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.

Eastern Germany: Leipzig, (Berlin and Dresden)

We started the third and final leg of our road trip in Dresden and drove to Leipzig via Chemnitz. We did not take the shortest road but decided to visit Chemnitz (formerly known as Karl Marx Stadt), only to see one thing: the Karl Marx monument: the so called “Nischl. The bust is huge, 13 meters high and it weighs approximately 40 tonnes. On the wall behind the monument it reads ” Workers of all countries unite” in four languages, Russian, German, French and English. It is the second largest bust in the world. Apparently some Russian town holds a bust of Lenin which is slightly larger.

The monument remained intact even after the reunification albeit that Karl Marx Stadt returned to its former name Chemnitz.

Leipzig

Leipzig is the city of Bach, Wagner and Mendelsohn. Street musicians play classical music on the squares instead of popular music and the city is clearly proud of its musical heritage with a number of specialized museums. Bach is the greatest of all classical composers and some of his most well known music was created in this city. He was for a number of years the musical director of the Saint Thomas Kirche where he is also buried. Next to this church there is a statue in his honor.

We visited the church and burned two candles as one does while visiting a church. The candles were not the only thing that burned, while I was walking away it appeared that my sweater was on fire as well. No harm done but it would have been quite the story if we would have burnt down a church that dates back to the 12th century. Of course we visited the Bach museum as well. It is worthwhile the visit.

The street musicians in Leipzig are different from other towns. Not only do they play classical music some of them are also much better dressed.

The next day we visited the museum that remembered the DDR including attention on the Stasi (the DDR secret service). Very good exhibition and not very crowded. The sculpture (called “Jahrhundertschritt”) in front of the museum described the past situation of East Germany.

Not quite clear what it represent but it shows National Socialism (the right arm forward) and Communism (the fist) and as a result man has no room for himself.

The fall of the DDR in 1989 started in Leipzig, in fact it started as a small and peaceful demonstrations which gathered at the Nicolai church. Over a number of weeks these demonstrations spread as wildfire over the country and let to the end of this communist state. The Nicolai church is still standing firmly and has secured its place in history.

The Nicolai church is just one of many pretty old buildings in the city. Of course some of these buildings might have had a rough ride over the past 75 years but they have been restored nicely.

Altes Rathaus
Neues Rathaus
Alte Börse

One final word of caution. Without debt Germany is the producer of the best beer in the world. However, this does not mean that all German beer tastes good. Today I had a local beer called Gose. Next to the standard ingredients, coriander and salt were added to the beer. Not a good idea! Better stick to Kölsch, Freiburger, Warsteiner or many of the other tasty beers.

Eastern Germany: Dresden, (Berlin and Leipzig)

Our next destination on our road trip through Eastern Germany is the capital of Saxon: Dresden. Driving from Berlin we do not take the fasted road as we want to make two stops. For our first stop we need to cross the border into Poland and drive to the little town of Boleslawiec. Only a small town but well known for its highly ratted ceramic. We lived in Poland some twenty years ago and Carolina had gradually built up a nice collection of Polish pots and plates but over the years, one piece had gone missing: the lid of the teapot. She visited many shops and websites looking for this piece but without success. Tired of drinking cold tea we decided to visit the factory in a final attempt to find the lid. We succeeded.

Boleslawiec is to ceramic lovers like what are the Scottish Highlands to whisky drinkers: paradise. As the place was overcrowded with visitors we only stayed for a bit. However, in a factory outlet on the outskirts of town, we found what we have been looking for.

A second short stop was in the town Görlitz which is right on the border between Poland and Germany. In contrast to Boleslawiec this town was deserted. Maybe a cultural thing, Poles visit towns on Sundays whereas the German prefer to leave the towns and spend their time elsewhere. Görlitz is an old town preserved in its original state, in fact many people believe it to be the most beautiful small town in Germany. Not sure if that is true but it is very pretty.

Dresden

We are staying in the Hyperion Hotel in Dresden which is right next to the Residenzschloß and in the heart of the city. Dresden is an interesting city. It got heavily bombed and damaged during WWII and was mostly rebuilt during its DDR days. The rebuilding of the Altstadt (old down town) has been gradually done, in fact the rebuilding of the Residenzschloß only started in 1985, thus 40 years after the end of the war. Still parts of this palace are today being restored.

As you can see, the weather was not our friend during our stay. It was very cloudy with more than the occasional shower. Not a good day for walking around and taking pictures. Nevertheless, we took the umbrella with us and discovered the city.

Our first stop of the day was at the opera house. Carolina was excited to see it as the leading soprano of this opera was born in her hometown in the south of Chile and her family is friends with Carolina’s family. Unfortunately we were not able to enter the building.

Close by stands the Frauenkirche with a statue of the reformer Martin Luther in front of it.

Frauenkirche
Semperoper
Cathedral

At the Frauenkirche we were surprised that there was a long line to get in. Long line in times of Covid-19 seemed something of the past. Especially long lines on a rainy day. No visit to this church for us.

We did visit however, the Residenzschloß (Royal Palace) which is the old home of the Saxon rulers. The palace has been completely rebuilt and it has to be said, it looks amazing. The collection consists of some of the finest pieces of art the Saxon rulers possessed and includes masterworks from the 17th century made by goldsmiths.

The exhibition also included the legendary Dresden green diamond, which the Saxon rulers acquired some 250 years ago.

After visiting this museum there can only be one conclusion: it was good to be king.

In the afternoon we continued our walk and discovered an old cemetery. The graves are around 200 years old and the place is in poor condition but being restored.

Not a day goes by without trying some local specialities. We started the day with a nice pretzel and with the coffee we had a very traditional Eierschecke. We were told that you have not been properly in Saxony without eating an Eierschecke. So we did and we liked it.

