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London: not the highlights

We have lived a number of years in London and in these years we have visited the many touristic highlights of this incredible city. Recently we traveled to London by train from The Netherlands with the purpose to visit some spots which we did not got to know during earlier stays and some which we enjoyed so much that we wanted to see them again. So in this blog there is no attention for the Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Tower and so on. These attractions are certainly worthwhile visiting but London has so much more to offer. Just to walk around town is an experience while enjoying the “fun” of the streets.

We stayed in the Hoxton Southwark, a very nice hotel close to the underground stations Southwark and Blackfriars.

The Southwark neighbourhood changed a lot over the past years. It has become much more attractive with traditional pubs and hip eateries. On our first afternoon we took a walk to the Borough market, the oldest food market in London and located next to London Bridge Station. There has been a food market in this area for over a 1000 years. However, the Borough Market is not old and stuffy, it is a cool place. Many food stalls with good quality food are lined up next to each other. We chose a nice green chicken curry which tasted delicious. The market has also featured in many movies; Bridget Jones used to “live” above the pub The Globe which is located right in the middle of the market. A good place to have a beer.

On our way back to the hotel we had a drink right in front of the Tate Modern Museum, an old electrical plant converted into a museum of modern art. Very cool place with excellent exhibitions. I had a bit of a memory lane feeling as I had my office for several years at the other side of the river right opposite the Tate.

We finished our first day with a dinner at the Polish restaurant Daquise in South Kensington. This restaurant has already been in operation since 1949 and serves authentic and modern Polish food. I had been to this restaurant before and luckily the food, the beer (Zywiec) and the wodka (Żubrowska) were just as good as I remembered. Traditional Polish starters are always excellent: żurek, borsch (beat soup), pierogi but this restaurant also serves great main dishes such as wild boar and very tasty rabbit.

The second day we started with a long walk to Covent Garden which albeit still a happy place, had changed. The place itself is still beautiful but the shops have become very expensive and exclusive. The area next to it is overtaken by sellers of cheap souvenirs. A short distance away is London’s nicest street Neal’s Yard, small but worthwhile visiting.

Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Neal’s Yard

For lunch we traveled to Brick Lane, an up and coming neighbourhood not so far from Liverpool Street Station. Brick Lane is known for its Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants, its vintage shops and street art. Yearly the restaurants on this street win prices for the best curry in the city so we had to try and we were not disappointed. Very good indeed.

Brick Lane

The evening was going to be the highlight of our visit. We had tickets for the performance of ABBA Voyage. Both of us are old enough to remember the ABBA music and especially Carolina is a big fan. As the ABBA band members are now in their seventies, the performance was to be done by holograms. We had never seen holograms so did not really know what to expect. The purpose built theatre in East London was packed and a good portion of the audience had dressed up in seventies style. We had tickets for the dance floor which proved to be the right choice.

Whole families came to the show and we were surprised to see so many young people. Although I am not a big fan of ABBA music, I have to admit that the show was spectaculair, I have not seen anything like this before. During the first few songs, the audience was just flabbergasted as the holograms looked absolutely real. It was exactly like a life concert and the whole show brings you back to the seventies. I felt 17 years old again and with me many others. The biggest high school party in the world. It is difficult to describe, I can only say that if and when you are in London, you have to see this!!! What a spectacle.

Our third and last full day in London was a day of contrasts. In the morning we walked through the multicultural neighbourhood Notting Hill and in the afternoon we saw a football match.

Notting Hill gets its fame from the annual West Indian Carnaval and from the movie with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Of course we had to make pictures of the travel book store (which houses a souvenir shop) and in front of the blue door were Hugh Grant had his apartment. We were clearly not the only ones making these pictures.

The highlight of Notting Hill is the Saturday market on Portobello market. A fantastic market for vintage goods but there is so much more. At the end of the road is a food market which is probably the most colourful food market we have ever seen with food stalls from countries such as Peru, Jamaica, Venezuela, Brazil, India and the Philippine.

I am a big football fan and my favourite team is Queens Park Rangers, a second division team. Unfortunately they were not playing in London during our stay. Many football fans will go to the big teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham but these teams no longer play the traditional English kick and rush style and include more continental European players than Britts in their line ups. Not what I am looking for so we bought tickets to see Millwall play.

Millwall tickets

In the eighties and nineties, Millwall was famous for its hooligan fans but they have mellowed and nowadays it is a safe place. When we arrived a local punk band was playing in front of the stadium which set the tone. This is a beer and fish & chips club, don’t expect sushi or cold French chardonnay. The fans are extremely passionate and their language hurts your ears. Not really a place to take young children. Millwall supporters have the best chant of all fans:

“no one like us, no one likes us but we don’t care”

It was surprising that after the game, all passion and frustration was gone and both the fans of Millwall and the visiting team walked together to the underground station without any animosity.

There was one last thing to do. A trip to the world’s most well known Zebra crossing: Abbey Road. Made famous by the iconic album cover of the Beatles from 1969. It is a fun place with tourist trying to copy the famous crossing.

The Abbey Road studies are just behind the crossing. These studios are famous for recordings by the Beatles but also by Pink Floyd (the album “Wish you were Here” was recorded in this studio). The studios can be visited and there is also a nice shop which sells unique t-shirts and other pretty souvenirs. A must visit place for every Beatle fan. The ex-Beatle Paul McCartney still owns a house just around the corner.

We finished our trip with a walk up Primrose Hill to get a final overview of the city.

Chiloe: Island in the south of Chile

pallifitos

Chiloe is a relatively small island southwest of Puerto Montt, in Chile’s tenth region. The island is well known for its sea food / fish, shellfish, palifito’s and for the friendliness of its people. Chiloe has always been one of Chile’s poorest regions but thanks to the investments by the salmon industry and the tourism sector, the island is gradually picking up.

We visited Chiloe by the end of March as most foreign visitors do. The months of January and February are very busy with local tourists and should be avoided. Usually in March the weather is still fine and it is easy to move around. Schools in Chile have started again, so most local tourist have left.

