, but which is actually fairly run of the mill in the U.S., where everyone and their dog seems to be a Vice President of some such. However my job title does include the word ‘Partner’, a pretty meaningless sobriquet where I work, whose only benefits are: a guaranteed 4weeks vacation (pitiful really compared to Europe, but a definite improvement on the 2weeks that I started on); a yearly medical and a business card guaranteed to impress the hell out of any compatriots who are of an age to have grown up with the likes of L.A. Law or Ally McBeal, American shows where all anyone seemed to care about was being made Partner. These shows made a lasting impression on the British public that being a ‘Partner’ is something pretty special, not in all cases, although I think I’m right in thinking that being a partner in a law firm still actually means something. It’s just not the case in marketing.

We got to the hotel around 5pm on Saturday afternoon, and as I signed the registration card I noticed they’d pre printed it with my business information, information they’d clearly taken from the footer of my email. The staff were also very deferential, except we couldn’t help noticing a lot of nudging and giggling going on among the all male staff behind the reception desk – seriously there were like 6 of them – and a lot of pointed glances in our direction. We appeared to be the source of their amusement and, in fact the seemed to be almost wetting themselves in excitement at prospect of two women sharing a hotel room*.

Clearly they thought they had a couple of power lesbians from New York on their hands. My only regret was that I wasn’t dressed the part in a nice black pant suit and heels, but looked like an utter scruff in the jeans I’d travelled in.

If I hadn’t been so utterly jet lagged I would have grabbed Kimberly and given her a big snog to give those giggly boys something to really talk about. Men eh!! They’re such simpletons at times!!

Anyway, I’m all packed up and ready to go first thing, you should see my suitcase, it’s teensy. It’s hard to believe I used to lug suitcases full of stuff over, however after one back pain too many I gave great thought to the clothes I would pack, double checked to ensure I am not inadvertently carrying any weapons – nope, not unless an eyelash curler counts - radio active materials, poisons or infectious substances. I’ve checked in online, topped up my Oyster card for travelling about London. I’m done and dusted. All that’s left to do is get the taxi to the airport.

However there were a couple of things I didn’t get to do before I left this year: I didn’t get to go ice skating with Tel Aviv in Bryant Park, due to the aforementioned preferring to keep his bones intact. Spoilsport!! And I also didn’t get to take some photos of New York getting it’s Christmas on, which is something I keep intending to do every year, as I think NY does Christmas bigger and better than most places I’ve been to, however I never seem to find the time, so instead I did my usual and snaffled a few from flickr which I’ve shared with you below (thanks to the photography skills of keithmaguire, thegirlio, lickyoats and redxdress).

I’ll be offline for a few days while I’m in London, but wherever you are I hope you are having a lovely time, festive or otherwise. Fish xx



*Did I mention the hotel only had double beds? It was no matter to Kim and I, we’re two straight women who’ve shared a bed on many an occasion without any such temptation for a bit of slap and tickle.

I can usually take or leave Adam Sandler comedies....

...but this trailer, which Tel Aviv sent me this morning, had me laughing out loud. Largely due to the similarities between TA and Adam's character, especially the accent. Adam nailed the accent :-) I hope the movie turns out to be as much fun.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Two tunes in one week

I don't usually post multiple songs in a week, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE this, as much as I enjoy the Adele song. Soooo just settle back and relax ladeez and gentlemen and enjoy a little (dramatic pause) Lupe Fiasco and Superstar, in the shops in January.

That last bit was my DJ impression. Radio1 are going to be pure knocking down my door ;-)

Chile Trip: Part 5 - Glaciers & Stuff!!

So a posting that’s somewhat out of place now that I’ve been back almost a month, but I’m going to finish this Chile write up if it kills me, if only to have a personal record of my trip, for when my memory completely fails me. Anyway, here goes.

Friday 16th November was our last day in Puerto Natales, so it was up early, yet again!! Early rising was definitely a theme of our trip, we were either on flights that left first thing, or on tours that departed at the crack o’ dawn. I think I get more sleep on a typical work day than I did on this holiday, but the beautiful scenery, company, Chilean wines and not having to go to meetings or analyse data all day certainly made up for it, so I can’t complain.

So as I said, it was up with the larks on Friday to check out of the hotel, store our luggage, before strolling down to the docks to catch an 8am boat for our tour of Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, Chile’s largest national park and inaccessible except by boat….or helicopter, but we were fresh out of those, so boat it was.

I had my concerns about the boat given my memories of the jalopy we’d taken out to Isla Tobago during our trip to Panama, which had ripped up seating, water all over the floor, and life jackets strewn about the cabin, but the cutter, the 21 de Mayo - assumedly named for the Battle of Iquique which took place on May 21, 1879 during the War of the Pacific between Chile and Peru. (Guess who knows how to look things up in Wikipedia) – was a nicely maintained wee water craft which, in addition to the sights – cormorant colonies, glaciers, seals and condors - promised complimentary tea and coffee and an intriguing sounding crumb sandwich. You can probably tell that I’m very easily intrigued, especially when it comes to food. I was looking forward to some kind of Chilean take on a crumb cake, however I was most disappointed when the aforementioned crumb sandwich turned out to be a corn muffin – where’s the crumb component in that eh - and not even a good one at that, it was hard as a rock!!

Thankfully we’d already had breakfast back at the hotel, so we didn’t require the crumb sandwich for sustenance, and I have to say that it was really the only negative aspect of the tour, well…that and the fact that the pushy elderly French people were there from the hotel, the ones Melissa loved so much. Ahem. As you can imagine she was just THRILLED to bits to see them pile onto the boat after all their shoving she’d endured at the hotel.

Anyway the tour is best told in pictures. After a few hours sailing along the Ultima Esperanza Fjord enjoying the stunning scenery - such as the cormorants which are the black dots you can see in the photo on the top left, the boat didn’t get very close to the cormorants so as not to upset them, and waterfalls, such as the one on the bottom left - and avoiding the French people who were clustered at the front of the boat, we arrived at the Balmaceda Glacier, a hanging glacier 2,035 m (6,674 ft) high, which has been receding for the last 15years or so, shame on us with our global warming shenanigans.




Can you tell how blue it is? The photo doesn't capture the colour especially well. It was freezing cold by the glacier, I’ll tell you that much. I was colder here than I was walking around in that extremely windy bay on the shores of Lago Grey in Torres Del Paine. I had my scarf pretty much wrapped around my head so that just my eyes peeped out. I had to hurriedly take my gloves off to snap a photo as I could only withstand flesh being exposed for a few seconds, but I suppose that goes with the territory with glaciers eh, being ice and all.

Or so I thought….


After admiring the Balmaceda glacier for 15minutes or so, we sailed around the corner and docked for a 5minute walk through 'a leafy forest of coigües and cinnamon trees' to the Serrano glacier. I dressed up in all my layers, only to find it was extremely warm and sunny and I had to strip down to my t-shirt and carry everything. Weird, because it was literally around the corner from the Balmaceda glacier. I suppose it was sheltered, being in a cove and all as opposed to open water. Anyway here are some pics...