Eastern Germany: Berlin,(Dresden and Leipzig)

We are planning a week long road trip to three cities in Eastern Germany. As we travel by car we will make a few stop on the way as well. This part of Germany is rather unknown to us. For Carolina it will be her first visit whereas I have been in Berlin just after the wall fell so in the early nineties. At the time I found it a dirty and messy city. The other two cities, Leipzig and Dresden are new to both of us. We have been to many places in Germany and it is our experience that in general Germany is more charming outside the big cities. The cities in Germany have suffered a lot during WWII and its inner cities are more rebuilt with an eye towards efficiency than towards beauty. Everybody tells me that the cities we are planning to visit are different.

This part of Germany was known as Deutsche Democratische Republic, the DDR. After the fall of the Wall in November 1991 it re-united with der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. In Western Europe, the DDR was known for its ugly cars, athletes that used doping and people that never smiled. Not a fun country. These prejudices are probably the reason why it took so long before we make this trip. First stop: Berlin

Berlin

After a six hour drive over the German autobahn we arrived in our hotel in Berlin. Sometimes you forget how much fun it is to drive fast. We all know that driving 160 kilometers an hour, for some of us who are a bit more conservative, is not good for the environment but it feels great. We are staying in the Intercontinental Hotel which is normally outside our holiday budget but now it fits thanks to Corona and the lower number of tourist.

As it is already late afternoon we decided to just take a stroll and before we knew it we arrived at the first monument in Berlin. It is the Holocaust Memorial or in good German: “Denkmal fur die ermordeten Juden Europas”.

It is a bit of a strange monument, 2710 concrete slabs of different heights. Impressive. Another 5 minutes walk and we arrive at the heart of Berlin: “Der Brandenburger Tor”. I remember this place as a tourist trap where shady sales people tried to sell you pieces of the Wall and Russian army hats. The place is cleaned up and once again the centre of German power.

Close to Der Brandenburger Tor you find Der Bundertag (parlement / home of Frau Merkel) and a piece of old communism, the Russian embassy on the old East Berlin street “Under den Linden”

I am a big fan of the writer Philip Kerr and his thriller novels involving Bernie Gunther. The novels are set before WWII, during and after the war. Great reading. After Bernie left the police he worked for a while in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. It is still (again?) standing.

When in Berlin one should do as the Berliners. So we found ourselves a nice Beer Garten next to the river Spree and had a standard German dinner: Currywurst with a nice glass (or in my case glasses) of beer.

German beer is produced according to the Reinheitsgebot, a law from 1516 that determines that only water, barley and hop can be used. Notwithstanding the healthiness of the beer, the walk back to the hotel felt significantly longer than the walk to the beer garten.

Our second day we started with figuring out the underground system. Berlin has a great metro network and we used it extensively. To our surprise nobody is checking tickets and maybe therefore, nobody seems to buy tickets (except us). I wonder if we will buy a day card again tomorrow or if we will do as all the Berliners seem to do.

The first landmark we encountered was the Gedächtniskirche on the corner of Kurfürstendamm. It is a church that was bombed during WWII and remains as a monument. It is one of the landmark buildings of the city and it is nicknamed “the hollow tooth”

We changed to the Eastern part of the city. Since the reunification the city has changed / modernized a lot but some things have remained the same. The tall television tower at Alexanderplatz is still standing and especially from close by I consider it an eye sore.

In order to somewhat understand life in former East Germany, we visited the DDR museum. It was the first time in quite a while that we encountered a crowd. The little museum was packed with people which felt strange in these pandemic days. We had bought tickets in advance and therefore we could skip the large waiting line outside this museum. I was wondering if they had this waiting line on purpose for people to get the “DDR feeling” where such lines were common. We shot a nice picture of Carolina as a communist executive with Lenin, Engels and Marx all looking over her shoulder. Very close to the museum we found a statue of the old communist comrades Marx and Engel. It would probably be more appropriate to replace the comrades with statues of Helmut Kohl and Michael Gorbatjov who made the reunification possible.

In my younger days I saw the iron curtain several times which made a big impression. I could not understand why you needed such a wall as the world is for all of us and travel should be open in order to get a better understanding of other nations and cultures. Basically I still feel the same and it was therefore great to see that the Berlin Wall has become a museum piece.

The above picture shows how the Wall functioned. On the East-Berlin side, there was a first, so called, inner-wall followed by empty space and watch towers. Next, you had the real wall which formed the border with West Berlin. The nearby documentation centre gives a very good explanation how the Wall affected people’s life.

After a day of learning, walking and sight seeing we needed to taste more of the German cuisine. We treated ourselves to some local pastry: the Berliner Sturmsack. Not sure about the calories but it tastes great. In the evening we again ate too much meat. I had a huge schnitzel and Carolina had eisbein. Carolina grew up in southern Chile so she knows eisbein as “pernil de cerdo con chucrut y papas” and considers it Chilean food.

Our final full day started with a visit to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the old crossings between the US and Soviet zones in Berlin. The wooden barrack where visitors to the Soviet Sector (East Berlin) were once obliged to pass through for vetting was removed. Reconstruction has included a US Army guardhouse and a copy of the original border sign. The original white booth can be seen in a museum.

From Check Point Charley we decided to take a long walk through Kreuzberg. My recollection of this place, of some 30 years ago, was as a run down neighborhood but we had read that it was all trendy now with hipster restaurants and coffee shops. Unfortunately, it is not! In fact it is still a run down place with ugly graffiti on the walls and poorly kept shops. Only when you want to go back into the dark days of the 80’s it is worthwhile a visit.

The afternoon we spent with walking through town, taking a boat trip on the river spree and visiting the Alte Nationalgalerie. The boat trip was excellent especially because it showed some of the newer parts of Berlin.

Tomorrow we will leave Berlin and drive to our next destination. Our departure will have to be earlier than expected because Berlin is hosting a half marathon run and our hotel is located within the running course. Sadly our Intercontinental experience will come to an end a few hours earlier than expected.

Before leaving the Berlin area, we visited one more sight: The Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam. This bridge is better known as the “Bridge of Spies”. During the cold war, this formed the border between West-Berlin and East Germany, the bridge was used several times for the exchange of captured spies. The Glienicke Bridge appeared frequently in books, tv serials and movies, most famously in the Steven Spielberg movie “Bridge of Spies” starring Tom Hanks.