We traveled by car and crossed by ferry the Chacao channel . It is a quick and easy crossing, very well organised. From the ferry we saw several sea lions that were all around the boat.

foca

Our first stop was an important one: we had heard that the small town of Caulin was selling the best oysters. It is however, not that simple to reach Caulin, it is no more than an hamlet halfway Chacao and Ancud. It can only be reached through unpaved roads and it is that small that we almost missed it entirely. Luckily one of the two restaurants in Caulin was open and we got what we were looking for, very very tasty oysters, some of the best we ever had. Just a simple dish: raw oysters straight out of the sea with just some lemon.

The town of Ancud has not much to offer for foreign tourists, other than the road that leads along the Pacific Ocean Coast. We drove the coastal road all the way south, some 30km, towards the pinguineras. In fact the road ends at the beach where in parts of the year you can take a small boat to see the penguins at an island just off shore. However,…… not in March. The penguins had decided to leave the place early this year. Like two years ago in Tierra del Fuego we again were not lucky with respect to penguins. Notwithstanding the lack of penguins, the beach was absolutely beautiful.

We continued our trip and the next two days we stayed in Castro in the brand new Hotel Diego D’Almagro. Not quite sure what to think about the name of this hotel. Diego was a conquistador who not only massacred many locals but he also betrayed his own people. Something similar to the “Rudolf Hess Hotel in Berlin”. Unthinkable.

Castro is a cool town. We had been here many years ago and in our recollection Castro was not that interesting. This has changed completely, it is a town worthwhile visiting. Castro is known for it “palafitos”, overwater houses.

The palafitos neighbourhood is in some kind of revival as many of them are converted into up scale B&B’s and coffee shops.

Castro is one of the traditional Chilean towns that has kept its local charm, it has not (yet) been taken over by the international chains: No Starbucks and no MacDonalds. Castro Cathedral is on the Unesco World Heritage List together with other churches in Chiloe. It is beautiful in its simplicity. The cathedral is all wooden and relatively bare for a Catholic church. For obvious reason, it is the only Catholic cathedral I have ever been to that has no candles.

Churches in Chiloe are in general quite interesting. Unesco describes the churches as “an unique example in Latin America of ecclesiastical architecture … and a successful fusion of indigenous and European culture”. We did not go on a church-tour but during our travels we found several more interesting churches.

church in Caulin
church in Delcahue

Unfortunately Castro is also affected by architectural mistakes. Someone at the local municipality had given approval to build a shopping mall at the most inappropriate place. The mall was built on top of an hill in a neighbourhood with small shops and houses, a true eye sore.

Chiloe is an interesting island with beautiful spots and very kind people however, what sets it apart is the quality of the seafood. Earlier we wrote about the quality of the oysters but Chiloe has more to offer and the island is also well known for its choritos (mussels) which are exported all over the world. In Dalcahue we had piure, a weird kind of seafood but very tasty. Piure grows in a kind of rock like the picture below on the left. This rock has to be cut open with a knife and the piure (see below right picture) sits in the open holes. One eats the piurre straight after getting it out of the “rock”. The taste is difficult to describe, typical sea food with sense of iodine..

piurre

For the very brave I recommend to try to eat erizos (“sea urchin”) or picoroco. Not for the faint hearted. Carolina has been eating sea food her whole life and still struggles with erizos as their taste is unlike anything else. I struggle with picorocos. They don’t sell these shell fish at many places so when you have the opportunity, try it.

picoroco
erizos

Chile: Araucanía

forest with Araucanía trees

Araucanía is Chile’s ninth region and in my view the most beautiful and most authentic part of Chile. Its capital is Temuco which is a medium sized city, some 650 km south of Santiago. Some 100 km west of Temuco you find the Pacific Ocean, a rough sea with very cold water, not really suitable for swimming. East of Temuco you find an area with rolling hills, lakes, volcanos and the high mountains of the Andes.

AraucanEia tree

The region is called after its original population the Mapuches, also known as Arauicanos by the Spaniards. It also gives its known to the particular trees which is only to be found high up in the Andes and no where else in the world

Araucanía is the region in Chile with the largest percentage of Mapuche people, the authentic population of Chile. Unfortunately due to years of neglect and the take over of their territories and way of life by big forestry companies, the Mapuche population have recently become more outspoken about the restoration of their territory. The former right-wing government of Chile even spoke about local terrorists when referring to their struggle but we have never had any problems traveling around albeit that you have to be aware, especially north-west of Temuco.

Mapuche flag

The region has had a large inflow of German immigrants and German style houses can be found all over the place. The first Germans arrived around 1880 with other significant inflows just before and right after World War II. Colegio Alemán (“German School”) where all classes are taught in the German language, is still the best school in Temuco and Clinica Alemána (“German Hospital”) is one of the region’s best hospitals.

Casa Alamán

Temuco

Temuco is a city with around 250,000 inhabitants and the regional hub. It is a vibrant city with most of its activities taking place in and around the old downtown. It is a bit messy with live taking place on the streets. The old centre is full of street vendors, many of them elder ladies with a Mapuche background. A familiar side on the streets in Temuco is the ox drawn cart that sell dried sea weed (“cochayuyo”)

The Nobel Price winning poet Pablo Neruda lived for a while in Temuco. This most illustrious son is not really honoured with a statue or anything of the kind because he was a well known communist and follower of the former left wing president Salvador Allende. Temuco is a conservative town and apparently is not grand enough to step over the man’s political views to honour him as the great poet who wrote beautiful things like:

“you can cut all the flowers but you can not keep spring from coming

“In one kiss, you know all I haven’t said”

Pablo Neruda

The best place to buy fresh fruit/vegetables and fish is “La Feria” in the old town. It is a very colourful place where the local merchants, many of which Mapuche, are selling their produce. The produce is not your typical supermarket type of product. In general the fruit is much larger and, more importantly, it still has the authentic taste. Thus if you buy some huge tomatoes they do taste like tomato used to taste and should taste.

Since the pandemic, it has become noticeable how bureaucratic Chile is. The waiting lines for government offices and banks are now outside on the streets and for everybody to see. From our own experience we can tell you that the lines are slow. Carolina had to go to Banco Estado because her bank account was blocked. It took two hours waiting outside before she was able to speak to a bank employee.