That's me on the top left in my black and blue - I'm dressed as a bruise - Michelin Man stylie ensemble for the walk to the glacier. I'd stuffed my wallet and camera in my inside pocket which makes me look like I have lopsided pregnancy going on in that pic. It was quite a tricky walk and I was very glad I had on proper footwear, unlike many of the French people who had obviously gone with style over substance and were wearing puma like trainers or slip on loafers. Slip on loafers!!! I ask you, it's a wonder some of them didn't slip and fall on the rocks and plunge into the icy water. I think Melissa was hoping after one rude woman pushed past her as she was trying to climb the stairs to the top deck of the boat earlier.

Main pic is obviously the Serrano Glacier. Small bits kept falling off this one as we admired it, it wasn't half noisy. Bottom left pic is the glass of Pisco - Chile's national drink; Peru also lay claim to Pisco as their national drink - with a 1,000 year old ice cube made from Serrano glacier ice. The guys on the boat nabbed one of those floaty bits you can see above and used it for our drinks. So, now you'll know that if this particular glacier recedes it's because they nabbed one too many bits of it for ice cubes.

After the Serrano glacier we headed back to Puerto Natales, with a stop at an estancia for a late lunch, finally arriving back in town an hour later than scheduled at 6pm. 'Let's blow this coconut stand' said Melissa as we made a mad dash off the boat, and raced, like Linford Christie, back to the hotel - looking a lot like those mischievous penguins that we saw at Seno Otway - to grab our luggage and hot foot it to the bus station for the 6.30pm bus back to Punta Arenas - otherwise we'd have been on a 9.30pm bus and we wouldn't have got back to Punta Arenas until close to midnight. Fortunately we made by the skin of our teeth.

Four hours later we were relaxing in the bar of the Jose Nogueira hotel with a Pisco sour and a salmon ceviche in front of each of us. Delicious. Probably the tastiest food we'd had in Chile, since if we have one niggle it was that the food, although very fresh, was a bit on the bland side. Not so much as a bit of lemon on your fish. If you ever decide to go to Chile Melissa and I recommend taking a bottle of Tabasco in your suitcase.

Saturday morning we were up at 5.30am for an 8.25am flight back to Santiago, dressed in Santiago appropriate clothing, e.g. one layer and a jacket. Unfortunately when we got to the airport it was to discover that the plane had a technical failure and was awaiting a part from Santiago. We wouldn't be flying until 3pm at the earliest and were herded onto waiting coaches for the trip back to Cabos de Hornos hotel in Punta Arenas for a complimentary breakfast. The hotel guests who were enjoying their first meal of the day looked rather startled when we stormed the dining room.

Afterwards we left the hotel to wander around and I have to say it wasn't much fun wearing Santiago appropriate clothing in Patagonia, but our delayed flight was to the gain of the stall holders in the town square as we stocked up on lapis lazuli gifts for friends and family back home and then afterwards warmed up by touring the Sara Braun and Magellan museums before heading back to the hotel lobby to wait for our complimentary lunch - it was pretty decent food considering, a 3 course meal of tomato soup, pasta bolognese and fruit salad. To quote Melissa "this tomato soup is pretty good. I think this is one Chilean chef who found the spice rack." After lunch we were bundled back onto the buses back to the airport and happily this time we did get to leave for Santiago for one more night there before a 10.30pm flight back to New York.

We spent our last day in Santiago basically just killing time until we were ready to head to the airport. There wasn't much left to do, since we'd pretty much covered all the sights of the city in our first few days, but we did visit a lovely sculpture park that we liked a lot and took a few photos (below). All in all it was the trip of a lifetime and Chile is a country I'd definitely recommend visiting. Melissa and I certainly plan to return.


Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Adele - Chasing Pavements

Unfortunately there's no video available on Youtube, but this song is too good not to post. I cannot wait for her CD!!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Escaping the pre-Christmas chaos

This weekend I decided to stay far far far away from the Christmas shopping madness after last week's Abercrombie and Fitch nightmare and joined a Saturday afternoon tour of the 'Best Exhibits' showing at the Chelsea galleries.

I love these tours. I try to do them every few months or so, but I don't manage to do them nearly as often as I would like. There are a few groups that do them, but mostly I like to do the ones run by
NY Gallery Tours led by Rafael Risemberg. Rafael runs a Best Exhibits tour every month and for $20 - or $15 with an online coupon - he culls down the overwhelming number of exhibits showing at the 200+ galleries in Chelsea to his eight favourite picks. Usually I love 3 or 4 of his picks, hate 2 of them and feel ambivalent about another 2, but it's always 2hours well spent and since he's been running these tours for a few years he has good relationships with the galleries, so you get to find out the fun stuff like how much a piece costs. One time we even met one of the artists, C.K. Wilde, who creates amazing collages using currency, and got to ask him a few questions about his work. I like that a lot because the interpretation of the work is so subjective that you can only really know by speaking to the artist, but sometimes the galleries will tell you. You can see pieces here from the exhibition C.K. Wilde had at the Pavel Zoubok gallery, back in 2006, with another artist, Mark Wagner, who also creates collages using currency, although his preferred media is dollar bills. Unfortunately the photos don't give a true sense of how detailed and clever the work is, so if you have a chance to see his work, don't pass it up.

Anyway, this month my favourite exhibit by a long shot was Do Ho Suh's show Cause & Effect which is showing at the Lehmann Maupin gallery, 540 West 26th St.

In the back room of the gallery is the piece shown in the photo below, which I nabbed from the gallery's website. It's a tornado made of 100s, well more like 1000s, of interlocking plastic figures. The effect of the piece is amazing!! If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.

Rafael reckoned it would sell for upwards of $400,000.

Fancy it for your living room? :-)

Here are other photos I nabbed from Flickr, taken by Sokref1 of the same exhibit with a bit more close up on the detail. The exhibit closes on the 22nd December, so dash on over soon if you are interested in seeing it up close.


Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Getting Old!!!

Phew!!! Just recovering from an ill thought out jaunt to Abercrombie on Fifth Avenue and 56th street.

What a nightmare!!!!!!!

I'm really not liking that store. It's jammed to the rafters with packs of twenty-something foreigners and tourists who either mill around aimlessly, or stand in the way of the door to ogle the half naked man having photos taken with shoppers [generally speaking I'm a brains over biceps type of girl, but lucky ol' me as Tel Aviv has both ;-)] or just generally get in the way of people like ME who only have an hour for lunch and are actually trying to buy something - that would be a t-shirt for my brother-in-law.

I was tempted to aim a swift kick at the ankles of a couple of them I don't mind admitting!!! Oh and the music, do they HAVE to play it that LOUD!!! I think I have perforated eardrums. Or spray so much cologne all over the place, less is more y'know Abercrombie and Fitchers, especially when it comes to perfume. When I finally stumbled out of the place - having struggled through the throngs to do one fruitless circuit of the store for the t-shirt - I smelled like a cheap gigolo!!

Huff!!!!!

