My Top 5 Meals in South America (and Top 3 Desserts Too)

I’ve complained before that South America was not really the culinary paradise that Asia was. Most of our meals were pretty repetitive versions of rice, chicken, shrimp or beef steak. There were some culinary highlights though. Here are my faves:

Top 5 Meals

Quito, Ecuador: Baalbek

We were originally trying to hunt down a Vietnamese restaurant I’d read about on TripAdvisor when we stumbled on Lebanese instead. The spacious restaurant was empty for lunch and the owner himself came out to greet us. When he heard I was from DC he asked if I’d been to Lebanese Taverna, which is actually about half a mile from my house and a favorite restaurant of my mom.

As we sat and chatted delicacy after delicacy came out: tabbuleh, falafels, kafta, grape leaves and hummus (hummus may be my favorite food of all time). It was such a nice break from chicken and rice, and delicious in it’s own right.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Cabrera

We loved this place so much that we went three times! We were first introduced by Meg and Tony of Landing Standing, who told us about the restaurants popular happy hour special: if you arrive at 7pm, you can eat for half price. Everything on the menu half price- it has to be one of the best deals in town.

La Cabrera is a traditional Argentine steak house, and it serves up enormous cuts of meat with no fanfare. The bife de chorizo smothered in blue cheese was a favorite. Thank goodness we have good travel insurance, because we always left here on the verge of a meat coma.

Montevideo, Uruguay: Parilla in the Central Market

Argentina is famous for it’s meat but the barbeque in Uruguay manages to be even more extraordinary. With some new friends from our hostel we headed to Montevideo’s Central Market (Bourdain went there so we knew it would be good). We sat down at one of the many open air grill restaurants and ordered a parilla, a selection of grilled meats. What we received was the largest, most delicious pile of cow and pig parts ever. No veggies needed.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Cocina Sunae

Another find from my food gurus Meg and Tony, this was a closed door secret restaurant in a remote part of the city. They served delicious South East Asian food. If I were back in Buenos Aires for a weekend I would make it a priority to visit again.

Santiago, Chile: Zabo

I’m only a recent sushi convert but I can recognize quality when I see it. Zabo was the real deal, with super fresh fish and creative yet delicious rolls. We went twice during our week in Santiago and made it our last meal in South America.

Top Desserts

 Bogota, Colombia: Chocolate con Queso

When I tell people about this local specialty they either think it’s brilliant, or totally gross. Soft squares of cheese melted in very rich hot chocolate. I obviously fell on the side of brilliant.

Rosario, Argentina: Ice Cream

Argentinean ice cream has no match anywhere, and for us at least Rosario was the top of the heap.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Key Lime Pie at Cocina Sunae

Yes, I’m bringing this place up twice. The main meal was amazing but the key lime pie was just… it was to die for.

Escape From the City: 5 London Day Trips

I love London don’t get me wrong. It’s an exciting and vast city with a seemingly endless supply of things to do. It’s also suitable for all budgets; you can scrimp and stay in a hostel, blow a huge wad of cash at a hotel or try something innovative like a secret hotel (there are lots in the mystery hotels London section of this website).

However, many visitors seem content to merely visit the capital city and end up missing out on all of the other beautiful and varied cultural sites the country has to offer. This is a shame; when there are so many interesting places just a couple hours away. Here are five other destinations worth visiting that can be seen in just a day trip from central London.

Greenwich

If you want to get technical, Greenwich is really a part of Greater London: that huge amorphous suburban blob. Even so it’s far different from central London and is a nice day or afternoon excursion. You can take public transport to Greenwich but the more exciting tactic is to take a boat cruise down the Thames, under Tower Bridge and past Canary Wharf. Once in Greenwich you can visit the National Maritime Museum, the Greenwich market or tuck into a traditional eel pie. The highlight here however is the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time. Be sure to get a photograph of yourself standing on the Prime Meridian line with a foot in each hemisphere!

Hampton Court

Only half an hour by train from London is one of the most impressive palaces in all of England. Built during the reign of King Henry VIII and used by the Royal Family up until the 18th century, the home is an elaborate showcase of Tudor and Baroque architecture. Highlights include the Fountain Court designed by Christopher Wren, a functioning astrological clock and the world’s first Real Tennis court. The palace is haunted by the ghosts of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, Henry’s second and fifth wives, both who spent time here before going to the chopping block. The grounds are also exceptionally beautiful and there is an elaborate hedge maze to get lost in.

 Brighton

If the weather is nice why not take a jaunt down to the Sussex seaside? An hour south of London via train, Brighton has been an escape from the city for hundreds of years. You can stroll down the Brighton Pier or relax on the colorful beach. With several universities, Brighton is a bright spot of culture and nightlife. Be sure to check out the bizarre Royal Pavilion, an Eastern themed Victorian pleasure palace.

