Cocktails in London Town

I was recently reminded about the great cocktails we enjoyed on our trip to London.  I have always worked on the assumption that I might not be able to afford to stay in the best hotels in European cities, but I can always afford the luxury of a good cocktail in their bar.  Not only do I enjoy a well-made drink, but I also get unlimited people watching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Gin and Tonic at Claridges

Claridges is an iconic 19th century landmark hotel in the Mayfair district of London.  It started as a boutique hotel and quickly became popular with royal visits by Queen Victory and Prince Albert.  During WWII it became a refuge for exiled heads of state.  The Kings of Greece, Norway and Yugoslavia all stayed at the hotel during their exile.  During the 50’s it was considered Hollywood’s home from home with the likes of Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Audrey Hepburn all being frequent guests.   I feel this is a good crowd to be associated with so I enjoyed my gin and tonic very much and even splurged on some sushi.

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Signature drink at the Rivoli Bar in the Ritz Carlton

We wandered down from Piccadilly Circus and discovered the Rivoli Bar in the Ritz.  For this outing the drink did not take center stage.  What did was the connection with the staff.  They took a liking to our little cast of characters and gave us a tour of the main floor of the hotel.  Like Claridges, the Ritz is a favorite for the current royal family and we toured the private dining rooms that the Queen uses upon her visits.  Dripping with elegance and sophistication.  The Palm Court is the main attraction for the Ritz with elaborate afternoon teas in the elevated central dining room.  A great place to see and be seen.  The bar is tucked in a corner, and the drink was less than memorable, but I enjoyed the glimpse into royal life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Outside of the expensive cocktails, we visited many pubs and sampled many different beers.  There is nothing better than a warm beer and a bag of crisps!  I’m still a Guinness fan, and I really must get myself to Ireland for a grand tour of the local brews.

Advertisements

Visiting London Town

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is where kings and queens walk…….  This is where traitors are killed…..   This is where you get the best fish and chips…….  These are the words that kept coming to mind as I wandered around some of London’s most famous landmarks.  London in February is not for the faint of heart.  The weather was frigid with a light sleeting snow falling, but as a big city it is totally navigable with a good map and a Oyster subway card.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As a history buff I marvel at the depth of history in this place.  In one afternoon you can go from a 4600 year old stone ring (Stonehenge) to a roman bath (Town of Bath) to the halls that Henry the VIII walked (Hampton Court) and end up riding the London Eye (Ferris wheel off the Thames River).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The clash of cultures in London is evident everywhere you look.  Immigrants from the previous empire states has always been the backdrop of the city, but recently I have noticed even more continental Europeans in the shops and restaurants.  The international flavor of the city just gets better and better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cost of visiting London also gets more and more expensive.  A taxi ride from Heathrow to Central London will put you back £90.  In central London it is getting even more difficult to find a cheap meal, but I still find pubs the best deal – plus the beer is always a plus.  I’m sure you can do London on a budget, but I save it for a special splurge and treat myself to some of the luxuries the city offers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bikes and Windmills……only in Holland

We stopped and investigated many 18th century windmills along our ride.  Many of them are still occupied by families and still function as mills.  One especially memorable view from my bike was when you could see the windmillsmassive modern day windmills used for energy production today in the background and in the foreground a cluster of 18th century windmills that literally made the country through draining the lowlands of water and abating the flood waters.  You can’t help but be awed by the contrast.

windmill angleWindmills in field

Setting out on the Inca Trail

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Setting out to hike the Inca Trail for 4 days.  4 days with no showers, no proper facilities and thankfully no mirrors!! Wilbur, our head guide has trekked the Inca Trail for 25 years, and he claimed that this was the first all female group he had guided and coincidentally, this was the first group to run out of toilet paper – hmmmmmm.    Our porters and guides took extra care of us and always seemed to anticipate our needs.  We had minimal personal belongings but it still required 16 men to carry all our gear, food, water, and propane.  Under such careful supervision we had no injuries or mishaps, not even a blister!  As an example after a torrential rain/hail storm at the top of Warmiwanusca, “Dead Woman’s Pass” (we appreciated the irony) we were invited to hang all our wet clothes in the kitchen tent to dry – this just proves you can’t keep some of us out of the kitchen even on a camping trip!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Inca Royalty in Peru

IMG_3082

9 of us women had been trekking the Inca Trail for 3 days, and according to our seasoned guides my poor friend was just walking too slow and she was in jeopardy of missing dinner at camp.  We quickly learned that you do not miss meals while hiking to Machu Picchu.  She had the honor of being “Inca Royalty” for the day as she hung on while the porter ran down the trail.  This was just one of the many life affirming, scary, push me beyond my limits moments that we had on a 2 week trip to Peru.