I HATE that store. Thank God for internet shopping. I was tempted to boycott Abercrombie altogether after that experience, but that would mean having to think up another gift for my brother-in-law and Banana Republic/J Crew were offering up little in the way of inspiration for an easily postable gift under $50 that would be suitable for summer in Australia - my sister and family moved to Melbourne yesterday - so I pushed my integrity to one side and coughed up $8 in shipping for a dark red trapper's gorge tee to be shipped to the comfort of my office.

It was worth every penny, but I'm boycotting them from now on!! My integrity firmly back in place now that I've bought my gifts ;-)


Photo: Tim and Trudy @ Flickr. Tsk, put some clothes on young man, you'll catch your death in this weather, don't you see it's SNOWING in New York today!!!!!! Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!

P.S. I'll be finishing my final post on Chile as and when I can be bothered, I'm too busy with the Christmas prep right now. Bloggist prerogative ;-)

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov07: Part 4 - Torres Del Paine

Ok, so I lied. This is not going to be my last post on my Chilean hols, since between work, fighting my way through the tourists to do my Christmas shopping of a lunchtime - the Rockefeller tree lighting was yesterday, so they're out in force now snapping pics of the tree - and catching up with friends before I head to England to see the family in just over 2weeks I'm not finding the time to write it all up. Sorry about that. Hopefully you will indulge me a teensy bit longer.

So, this post is all about Torres Del Paine, a Chilean national park located 112 km north (about 69miles) of Puerto Natales and 312 km (193miles) north of Punta Arenas and described by Frommers as follows:

"This is Chile's prized jewel, a national park so magnificent that few in the world can claim a rank in its class....the park is not something you visit; it is something you experience."

I haven’t travelled as extensively as some, Melissa for example, but from what I've seen of this Torres Del Paine those crazy kids at Frommers weren’t exaggerating. Simply put, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Melissa went so far as to say she thought the Chilean scenery was way more impressive than any she'd seen on her travels to New Zealand - I can't say as I haven't been there, although I have seen Lord Of The Rings which is almost the same. Joking of course. As for Torres Del Paine, I’ve yet to see a photo that does it justice, mine certainly don’t, but I shall still inflict them on you. What can I say; I’m a point and click kind of girl, which is blindingly obvious to anyone who knows even a smidgen about photography, such as Tel Aviv who, when flicking through my photos of Chile, declared “I see you used the same setting for all of your photos.”

Hark at David Bailey there.

However it’s not *strictly* true that I used the SAME exact setting!! I think that someone will find that if he looks closely at the aforementioned photos he will find that those taken in and around Santiago appropriately used the ‘Palm Tree’ setting. Whereas when I arrived in Patagonia I immediately made the necessary climatic and scenic adjustment to ‘Mountain’ setting, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it Lord Lichfield. Don’t be trying to confuse me with your aperture chit-chat, implying I know nothing about photography. Pah!!

Ahem!!

Where was I? Oh yes, Torres Del Paine, well actually before I launch into photos of the park, I’ll just give a brief shout out to Puerto Natales, the small town which is the gateway to Torres Del Paine, and where we stayed at the extremely clean, but paper thin walled Hotel Eberhard along with a large unruly posse of elderly French tourists. Now I’ll hold up my hands here and confess to usually being a bit of a Francophile, but these particular French sexagenarians would have tried the patience of Mother Teresa. They were so damn rude and the brief time we actually spent in their proximity was a little on the trying side…primarily me trying to talk Melissa out of shoving them into the Ultima Esperanza Sound just steps away from the hotel. I did this largely with the cunning use of cabernet sauvignon which fortunately calmed her jangled nerves :-)

Here’s the view of the sound from the hotel...

Lovely isn’t it!! I think this being on our doorstep also had something of a calming effect on Melissa.

Our tour picked us up around 8am on the morning of Thursday 15th November - early mornings were definitely the theme of this trip, it seemed like we always had to be somewhere by 8am; it was great to sleep in over the Thanksgiving weekend - for a full day tour of the national park. It was a small group tour by minivan with just seven of us including our bi-lingual guide, Rafael, the driver, Juan, a Chilean couple who were so sweetly smitten with each other we think they must have been on their honeymoon, and a single Chilean guy who the honeymooners took under their wing. We were a cosy bunch!!

It took about an hour to drive up to Torres Del Paine, but along the way you’re treated to even more stunning scenery and it’s easy to understand how the region inspired the poet,
Gabriela Mistral.

Last stop before the park was the ‘service town’ – that’s how our guide referred to it – Villa Cerro Castillo.


I really liked the setting with Mount Castillo overlooking the small town. We stopped here for 20minutes or so, our last opportunity for a few hours to buy water and nip to the loo, before driving up to the entrance to the park and paying our entry fee, 15,000 Chilean pesos for foreigners (about $30); 8,000 pesos for the Chileans.

I’ll only post a few pictures of the, literally, 100s taken, since they’re all much of a muchness to be honest and it would get too repetitive to post more than just a select few. Our tour took us on a circular route through the south end of the park – a 10hour drive with frequent stops for photo opportunities and of course lunch - stopping at scenic lakes, lagoons and waterfalls; however the drive is around the same mountain range, just seen from many different angles with different lakes.

Before reaching the park entrance we stopped to take in the beautiful view of Lago Sarmiento, shown below


This is one of my favourite photos. After that it was off to Laguna Armaga and then around to Lago Nordenskjold, shown below.

After that we drove Salto Grande and walked down to admire a waterfall flowing into Lake Pehoe. We stayed there about half an hour, just drinking in the scenery, before driving down to Lake Pehoe where the Hosteleria Pehoe, built in 1971 - as old as me - is nestled in the middle of the lake....

Gorgeous right? Imagine waking up to that view of a morning!! I inadvertently captured one of our tour companions in my photo - there he is on the right - the single Chilean guy who the honeymooning couple took under their wing

Hosteleria Pehoe was the first accomodation in the park and I believe you can stay there for around $120 per night per room, although I read it's not very comfortable and all the rooms supposedly face into an interior courtyard, but who cares, you don't have to walk far for the view. This was my second favourite sight from the trip. It was breathtaking, although the photo just doesn't capture the full beauty of it.

After lunch at Parilla Pehoe - my friends will be shocked to hear I had steak, given my pseudo veggie past - we drove on, over the Rio Paine visit the shores of Lago Grey. This required a short walk through a wood and down to a bay. Up until this point it was actually pretty warm in the park and we didn't really need to bother with all the hats, gloves, coats we'd brought with us, so I'm not sure why I grabbed all my paraphenalia for the walk down to Lago Grey, but I'm glad I did. Windiest beach EVER!!! Invigorating though. This was my favourite part of Torres Del Paine.



That's us on the lower left, freezing our arses off on the beach, that's me in the blue coat, looking like the Michelin man in my triple layers. Do you see those blue blobs in the water? Ice floes from Glacier Grey. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!! I loved it though!!

After that it was back in the minivan and onto our final stop, Lago Toro, the largest lake in the park. When Melissa perked up at the mention of the Toro, "What was that? Did he say Concha y Toro, as in the vineyard? I'd love a glass of their cabernet right now."