Brugge / Bruges

After a year of Covid-19 and no foreign trips we are finally resuming traveling. It feels a bit strange to be on the road again whereas the pandemic is certainly not over yet. We are both vaccinated but still we expect some places to be closed or hard to get in. Our first trip is short, just a few days to Brugge. Our initial plan also included a trip to Brussels but as the weather forecast only showed rain, we postponed this part of the trip. Brussels is only a three hour drive from our home, so it is easy to visit Manneken Pis when the weather is better.

We have both been in Brugge before. Carolina as recent as two years ago. In her view Brugge is one of the most beautiful towns in Europe, if not the nicest one. My stay in Brugge is from some 40 years ago and strangely enough I do not have any recollection that this town is of outstanding beauty. We will see if one of us will change its mind.

Not only are we looking forward to the beauty of the town but also to Belgium food and beer. Especially we are planning to eat some good Flemish Frites with mayonnaise.

Halfway our destination we first made a stop in Zundert, the town in Southern Holland in which Vincent van Gogh was born. No big museum with beautiful impressionist paintings, for that you have to be in Amsterdam. The local boy Vincent is honored with a statue together with his brother Theo.

The real reason for a stop in Zundert is that my youngest sister lives here. Brabant is well known for supplying the world with party drugs but it also is the most hospitable part of the Netherlands. You can never meet and just have a cup of coffee, it always involves some kind of eating. This time my sister and her husband had prepared a traditional bread lunch. Wonderful but I worry how I have to combine this extended lunch with “Vlaamse Frieten ” (Flemish Frites) that I plan to eat later today.

Finally at 5 o’clock we arrive in Brugge. Enough time to see the highlights tonight and spend some more time tomorrow. We have a hotel in the heart of town, 3 minutes walk from the Burg.

The entrance in the old town of Brugge is impressive, The Kruispoort. Thanks God we are tourist who come in peace and no wandering knight of de la Mancha who want to fight windmills. These towers look frightening.

Driving a car in a medieval town which is built for horses is not our hobby but we had little choice as our hotel was right in the centre. In fact it was only a block away from one of the absolute highlights of Brugge: City Hall. Building this monumental city hall started in 1376 and was finished in 1421. So Brugge was already governed from this site 30 years before Christoffer Columbus (Cristobal Colon) was even born.

Take a good look at this picture and you will notice that something is missing….. there are no tourist. We have the town almost to ourselves and we love it. In this “the pandemic is almost over and we are vaccinated” year, the tourists have not returned yet. It is not that it is completely empty in town but the local people tell us that tourism is at least 60% lower than in a normal pre-Covid19 year.

When we continued walking we stumbled across a next square, the Markt with the impressive Belfort. This tower is built in the 13th century.

The Belfort tower is 83 meters high and anyone who climbs all 366 steps will be rewarded with a stunning view over the city and its surroundings. For a brief moment we considered climbing the tower …… but felt that we had a good excuse: we needed to have dinner first. Of course dinner had to be something typical for Flanders: moules marinieres, flemish frites and a good local beer.

A good end to our first day in Brugge.

We started our second day with breakfast in a restaurant at the Markt. What better to kick off a day in Brugge than with waffles with fresh strawberries and cream, a world class delight.

After breakfast we just walked around the old town without any pre-set plan and took a boat ride through the canals. We came across some beautiful sites.

The wooden buildings are constructed in the 13th / 14th century, the golden century of Brugge. The picture on the right is the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kerk (Church of our Lady) which to our surprise contained a statue of Michelangelo.

The “Madonna and Child” / “Madonna of Brugge” statue is one of Michelangelo’s only sculptures outside of Italy. The statue was bought in 1504 by a wealthy cloth merchant who donated it to the church. Twice a dictator (Napoleon and the Nazis) stole this statue but thankfully it was returned to Brugge.

Another walk around town brought more nice pictures.

The statue on the picture to the right is not particularly wonderful but it is in honor to Brugge’s most well known poet: Guido Gezelle. Not sure if I ever read anything from him but I remember that my mom had a few of his books.

Our walk finished at the market. One more picture. Have a look at the flags. It tells about Belgium. There is of course the Flemish flag (yellow with lion), the flag of the European Union and the Rainbow flag (LGBTQ). The one missing is the Belgium flag, is there a message in this?

Our trip has to end with another great Flemish dinner: stoofvlees with (again) Flemish frites. A very nice local dish.

During -Covid19 Road trip to Venice

After having been 3 months in an “intelligent lockdown” (government language) we are finally going on the road again. It will be our first trip after the journey through Patagonia. We have our mouth masks packed and are even taking a thermometer with us. It will be interesting to see if and how Europe has changed due to the Corona virus. Normally we never travel in the summer through Europe due to the huge amount of people moving around but we expect this year to be somewhat different in a sense that some of the places we plan to visit will be less crowded.

The idea for this road trip started during the peak of the Covid19 pandemic when I had to be downtown Amsterdam and found a deserted city. Amsterdam usually is packed with tourists but now it was absolutely empty. There were even saw kids playing football on the streets which I had not seen since the seventies. If Amsterdam was empty, so must other overcrowded cities be.

Venice has been on our bucket list for an awful long time. We have been several times to Italy and just last year at the end of the winter we went to Pompeii and Carolina had a wedding in Florence but we never made it to Venice as we always try to avoid as much as we can mass tourism. If we ever want to see Venice without the masses this might be our opportunity.

So a road trip to Venice. We will drive relaxed with stops in Bavaria and southern Austria. It is the journey that matters, not so much the destination.

One question is how our car will be holding up. Similar toour previous trip we will travel with a Land Rover. However, this one let us down terribly a month ago when we got stuck on a Dutch highway and had to be towed away. Not a nice experience and not something we would want repeat in an Italian back alley.

Anyhow, let the adventure start. It will be good to explore new places, meet people and eat and drink unknown food.