The city is full of restaurants from high end places such as La Pampa to many small holes in the wall which you find on every street corner. In general, Temuco is a beef eating town but one can also fine some good fish and shell fish. Recently the Temucanos have discovered Peruvian food and several places have opened up. The best Chinese restaurant is Kim Long, Chinese food adjusted to the Chilean taste. Their Chinese/ Chilean pisco sour is excellent.

The Coast

It is always a treat to make a trip to the coast. Places like Puerto Saavedra and Nehuentue, on either side of the river Imperial, are charming and have not changed much over the past 30 years. Outside the months of January and February these are sleepy coastal towns.

There are however, two more reasons to visit. First of all I find it always fascinating to look at the mighty Pacific Ocean. The ocean is brave and the water is very cold, not really inviting to take a swim. The ocean especially combined with the regular earthquakes can be aggressive. It has transformed the area considerably, lakes have been formed and parts of land have disappeared. Over the past two years the ocean has taken our favourite fish restaurant Boca Budi. And that is exactly the second reason to visit the Ocean: seafood. The quality in some of the restaurants, who don’t look very inviting from the outside, can be absolutely stunning.

On our most recent trip we had mussels (“choritos’) that came directly out of the ocean. They were not only enormous but the also tasted delicious. What a treat!!

Lakes, mountains and volcanos

Volcano Villarica

The most spectacular part of the Araucanía region is the Andes region. This mountain range is not as high anymore as in the central zone of Chile but it contains four large volcanos: Llaima, Lonquimay, Villarica and Lanin. As all the volcanos are higher than the surrounding mountains they really stand out. During our stay the volcano Lonquimay showed some activity which made the surrounding area shake a bit.

The volcano Villarica dominates the tourist town Pucon, it can be seen from almost every street corner. This summer Villarica has for the first time lost its snow covered top, climate change had probably something to do with that. It however, still is a beautiful mountain

The mountain range is also covered with hot springs (“termas”), some are like modern swimming pools but the more interesting one are set in natural settings such as the Termas Geometricas, they are, however expensive.

Finally the region between Temuco and the mountains is covered with lakes such as Lago Villarica, Calafquen and Caburgua. Pretty lakes with ample opportunity for swimming and water sports. However, all these lakes and towns are overrun with local tourists from early January till the last week of February. The roads are full with very long traffic jams, beaches are packed and restaurants have waiting lines. Better to avoid this period.

Final Treat

On the night before we left it had snowed and it was pretty cold. As a result the volcano Villarica had recovered its snow cap. What a beautiful mountain.

Fishing in Chilean Patagonia

Fishing in Patagonia has always been one of my dreams. I am not a great fisherman, not a specialist at all but I like a great adventure. This year I got the opportunity. We are staying for two months in Temuco with my wife’s family during which my friend Christian organised a fishing trip to Coyhaique, the heart of Chilean Patagonia. Two more friends of Christian joined, both experienced fishermen, which made me a bit nervous. We flew 1 1/2 hours south into the airport of Balmaceda which immediately made clear that we were close to the end of the world. Balmaceda receives maybe 5 commercial flights a day and the airport is one of the smallest I have ever been to. Balmaceda itself is in the middle of nowhere, an hour drive from Coyhaique and 300 meters from the Argentine border. The location of the airport is chosen for climatical reasons. Coyhaique would be a much more logical choice for an airport but apparently a combination of high and steep mountains with strong winds makes the place rather dangerous from an airport point of view. The town used to have an airport but after a crash of a commercial plane in the 80’s, it was decided to move the airport to Balmaceda.

Airport Balmaceda looks like a small industrial site

We had booked a 5 day fishing trip and used the services of local guides: Nicolas end Christian. Both experienced guides and nice persons. Christian spoke some good English which I enjoyed as my compañeros only spoke Spanish, and they spoke it fast. We fished with two fishermen and a guide per boat. I fished with Rodrigo and Christian fished with his consuegro Leopoldo (not sure if there is an English word for consuegro: it is the father of his daughter’s husband). The funny thing is that they, while speaking they never used names but referred to each other as consuegro.

We fished four days on lakes and on the final day we fished on the river Aysén. The first day we fished on Lago Atravesado, 45 minutes drive north of Coyhaique. The lake is pretty but we were not lucky with the weather. It rained hard and continuously with strong winds and even a hail shower. It felt like combat fishing. Although we were well protected from the weather with rain suits and an additional weather protective poncho, it was still painful at times. I knew that the weather could be bad in Patagonia but March is still summer and I escaped the winter in Europe for weather reasons. This summer day in Patagonia was worse than a bad day in the Dutch winter. Pucha. Thankfully we had lunch in a shack that protected us somewhat from the elements and the guides built a nice campfire so we could warm up. We ended the fishing day a bit early because the already bad weather turned for the worse. The good news of the day was that we all caught several nice sized trouts.

The second day of fishing proved to be quite a bit better. We fished Lago las Torres. Although it still rained at times, it was not as bad as the day before and the sun even showed up every now and then. The lake is absolutely stunning with high mountains around and the water being crystal clear. The fishing was good, despite the presence of a lot of weed, and we got many good sized trouts (1 – 1 1/2 kg) in the boat. My compañero Rodrigo had clearly the most catches but I managed to get the largest fish in the boat, a beautiful brown trout of around 2 1/2 kg. The guide taught me not be a “macabeo” which gave room to great hilarity. “Macabeo” is Chilean slang for a man being dominated by his wife whereas the guide used it to teach me to dominate the fish and not to be led by the fish.