She's wine mad that one!!

Monday, 26 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 3 - Punta Arenas, Patagonia

We got up early on Tuesday 12th - hideously early, like 5am or something – to catch an 8.30am flight to Punta Arenas in Patagonia. You may have seen Punta Arenas in the news recently; it’s the Chilean city those passengers were taken after their Antarctic cruise ship sank and is Chile’s most southern city; although as city’s go it’s on the small side.

When we were booking the trip we found that flying to Punta Arenas from Santiago can be pricey if you try to book from outside of Chile and at the time we were looking LAN Chile were charging close to $700 for the 3½ hour flight. $700!!!! Can you believe that? Extortionate considering we’d paid less, $680, for 12hours of flying from New York to Santiago, however the good news is that you can sneak around the prices by emailing a nice Chilean travel agency, like
Cocha, and having them book flights on your behalf, as we did and ended up saving ourselves almost $400 on the prices quoted on Kayak. Bargain, well, relatively.

Anyway back to the hols recap, we arrived in Punta Arenas, or Sandy Point if you were to call it by its English name – Spanish is infinitely better, right - around lunchtime and immediately noted we were a good 20years younger than your average Patagonian tourist, many of whom were in Punta Arenas courtesy of the Norwegian Dream cruise ship. It was also a good 10 or 20degrees warmer than the brass monkeys temperatures I’d layered up for. It was breezy though and it turned out you do need to carry about hats and stuff, since it can quickly turn foul.

After a lunch of pulpi con arroz at
Sotitos we sauntered over to the travel agency, Tourismo Pali Aike, to pick up the vouchers for our tours of Torres Del Paine and Bernardo O’Higgins National Parks from Alejandra, the travel agent I’d worked with to arrange our time in Patagonia. After giving us all the necessary bits and pieces for our tours Alejandra whipped out a city map and highlighted the location of our hotel in relation to the local bus station where we’d be catching a 5pm bus to Puerto Natales the following afternoon. Alejandra then asked us if we would like her to highlight the sights of Punta Arenas on the map, to which we eagerly nodded our thanks, thrilled to get some local insight. She beamed, seemingly excited to show off her home city, and carefully circled a look out point and two museums.

We had to laugh when, after such initial enthusiasm, Alejandra paused, frowned at the map, sighed in resignation and, shrugging apologetically, told us that 2 museums and a look out point was all there was to see in Punta Arenas.

In our opinion she sold it short; Sandy Point is a cute little city...

Left, from top to bottom: Statue of Ferdinand Magellan in the town square, named after ol' Ferdinand who discovered the straits in 1520. Local custom has it that those who rub the foot of the statue will return to Punta Arenas; the historic and sumptuous Sara Braun mansion, also in the square, half of which has been converted into the Hotel Nogueira - named for Sara's husband Jose, where we later stayed for one night on our return from roughing it in Puerto Natales.

In the cellar of the hotel is a bar, La Taberna, where we enjoyed a vaina, the cocktail shown on the left in the middle, a Chilean drink made from sherry, chocolate liqueur, cognac, powdered sugar and an egg yolk.

It's a lot like drinking trifle!!

It's actually not bad as a dessert, but a bit on the sweet side and it certainly doesn't go well with cheese empanaditas. You can't really drink more than one....except we did. When our waiter came over and said something to us in Spanish which included the English word happy, I nodded and said yes we were happy, not realising that he wasn't asking us if we were content, but asking if we wanted another Vaina as it was happy hour - 2 for the price of 1. Duh!! Well who knew that the English word for 'happy' would also be used in the Spanish phrase for happy hour (hora happy? I'm not sure I didn't quite catch it). I later realised this when I checked the menu after we received our second Vaina, not by understanding our waiter after the fact. My Spanish is not THAT good. In fact my Spanish is terrible as I demonstrated when instead of telling the waiter 'no entiendo' - I don't understand - I said 'no encantado', I'm not singing!! Generally I got a lot of funny looks from the Patagonians when I tried to speak Spanish.

Unfortunately we couldn't face a second, overly sweet, Vaina so we surreptitiously poured our drinks into our empty aqua sin gas bottles and snuck them out in my handbag, intending to throw it away outside rather than leave it and risk offending our waiter, except by the time we walked the 15minutes back to our hotel by the straits a Vaina seemed like a good idea, so we drank it, as demonstrated by Melissa in the bottom left photo. We're a couple of classy birds. The main photo shows the view of Punta Arenas from the lookout point with the Norwegian Dream cruise ship in the background.

Speaking of classy birds, we got up early the next morning to visit the Otway Sound penguins, about an hours drive out of Punta Arenas. Apparently the best time to visit penguins is in the afternoon when they've come back from fishing which is when most of the tours go, however we couldn't do that as we had to catch a 5pm bus to Puerto Natales, so while we didn't see quite as many penguins, we did have them all to ourselves. So cute!!

Although these two, running amok in the grass were our favourites. I know, grass!!! Weird right? I never knew penguins inhabited grassy areas, but these particular ones, Magellenic penguins, live in small caves in a field by the edge of the Seno Otway. This pair were clearly up to no good, waddling around as fast as their little penguin feet would take them while the other penguins were out catching fish. They looked so mischievous I'm sure if they were human they'd no doubt have an ASBO or two :-)


Next and final Chile recap, Torres Del Paine and Bernardo O'Higgins National Parks.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 2 - Valparaíso, Viña Del Mar & Wine Tasting at Concha y Toro vineyard

On our second day in Chile we took a 10am TurBus Busscar coach from Alameda station for a day trip to Valparaíso, 74miles North West of Santiago on the Pacific coast; a city which once enjoyed a golden age as the principal seaport for ships sailing around the Cape Horn, that is until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. However it’s still Chile’s most important port, and, according to Wikipedia it’s seen a resurgence in traffic over the last few decades “with fruit exports, increasing opening of the Chilean economy to world commerce, and Panamax ships that do not fit the Panama Canal.”

The trip out to the coast takes about 2hours by bus – it kept stopping to drop people off seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a bit like the scene in North by Northwest when Cary Grant is chased by the plane. I love that movie, although I’ve probably watched it once too often as I kept expecting the bus to be pursued by a crop-duster!!! – its a very scenic trip, albeit a bit repetitive, as we passed through vineyard after vineyard after vineyard, Veramonte, Morande and Casablanca to name a few. I later learned the area supposedly has the perfect climate for growing Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Melissa, however saw none of this since she was completely spark out, snoozing for the entire journey. Although I couldn’t say I blamed her, since we’d got up hideously early that morning to get the bus and the Busscar coach was extremely comfortable. She later claimed it to be the best two hours sleep of her life and says she’s considering doing research into whether Busscar also make beds. In fact so enthralled was Melissa by the comfort of these buses that if you were to ask her what her favourite aspect of her trip to Chile was I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if she said the
Busscar buses, closely followed by the Alfajores, chocolate coated cookies with a dulce de leche filling. Mmmmm!!!

