Category Archives: Travelling

Back in Rio, via Buenos Aires

So I’m temporarily back in Rio de Janeiro for the next three weeks after three months of being away in Peru, as Natasha has some work in Brazil before we head to Belize.

We decided to take a trip to Buenos Aires on the way back from Cusco, because the cost of a flight with a layover there was not significantly more than a direct flight to Rio. So, yey, surprise Argentina visit. It also helped that one of Natasha’s uni friends was on a internship in the city, so we got to see her again while we were there.

    We took an hour long flight back to Lima, with just enough time for a quick lomo saltado and a pisco sour at the Bonbonniere restaurant conveniently right next to our gate, before taking the five hour flight to Buenos Aires. There was a slight incident with me accidentally overstaying my visa by 30 days (hint: tell immigration officials how long you want; don’t assume they’ll give you the full 183 days. I only got 60, but didn’t realise). The only issue was paying a $1 a day fine and nothing recorded in my passport.

    Sadly by the time we arrived in Buenos Aires, I had a migraine, so the Sunday night was spent with me sleeping. We decided to spend the Monday exploring the Recoleta area, where our hotel was based, and discovered that the English Tower is effectively closed to visitors, the railway museum is very disappointing and that Argentinian chefs won’t cook you a steak under medium rare.

    Tuesday was spent braving the cold for one of the Buenos Aires free walking tours and then a language exchange in the evening. We’ve become quite the fan of the free walking tours, as they can give you an excellent overview of the areas. We’ve done tours in São Paulo (two different tours), Cusco and now Buenos Aires. The language exchange was also a fun way to meet locals and chat, as well as practice your language skills. I’ve written about language exchanges before, when I was in Madrid.

    After resting on Wednesday, we spent Thursday trying out a local restaurant, the Buenos Aires zoo and a wine tasting event. The zoo was a little disappointing, run-down and small, with many of the larger animals looking bored and lonely. One of the few redeeming features was that they allowed you to buy bags and buckets of food to feed some of the animals, which you could either feed by rolling it down slides to their enclosures or by feeding directly out of your hands. The wine tasting was interesting, but it mostly just confirmed my suspicion that I’m not a massive fan of red wines, and they were mostly sampling various melbecs.

    Friday was another relaxing way, with a fancy steak dinner, with about 20 little pots of various sauces and side dishes to go with our meals and Saturday was spent going to the cinema and drinking in a craft beer pub with friends and catching a spectacular immersive dance performance.

    Sunday was the day of our flight, so we had lunch with Natasha’s friend and said good bye before finding the most amazing patisserie, with chocolate cake to die for, before exploring Recoleta cemetery, which is where Eva Peron, among other famous Argentinians, are buried. It’s a very surreal experience, walking amongst these huge opulent vaults, some in various states of disrepair, but many with glass doorways or windows, with coffins on display.

    Chocolate cake and irish coffee

    The journey back to Rio was long and tiring, with connections in Cordoba and in São Paulo. After about 90 minutes, we landed in Córdoba, which is not an airport you want to be stuck in for 6 hours over night. The airport is very small with very little facilities. São Paulo is much nicer (other than the hassle of having to transfer your luggage yourself from luggage reclaim to the transfer desks elsewhere in the terminal building. The couple of hours we had there gave me chance to practice some of my long-forgotten Portuguese, and attempting to reenable my Brazilian phone sim. Then finally, 13 hours after we left Buenos Aires, we finally landed in Rio.

    Dealing with extreme allergic reactions to mosquito bites

    I’ve had some pretty bad allergic reactions to some bitey insects while I’ve been in Rio. I’ve had reactions before, but not as bad as here. For instance, while I was in Sevilla in last year, I was bitten a few times, and my hand swelled up, and tiny blisters formed, and I got some tiny blisters on my arms when I was in the Maldives too.  But this time, when I was bitten on my feet and ankles, the reaction was much worse, which blisters becoming bullae up to 2cm (1in) across, and almost semi-spherical in size. My feet also swelled up to a size that made me think of bloaty-head from Theme Hospital. I’ll save you pictures, but you can search Google if you’re morbidly curious. We’ve not sure why they seem worse on my legs than on my arms or face. Maybe gravity is a cause of the welling of fluid in my legs and feet.