The following day was going to be the day that we would catch the trout that makes Patagonia fishing heaven. The weather was great, some sunshine, a little cloudy but no rain and cold. We fished Lago Quetru, a private lake / lagoon on the food of the beautiful Castillo mountain. It is a one hour 20 minutes drive from our hotel but once at the lake you have absolute stunning views with fresh snow capped mountains all around the lake. The road to this lake was absolutely horrible, we almost crashed our car and boat, but one has to suffer a bit to get to a fantastic fishing place. This fishing was different from previous days, we were trolling with fly and only interested to catch the big trout. And…. we got them, three out of our group of four managed to get the big trout (over 3.5 kg each) in the boat. Rodrigo even managed to catch three big ones. I am proud to say that I got the biggest trout of all, approx 6 kg, a beauty. It was an absolute great feeling, the biggest trout I ever caught and the main reason why we flew to Patagonia. Of course we released all the big fish, they are too beautiful to be eaten. In fact we released all the fish we caught during this trip. The celebrations in our boat were so enthusiastic that I almost fell over board which would not have been a good thing because the water of the lake is very cold. What a day!!!

The fourth day of our trip we fished two lakes that are connected with each other, Lago Paloma and Lago Azul. These lakes are rather close to Coyhaique, a 40 minute drive mostly over paved routes. Again beautiful views and great trout fishing, not the great catches from the day before but still very nice fish and quite a few. The high point of the day (besides catching fish) was lunch at the food of a waterfall. Like all days, we had the lake for ourselves. At the end of the day we were treated by a few condors on their spectacular way of using the wind. Chile’s national bird gave a show in the air just for us to enjoy.

Our final day of fishing was on the Rio Aysén, a large river that flows through Coyhaique. We started our fishing where the Rio Simpson is joined by the Rio Mañiquales and change the name to Rio Aysén. During the first hours of fishing we were trained in fly fishing which makes for beautiful pictures but we did not manage to interest any fish in our efforts. Later in the day while trolling with fly we caught quite a few smaller sized rainbow and brown trouts and even a small, very small Chinook salmon. Several times we witnessed large Chinook salmon jumping out of the water but we never managed to land any in our boat.

All in all I can say that this fishing trip exceeded my expectations. At times it was hard to follow all the Chilean Spanish of my compañeros but it was good fun and we joked a lot. Rodrigo and I focused a lot on fishing and as a result we caught many trouts. Every day Rodrigo clearly caught most fish but every day I caught the large one. Some say this is luck, but I think it also has to do with focus. The other boat at times talked more than they fished and were more enjoying the beauty of the landscape which resulted in less and smaller fish.

Coyhaique is a great starting place for a fishing trip. It is a relatively small town but has all the essentials like hotels, supermarkets and banks. The weird thing is that while we have been fishing trout all week, we did not manage to eat a single trout. The restaurants don’t serve it, Coyhaique is a meat eating town and the only fish that is available is salmon, congrio and merluza. The number of restaurants is limited and on Sundays Coyhaique is a ghost town.

We organised our trip through Guillermo Cifuente @fat_trout. He contacted the guides and put the program together. We fished beautiful lakes and in all five fishing days we never met any other fishing boat, in fact we never met any other boat. This part of the world is empty as of mid March and a great escape from the world / work. On and around the lakes there is no cell phone connection which is absolutely perfect.

Finally, I started this trip with one friend and two complete strangers, at the end of the trip I have three friends and we are full of plans to return next year. To be clear, Rodrigo and I will share a boat again.

Travel to Southern Chile in Covid times

In our home country the government had been very strict with Covid regulations over the past two years. Recently, however Covid was declared no longer a threat to national health so we regained our freedom, visit restaurants without restrictions, go to museums and concerts and do away with mouth masks. In other words, back to normal. Maybe a bit ignorant but we felt that this was the time to visit Chile, home country of Carolina. It had been 2 years since she had been with her old mother.

Prior to flying we had our first encounter with Chilean health bureaucracy. Bureaucracy in Chile has always been a bit of a pain but now it included all kind of Covid restrictions. Not only did we need to present a recent PCR test prior to flying, which makes total sense but we also had to supply forms that we had been vaccinated and that our health care insurance would cover any Covid related cost. On top of that our vaccinations had to be certified by the Chilean Health Ministry which was hiding behind a website called “Me Vacuno”. For a while I thought that Vacuno had exclusively to do with cows but that was incorrect, a cow is a “vacuno” in Spanish as well as a vaccine.

Although the website was in English, all correspondence was in Spanish. A few days after uploading all the necessary information, I was approved to travel. Great. However, Carolina kept on getting information that her application was pending. Not a good sign and the first alarm bells started to go off in our heads. Nevertheless, as we were otherwise fully prepared to travel and our Chilean family was eager to meet us (as were we) after two years of not seeing each other, we decided to go ahead with the trip.

Carolina and I were traveling the same day but not on the same flight. Carolina traveled via Atlanta and I had a direct flight from Amsterdam to Santiago. We were to meet at the airport in Santiago where we would arrive only 30 minutes apart. We had 3 1/2 transfer time to take our final flight to Temuco, in the south of Chile. More than enough time to travel comfortably, so we thought.

A direct flight from Amsterdam to Santiago sounds very comfortable but it means that you have to sit in your seat for 14 1/2 hours which is long and tiring. The important thing however, my plane arrived on time. Carolina had some delay but we still arrived more or less at the same time and we both started our process through Chilean bureaucracy. Each in a different terminal, Carolina in the old terminal and I had the pleasure to be processed in the brand new international terminal that had opened one hour prior to the arrival of the plane from Amsterdam. The new terminal was advertised by the Chilean president as a big step forward. Pfff, big words.

Unsurprisingly both in the old terminal and in the new terminal the immigration process proved to be horrific. Sorry, there is no other word for it. Chilean authorities call the process “Paso a Paso” (step by step) but a better name would have been “Paso Lento” (slow step) or ” Muchos Pasos” (a lot of steps). Let me go through the different steps we had to take and the different lines we had to endure before we could take our next flight.

i) the first step after arrival was to go through health immigration. As I arrived at the new terminal it included a 20 minute walk prior to the first waiting line. We arrived in a plane with around 230 passengers and there were only 6 officials available to check medical documents. Each processed person took around 5 minutes so you can calculated the waiting time. Thanks God I was at the front of the plane so my waiting time was only 15 minutes. The processing itself was even faster, I got declined entree right away because the approval of my documents (which I had obtained prior to flying) were a few hours older than the maximum time of 48 hours. What the hell, who came up with this rule? Why was it not mentioned on the website?