…But back to Valparaíso, an interesting, if slightly run down, city of colourful homes hugging steep hills overlooking the Pacific ocean; a higgledy piggledy maze of streets and passages to explore and lots and lots of ‘ascensors’ – elevators in English, it doesn’t have quite the same ring as ascensors does it? – raising you from the seafront to the mish mash of streets above. We spent about an hour or so wandering around, trying to make sense of the suggested tour route in our guide book – it’s all very well giving us street names to follow when the streets don’t have piggin’ signs. Pht – and feeling a lot like we were lost in a giant maze. In general we liked Valparaíso and thought it was an interesting city, but we both agreed that as tourists Valparaíso wasn’t a city we’d necessarily have felt comfortable in at night, as although it didn’t feel unsafe during the day, it seemed all too easy to get lost and end up somewhere a bit dodgy.



Left, from top to bottom: Monument to the Heroes of Iquique; erm…..not sure what this is, it’s an official building, but I couldn’t tell you which one; Ascensor Peral; Pasaje Bavestrello. Main pic: a view of the hills.

Below is a view of the port from the hills. As you can see it’s quite an industrial city.


After stopping for lunch we decided we’d pretty much exhausted Valparaíso - you've seen one ascensor, you've seen 'em all - and decided to take the train to neighbouring Viña Del Mar, a popular beach resort 15minutes away.

Viña Del Mar is nice, very pretty and well maintained, but unless you are a beach person, which neither of us are, there’s not an awful lot to do there, save for the small botanical garden and a few fancy mansions built by Viña’s early 20th Century elite. We had a walk around and stopped for a coffee and ice-cream, or 'Té con leche' in Melissa's case. She drank a lot of tea while we were in Chile, although none so unusual as the one she was served in the cafe in Viña, I remember she looked at me in complete horror as the waiter indicated her to put her tea-bag in the bottom of her cup and the proceeded to pour hot milk over it. I couldn't help but laugh, which upset our waiter a bit and we had to explain to him in broken Spanish that 'Té con leche' was typically served with agua caliente y un poco de leche frio. He seemed somewhat placated, although it wouldn't have surprised me if he'd spit in our ice cream.

Anyway, here are a few pics of the botanical gardens and the beach.

Left, pictures of Quinta Vergara Park/Botanical Garden. From top to bottom: Palacio Vergara, once a home of the Portuguese shipping magnate Francisco Alvarez and his wife who created the park; a sculpture made from a tree; cutsie mum and baby elephant topiaries. Main pic: Playa Acapulco and Playa Mirasol beaches which are divided by the pier.

On Monday 12th, our 3rd day and final day in Santiago before our flight to Patagonia on Tuesday morning, we booked ourselves on a half day vineyard tour through our hotel for a cost of 25,000 Chilean pesos - about $50 US. The tour bus was scheduled to pick us up at 1pm - there were also all day tours, but we'd sampled enough Chilean wine with dinner during our first couple of days in Santiago to not be so keen on the idea of drinking before noon - so we spent the morning wandering around the sights close to the hotel in downtown Santiago including the Barrio Paris Londres (top left of the photo below), a small hodge podge of small mansion houses lining Calles Paris and Londres behind our hotel; the Plaza de Armas (bottom left), the central square of downtown Santiago where they were in the process of putting up the Christmas tree, although not a proper tree, just leaves - possibly fake leaves at that - over a frame; and Casa Colorado (main pic), the red house, one of the best preserved colonial structures in the city and former residence of Mateo de Toro y Zambrano, a successful 18th century business man, now housing the Museo de Santiago.

Afterwards we headed over to scale the heights of the Cerro Santa Lucia, a charming hill top park off the main downtown street, Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins and a stones throw from our hotel.


We'd seen all the sights with an hour to spare before the tour was due to pick us up, so we decided it would probably be a good idea to line our stomachs with a sandwich before wine tasting, and ducked into a little hole in the wall cafe across the street from the hotel on the busy Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins to order a ham and cheese sandwich each - I completely gave up on my pseudo vegetarianism - no meat, only fish, with the occasional exception for the divine pork buns at Momofuku Ssam - while in Chile. In Patagonia I even ended up scoffing beef and lamb at Parilla's when the menu was limited to that or chicken, and Melissa subtitled the trip, 'Chile, the unravelling of the vegetarian.' The coffee served in the hole in the wall cafe was divine and we rhapsodized over it being the best coffee EVER!! Melissa and I both have a few airs and graces when it comes to coffee drinking in New York, Melissa spends at least $12 on a bag of coffee and has all the paraphenalia, grinders and what not, and while I don't have all that, I love stopping by the artisanal coffee shops in the city such as Cafe Grumpy and Ninth St Expresso, so you can imagine we were quite embarrassed when we later realised we'd been drinking granulated Nescafe with hot milk. Ooopsie!! Ha ha!!

The wine tasting was about an hours drive south of Santiago at a vineyard in Pirque in the Maipo Valley, an area known for cabernet sauvignon, belonging to the Concha y toro winery, Chile’s largest, and founded in 1883 by Melchor Santiago de Concha y Cerda and his wife, Emiliana Subercaseaux.

The winery is known for, among others, its Casillero del Diablo (Devil’s cellar) range of wines and legend has it that in the 19th century, Don Melchor noticed wine was being stolen from his cellar by villagers, and to put a stop to it he spread a rumour his cellar was inhabited by the devil. At least that’s the version told to us by Kristen who took us on the tour through the vineyard. However according to our tour rep, Carolina, the unofficial story is that Don Melchor was carrying on with a woman named Ameliana and the cellar was where they met for their secret assignations. Oh, and Ameliana, she was apparently Don Melchor’s niece. HIS NIECE!!!!!!!

The dirty old bugger!!!

We also learned of Chile’s production of Carménère, a grape variety originally from Bordeaux, which was almost completely wiped out in France by phylloxera in the late 1800s, but which thrives in Chile. However until 1994 Chile inadvertently collected and pressed Carménère along with Merlot grapes and bottled and sold them as Merlot, not realising the two grapes were different varieties. It wasn’t until a 1994 visit from a French wine making expert that the mistake came to light and they realised the Carménère grape was alive and well and living in Chile – due to some vines brought over from France by early European settlers – and very nice it is too. I brought a bottle home. They also make a gorgeous cabernet sauvignon, Marques de Casa Concha. Mmmmmm!!

And on that educational note I shall love you and leave you with these photos of the vineyard. Next up, Patagonia!!


Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 1

So obviously I am back from Chile. I had a great time and almost wished I could have stayed a few days longer so that I could have squeezed in a visit the hot springs in Pucon, but they will save for another trip, since Melissa and I certainly intend to return.

We started our trip on Friday 9th November, taking a late afternoon flight from Newark to Atlanta and then connecting to a 9.10pm flight to Santiago and landing in Chile around 8.30am on Saturday morning. The hotel check in wasn’t until 3pm, so we figured we’d drop our bags and explore the city, but luckily the people at the hotel, the Plaza San Francisco in downtown Santiago – highly recommended – were nice enough to let us check in early, 5.5hours early, so we were happily able to shower off the flight and change before heading out to see the sights. Our first stop was the Cerro San Cristóbal, a 485m high hill – that’s about 1591feet for you non-metric types - in the Bellavista neighbourhood on the north side of Santiago city centre, which both our guide books had indicated as an essential first stop, recommending either taking the steep walk that would take approx. an hour – ha, yeah right – or the funicular that lifts visitors to the summit for ‘exquisite views’ – smog permitting – of Santiago.