    Continue reading Dealing with extreme allergic reactions to mosquito bites

    Writing my bucket list

    The topic of things I’d like to experience and places I’d like to see came up during dinner last night, and it reminded me of a few things that have come together to make me sit down and write down my current bucket list. I’d recently started reading a new blog of a travelling Danish couple who include their bucket list, and I remembered a conversation I’d had in Madrid with someone about Sean Ogle‘s bucket list, and how I’d done quite a few on his list, and finally a list I’d made myself four or five years ago. So  with these influences, I decided to spend a while writing my wishes down so I had somewhere to remember them and to give me some accountability into completing more of them.

    Continue reading Writing my bucket list

    Visiting Malé, The Maldives

    Malé is the capital city of the Maldives and is by far the most populous of the islands in the country. Around 100,000 people, a third of the population, cram themselves onto this 2km by 1.2km island. The island is so small that it’s only 3.5 miles to walk all the way around the island and it only took us 45 minutes to do so. As a consequence, the city is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Every conceivable parcel of land has been built on, right up the edges of the island.

    Continue reading Visiting Malé, The Maldives

    How to make friends in a new city

    One of the biggest fears people have about travelling, or just moving to a new city is the effect it will have on their social life and whether they will be lonely;  one of the first things my mother asked about when I said I was moving to Madrid was about what I’d do about my social life. However, with a little bit of work, you can easily make new friends anywhere and here are some of the methods you can use to make friends in a new city, even if you’re the shyest of people.

    Meetup.com

    This is possibly the biggest way of meeting new people. Meetup.com lists community events that are happening in your city. They range from mothers’ meetings to speed dating to software development lectures, and most of them are free and open to anyone interested in attending. I found dozens of groups in the Madrid area, with something I’d be interested in every day. In particular, I found 10-15 language exchanges, which is something I’ll mention below.

    Dating Sites

    There are plenty of free dating sites you can use to meet new friends. Two of the most popular sites are Plenty Of Fish and OkCupid, but there are plenty of other dating sites you could use. Most people might be on there to find a romantic partner, but I’ve found that a reasonable proportion are happy to make new friends there. You can explain that you’re new in the city and looking for friends, or you can just treat it like any dating experience and you never know, you might find more than friends. It might be harder for straight people to find friends of the same gender using this method though, although I can’t speak for the successes of gay users.

    Reddit.com

    Reddit is an online link-sharing and discussion site and one of the largest sites of its nature on the Internet. The site is separated into “subreddits”, with each subreddit covering a particular topic, but you’ll often find a subreddit for the town or city you are living in. For example, there is a Madrid subreddit, which gets a couple of posts a day. Often they’ll arrange or advertise social events, or may have an associated Facebook group where you can get to know people in your city.

    Language Exchanges

    Language exchanges are social networking events that allow people to talk to native speakers of a language and practice their conversational skills. But they are one of the best ways to meet people and to make friends, because they are full of people who want to talk and are great social and networking events. You don’t have to worry about speaking another language, because there will be people who want to talk to you in your language. I visited three language exchanges last night and spoke to 5-6 people for 20 minutes or longer and got the number of a guy who had just arrived in the city.

    I will be writing more about my experiences of language exchanges in a later post.

    Other large Internet communities

    If you are a user of a suitably large community site, like Imgur, Twitter, tumblr, 4chan etc, there’s a good chance that someone there lives in your new city. Start following people on Twitter or on Tumblr or post that you are new to the city, or will be arriving soon and are looking for people to meet up with. The advantage here is that you will have a shared culture from the community already formed, so you’ll have some topics to fall back on.

    You can use each of these methods to find new friends and expand your social circle. You don’t need to wait until you’re in the city to start using them either. Change your dating profile location to your target city and start joining groups on Reddit or Meetup.com and getting to know the feel of the groups and city before you arrive.

    One of the first people I met in Madrid was a woman who saw my profile on OkCupid and messaged me, even before I’d left England. The second person was someone who’d posted to Imgur saying they were in Madrid and looking for new friends. I messaged her and we met up and she introduced me to even more friends.

    The sooner you start making friends and research events, the better your first few weeks will be.