Carolina of course was declined as well as her certification process was still pending. It appeared to be a governmental/system mistake as her vaccinations were fine and up to date but she was anyhow told to go in to a seven days quarantine. What the logic behind this decision is nobody could tell her. The rule is that if the health bureaucracy makes a mistake, you need to pay the price and go in to quarantine.

ii) Together with 25% of all passengers, I was referred to a special room in order to re-do the health immigration documents. This could only be done on a phone. Can you imagine downloading documents in a hardly to read “Me Vacuno” website. What a disaster. The staff at the airport was very friendly though and with their kind assistance I managed to get the right documents uploaded and was referred to line number two to again have my “certification of vaccination” approved. Please note that the information that needs to be approved was exactly the same as when I was in line one. The only change was that the hour / date of preparation was different. This time I got approved!!!! Hoorah, one step closer to the pisco sours, churrascos and the best seafood in the world.

iii) After a brisk walk I lined up for registration for a new PCR Covid test although I had already a recent negative PCR test. I needed to be registered prior to testing which added another 15 minutes to the process.

iv) Another walk and in line to get a PCR test. At this moment I started to be nervous if we would make our connection at all. I already suffer from high blood pressure and all this waiting and lining up did not make it any better. Moreover Carolina’s plane had landed 15 minutes after my arrival and so she was behind me in the process. PCR test itself was quick so the process continued.

v) Next line was immigration: control of passport. The new terminal was clearly built with a view of growth. At least 40 immigration desks were available for only a handful of passengers. Good for me, only a short line and the process continued.

vi) Picking up luggage was fast because by this time I had already been almost two hours at the airport so the luggage was waiting for me at the belt. Chile has a special process called SAG. These are the people who check at the airport if you don’t bring fresh fruits or seeds into the country. This process has always been slow and it still is despite the terminal being brand new.

Now it was time to move to the domestic terminal to catch the flight to Temuco and to meet Carolina. It was not so obvious where to go and I had to ask. Probably had to do with the fact that the international terminal was new and that the person who was responsible for the signs informing how to go from the international to the domestic terminal just forgot about it.

Another brisk walk of 15 minutes, this time with luggage. It was going to be close if we were going to make our flight. As I was ahead of Carolina I decided to already check in and get the labels for our luggage. This is all automated through machines but anyhow these machines needed to be sternly talked to before they spit out the necessary papers. In the meantime Carolina had arrived. No time for hugs and kisses as by this time we were running late.

vii) we moved to the line to drop off our luggage. Unfortunately we were too late, we had missed the cut off time by 5 minutes.

viii) So we had to stand in line to get new tickets for our domestic flight. We were able to transfer to a flight in the afternoon.

ix) final line, security check before entering the national terminal. Nobody in line, nobody. We could not believe our luck.

The conclusion of this day is that Chilean bureaucracy is taking full benefit of the Covid pandemic. It has always been somewhat cumbersome to get into Chile but now they have perfected the system in such a way that it gets your blood pressure hitting dangerous levels.

A second conclusion is that you need at least 4 hours between an international flight and a domestic flight. Probably better to stay overnight in Santiago and travel onwards the next day. It is much less stressful.

The next few days the Chilean government institutions kept on sending us all kind of emails on our whereabouts but we chose to ignore these. Maybe this will bite us in the a** in a few days but so be it. There is only so much bureaucracy one can and wants to handle. Carolina’s quarantine ended after one day when her PCR test turned out negative and her vaccines were finally validated. A very nice lady from the Health Ministry came to check on her making sure that she was doing the quarantine properly… case of miss communication..

New Orleans

New Orleans is probably one of the most visited cities in the US. It is well known for its French Quarter which for young people is equal to drinking and partying. For us the French Quarter is just a beautiful old neighbourhood where you can still feel the old French / Spanish / Creole history of the city.

The French Quarter is full of restaurants and bars but it is much more than that. It is a lively place with street artists, nice antique shops and a lot of interesting people on the streets. We were lucky that we met a typical New Orleans “jazz style” wedding parade. Lots of happy people.

The St Louis Cathedral is located next to the Mississippi River just a few steps away from all the fun and souvenir shops of the French Quarter. Walt Disney got the inspiration for the castle at the Disney Park from this Cathedral and one can see why. Often a street band is playing right in front of the Cathedral, of course they play jazz.

On Sunday morning we joined mass at the Cathedral. Interesting experience. Next to the standard rituals, the Father also prayed for the Saints, not the canonized roman catholic holy people, but New Orleans’ football team. The crowd, many in Saints gear, highly appreciated the divine support.

One of the cool places to visit in New Orleans is a cementery. The best well known cementery is St Louis Cementery No. 1, close to the French Quater. This cementry hosts the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. This cementery is only accessible via guided tours. We however, visited St Mary’s Cementery where you can just roam around freely.

Due to the high ground water level, the occasional floodings and the French / Spanish heritage, bodies are buried in above-ground tombs.

We visited the cementery with our Mexican son-in-law who clearly warned us that visiting a cementery without a clear purpose might upset the dead which then might come to haunt you. He was right, the ghosts took their revenge. Two days later when it was time for us to travel back to Europe our flight was canceled and the alternative flight that was offered to us, was annuled as well. It resulted in a 24 hour delay. Apparently New Orleans’ spiritual world can do this to you.

An hour drive from New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River you find the Oak Alley plantation. This plantation was set up by a family with French roots to grow cane sugar with the help of slave labour. The “big house” is spectacular and can be visited with a guide. After exploring the big house we visited the slave quarters, the living conditions of these workers were truly horrible. Pure human misery. Oak Alley is named after an alley, that runs from the river to the house, created by a double row of southern live oak trees about 250 meters long, planted in the early 18th century.

Along the Mississippi River more plantations are worthwhile visiting such as Whitney and St Joseph. Especially Whitney does a good job explaining the painful history of slavery.