It took about half an hour to walk through the centre of downtown Santiago from our hotel and my first and as it turned out, unfair, impression of the city was that it was a bit run down and not very pretty. I think I was a little spoiled with my first trip to South America being to Buenos Aires which just smacks you in the face with its beauty, Buenos Aires really is the Paris of South America; it’s a stunning city; however Santiago definitely has its charms. You just have to work a little harder to find them. When we arrived at the park – Cerro San Cristóbal is located inside Parque Metropolitano, or maybe it’s the other way around and Parque Metropolitano is on Cerro San Cristóbal . Hmmm!! I’m not sure, but either way it’s a park on a huge hill – we bought tickets for both the funicular and the cable car, or teleférico as it’s known in those parts, and loaded into the funicular with about 20 or so other people to set out for the peak.

I quite enjoyed the ride at first. It was a lovely day; the breeze blew through my hair, it was really very pleasant, but then the damn thing just kept going up and up and up and up and up…

Jesus, were we ever going to STOP!!!!


I looked down at where we’d come from and whew, omigod it was a long way down. I felt dizzy as I envisaged a freak accident with the funicular tumbling off the side of the cliff – seriously it didn’t feel like a hill anymore, it was definitely cliff-like – and us plummeting to our deaths. The fact that the funicular had functioned perfectly well since 1925 did nothing to appease the knots in my stomach and I was close to hiding on the carriage floor until we reached the top. However there were children riding alongside me quite happily in the funicular, many many children, all of them acting a lot braver than me, and…well I have my pride, so I gritted my teeth tried to focus on our destination rather than sure fire death onto the ground below.

Oh yeah, so in case I’ve never mentioned it before, I’m afraid of heights and it was on shaky legs that I finally escaped the funicular to soak up the spectacular views of the city.

Breathtaking!! I’m so glad I was so brave :-)


Santiago has a quirky, but spectacular topography. It’s nestled, snug as a bug in a rug, in an enormous valley which has the Andes to the east and the Chilean Coastal Range, to the west, however in the middle it’s pretty much as flat as a pancake, save for a couple of enormous hills.

As for the summit, well the place was hopping. Cerro San Cristóbal is clearly the place to be of a Saturday afternoon in Santiago, it was also surprisingly full of cyclists in their clingy little lycra outfits. Ooh my eyes!! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I disapprove of this fashion practice I really do. I really don’t need to see their bits thank you very much, and it certainly didn’t seem appropriate with so many children present, but I did admire their gumption in cycling up that damn hill.

After a jamon y queso sandwich and a café con leche at the café atop the hill we headed over to catch the teleférico which connects the two sides of the park for a visit to the botanical garden, a trip that nearly didn’t happen since I almost bottled it when I noted the two to three hundred foot drop beneath the egg shaped cars as they swung off the lip of the teleférico station and made their way over the hills.

Gulp!!

However I did it, not with any dignity this time though since there was only Melissa to witness my fear. I clung on to that little pole inside the car for dear life as Melissa quite happily moved around in her seat to take in the views all around us. I felt the little car sway on its wire each time she moved. It wouldn’t have been the best start to our vacation had I shouted at her to sit still, so I kept my mouth shut, but I have to say I was close.

Anyway here are a few photos from my journey of terror. From top to bottom: The view of Santiago as we ascended the hill in the funicular; the view from the summit – can you see the mountains in the distance? It’s a bit hazy, but if you squint you can make ‘em out; the 22m high (72ft) statue of the Virgin de la Inmaculada Concepción on the summit – after the trip up I said a few Hail Mary’s to her I can tell you; the detestable teleférico – so not terrifico fun for me; a cable car passing by the botanical gardens en route to the Estación Teleférico Oasis. Do you see how high up that is? I swear those skinny wires could snap like rotten twigs. I was expecting a visit from the Grim Reaper during that little trip I don’t mind telling you.

After descending from the summit we wound our way through the streets of Bellavista, to visit La Chascona, the former Santiago residence of Pablo Neruda, considered one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century, a poet that I’d…um…ahem…cough….never heard of until this trip. This despite him winning a noble prize for literature in 1971 and there being an Oscar winning 1994 movie, Il Postino, loosely inspired by his political exile in Italy. A movie I’ve heard of but have yet to see. Rest assured I’ll be renting it sharpish!! I’ll also probably be investing in one of his books. I feel quite shamefaced about admitting to having never heard of him, but hey ho, you can’t know everything can you?

Neruda built La Chascona ("woman with tousled hair") in 1953 named in honour of Matilde Urrutia his secret lover until 1955 and later his third wife. Her hair was so crazy her friends nicknamed her Medusa according to our guide. La Chascona is a quirky, but charming house built on a steep piece of land and full of knick knacks Neruda collected over the years such as sea shells and giant advertising props, such as the shoes and the clock you can see in the photo on the far right.

These aren’t my photos. Melissa took quite a few, but we’ve yet to regroup and exchange pics, so I nabbed these from Flickr and from the Neruda Foundation website. Credit where credit is due, from L-R: Rogellex, Buitycakes, Kunstmann & fundacionneruda.org

Less lengthy posts on Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar, Vineyards and Patagonia to follow.

Move over Amy Winehouse

I just heard this song on Radio1 and I LOVE it. The singer is Duffy and the song is Rockferry. It's produced by the fabulous Bernard Butler. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Hola Chicos!!

So, I am back in work today after my South American jaunt. I arrived home yesterday and my God I was soooo knackered. We left the hotel in Santiago at 7pm Chilean time (5pm US) on Sunday and I finally arrived at my apartment at 1.30pm on Monday. What's that, 18.5hours of travelling? I really don't know how people make those long distance trips to the likes of Australia, especially when you factor in jet lag, at least that's not a problem with Chile, they’re only 2hours ahead of New York, but I was so tired from being scrunched up in a plane seat for 12hours, I spent much of yesterday at home trying to relax and simultaneously minimise my air travel induced cankles by lying on my living room floor with my legs up against the wall whilst catching up with my DVR. It was quite a nice way to spend the afternoon :-)

Anyway Chile was FABBO, well worth the long trip and YES, the water really does go down the plughole the other way. We were thrilled when we realised that. We tried to determine whether that was true when we went to Argentina a few years back, but couldn’t quite tell, but we discovered it is indeed a fact while rinsing out wine glasses in our hotel room – yes, it was that sort of vacation, well it would have been rude not to partake of a beverage. The Chileans are famed for their grape pressing abilities and I have to say they do a lovely line in Cab Sauv.