Oxford

The oldest university in the English-speaking world (it’s existed in some form since 1096), Oxford is rich in academic, architectural and literary history. Sign up for a guided tour in order to visit some of the beautiful colleges and to learn about the vast history of the town and University. Oxford is also a major site for bibliophiles; from it’s medieval Bodleian library to the modest Eagle and Child pub, where CS Lewis and JR Tolkien used to have a pint and share their stories with one another. Lewis Carroll also taught at Oxford and Christchurch College stood in for Hogwarts in scenes from the Harry Potter movies.

Bath

A bit further out of London (roughly 90 minutes by train) is the ancient city of Bath. The Romans founded Bath as a sacred healing spa in the first century AD, and built a temple over the hot springs. This impressive structure is still intact today and can be toured. Bath underwent a renaissance in the 18th century when it was redesigned as a vacation spot for the English elite. The entire city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. In addition to touring the baths and admiring the Georgian architecture, visitors can spend time at one of the several spas still in operation, or take a walk and enjoy the scenery that inspired local author Jane Austen.

Europe’s Accessible Antiquities

Since cheap holiday packages became available in the 1970’s the Costa del Sol in southern Spain has been a favourite with British travellers. With easy connections and great value for money, backed up by a warm and sunny climate, it’s the perfect destination for a week or two in the sun.

But amongst the holiday apartments, water parks, restaurants and beaches there are great historic sights within easy reach if you want to explore.

The Rock.

Jutting out from the southern most tip of Spain is the unique British enclave of Gibraltar. Affectionately known as Gib or the Rock to its residents and regular visitors the Rock stands at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea making it an important Naval Base for centuries. The Rock can be seen for miles as you drive down the coast, jutting out to sea and hiding a myriad of secret sites to investigate.

Getting about.

The rock itself rising above the port and town famous for its duty free shopping is the centre of the cultural and historical sites and local firms offer tours to all the important areas for an inclusive price. There is also a cable car, which takes guests to the top of the rock but getting around is more restricted on foot.

Protecting the port.

Halfway up is an 8th century Moorish castle, housing a prison in its keep to this day. Tour drivers will chart the history of the flag that flies over the castle and its changes from Spanish to British over the years. Miles of Siege Tunnels used to house barracks and military lookouts are carved deep into the rock and those open to the public chart their use during military conflicts over the centuries.

Nature on show.

Naturally formed limestone caves crowded with stalactites and stalagmites can be visited at St Michaels Caves. The larger caverns were used as a hospital in the world wars and are used as classical concert venues today. The amazing formations are beautifully lit so your photographs will capture the wonder of the sight.

Gibraltar is the only place in Europe where Barbary Apes they can be found. They roam free and are incredibly bold providing a lot of entertainment, running and jumping onto fences, walls and roofs including those of the tour buses and cars. Take heed to the warnings however, these are wild animals and could harm you if you feed them or go too near them when they are nursing their young.

Moorish Malaga

Back on the Costa instead of just using Malaga as your airport venue, its well worth having a day in the town to explore the historic sites. A settlement since Phoenician and Roman times and the capital of Moorish Granada, Malaga is alive with history and sites include the old Moorish Castle or Alcazaba built between the 8th and 11th century. The site was originally the location for a roman amphitheatre, partially excavated by the entrance. The ruins of later Moorish Castle from the 14th Century stand directly behind the Alcazaba. For a complete history of the area visit Museo Arqueologico for displays of Phoenician, Roman and Moorish artifacts.

Linda Endersby is a freelance writer who worked in the travel industry for 19 years and enjoys writing about the places she’s visited as well as indulging in her passion for books in her other role as a children’s bookseller.

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Timeshares

Anyone who has even been to a free timeshare cocktail hour or nice dinner knows that timeshare dealers force a hard sell. At first the glamorous pictures and easy vacations can seem tempting but make sure you know the truth about timeshares before you sign anything.

 Timeshares are Not a Great Investment

They are often marketed as such but in truth timeshares are not always a smart financial decision. You can make a ton more money investing in a mutual fund than in a timeshare.

A good investment is one that you can resell for more money than you paid. In reality timeshare owners almost never make any money reselling their package. Instead, with a timeshare, you’re basically just prescheduling your vacations for the next 15-20 years.

Timeshares May Not Save You Money

Ignoring the fact that with a timeshare you are committed to vacationing at the same place every summer for pretty much ever, timeshares may not even save you money on those vacations. Most of the time you could rent a house or an apartment for less money than you’re paying on your share.

Additionally many timeshare companies charge “maintenance fees” that grow over time. If you ever decide to sell your timeshare you will be shocked by how much value it has lost from the original markup.

New Timeshare are a Worse Value than Used Ones

Most timeshare pitches focus on buying new shares directly from the resort or hotel, however, this can be a mistake. Most timeshares lose a lot of value very quickly so it can be much cheaper to buy the exact same share on the used market.

Timeshare Contracts can be Really, Really Hard to Get Out Of

Most timeshare contracts are structured in a way that makes it very hard to leave. Even reselling your share can be a huge pain as there are many rules and not that many interested buyers. You may end up paying fees into perpetuity. Even worse, if you die, your timeshare and it’s debt can pass to your heirs.