Music and food are what makes New Orleans special. Great that the main airport in the city is called after its local son “Hello, Dolly!” Louis Armstrong. The city honoured some of its music greats with statues, my favorite is the one of Antoine “Fats” Domino. We also saw Fats’ house which is located in the Lower Ninth Ward on Caffin Avenue. Not a house nor a neighbourhood you would expect a famous and wealthy man to live in but Fats enjoyed living in the area he grey up. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the Lower Ninth Ward got flooded, including the house of the rhythm and blues / rock ‘n roll hero. Fats was 77 years old at the time and had to spend several days in the attic until he was rescued by a Coast Guard helikopter. Such an icon and I will never listen to “Walking to New Orleans” the same way again.

Finally, the food in New Orleans, the so called Louisiana Creole cuisine. It is a mixture of Westafrican, French, Spanish and Southern United States influences. It is very special and includes exotics like gumbo, jambalayla and crawfish. The presentation of the food is not always very sophisticated but it tastes very good. The gumbo is a kind of stew which is usually eaten with (shell) fish but also available with meat. Jambalaya is a rice dish with seafood and meat. Crawfish is a bit messy to eat as you have to peel the fish which is a dirty job. As a starter we can recommand the oysters which are very large and tasty.

Gumbo
Crawfish
Jambalaya

We are pastry eaters and New Orleans is home to the best beignets in the world which can and should be bought at Café du Monde. A real treat, especially for breakfast with a good cup of coffee.

New Orleans is very different from all other cities in the US. It’s history, the weather, the music and of course the food make it a must-go-to destination, just be aware of snakes and alligors

A few days in Chicago

From a weather point of view December is not the best time of the year for a visit but we have a daughter living in the city who we had not seen for a few months so we are trying to deal with the cold. The temperature is not that bad but the wind is making it somewhat uncomfortable.

Covid19 has had its effect on travel. Vaccinations and testing have become part of normal life for the travel industry. O’Hare has always been a tough airport to enter the US but Covid has made it even rougher. We had to wait more than two hours at immigration. A real mood killer.

We are staying with our daughter and her fiancee in West Town, an up coming neighbourhood. As we only have a few days in Chicago we limit ourselves to what we feel are the highlights.

The first morning we walked all the way to the shopping heart of the city: Michigan Avenue. The view we had halfway the walk was absolutely stunning

For shoppers (and I am not one of them but Carolina is) Michigan Avenue is a paradise. All the well known American brands are present so we had ampel opportunity to buy Christmas presents. We visited a very hip Apple Store to see and buy the latest gadgets. Carolina really loves Starbucks and Chicago is home to a Starbucks Reserve, it is the largest Starbucks in the world. Besides coffee it serves lunch and cocktails. It is a beautiful store with a wonderful view over Michigan Avenue. The coffee however, tastes exactly the same as in other Starbucks stores but the price is a little different. Anyhow, it is an experience.

In the evening we went for dinner and drinks to the Hoxton Hotel in the Fulton Market District. We first had a drink in the lobby followed by dinner at the Cabra (in english “goat”) Restaurant. It serves contemporary Peruvian food such as empanadas with a filling of aji de gallina, ceviche de salmon and papas huaicaina combined with a good pisco sour. Excellent restaurant.

One of the major attractions of Chicago is the Art Institute, a “must see” museum. The museum was all in Christmas spirit which added to the experience.

Every one has his own taste but for me the highlights of the catalog are the impressionist painters. Next to an impressive number of paintings from Claude Monet (including Water Lilies), there are paintings of the Gaugain and of Vincent van Gogh.

My Dutch heart starts to beat faster when foreign museums have a Rembrandt painting hanging on its walls. The Art Institute is the proud owner of Rembrandt’s painting “Old Man with Gold Chain”, which Rembrandt painted in 1631.

Some of the other highights of the museum include paintings of Andy Warhol, Mondrian, Chagall and a wonderful painting of my favourite president: Barrack Obama.

Next to paintings the museum has large exhibits on architecture and photograpy. You can basically spent the good part of a day in the Art Institute. Two hours of paintings was however, enough for me and I headed to the Christmas market to meet my family.

It remains a bit odd that there is a German style Christmas market downtown Chicago. It is pretty authentic with vendors from Austria, Poland and Germany selling wooden Christmas arts and crafts and pottery. The bratwurst and the glühwein tasted as good as the ones we have had at the Christmas market in Osnabrück, Germany. The buildings around the market are just somewhat different.

Our final day in Chicago was the last Sunday before Christmas, a good reason for a church visit. Our daughter is a regular a Soul City Church, a non-denominational city church in the West Loop. As is common for most American churches, the singing is beautiful. Church services in the US are more informal than back home but not less relevant. The church was very welcoming and a good start to the Christmas holidays.

Chicago is a great city. We have been coming here for a number of years and hope to be back soon. Our next destination: New Orleans to visit daughter number two.

Road Trip through Portugal: (III) The North

After a four beautiful days on the beach in the Algarve it was time for us to be on the road again for a new adventure. We have four days left before we fly back home from Porto so in these four days we have planned to visit Portugal’s main religious site, visit a provincial town, drink some wine in the Duoro region and of course, see and hear some Fado music.

Fatima.

After a trip of around 3 hours we arrived in Fatima. This city is one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world. Fatima’s fame is due to the Apparitions of Mary in 1917 to three local shepherd children: Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. Mary appeared six times, the last time witnessed by a crowd of 60,000 people, known in the Catholic world as “the day the sun danced”. Today Fatima attracts thousand of pilgrims and tourists each day.

The square before the sanctuary is huge and resembles the Saint Peter Square in Vatican City, it is very impressive. It is one of these places whereby if you are not Catholic, you wish you were. Fatima got a large surge in popularity after the visit of Pope John Paul II (the “traveling Polish Pope”) and of course his visit is honored with a statue. We are always pleased to see statues of Jana Pawla as it reminds us of the time we lived in Poland.

Many years ago I visited Lourdes, a town in France where the apparitions of Virgin Mary converted the town into one of the worlds most important sites of pelgrimage and religious tourism. I remember all the tourist shops that were selling holy water and other cheap religious souvenirs. It was good to see that Fatima was different and that it has kept its dignity.