Anyway, I shall report on my trip in detail in the coming days/weeks. I need to plough through my notes – yes kids I made notes – and the 300 or so photos I took of mountains and glaciers first to pick out some good/decent ones, but in summary, Melissa and I both loved Chile to bits. It’s the most phenomenal country and we both definitely hope to go back in the not too distant future.

We arrived in Santiago on Saturday 10th November and used the city as a base for 3days for exploring, including a day to the coastal towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar and a half day’s visit to a vineyard in the Maipo valley, about an hour south of Santiago, before heading down to Patagonia for 4days, first stopping in the formerly wealthy port town of Punta Arenas and visit the Otway Sound penguins and then heading to Puerto Natales to experience Torres Del Paine national park (spectacular) and then taking a boat trip through Bernardo O'Higgins National Park to see a couple of glaciers. After 4days of jaw dropping scenery – seeing nature up close like that really does make you feel very small and insignificant – we headed back to Santiago for a day and a bit before our late flight back to New York on Sunday night.

As I said I am back in work today, but thankfully it's a short week since the office closes at 1pm tomorrow for Thanksgiving and doesn’t reopen until Monday 26th.

Do I know how to time a vacation or what?

I'll pretty much have time to wade through my emails, shuffle a few papers before I'm off again. Whoo hoo!!
I love Thanksgiving. It’s not stressful for me like it is for some of my American friends since I don’t have any family obligations; it’s just 2.5 lovely days off work as far as I am concerned. Tel Aviv, work-a-holic that he is, is disappointed his office is closed and is considering working anyway. Do you think he is mentally impaired? Or maybe it’s just because I threatened to take him ice skating at the free rink in Bryant Park :-)

I coerced my friend Nick into going with me last year, when he was over visiting from London. It was um…interesting. Nick is 6foot 4 and built like the proverbial outhouse and non-too steady on two thin blades, especially not after a glass of Rioja. On the other hand I err on the petite side (5ft 1), with a decent sense of balance from all the gymnastics and dance lessons I took as a kid, so while I’m not exactly performing double axels and triple loop jumps, I can usually manage to stay upright for a couple of laps around an ice rink, however being the good friend I am, I took Nick by the arm to guide him around. Not necessarily the wisest move on my part. We’d only been out on the ice 2minutes before he started pin wheeling his arms, his feet started shuffling fast and down he went with a thud. A kindly man helped me pick him up off the ice and off we went again. If memory serves I think we made it another 20yards before he went down again, almost taking me with him this time. It was at that point a little voice in my head said “you know, if he falls on you, he might well kill you.”


In fear for my life - or at least for my bones remaining intact - I decided I’d been enough of a friend and let Nick have a go on his own after that, popping back to check on him every now and again to ensure he wasn't prostrate on the ice. I did appreciate the effort though and treated him to a large martini at Employees Only afterwards :-)

This year I’m having lunch with my Brit friend Nigel. We’ve got a late reservation at Odeon in Tribeca where they’re having their regular menu as well as a Thanksgiving themed prix fixe, but happily they’re not charging an arm and a leg for a bit o’ turkey. Seriously $100 per person is not uncommon in Manhattan restaurants on Thanksgiving. It’s extortionate. Before I knew better I took my parents out for Thanksgiving at the Cub Room in SoHo and paid nigh on $400 when I factored in wine, tax and tip. Eeeek!!!

Anyway I'm off to catch up on more work emails, but here’s a lovely photo of the ice skating in Bryant Park, posted on flickr by Pianoforte. Isn’t it pretty? Nigel is non too keen on accompanying me for a spin around the ice either, but I have a cunning plan to broach the subject again over Thanksgiving dinner once his defences are sufficiently dulled by wine. Hee hee!!


Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Temporary Service Disruption

We apologise unreservedly for this temporary disruption in your regular service.

Blog service will be sporadic to non-existent for approximately two weeks while our author undergoes critical maintenance for the restoration of her sanity.

We regret any inconvenience this outage may have caused and thank you for your patience and continued support.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

.....And relax

Hope you’re having a nice weekend. Mine has been very nice and relaxing so far, I had a lovely evening of ‘cherish time’ with Tel Aviv last night, who, knowing I frequently check the keywords driving traffic to my blog, has taken to manipulating my search terms to proffer invitations to meet, such as this one from Thursday…

"tel aviv would like to meet you on friday fishwithoutbicycle".

Cute Tel Aviv, very cute. Very inventive :-)

Then, this afternoon, I met Jacqui for a leisurely brunch at Public restaurant on Elizabeth St, a beautifully designed restaurant, which I love for dinner, and now a restaurant I love for brunch, especially their bellinis. Best ever!!! I highly recommend paying a visit if you’re in town. They also have a great wine bar, the Monday Room, tucked away behind an innocuous looking door behind the hostess station, which is well worth a visit. Yes, all in all it’s been a lovely and relaxing couple of days, something I was in need of after a frenetic week at work trying to get everything sorted before my upcoming trip to South America.

Surprisingly for this trip I haven’t been anything close to my typically uber-organised pre-vacation self. Usually I’m the one that’s read all the guide books, sorted the hotels, made a list of the clothes I need to take, washed and ironed everything and laid them out ready for packing into my suitcase a whole week before I go - hey, don’t mock the afflicted, I can’t help myself, I was a Girl Guide - however, not this time around. This time Melissa and I have both been so busy with work we decided the only way not to explode in a ball of stress was to take a more casual approach and not try and organise everything before we go, so other than having somewhere to stay for the first few days in Santiago we planned to book everything once we got to Chile.

Anyone who knows me will be shocked to hear this – in fact that thunk you just heard is my friend Miles fainting to the floor – since I’m such a planner at heart and if there’s one thing I like to have sorted on a trip to foreign parts, it’s where I’m going to be resting my head of an evening. I’m just not someone willing to take the risk of booking hotels on arrival, since it would be my luck to discover the world’s biggest conference is in town and the only rooms available are in some dilapidated, bug infested hotel in the dodgiest neighbourhood. Call me high maintenance if you will, but I like to stay in a centrally located, roach-free room with a working hair dryer. However this time I just didn’t have time to worry about it, so I allowed the vacation to creep closer and tried not to pay it too much mind; that is until a phone call with my client contact, Patricia, this past Tuesday.

I’ve worked with Patricia sporadically for about 3 or 4 years. She’s a very nice woman, but very focused on the job, she’s not a client who goes in for much personal chit chat, but gets straight down to business. Even though I’ve known her for a while and love working with her I don’t know an awful lot about her on a personal level, so it came as a fortuitous surprise on Tuesday to discover that she’s from Chile, and on finding out that I’m heading to her home country on vacation in a few days, got very excited and started giving me recommendations of places to visit in Santiago and Patagonia, with the warning "whatever you do don't go to Patagonia without booking hotels, or any tours you want to do of the national parks in advance. If you don’t have it booked when you arrive there, they'll see you as desperate tourists and rip you off. It will cost you a fortune"

Hmmmmm!! Time to start doing a bit more research, and as my conversation with Patricia progressed I realised that organising accommodation wasn’t the only way in which I was unprepared…

PATRICIA: Are you planning to go to Torres Del Paine?
ME: Yes, we're thinking of hiring a car and driving up to Puerto Natales and using the town as a base for exploring.
PATRICIA: You should organise your car hire when you’re in Santiago, I recommend Eco-Rent. If you wait until you arrive in Punta Arenas they’ll over charge you. I assume you have warm outdoor clothing for Patagonia?
ME: Um….warm outdoor clothing. Isn’t it spring in Patagonia right now?
PATRICIA
: Yes, but you’ll need outdoor clothing, ideally waterproofs since even in spring there’s a chance of snow. It can snow there even in summer.
ME: It can snow in summer?
PATRICIA: Yes, occasionally. Make sure you take lots of layers as it can feel really cold in Torres Del Paine whatever time of year you’re there, because the winds blow in from Antarctica. The wind is really strong down there; the trees don’t grow upright; they grow sideways.