The solution is to hire a firm like Right Choice Transfer that specializes in helping customers free themselves from timeshare contracts and obligations.

Timeshares Do Not Guarantee a Great Vacation

Even if you are the kind of person who likes returning to the same place year after year, timeshares may not be the perfect solution. For starters it can be very hard to change dates if necessary, which can often result in losing vacation time.

Secondly not all timeshares are kept in great condition, which means you may not know what you’re showing up to year after year.

princeton

3 cool places to visit within two hour’s drive from New York City

Living in New York was a dream come true for me: as a teenager I would stare bleakly out on the wet Yorkshire landscape and fantasise about living in an apartment in the city that by reputation never sleeps.

So I made it a reality by opting to go to college in the US, choosing to go Rutgers, a large University campus just outside of NYC in the more suburban land of New Jersey. I didn’t quite get my apartment overlooking the Hudson, but every weekend I travelled to the city, which will always hold my heart, and explored every nook and cranny.

Unlike most of my expat friends I didn’t invest in a car in the time I lived in the States; instead I relied on hiring a large traditional vehicle when I wanted to visit more out of the way places. Car hire in the US is easy and cheap to arrange as a foreigner, so it always seemed like the simplest option.

New York City can keep you busy for an eternity, but I would recommend you also explore the city’s surrounding areas and find some treats that your average tourist might never locate.

I am biased, but I for anyone looking to sample real life America, I would advise hopping in a car and travelling to my old university campus in New Brunswick. Sorority and fraternity houses dominate every block near the old school and the cultural feel of it is such a contrast to that generated by standing at a British university campus. Grab a coffee and sit in the shade outside Au Bon Pain and watch student life unfold in front of you. It sounds simple, but it gives a taste for the vibrancy of the American student way of life, which is entirely different to the British.

If you want a comparison, a short drive takes you to the decadence of Princeton. I would often find myself here after a night spent in NYC dancing, as the 5am train would terminate outside the pearly gates of one of America’s finest institutions, and I would wake with a jolt, once again realising I had missed my stop and it was a long wait with a hot cup of coffee to finally get home to my dormitory and bed.

For anyone travelling to New York, I would urge you to stray outside Manhattan’s boundary. The Bronx offers some beautiful churches and incredible jazz nights. Whilst its reputation scares off most tourists, so long as you are sensible there is no reason not to visit this borough, which is brimming with culture, colour and culinary delights. For the best pizza I have ever eaten in the city, take a trip to 186th Street for a piece of thick cut Sicilian pie, dripping with eggplant and melted mozzarella. Based in the market, it is the only place you can grab a seat and watch the world dance by.

For me, trying to live in a city rather than ‘visit’ is a much more captivating holiday, so ditch the guide books, pack your inquisitive spirit and explore the lifestyle of the New York City inhabitants.

Author: Jane Blackmore is a freelance writer, blogger and editor. When not hitting the keyboard, she entertains her three young children and relaxes in the evening with a simple G&T.

Image By Nouhailler on Flickr Creative Commons

 

Cheap Things to Do in Riga

In spite of their proximity to Eastern Europe, the Baltics are not known as the most budget friendly place.

There are a lot of ways to cut prices when you visit Riga: eat cheap and local, find and compare apartments in Riga to avoid pricey hotels and skip the expensive late night bar scene. You will also want to take advantage of the many free and low cost attractions in the city. Even in a town with high overhead there is plenty here to do on the cheap:

Free Walking Tour

If you’re just arriving in town, take advantage of the free walking tours offered by volunteers who work solely on tips. The tour will take you away from the Old Town to visit other districts like Riga Central, the Moscow District and more. Meets at noon every day in front of Saint Peter’s church. Look for the guide holding the yellow suitcase.

Explore the Old Town

The perfect inexpensive way to spend an afternoon is wandering Riga’s old quarter, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is full of small squares, quant restaurants and museums showcasing Latvian history. There is a lot of creative architecture to enjoy and photograph. Riga is known for it’s creative street performers, the best place to spot them is actually by the McDonalds. Sit at an outdoor restaurant, sip a beer and watch the people go by.

 Occupation Museum

You will recognize this museum by it’s creative and foreboding architecture. It chronicles the country’s experiences under the tyranny of first the Nazis, then the Soviets. This includes detailed explanations and recreations of the gulag experiences. Most of the descriptions are written in English. Admission is free but donations are encouraged.

Central Market

This one is only free if you have the willpower not to buy anything. Riga can claim the largest central market in all of Europe, and it is as you can guess, absolutely enormous. Here you can find all manner of local cheeses, fruit, meat as well as clothing, handicrafts and much more. Popular local souvenirs include amber, honey and knitted clothing and socks.

The View from St. Peters

Saint Peters Church dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest and most famous Lutheran churchs in Latvia. Entrance to the tower costs 3-4 Latvian Lats but is worth it for one of the best views in the city. No need to climb rickety stairs, a new elevator takes visitors up to heights of 72 meters for a 360 degree view of the city below. You can stay as long as you like.