June 28, 2020 Nurnberg, Germany

Driving on the German autobahn is always a nice experience. The roads in general are very good and some parts are without speed limits so it is fast. The first consequence of Covid19 was immediately clear, there are hardly any foreigners on the road. The Scandinavians are completely absent, very few French and Belgians and even the Dutch are in short supply. We might have seen three Dutch cars with caravans all day, which for this time of the year is extraordinary. It will give the Germans a reason to smile.

The same absence of foreigners was true while walking around in Nurnberg, we did not hear any non-German spoken on the streets.

Nurnberg is a town with a mixed reputation as it played a dark role during the years leading up to WW2. The Nazi party held many mass meetings and also some of the most racist laws from that era are named after this town. A half finished congress hall from just before WW2 is a strange reminder of the weirdness that was going on in this part of the world. It was weird to come up with the idea to start building it, possibly it is even absurder that it still stands, maybe as a signal to future leaders? From the outside it is in a way beautiful but the inside is a mess.

Another example of the pre-WW2 era is the Nazi party rally ground or Zeppelinfield. Most buildings have been demolished but the grandstand from which the masses were indoctrinated, still stands

Nurnberg is much more than its dark past. It is a pretty town, some say it is the nicest town in Germany. The Altstadt is the historic part of the city, many beautiful buildings, churches and old city walls. It is fun to walk around.

But the best part of town is yet to come…..a restaurant that is preparing Bratwurst since 1419. Yes 1419!!! That is many years before Columbus sailed to the Americas. You can imagine, these bratwurst are made to perfection. Just this dish is enough reason to visit Nurnberg.

The next morning we walked through town to have a look at the castle which stands on top of a hill at the edge of the Altstadt. Beautiful walk, whereby we met with the statue of Albrecht Durer, the 15th century painting. Great statue but he was standing on a rather unfashionable place. Nurnberg’s most famous son deserves a better place. Maybe a suggestion to change Durer’s statue with the strange fountain that stands close to the Lorenz kirche.

June 29 and 30, 2020 Austria

We have changed scenery and settled in to a small town close to Villach in Southern Austria. High Alps and blue lakes. One of the reasons of spending some time in Carinthia is that we wanted to see the place were my parents have spent many holidays some 30 – 40 years ago.

In the morning we went to St Oswald and took the cablecar up to the top of the mountain. Although we lost our way several times, we had a wonderful two hour walk. The mountain was almost empty and the weather was beautiful. Some of the up-hill hiking was quite tough but that could have been because we went off road.

Of course at the end of the walk we rewarded ourselves with some nice Austrian Goulashsuppe, a Schnitzel and a nice piece of Schwarzwalderkirsch torte, Austrian style.

In the afternoon we went to see the holiday home were my parents used to stay. Lovely place, lovely location bordering the Millståttersee but very difficult to reach by car. I admire my dad even more now that I know that he drove his old Peugeot 504 up the mountain with three noisy girls in the back seats and a wife giving him continuous advice. The last time the road to this hotel was maintained was probably in the days of emperor Franz Jozef.

July 1 to 3, Venice, Italy

Venice is planned to be the highlight of this trip. Neither of the two of us has ever been, we have been avoiding it due to over-tourism. Covid19 has changed everything and this early summer could be our once in a life time opportunity to see Venice without the tens of thousands of daily tourists. Of course we worry a bit about the virus but so far everybody has behaved very responsibly and respectfully.

Happily, Italy has not changed. It is still a bit chaotic. The water boat system is our first introduction to Venice. Due to the pandemic and the lack of tourists, some of the routes had been adjusted. Unfortunately, information as to the changes were nowhere to be found. In stead of a 15 minute single boat ride it took us 3 different boats and 90 minutes to arrive at yet the wrong water bus station. On the bright side, we got a great view from Venice from the water.

After we settled in our B&B in Venetian style we hit the streets to wander around. Of course we first needed to see the San Marco square and to check out if Napoleon was right when he said that the San Marco square is the most beautiful reception room in all Europe. Napoleon was right, it is a spectaculair square and we got it almost completely to ourselves. It was a magical experience. The San Marco is so photogenic that you can make amazing pictures.

It is sad for Venice and the Venetians that the city is so empty bu, to be honest, we loved it. To freely move around the city and be able to make lots of pictures without having to worry that someone stands in your way is a blessing.

We needed to see all the highlights of the city which includes the Rialto bridge and the Ponte dei Sospiri.

The best part of Venice is just walking around and exploring. The city is so different from what we are used to. Everywhere small canals, old churches and lovely squares. We walked all day and must have taken at least a hundred pictures. Venice is also interesting because there are no cars, no motors and no bicycles. You either walk or go by boat.

Any Italian town on the sea must offer good food. One of Venice most well known dishes is called Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, basically a black spaghetti. The black coming from the squid’s ink. It does not look all that great but it tastes well although Carolina wants me to add “not my cup of tea”.

While preparing this trip we worried about Covid19 in Italy. Bergamo was hard hit and it is not that far away from Venice. After spending a few days in Venice one can only conclude that all the restaurants, our B&B and the shops had each made its own preparations to battle the virus. The Italian population, both people working in Venice and local tourists adhered to the new rules. Sometimes it may be a bit uncomfortable to wear a mouth mask but it gave us great confidence that we were in control and healthy.

Italy has many beautiful towns; Rome, Napoli, Florence to name a few. Venice, however tops the list. What a fantastic city, such a joy to visit.

July 3 – 6, 2020 Dolomites and Tirol

With pain in our hearts we left Venice. We both enjoyed the city a lot and know that if we would ever return it most likely will be overrun with tourists again. We feel so blessed that we had the opportunity to see it with beautiful weather and with few non Italians.

The Dolomites are basically a stop on our way home. We took the mountain road to Predazzo and thus avoided the area around Bergamo which suffered so much recently. It also gave us the opportunity to take a hike high up in the Dolomites. Very pretty landscape.

Carolina went back to her youth during the hike. Chile in the seventies was locked up and all they knew about “socialist” Europe were tv movies like Heidi. So when we met a herd of cows with bells around their neck, she got goose bumps.