Coimbra

From Fatima we drove one hour north to the town of Coimbra, a medium sized university town. The old town is quaint, with small streets, steep stairs, a very old cathedral (“Se”) and of course the university from the 14th century. It also has a double entree gate into the old town in order to make it even more difficult for intruders.

The university is placed on top of the highest hill in town in order to do justice to the Roman saying “mens sana in corpora sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body). After three days climbing hills in Lisboa, the 136 steps stairs back to the hotel after a day on the beach in the Algarve and now this very steep climb in Coimbra, I start to miss my flat home country. Nevertheless, the university is beautiful and its library looks world class.

On the square in front of the main university building we found a statue of the “look alike” brother of Henry the VIII. The name of this brother king is João III. It is unclear if João was more lucky with love than his english look-a-like brother.

The cathedral in Coimbra is very old, it was built in the 12th century and already in those days the king of Portugal used a French architect to impress his citizens. From the front the cathedral does not look all that great but from the inside it is beautiful, especially the monastery that is build adjacent.

After the visit to Coimbra we headed for our hotel in a small town just outside of the city. We ended up in this horrible storm with thunder, heavy rain and tornado strong winds. It took us a full hour drive to cover the few kilometers and only thanks to some bottles of good Portugese wines we could settle our nerves. What an end to this day.

Douro Valley

When the weather calmed down the next day we had a short and a bit of a challenging drive to the Douro Valley. The last 1 hour drive was on narrow and mountainous roads thereby driving through almost empty villages. The landscape was beautiful and the closer we came to the river Douro the prettier it got.

When we lived in California our good friend Arturo introduced us to Portuguese wine and more specifically to the wines from the Douro Valley. In the beginning we were somewhat skeptical but quickly started to like the wine from this region. Now we live again in Europe and have more access to European wines, we regularly drink and enjoy the wines from Douro valley.

After the difficult drive we were rewarded at the end of the day with this beautiful place where we stayed: Quinta do Outeiro, a wonderfully restored wine farm built around 1800 surrounded by vineyards. The staff of this place was very nice and the manager showed us proudly around. The farm included its own chapel which was at least 200 years old. Moreover, the farm produced its own wine and of course we got to taste it. Certainly the best hotel of our trip, it was just unfortunate that we had to leave again the next day.

Porto

Our final stop in our trip through Portugal: Porto, city of the famous Port wines and our last chance to see and listen to live Fado music. Porto is clearly a city with a big wow-effect, especially when seeing the Dom Luis 1 Bridge. A huge bridge in the middle of town that connects the city with the Gaia district. The bridge’s architect was a Belgian student of Gustav Eiffel, the man who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

A bit more inland there is a second metal arch bridge that connects the north and south side of the city: The Maria Pia Bridge. The architect of this railway bridge was the master Gustav Eiffel himself. Unfortunately this bridge is no longer in operation and replaced by a concrete bridge.

The city also has a must see train station. It is not so much the trains that are good looking but it is all about the arrival hall that is beautifully decorated with tiles.

Porto’s must see landmark is the Torre dos Clérigos. The tower dates from 1753 and became the highest bell tower in Portugal which means something as this country is packed with church towers. To get closer to heaven you have to climb all 240 steps. As I still remember that my heart beat went up to over 120 when climbing the cliff-stairs in Albufeira and this was “only” 136 steps, therefore I let this opportunity pass. More of a young people challenge.

Like Lisboa, Porto is also a city full of beautiful churches.

Torre Dos Clerigos
Camara municipal de Porto

Igreja de Santo Lidefonso

We were told that a few of the local dishes are worthwhile trying, so that is what we did. There are three dishes which we show below. First of all the Francesinha which is a sandwich made with wet-cured ham, steak, tomato and egg on a white bread and all of it covered with melted cheese in a beer sauce. On top of that it is served with french fries. It is an experience. We ordered one for lunch and it was enough to fill the two of us for a full day. The literal translation for its name is “little French girl” however, the only thing little about it, is its name.

More elegant food is found in the Cafe Majestic, which stands number six in the list of most beautiful cafes in the world. We had to wait a while before we could get in and it was worth the wait. Carolina had the best French Toast with cinnamon she has ever had and on top of that they serve a mean pudding. The pudding is a well known dessert in all of Portugal, we know this better as Flan.

The famous Fado singer Amália Rodrigues once said “you don’t listen to Fado music, you have to feel it”. We were already ten days in Portugal and had not been to a Fado show. In Lisboa, a Fado concert is always combined with a meal and we were told that the quality of the meals do not correspond with the quality of the music. Luckily in Porto we could just listen to the music at “Casa Da Guitarra”. It was a great experience, in a small theatre we got a great performance and we definitely felt the Fado music. What a nice concert.

So we came to the end of our trip. One final thing to do before we will fly home. We still had not drunk a glass of Port wine. I once had a negative experience with Port wines so was a bit hesitant as we did not want to leave this beautiful pace place on a low. The Brazilian waiter in the restaurant of our last Portuguese dinner made the choice for us and …. we enjoyed it. A great ending to a wonderful trip.

Road Trip Through Portugal: (II) The South

We had stayed in a hotel in Lisboa’s Alfama neighborhood with its very small streets. I already worried that we had to drag our suitcases up the hill as the taxi would not be able to get to our hotel. Luckily that was not necessary and we got picked up at the front door of the hotel and were comfortably driven to the airport were we picked up a rental car and continued our trip.

Our first treat was crossing the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April bridge) over the river Tejo (“Tagus”). This bridge is a copy of the Golden Gate Bridge, in fact it is 100 meters / 300 feet longer, and just as beautiful. The bridge is called after the peaceful carnation revolution whereby on 25th of april 1974 the military dictator was overthrown. Previously the bridge carried the name of the dictator. Like crossing the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, it gives a special feeling to drive on such a beautiful bridge.

For the first part of the trip we used the toll roads which are surprisingly good and efficient. As soon as we left Lisboa there was not much traffic on the road so we made good time. After a little over an hour driving we reached the city of Évora. We wanted to visit this city as it is Unesco Heritage, which usually means that it is worthwhile visiting. Évora has, in our view, two features which makes it to stand out.