Swimming Lessons in Costa Rica

734841_10151225581991634_635386900_n

When I booked the 2-day river rafting trip with a nights stay at an eco lodge in Costa Rica it seemed tame enough for the whole family.  My husband and I are both fit and our girls are in their early 20’s so they are already in my opinion living on the edge.  I expected this trip to be a great family bonding experience.    My lasting image of my entire family falling on top of me in the middle of a class 4 rapid certainly accomplished this.

 

Let me back up, our first day of rafting was relatively mild with only my husband falling, actually it looked more like he rolled out of the boat.  He was quickly scooped up by the next raft and unceremoniously plunked back in our boat.   As we made our way we stopped to swim in a pool off a tributary and do some rock jumping into the river.  This was our first near mis-hap as daughter number 3 slipped off the rock and unceremoniously fell in the river.

 

We arrived at the Pacuare River Lodge in the middle of the jungle in time for lunch.  We enjoyed fish and beer on a magical terrace overlooking the rushing river.  On a whim, we asked our guide, Maurisio to take us to the local waterfalls.  After a 45 minute hike/run up the hillside we climbed up a rope to the top of a pristine waterfall.  Maurisio had a stash of onion sacks hidden behind a bush.  We all proceeded to risk life and limb on these onion sacks by hurling ourselves down 50 feet of jagged rock into a tiny pool below – it was a blast!

waterfall and raft

 

The Pacuare River Lodge has no electricity, the huts have no glass in the windows and the beds are enveloped in romantic white netting.  I took the best shower of my life surrounded by bird of paradise and other tropical plants, avoiding the peering eyes of the lizards.  At night the lodge is transformed into a magical candle light tree house that makes you feel you are a million miles from civilization.  Dinner was served with all the style and grace of a fine restaurant.

 

After waking to the sounds of the jungle we enjoyed another fantastic meal at the hands of our river guides and staff.  We eagerly got back into our rafts anticipating another half day of fun and excitement.  We quickly realized that our guide had been seduced into thinking we were experienced rafters and we had the ride of a lifetime.  I think he purposely sought out the bigger rapids, rougher eddies and spun us up and around at will.  At one point, it was a mother’s nightmare.  Daughter number 2 was trapped under the boat.  I was sitting opposite her and in a panic I was trying to remember if I should push her out or pull her in……..I must have decided to pull her in because I was holding on to her and telling our maniac guide to get us out of the eddy that I less than affectionately called the “washing machine”.  At another point I was air-borne and landed on the opposite side of the raft wedged in between daughter number 2 and my husband but on top of daughter number 1.   But, this wasn’t the worst.

 

We had stopped for a lovely riverside lunch and we were looking forward to our last class 4 rapid when the boat suddenly lurched on the opposite side of the raft and I knew I was falling off the backside of the boat.  When I hit the water I had thought the whole boat had capsized and I was worried my entire family was now in a very dangerous situation.  I hit the bottom of the river, and when I came up for air, I was relieved to see many people still in our boat!  Confused yet relieved I assumed that I was the only one in the drink.   The water was rough but I made a feeble attempt to get back to the raft.  My husband was yelling something to me and his eyes were enormous so I turned down river and realized I was going to take 100 feet of class 4 rapid outside of the boat.  I raised my arms, put my feet in front and said a quick prayer.  It was a ride I will never forget.  The sense of no control, being thrown with the direction of the water focusing on only keeping my head above water was exhilarating.  The next moment, the rescue kayak was beside me (the fact that they have a rescue kayak should have been a clue that I was way over my head) and I grabbed on to the rope and profusely thanked him for being so good at his job.

 

After I was pulled into the raft, I learned the fate of everyone else during the last rapid.  Apparently my whole side of the raft was dumped including daughter number 1.  She was grabbed by daughter number 2 and took the length of the rapid also outside the boat, but being battered against the rocks.  She was bruised from hip to heel but also has a tale to tell.    She doesn’t appear to have been scared by the episode since she is already planning her next trip to the Pacuare River with her daredevil boyfriend.  I on the other hand will take a break from the water and maybe find an eco lodge that is only accessible by foot.

Contact me at SaperenTravel@gmail.com if you are interested in the details of this trip.