Of course we couldn’t leave Italy without drinking a good bottle of Prosecco.

The next day we had a relatively short trip to Tirol, Austria. We checked in to our hotel which was like a ghost hotel. Nobody around. We needed to check in at a neighboring hotel which is also where we will have breakfast. Our hotel is absolutely empty. Also tourism in Austria is apparently hit hard with Covid19 but in Tirol (other then our earlier stay in Carinthia) they pretend that things are well. No mouth masks and also little social distancing. It does not feel right. Luckily we only had a hike around the Zugspitze planned and we will leave the following morning.

The hike was beautiful, we have been so lucky with the weather. While we walked up the mountain my heart beat went straight up to 141 which was kind of rough. Once on top of the ridge however, we did get rewarded with excellent views.

On our way north we of course had to stop at the fairytale castle of Schloss Neuschwanstein. So far we only knew this place through puzzles. It was another steep hike up a mountain but we got something in return.

July 6 and 7, 2020 in Trier, Germany

Our last stop on this trip is in the German city Trier. This town is Germany’s oldest city and was established by the Romans. It still has some Roman remains whereby especially Porta Nigra is very impressive, it was built in the 170 AC. I can not think of any building in our home countries (Chile and Holland) that dates from this era. The Porta Nigra is huge and shows that Trier must have been an important town for the Romans

Of course Trier also has the traditional German buildings , including a Dom on its main square. Some of these buildings have been transformed in restaurants and wine-stubes. We can confirm that there is nothing wrong with the German Pinot Noire, it is quite enjoyable.

Finally, like Nurnberg also Trier is honoring it most famous son with a statue. Although in general I do not like statues all that much and many statues of controversial people are being torn down lately, this one still stands proud. And the man deserved this: Karl Marx

Covid 19

A final remark over Covid 19 and our experience during the past ten days. In general, most people behaved very respectful and restaurants and hotels had all taken precautions. There was only one moment during the whole trip when we felt a bit awkward which was during a breakfast in an Austrian hotel when too many people had gathered in a relatively small area. The absence of crowds in especially Venice but also at Schloss Neuschwanstein was helpful and made us, middle aged people, feel comfortable. It was great to have the opportunity to make a road trip in Europe without being stuck in crowds. Venice was absolutely spectacular and one would wish that everybody would have the opportunity to see the San Marco square in all its glory

Traveling on hold

It has been ten weeks since we came back from our trip to Patagonia. Two days after we were back home, the Dutch government declared a lockdown of the country due to the rapid increase of the Corona virus. We knew while we left Chile that this was about to happen and seriously considered to stay as the likelihood of the virus spreading in South America at that time was remote. In the end we decided to go home as the health care sector in the Netherlands is one of the best in the world and we are not so young anymore.

Who could have known that most of the world would go in lockdown and traveling would seem something of the past. Surely with children in the US and family in South America, we will go back in airplanes one day, but this is not that moment. At the end of last week, I had to be downtown Amsterdam for a meeting. I walked past the Rijksmuseum, usually a very busy area, full of tourists. It was absolutely empty, so sad.

We are fortunate in a sense that we own a beautiful home with a pleasant garden. Birds are nesting and squirrels are roaming the trees. All very nice ……but we are getting restless again. The world is a wonderful place and there is still so much to explore, so many people to meet, so much food to taste.

Half the fun of traveling is the preparation and therefore we have started to think about trips again. Next winter we will most likely go back to the southern hemisphere and the plan is to combine a visit to Carolina’s family in southern Chile with a road trip to the waterfalls of Iguaçu. Again a road trip of some 5,000 / 6,000 kilometers. The two old ladies have told us already that they will share half the trip with us. A first idea is to drive via Mendoza (and stay a few days to drink some wine), Cordoba and Santa Fe to Foz do Iguaçu. The way back will go through Paraguay, Northern Argentina, Salta towards Antofagasta in Chile and then south on the pan-americana. The whole trip might take as much as four or five weeks but that will be fine as we plan to be in South America for up to three months.

For now this is only a plan but it is already a lot of fun to think and dream about it. It does not make much sense to start organizing this trip any further yet as it is not even possible to travel from Amsterdam to Santiago. We will resume planning in three or four months.

Europe is a great place to be in the spring, summer and autumn. Due to peak season we avoid traveling in the summer. However, that might be different this year. At the moment it is impossible to travel but some countries are gradually opening up. This should lead to opportunities to see some very interesting places which are normally overwhelmed by mass tourism. One place we really like to experience is Venice / Venezia. The good news is that Italy is gradually recovering from Covid 19 and its government wants to open up the country for EU citizens in June. Therefore, as soon as the Italian government considers it safe for us to come we will jump in the car and drive to Italy. Can’t wait.

Trip to Patagonia and the Carretera Austral


Introduction

For many years we have been thinking about taking a trip to the end of the world. We are both very familiar with Chile and Argentina. Carolina grew up in Temuco, Chile and we met while I lived in Santiago for a few years. Since our marriage we lived in California and several European countries. Today we live in my home country, The Netherlands. Over the years we have visited Chile many times but never had the time to travel by car all the way to Tierra del Fuego. The whole idea started in the summer of 2019 with a phone call from tia Laura to Carolina in which she said “I want to see the glaciers one more time before I die or they melt”. La tia is 80 years old and could not find anybody who wanted to join her, so why not ask the niece that lives in Europe and is married to “the gringo”.

Preparation

Any preparation of a trip is half the fun. Although our trip will only take place in February and March 2020, we already started to make the first bookings in October 2019. It all started with confirming the three day cruise trip from Puerto Natales to the glaciers in Southern Chile. The Skorpios cruise easily fills up. Once these days were set we could book our plane tickets from Amsterdam through Paris and Santiago to Temuco. Always a hell of a trip and not something I am really looking forward to. As most of the towns where we plan to stay are not touristic hotspots with lots of hotels, we have made advance hotel bookings. Happily, we do not have to rent a car but we can use a family car.