First of all it holds the remains of an old Roman temple, built in the first century. It is a bit of a mystery why the Romans picked this place to build a temple as there is no river nearby and it is almost the hottest place in Portugal. Nevertheless the construction company that built it did a good job because most parts are still there 2000 yers after being built.

Secondly the city is completely walled, e.g. the walls built in the Middle Ages are still standing. It is a nice little town for a coffee break on our way south.

While we drove further south to our destination in the Algarve, we crossed agricultural lands: vineyards, olive groves and cork plantations. It was a first time for us to see truck loads full of cork. Cork is an interesting business, the first commercial harvest is only after the trees are 34 years old and after that one can only harvest once every 9 years. Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world with around 60% of global supply and over €1 billion euro in sales.

After a further two hour drive we reached our destination: Olhos de Aqua, a small beach resort in the Algarve close to Albufeira. After a long and cold winter and a rainy summer in The Netherlands, we came here with a clear goal: beach, sun and sea, and that is what we got for the full four days.

Our next stop on this trip will be Fatima.

Road trip through Portugal: (I) Lisboa

The plan is to make a trip of twelve days through Portugal. Of course not enough time to see the whole country but we will certainly get a good impression. I have been in Portugal before but it was only for a 2 day business trip to Lisboa which is precisely where we want to start our trip. We are planning to stay here for a few days, then we will drive to the Algarve. We need the sun on our bodies as our summer in Western Europe has been rather cold and full of rain. After the beach days, we will move north with planned stops in Fatima and the Douro region. We will finish our trip in Porto.

Lisboa / Lisbon

Our hotel is in the neighborhood of Alfama, the oldest part of town. Many small and narrow streets whereby a first impression is that it is somewhat run down. However, it is a lively neighborhood with many small restaurants and cafe’s. There are tourists but it remains to be a local neighborhood. As we arrived late in the afternoon we first explored the sites that are close to our hotel. We kicked off with visiting the Lisboa Sé Cathedral.

The Sé Cathedral is (very) old and was built when Lisboa was reconquered during the second crusade in 1147. It has huge walls to support the roof. Of course it is a catholic church but it lacks the statues of saints, it is rather plane from the inside. This in contrast to the Igreja of Sao Roque. This Jesuit church is nothing special from the outside but very beautiful from the inside.

At the end of the first day we walked up to the Castelo Sāo Jorge. Quite a climb because it has been built on Lisboa’s highest hill. It is worthwhile the trip. We have seen many castles over the years and I was somewhat worried that it was going to be another castle full with exhibitions of old guns and armor. It was certainly not. This castle is cool because it just stands there. No living quarter, just walls and towers plus a wonderful view over the city. Moreover, one can climb all the walls, no restrictions.

No day in a new city is complete without tasting some of the local cuisine. Portugal is well known for it Pastéis de Natas, an egg custard tart pastry with some cinnamon on top. Every pastry shop, bakery and restaurant serves it and with good reason; it is delicious.

The Portugese kitchen is known for its fish dishes, mainly bacalao (cod), sardinhas,(sardines) and octopus. We started our food experiences with bolas de bacalao and roasted sardinhas. For the fish affectionate a true delight, for a more conservative fish eater, better stick with the bacalao.

The second day we went to the neighborhood Belem. Our first stop was the Tower of Belem, a 16th century fortification and a point of embarkation and disembarkation for the Portugese explorers. It is located on the banks of the river Tagus, in fact it stands in the river. It is a good looking tower.

The monument “Pasāo dos Descobrimentos” or in english language the Monument to the Discoveries is walking distance from the Tower of Belem. This gigantic monument is in honor to the Portugese seafarers who went out in the 15th and 16th century to discover new territories. Adventurous men like Vasco da Gama (first European to sail around Cape of Good Hope) and Fernāo de Magelhāes (first one who sailed with his crew around the world) are carved in stone next to kings and people of the clergy. The monument is well done as it is built in the form of a 15th century ship. We have a soft spot for Magelhāes because in 2019 we traveled all the way down south in Chile and Argentina to Patagonia where we stood at the Straights of Magelhāes, (to read more about this trip see our earlier blog about Patagonia).

Only across the street from this monuments stands since 1501 the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos / Monastery of Jerónimos, an Unesco World Heritage site. It is gigantic and very impressive.

This monastery contains among others the tomb of Vasco da Gama. It is a good place for taking pictures and like the castle it is rather bare from the inside so one can focus on the beauty of the building.

Lisbon is a pretty town, just by walking around there is lots to see. Full of interesting street views, small coffee shops and restaurants and of course the local means of transportation, the tram. We have not figured out yet how to work the bus and tram system so we walk everywhere which in a hilly town takes energy.

For our last full day in Lisboa we choose to visit some less popular sites. First we stopped by the Mosteiro Sāo Vincente, basically we were interested in this church as it is only a few minutes walk from our hotel and it is very large. The church is rather plain but with a beautiful altar. We were lucky that someone was playing the organ. The monastery is very pretty with some of its walls covered with tiles and surprisingly with only a handful of tourists. We visited the chapel and climbed to the roof for a good view over parts of the city.

The large tile plates in this monastery are quite something and rather typical for Portugal. We found out that there is a museum specialized in tiles, the so called Museu Nacional do Azulejo. Not really on the beaten path but only a 30 minute walk from our hotel.

The outside of the museum is not impressive, to say the least and we were not sure what to expect as we have never been before to a tile museum. The museum is not all that large but what they have is really beautiful.

As a bonus the museum (which is also an old monastery) had a chapel which is absolutely stunning.

After almost three days of mostly walking through the city, it was time for some eating and drinking. We went to the Time-Out Market, a hip place with many interesting food stands.

So our visit to Lisboa is coming to an end, we enjoyed our stay. It is a beautiful city with very friendly people. Thanks to its catholic heritage, the city is blessed with wonderful churches and monasteries but the city is much more than that. It is the cafe’s, the small streets of Alfama, the squares of the Bario Alto, the many statues of forgotten kings, the delicious fish dishes and the nice weather. Lisboa, we will be back! However, first we will travel south to the beaches of the Algarve.