WHAT!!!! It’s so windy the trees grow SIDEWAYS!!!!

Gulp. Suddenly I wasn't looking forward to my inevitably turbulent flight down to Punta Arenas. Whose stupid idea was it to go to Patagonia anyway? Ahem, oh yes, it was mine!! DOH!!!!

Patricia went on to ask if I had a good pair of hiking boots. Hiking boots!! Clearly the woman doesn’t know me at all. I don't do hiking boots. Cute, trendy leisure shoes for walking around New York, yes, hiking boots no. I may have grown up in the country, but I’m a city girl at heart...when it comes to footwear I’m generally about cute heels and nice handbags thank you very much. Hiking boots indeed.

However Patricia spooked me sufficiently that when we’d finished chatting I immediately went to Zappos.com to order Patagonia appropriate footwear. I LOVE Zappos; it’s the best web store EVER!! If you order a pair of shoes before 1pm they’ll arrive the NEXT DAY!! How great is that? Plus the shipping and returns are FREE, it’s a boon to we shoe fixated types who work long hours, which aren’t conducive to physically visiting shoe shops!!! I also discovered that they now sell outdoor clothing. Perfecto, I’d have this outdoor clothing snafu sorted in no time.

As of Thursday I’m the proud owner of a cosy black jacket, a snugly pair of black fleecy Patagonia brand pants to keep me warm against the Antarctic winds - $75 for fleecey trousers, can you believe that? They’d better bloody launder themselves for that price – and a pair of black Italian hiking boots - yes, even my hiking boots have to be Italian, I can’t help it, I don’t believe in skimping on shoes. They’ve been taking the piss out of me big time at work for ordering everything in black, claiming that even in the wilds of Patagonia I’ll still be dressed like a New Yorker. Pht, so what!! Just because there’ll only be a few pigeons to see me doesn’t mean I can’t be a little stylish now does it? No!! Besides, if I buy everything in black I’ll be able to wear it when it snows in New York. See office piss takers, I’m thinking ahead. There’s that Girl Guide thing again.

I also heeded Patricia’s warning and made inquiries into hotels and tours, in fact the whole week has been one big internet shopping and vacation booking frenzy, with some work thrown in for good measure. I've got the trip to the Penguin sanctuary sorted, all the hotels – nice looking ones too with hairdryers. We're just waiting on confirmation of a 2 day tour of Torres Del Paine and Bernard O'Higgins - very Chilean sounding is ol’ Bernie O'Higgins eh? - National Parks and we’ll be all set!!

And now that I'm more organised, I can’t wait!! :-)

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Boo!!

Okay, I’ll admit the title of this post is sooooooo lame, unfortunately I can’t do any better I’m overworked and lacking inspiration. Nine days to my hols and counting!! Whoo hoo!!!

So, a happy Halloween to you, I hope, unlike me, you’re going to do something fun tonight. I've been debating the merits of stopping by the
Halloween parade in the village this evening, but quite frankly I don’t think I can be arsed. I’ve not been sleeping well this week so I’m in too crabby a mood to deal with the crowds, however if you are ever in New York on Halloween and of a sunnier disposition than I am at this moment then I definitely recommend stopping by to see it, it's a great parade. In fact, even better, you could join in, since this particular parade, unlike most of the others in the city, is a free for all. Absolutely ANYONE can join in as long as they’re in costume; you just have to turn up at the staging area at 6th Ave. and Spring St between 6.30pm and 8pm and as long as you’re all gussied up you’re in.

I did it myself a few years back; I joined a friend and a gaggle of her friends as a 1960s Tom Jones groupie – a very easy costume, mini dress, boots, big hair and Dusty Springfield style make up. We screamed and danced along in the parade behind ‘Tom’ – the husband of one of the women who was the spit of the Welsh singing sensation – throwing our knickers at him – we each had multiple pairs of lacy ones attached by elastic to our wrists - as he lip synched to Tom’s hits in his best Tom Jones costume - tight black trousers, shirt open to his navel and a glistening gold medallion resplendent on a rug of fake chest hair. He had the groin thrusting down pat. It was a very fun night and I’d say that if you can actually get your act together to be in the parade, it’s a much better way to enjoy the festivities since you don’t have to deal with the jostling crowds of spectators.

Of course festivities aren’t just restricted to the parade; there’ll be people in fancy dress all over town this evening and there were a lot interestingly dressed people on the subway this morning, many looking like they were half in costume already. I was trying to work out whether the woman next to me – in vivid orange skirt and matching tights – was making a fashion statement, or whether her outfit formed the basis of some pumpkin themed costume she’d be wearing later on. Whatever the reason it was an outfit that was a tad too bright for my bleary sleep deprived eyes at 7.30am in the morning. I also heard on the radio that dressing as Amy Winehouse is expected to be a popular choice this year - it was all about pirates last year - so I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for beehives on the way home. In the meantime i've nabbed some pics of Halloween 2006 from NewYorkDailyPhoto - a blog I love to bits - for your viewing pleasure. If you are interested in seeing more photos I highly recommend checking out NYDP's Flickr site here. It's fab!! Have a good one!!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Mating Game

This post probably isn't what you thought it might be about given its title - although I am still playing the mating game with ol' teetotal, chick flick loving Tel Aviv - TCFLTA for short - I just haven't gotten around to writing about it yet, despite his many 'when are you going to blog about ME?' requests. Soon Tel Aviv, soon :-)

Instead this post is a bit of a plug for the band Bitter:Sweet. Not that they need it I'm sure, their music has been everywhere this past year. If you live in America and watch even the smallest amount of TV I don't see how you could have missed them, especially if you watch Grey's Anatomy.

Right now their song, Dirty Laundry, is being used - yet again - to promote 'Samantha Who', a cute wee TV show I'm trying on for size at the moment. I'm quite liking it.

Bitter: Sweet are a fabulous band, I love the whole slinky sound they have going on. For a while they were my band of choice for music to dance around my bedroom. They don't perform in NY very often, they're LA based, although I saw them at Joe's Pub back in February when my gorgeous gay hub - and Andersen Cooper looky likey - Miles was over for a Valentines visit. The lead singer has that whole sexy chanteuse thing going on. Miles and I had quite the girl crush on her. If you've never heard of them I hope you enjoy 'the mating game'.