The plan is to start the trip in Temuco and travel across the Andes to the Argentinian pampa and further to the Atlantic coast. From there we will move straight south and arrive in Punta Arenas. This trip is around 2500 km and Carolina and I expect that it will take us 5 days. In Punta Arenas the two old ladies will join us. They will come by plane directly from Temuco. The highlight of the trip (although you never know) will be a cruise from Puerto Natales. After the boat trip our way back to Temuco will be partly through Argentina (including a two day stop at El Calefate) and cross the border back into Chile at Chile Chico. From there on we will take the Carretera Austral (road 7) to Puerto Montt and back to Temuco. All in all, it should be around a three – four week trip.

There are a few anticipated highlights on this trip. First of all the drive through the Argentinean pampa. We have had long drives through desert- like areas before (Nevada) but are curious what we will encounter in Argentina. There are not that many good travel books with information on this part of the world but “In Patagonia” from Bruce Chatwin is an absolute must read.

A second highlight will be Punta Arenas / Straits of Magellan, close to the end of the world. We need to see penguins and apparently there is a King penguin colony near Porvenir (Tierra del Fuego). Finally of course, we are looking forward to the drive north to El Calafate, Chile Chico and the Carretera Austral. Lots of nature!

We will fly to Temuco on February 17 and a few days later we will start the road trip. First stop will be San Carlos de Bariloche. The plan is to write in this blog at the end of every day. It will be adventure!

February 9, 2020

We are going to travel in a week so we are making the last preparations. Checking a last time if all the hotels are booked, did we also pay the airlines for our luggage and so on. Do we need to take mouth masks in order to not get the Corona virus?

The weather in the Netherlands is so bad this week with wind, rain and dark days. Next time we will see the sun, we will probably be in Chile.

February 19, 2020

After 29 hours of traveling we arrived in Temuco, the home town of Carolina and the starting point of our road trip. The trip was uneventful, just very long. We had to change planes at the new terminal of Santiago airport and for a few minutes we had the impression that the airport was better organized than before, but as soon as we arrived at the place where we had to pick up our luggage, the chaos started. The departure terminal for domestic flights was still suffering from overcrowding. On top of that, the announcements are made extremely loud and it was unclear to me what language was used. I already started to worry that my Spanish had deteriorated but Carolina, whose first language is Spanish, also did not had any idea what was being announced. The chaos was enormous. Carolina realized that she had come home.

At times it is difficult to understand South American logic. We had to wait 5 hours in Santiago for our flight to Temuco as there were no flights. When we finally boarded our plane, we noticed that two more planes were also boarding to fly to Temuco. Five hours nothing and then three planes within 15 minutes. The result: overcrowding and chaos at the small Temuco airport which is not build for three planes arriving at the same time. When one politely asks why this can not be better organized the answer is: “it is what it is” and maybe that is true.

The best of South America are its people and the food. Only a few hours after arriving in Temuco we were already invited to food and drinks with family and enjoyed some South American hospitality. Everybody was in good spirit and it was one big happy family. Moreover, the day was absolutely beautiful which we needed after all that bad weather back home. Life is good.

February 20, 2020

Today was a very warm day and thus the perfect excuse to leave the city and spend most of the day at the farm of tia Laura. Carolina’s aunt bought this wheat / potato farm 18 years ago and is transforming it in to a nature sanctuary. The last time I was at the the farm was three years ago and since then she has planted many more native trees which have transformed part of the farm in to a classic Chilean forest. Very pretty.

The farm includes lots of water which is channeled through small canals and creeks through some ponds. Water is of course important for irrigation of the farm but it also offers a great opportunity to go fishing. One of the lagoons is full of trout, in my humble view, there is too much trout in this lagoon so Juan Carlos and I will go fishing when we come back from our road trip to bring the fish stock back to its optimal level.

Every Chilean day seems to end with a lot of people around the table and with food and drinks. Not a bad way to end the day. I especially enjoy the pisco sours.

February 21, 2020

Next to the beautiful sides of the lake district in Chile, there is also a different side to the country. In October and November Chile, including Temuco, was the place of large social unrest, including some violent demonstrations. Some of Carolina’s younger family members actively participated in these demonstrations whereby one niece was almost hit by a rubber bullet. Everybody we speak to is convinced that the social unrest will resume after the holiday season. Temuco is full of graffiti against the president (“Piñera”) and many shops and banks are preparing for more violent protests. The town looks a bit like a pre-war zone.

In the meanwhile we are preparing for our road trip which will start tomorrow. So hopefully tomorrow we can present you with some beautiful pictures from the crossing in to Argentina.

February 22, 2020

The plan always was to leave Temuco early so there we are at 7.45 am to buy bread at the local panaderia (“bakery”). This panaderia is well know for its fresh bread, however not before 9.30 am on a Saturday morning.

Once on the road the trip goes south for the first two hours on the panamericana highway. Close to Osorno we turn east towards Argentina and towards the Andes mountains. Enormous mountains and volcanoes in front of us which we have to cross in order to get into Argentina.

The border crossing was pretty smooth, it only took about one hour. The first town in Argentina is Villa Angostura, a pretty town, in which the Dutch royal family owns an estate. After a 8 hour trip we arrived in San Carlos de Bariloche. We have been several times in Bariloche, it is a pretty town on Lake Nahuel Huapi, probably the prettiest lake in all of Argentina.

February 23, 2020

Before we go on the road today we first had to have a chocolate breakfast in El Turista. Bariloche is a town which was established by Swiss immigrants. They brought their knowledge on how to make chocolate with them. I probably had the best chocolate drink ever this morning

Today a relatively short trip. Just a 3 hours drive from Bariloche via El Bolson to Esquel. Driving on the famous Route National 40 which runs from Northern Argentina all the way south. This road in Argentina is like route 66 in the US, just more beautiful.

El Bolson is a nice little hippy town. We met this Argentine writer, Ernesto Maggiore, who could tell us lots about the history of the local Mapuche and Tehuelche people. We ended up buying one of his books which will not be a happy story to read.