    Tapapiés food festival

    For the last two weeks, the Lavapiés area of Madrid has been running a food festival called Tapapiés. 62 restaurants and bars around the neighbourhood offer a small plate of food for €1 or a plate and a small beer for €2. Each dish is a fusion of different cuisines from around the world. We managed to visit 13 venues:

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    Venue:  Fantástico
    Dish:  golden chicken marinated in spices with peanut butter sauce and coconut milk over  rice flour bread, beetroot and fried onions.
    Origin: Indio-Bangladeshi and Thai
    Basically satay chicken, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. The rice flour bread and beetroot was a strange mix to my British tastes, but I enjoyed it.

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    Venue:  LA DE ESPRONCEDA
    Dish: Mini venison hamburger
    Origin: Spain
    There was a little bit too much bread to meat, but how can you not enjoy food that makes you look like a giant?


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    Venue: EL ECONÓMICO SOIDEMERSOL
    Dish: Stirfry with chicken, rice, carrots, red and green peppers and teriyaki sauce.
    Origin: Spain/Philippines
    This dish was a little cold, as it had been sitting out for a while behind the bar, but tasty nonetheless.

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    Venue: ACHURI
    Dish: Tortilla corn, beans, meat, tomatoes, cilantro, spices
    Origin: Mexico/Burkina Faso
    This was one of the more interesting dishes we tried, with the mixture of more common Mexican taco with the meat filling in a Burkina Faso style. Again the mini taco and tiny glass of beer made me feel like a giant.

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    Venue:  O PAZO DE LUGO
    Dish: Secret burrito – Flour tortilla, Iberian pork, green asparagus, red onion, green and red pepper, garlic, leeks and salsa.
    Origin: Mexico/Spain
    I’m always suspicious of anything described as “secret” or “surprise”, but these were really tasty.

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    Venue: PARRONDO
    Dish: Bull’s tail wrap, with a goat’s cheese sauce
    Origin: Italy/Andalucia
    This is by far my favourite dish in the entire evening. I hadn’t had bulls’ tail before, but it was very nice, and had a sweet after taste. Highly recommended.

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    Venue:  LA LIBRERÍA DE LAVAPIÉS
    Dish:Cream cheese, sardines, apple and pomegranate on toast
    Origin: Mediterranean
    I think this was my second favourite dish, with the pomegranate really adding something to the dish.

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    Venue: LAMIAK
    Dish: Fish egg tart with cod, salmon and mussel
    Origin: Basque country
    This was actually the last dish we ate, and one of several seafood dishes, with various fish and seafood on a stick, with a crisp pastry tart.

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    Venue: TABERNA ENCANTADA
    Dish: Toast with anchovies, tomato puree, basil and olive.
    Origin: Catalan/Mediterranean.
    I don’t normally eat anchovies, but the sweetness of the tomato puree really offset the taste of the fish. One of my more favourite fish dishes of the day.

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    Venue: ALMA CAFÉ
    Dish: Mixed meat, with vegetables and legumes on toasted rustic bread
    Origin: Sevilla
    I enjoyed this dish, and we noted that it was one of the best we’d eaten so far, but was overshadowed by the bulls tail later in the day.

    Unfortunately I failed to take a photo of a few dishes, so these are from the Tapapiés site rather than my own:

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    Venue: GANDHI BAR
    Dish: Crispy spinach rolls, cauliflower, red and green peppers, potatoes, carrots, peas, onion, garlic, wheat flour and mild spices.
    Origin: Bangladesh
    We actually ended up eating a samosa instead of the roll pictured, because this was the only place that had several options on offer, but it was served with a number of dips, and a nice example of indian cuisine.

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    Venue: EL PALADAR DE LAVAPIÉS
    Dish: Cod, walnuts, almonds and cranberries, milk, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
    Origin: La Mancha
    This was our first dish of the day, and our first fish dish. The mixture of fish and nuts was a great introduction to the festival.

    You’ll notice some cards in a couple of the photos; these were scratch cards you could use to win some prizes. You could also use them to vote for your favourite venue with the associated code on each card, you typed into the website. Sadly, we failed to win anything. 🙁

    This was definitely one of the better ways of spending an afternoon, sampling cuisine from around the world, and for very little money. We ate 13 dishes and drank 7 small beers for a total of €20.