 

BqbKIiryHsB8SgECvKVvYx9ZQEylMui97JBVN5BfGT8

Chicken Feet Soup and Trekking the Inca Trail

IMG_3117I heard some nervous laughter and heavy feet coming behind me so I looked up and to my amazement I saw my long time friend on the back of a porter, running down the trail with her holding on for dear life piggy back style.  Now, this was not what I expected to see on the trail but this was no ordinary trail, this was the Inca Trail in Peru.

 

9 of us women had been trekking the Inca Trail for 3 days, and according to our seasoned guides my poor friend was just walking too slow and she was in jeopardy of missing dinner at camp.  We quickly learned that you do not miss meals while hiking to Machu Picchu.  This was just one of the many life affirming, scary, push me beyond my limits moments that we had on a 2 week trip to Peru.  But the trip started with a much more serious agenda.

 

For the first week my fellow lady friends and I completed a service week in the shantytowns outside of Lima, the capital of Peru.  We had an opportunity to work with the local schools and senior centers to help provide everything from basic kitchen help to dental and early childhood evaluations.  Through a locally based international volunteer association I spent my days chopping onions, peeling chicken feet and serving meals to seniors who otherwise spend their days in cold, hard living arrangements with minimal nutrition.  When I wasn’t being chastised for my amateur cooking skills I had the honor of performing quick manicures.  I learned a lot about the lives of these women from the shape, texture, and deformity of their hands.  All of them wanted hot pink fingernails and they bickered and jostled in line to ensure they wouldn’t miss out.  I left my week of service knowing that I had feed many souls chicken feet soup with a dose of love and left them with pretty pink fingernails.

 

This weeklong submersion into the lives of the Peruvian people put our next challenge into context.  We were going to hike the Inca Trail for 4 days.  4 days with no showers, no proper facilities and thankfully no mirrors!! Wilbur, our head guide has trekked the Inca Trail for 25 years, and he claimed that this was the first all female group he had guided and coincidentally, this was the first group to run out of toilet paper – hmmmmmm.    Our porters and guides took extra care of us and always seemed to anticipate our needs.  We had minimal personal belongings but it still required 16 men to carry all our gear, food, water, and propane.  Under such careful supervision we had no injuries or mishaps, not even a blister!  As an example after a torrential rain/hail storm at the top of Warmiwanusca, “Dead Woman’s Pass” (we appreciated the irony) we were invited to hang all our wet clothes in the kitchen tent to dry – this just proves you can’t keep some of us out of the kitchen even on a camping trip!

 

We ate like queens on the trail, drank gallons of coca tea, slept like babies in our tents, laughed, joked and cried as we made our way to Machu Picchu.  Days 1 and 2 introduced us to the tenacity of the Peruvian people.  As we passed incredibly beautiful Inca ruin sites our porters ran by with heavy backpacks many times with nothing on their feet, or at a minimum rubber sandals filled with straw.  I looked at my high-tech, waterproof, shock absorbing, mid-height hiking boots and knew I was made of lesser stuff than our porters.

 

Day 3 was tough on some of the group, but we were rewarded with a chorus of “Hola, Colorado Chickas” upon our arrival into camp, which made us feel like family.  Our last evening was my favorite with an opportunity to show our gratitude to our crew with words of kindness and appreciation and of course generous tips.   In exchange, porters bashfully shared a little something about their family and future plans.  The morning of day 4 started at 3:30am with us fumbling around in the dark to get dressed and eat breakfast so we could get through the last checkpoint and up to the Sun Gate.  The pace of our group did not afford for us to make it to the Sun Gate as the sun rose, but after going up some more steep inclines and navigating the near vertical stairs right at the end (the gringo killers) we were blessed with a clear view of the iconic vista of the 15th century citadel.  After a brief lesson on Inca spirituality we descended down to the goal that had keep our minds and imaginations occupied while we pushed our bodies to their limits.

 

The first thing to strike you when you arrive at Machu Picchu is it seems to be a part of the landscape, rather than built upon it.  It appears to be totally integrated into the mountaintop.  Approaching Machu Picchu from the top (via the Sun Gate) is stunning, but exhausting.  You walk all the way down, through the complex to get to the main entrance, only to turn around and then appreciate it all over again from the bottom up.  Our three-hour guided tour, built on the foundation of 4 days trekking with our experts was the perfect way to end our Peruvian adventure.  But of course the fashion show on the train back to Cusco put us right back into giggles and laughter.