We arrived in Esquel mid afternoon. Esquel’s claim to fame is that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid owned a cabin in the area. Two of America’s most famous bank robbers moved at the end of their career to Patagonia to start robbing banks again. They only stayed a few years, robbed a few banks and moved on again. The other well known fact of Esquel is that it is the end station of the “old Patagonia Express”, the well known book by Paul Theroux. Theroux starts his train trip in Boston and goes as far south as he can go by train. The most southern train station in the world is in Esquel. Of course we went to see it. Trains are no longer running due to a big storm earlier in the month but the station is still there.

February 24 and 25

We have been driving these two days around 1100 kilometers through the desert in the Argentine part of Patagonia. The trip started in Esquel which is next to the Andes mountains and after two days we have arrived in Puerto Santa Cruz, a small town very south on the Atlantic coast. At first sight the landscape might be a bit boring.

However, the desert is full of life and we have seen lots of wild animals right next to the road. The most common animals are the guanaco and ñandu, which is a small ostrich. But we also saw patagonian foxes, a family of mara patagonia and quirquincho. Weird names but cool animals.

On the 24th we had lunch in the small and windy town of Sarmiento. The town is known for the discovery of an important fossil dinosaur, he Sarmientosaurus Musacchio. Otherwise it has a restaurant, a gas station and two churches. One of these churches brought me right back to my upbringing: The Dutch Reformed Church (“de Nederlandse Gereformeerde kerk”). As you will understand my heart started to beat faster, one way or the other my tribe had settled in this windy part of Argentina. The story is that in 1903, 600 Afrikaner arrived in Sarmiento following the loss of the Second Boer War. Descendants of these Boer families still make up a substantial part of the town’s population. Of course by now they are fully integrated in the Argentine society but they have their own (and mine) church.

The night we spent in Comodoro Rivadavia, an industrial city on the Atlantic coast. This is region which has lost many young man to the war for the Falklands, or as they call it in Argentina; the war in the southern Pacific. There political views on this subject are quite clear.

February 26, 2020

We started the day in Puerto Santa Cruz and the plan is to drive back in to Chile. It is another day of driving through Patagonia. Whereas the days before we might have seen guanaco’s every now and then, today we must have seen at least a thousand animals. Guanaco’s everywhere and often next to the road or even on the road.

The border crossing in to Chile was quite rapid which was not the result of Argentinean and Chilean efficiency but merely because they were no other border crossers. After another hour driving we arrived finally at the Straight of Magellan, the end of the world!

The Straight of Magellan is everything you expect from it. The coast is rough and inhospitable, the water very dark and uninviting and it is windy, very very windy. In other words: pure beauty. It is one of those places you hear about at school but never think you will be able to go to and see it.

Mid afternoon we arrived in Punta Arenas.

This city is windy, it make the Chicago wind feel like a mild spring breeze. Walking on the streets is a continuous battle against. In fact it is so windy that we will not be able to see the penguins tomorrow, the boats that one needs to get to these penguins are all cancelled. Big bummer as the penguins were supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip. So, i guess that the below penguin will be the only one we will see this trip. Tierra de Fuego will have to wait for our next trip.

Later in the evening we picked up the two old ladies: Carolina’s mom and tia Laura. From now on the party of two will be a party of four. A new adventure.

February 27, 2020

Punta Arenas is known for its rapid changes in weather, sometimes it has 4 seasons in one single day. We experienced some of that today. At times it was sunny and it looked like a summer day but all of a sudden the winds picked up (90 km / hour) and we got some strong rains and the temperature dropped. We saw rainbows throughout the day,

We made a little trip to the most southern tip of the American continent, it is as far south as one can go without taking a boat. The Spaniards had built a fort at this place a few hundred years ago to let everyone know that also this corner of the world was part of their empire. The weather at this place was really bad and one now understands better why penguins like this place so much.

My hometown Barneveld has always been known for its chicken. However, there is clearly more to it. One of its more illustrious inhabitants was very adventurous and puts its name to some islands next to Cabo de Hornos (“Kaap Hoorn”). I had read about this a while ago but nobody really wanted to believe me. Finally I found a map that proves that Barneveld is more than a chicken town.

Due to its location and the weather it proved impossible to visit these island so it remains a nice challenge for a next visit.

The next few days we will spend on a boat to visit some glaciers. Not sure about the internet connection on this boat but we will put some pictures as soon as we are able to.

February 28 – March 2nd

These 3 days were going to be the highlight of our trip. We had booked a mini-cruise with the Skorpias III to see the fjords and glaciers of the Southern “Campo de Hielo” which is best translated as Southern Icelands. This area is the third largest ice pack in the world. The starting point of the trip was Puerto Natales, a small town some 3 hours drive from Punta Arenas. The Skorpios III is not a very big boat, around 45 cabins but due to the social unrest in Chile only 65 people were guests for this trip. It was quite an international group of people, 10 countries were represented.

There was quite a militair regime on board, we had to get up at 7 am each day and the days were packed with sightseeing and with eating and drinking. When we woke up the first morning the boat was already surrounded by ice, meaning we were getting close to the glaciers.

The first day we saw five large glaciers: the Amelia, El Brujo and three glaciers that were connected to the Calvo Fjord.

We were brought closer to these glaciers in smaller boats which was a great experience. Please have a look at the colour of the water of the picture to the right, it is green. This is not photoshopped but it is due to minerals in the water.

The whole area is very quiet. During the whole trip we did not see any other boat and no people are living in this area. All you can hear is pieces breaking off the glacier and falling in the water. Carolina became very popular on board because she was making a video at the moment when a large piece broke of the glacier. Everyone wanted a copy of her video. Unfortunately I am not tech savvy enough to down load the video in this blog.

The second day saw four more glaciers but we also did a trip with the small boats to see wild life. The scenery again was spectacular.

Wildlife in this part of the world mainly consist of birds and sea lions. We were not at the right time of the year to see whales. The picture to the left is a group of sea lions. The leader of this group is a male that lives with nine females and a bunch of baby sea lions. The picture to the right is of a strange kind of duck called “pato vapor”. Apparently it is one of only a few kind of ducks that can not fly. It also walks funny as their feet are positioned far back on their body. The below duck did not had any intention to fly or walk, it just lay down.

Next to that we of course saw the condor, most of these birds far away in the sky but one or two real close (see right). Then there was a bird that looked like a penguin but was really a bird (left)

We ended the day with a visit to a large estancia. The owning family of five adults and a small child live in the middle of nowhere. The nearest paved road is 37 kilometers away. The farm is around 13,000 hectares in seize and it is already since 1916 in the family. It was started by the grandparents of the present owners, which were a Spaniard with his wife from Amsterdam.

March 2nd and 3rd, 2020

We said goodbye to the boat and our fellow passengers on Monday morning March 2nd and drove from Puerto Natales in Chile to El Calafate in Argentina. We passed during this drive the Chilean national park “Torres del Paine”, a paradise for hikers. The average age of our small group does not allow for long walks but we were lucky enough to be able to make some nice pictures from this well known mountain.

We crossed the border at Paso Fronterizo Rio Don Guillermo, a very long name for the smallest border post between Argentina and Chile. The Chilean border (photo to the right) still looks somewhat representative but the Argentines just use a shack.

El Calafate is a pretty town at the end of a long and dusty road through Patagonia. We at least had some 150 km without any pavement and the dust had taken over the car and its passengers. There were hardly any other cars on the road and for good reasons. Thank you Land Rover for building a good car.

We overtook several people on bicycles, all of them foreign tourists.You wonder why people do this to them selves but they seem to thoroughly enjoy the ride.

El Calafate is a tourist town built next to a beautiful lake. Its main attraction is the glacier Perito Moreno. This glacier can be easily reached by car and a simple hike.

In Argentina one has to eat and drink like the Argentines. So that is what we did, We arrived at around 9.30 pm, Carolina and I had some good meat (see photo to the right) and we enjoyed a “Calafate sour”, a kind of pisco sour but with the Calafate fruit. When we left the restaurant at 11.30 pm, there were still people eating.

March 4 and 5

Both days were long travel days in northern direction through Patagonia Argentina. After a few hours driving we had a coffee break at Parador La Leona. The claim to fame of this old hotel in the middle of nowhere is that the American bank robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stayed here after they robbed a bank in Southern Argentina. Cool place especially for a retired banker.

It was a long drive north on Ruta 40 which included some fairly long stretches of dirt road (the longest piece was 75 kilometers). This part of the country is almost empty and it happened that for 15 minutes we did not see any other car. Patagonia is empty, dry with very few trees. The few towns we drove through are dusty and empty. It has to be said however, that the (few) people we met were very nice.

After two days of driving through Patagonia Argentina we reached the Chilean / Argentinean border which was placed in the Andes Mountains. Here we stayed in the small town of Chile Chico in a nice little apartment. Unfortunately the apartment only had one double bed so the old ladies had to stay in a bunk bed. They managed.

March 6

The apartment we rented was next to the dock from which we took a two hour ferry ride. It was all very well organized and by 8 am the crossing started

The building with the green circle around is where we stayed for the night.

The landscape is completely different from what we saw the past two days. We are driving through green fields with lakes and snow capped mountains around valleys. There are also more people living in this part of the world although for our European standards it is still very empty. Some of the areas clearly reminds me of Austria. We only had a short drive to arrive in Coyhaique where we are staying at the local casino. On the pictures you will see that the weather is changing, as we are closer to the coast we are getting some showers.

March 7

Today we drove from Coyhaique to a lodge close to Chaiten. A beautiful drive through mountains and valleys. Everywhere you look there is water, lots of lakes, many rivers and waterfalls. It is really spectaculair.

The weather has changed. Today is a day with many showers and dark clouds, the sun hardly came out. The road was mostly fine although some parts of the Carretera Austral are still unpaved. There are hardly any towns and it is virtually impossible to buy a cup of coffee, Chileans in this part of the country are not very entrepreneurial.

A few more pictures because it is so beautiful here.

March 8

During breakfast I realized that this whole trip was going according to plan. We did not have any major delays, mess ups unexpected incidents or disasters. Except for the chaos at Santiago airport, everything worked as it should. Had Chile changed? Today was going to be our last long travel day so are we really going to make this trip without the usual chaos??

The day started perfect with a drive through the national park Pumalin. This park was set up by the American entrepreneur Douglas Tompkins who invested a fortune in temperate rainforest land in Chile and Argentina. Thompkins had made his money with North Face and Esprit clothing companies. The man died a few years ago and his heirs donated the land to the Chilean government which made it a national park. It is spectacular.

From Pumalin we were supposed to take a ferry at 1 pm. From this moment on everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The 1 pm ferry did not show up and nobody had any idea when a next boat would come. No communication at all and the ferry company did not answer any phone calls. Surprisingly a boat arrived at 6 pm, no excuses were made as apparently this is their normal way of doing business. Once on the boat, the captain decided to take a different route which added to the delay. These hours of delay had as a result that a next ferry we were supposed to take had already changed to “night itinerary” which resulted in 90 minutes more delay. Long story short, whereas we had expected to be at around 8 pm in the hotel, we arrived at 3 am. On a more positive note, I finished reading my book and was able to make a few more pictures. The old ladies just continued with what they had done the whole trip: they told stories about their lives…….many stories…..even at 3 am.

March 9

This is basically where our trip ends. We started the day in Puerto Montt, the city of the Chilean salmon industry. Today was a good example of what Chile is about. During breakfast we saw a demonstration of school kids. What the purpose of the demonstration was, remains a bit unclear but these kids are just not happy with the social situation in the country. For coffee we met an old friend of Carolina’s aunt. We drunk a raki (Turkish liquor) with him at 11 am in the morning but more importantly he gave me a good Cuban cigar. Chilean hospitality. In the afternoon we arrived back in Temuco which was still as polluted, chaotic and charming as when we left it. All that remains, is to take a flight back to Amsterdam.