Melnik


“OMG THERE’S SNOW!” Yelled Jodon as he stood at our window over looking the small town of Melnik. “What??” I crashed my way across the hotel room to look outside. Our hotel was perched on the side of a hill right in the middle of the one-street town of Melnik. Our bedroom window looked out over the rooftops of the restaurants in the city. From where we were, we could pretty much see the entire town. It was our first morning in Melnik, and overnight it had snowed. The little rooftops, the river bank, the trees and the mountains were all lightly dusted with snow. It was like a perfect little Christmas village. 

With less than 300 residents, Melnik is the smallest city in Bulgaria. It also happens to be the wine capital of the country. The town is just one street long. One street filled with micro-wineries, restaurants and little shops that sell homemade jams and honey. The town is nestled in a small valley between jagged beige mountain peaks. A few of the wineries have spent years carving out small caves in the mountainside in order to store their wines at perfect temperatures. Low tables with traditional linens and short wooden stools are set among the barrels. Visitors are encouraged to sit, relax and taste the young wines straight from the tap. It’s freakin’ adorable. 

Most of the restaurants in the city also serve their own wine: something grown and bottled just a few kilometres away on a hectare or two of land. The wine is stored in label-less bottles or in plastic jugs by the litre and served in large glass decanters. The restaurants all look like traditional hunting lodges. Wood panelled rooms, with mounted taxidermy stag heads and antler furniture. The rooms are dimly lit and filled with antique decor. Hunting rifles hang on the wall along with countless bottles of aged wine. Bulgarian folk music wafts through the room. Everything feels cozy and warm; a welcome escape from the falling snow outside. 

We joked that during our stay in Melnik we supported every family in town. The place was deserted. As far as we could tell, we were the only tourists in town. We walked up and down the empty streets leaving only our own footprints in the snow. Locals looked surprised to see us as we stomped in from the cold to join them for a glass of wine or a hot lunch. They scrambled up from their chairs, adjusted their clothes and hair and put on a smile as we entered. I bet sometimes days go by without any customers at all. We drank wine at one restaurant, then had lunch at another. We stopped at the different museums, and tasted wine in the mountain caves. We bought wine from one shop and jam from the next. At the end of our two days we figured we’d hit nearly every building in the city. 

It was a perfect way to spend the last days of our trip together. Melnik was our last stop in Bulgaria and our last stop travelling just the two of us. To end off our adventures, we were meeting up with Kelsey and Peter for some fun in Greece before heading home for Christmas. Until next time Bulgaria! 

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No Wine in Wineglass Bay

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Okay… I have to admit. This post is SO beyond due. I’m terrible at keeping on track with my blog posts, and the more fun I’m having on a trip, the less I want to spend time writing. But better late than never I suppose!
During my Australia trip I managed to hop down to Tasmania for a week to visit my old pal Mark. Remember Mark? I met Mark and Ollie two years ago while traveling through the Bolivian Salt flats with Adam (see previous posts from Bolivia). Well, two years ago Ollie bragged than Mark cooked up “THE BEST” lamb in the world.
“Well you should make some for us!” Adam and I exclaimed.
“Well you’ll have to make it all the way to Tasmania and then I will!”
So that’s what I did…
Little did Mark know, I made the trip half way around the world just to try his lamb recipe. And I have to admit… It’s the best I’d ever had! (Well done Mark).
My trip to Tasmania was awesome, and I have enough stories to fill another 20 posts if I had the time to write them all. One of my most memorable however, was our trip to Wineglass Bay…
So here you go!

It was a two hour drive from Hobart to Coal’s Bay Saturday evening. Mark and I stopped for a wallaby salami and brie pizza on the way up (and on the way back it was so good) and arrived an hour or so after dark.
“You’re probably going to see lots of road kill on the drive up” Mark explained to me as we started our road trip. He wasn’t lying.
As we approached dusk, it seemed every couple hundred meters there was another flattened animal on the road. Wallaby’s, possums, a rabbit maybe… It was hard to tell with some. Sadly, we added to the stats only 20 minutes from Coal’s Bay, as we squished an unsuspecting possum around a sharp bend!
“There was no escaping it!” I said as Mark gave a sad face after hitting it full on. We decided the next day it was our sacrificial rain possum. We managed to pick the absolute best day of the trip to hike on. Couldn’t have been coincidence with my weather luck this trip… Had to be the sacrificial possum!
We stayed at Mark’s friend Cat’s cabin up in Coal’s bay. The little getaway was aptly named “Utopia” and it was just that! An adorable little home right on the edge of the water tucked away in a quiet bay. The place had a fireplace, multiple rooms to sleep in, comfy couches and a backyard with a picnic area! Pretty amazing.
We had an early night to get some rest before a long day of hiking. Just around the corner from Coal’s Bay, in Freycinet National Park, was the stunning Wineglass Bay! I had seen photos of it months earlier and instantly it was on my list. A secluded stretch of white sand and sparkling turquoise waters, bring it on!
“So do you know why they call it Wineglass Bay?” Mark asked me the night before.
Multiple answers ran through my head: because the waters sparkle like champagne? Because the bay is shaped like a wineglass? Because there’s vineyards all over the mountain and they serve free wine? Because there’s an exquisite wine bar on the beach that you can relax at after a long day of hiking?
“No, why?”
“Because they used to herd whales into the bay and slaughter them there. The bay would then fill with blood, making it look like it was full if red wine”
…I sat there with my mouth open in horror.
“What?! That’s the reason?!”
“Yup, sorry to disappoint.”
“So there’s no wine?!”
Perhaps I should have looked up ANY kind of facts on this trip. But then I would look like I was “planning” on my otherwise totally fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trip, and we couldn’t have that. Still, I was not thrilled that there was no wine in Wineglass Bay!
Luckily however, the day was beautiful, so no amount of whale murdering was going to get me down on the views. A day of hiking, here we go!
Mark insisted that we not only hike the 3 hour return saddle to the bay and back, but we also hike the totally separate 3 hour Mt. Amos trek as well. I’m not a huge hiker, and 6 hours seemed slightly daunting at first. But how bad could it be?
We started with Mt. Amos. The first 15 minutes were a wonderful leisurely stroll through the woods. We saw a couple lizards, I could chat while we walked, and our gradual incline was exactly how I liked to hike!
Then we came upon our first sign: “Warning. The rest of this hike is very steep and has rough terrain. Do not attempt in wet or slippery conditions.”
Great.
Nothing is easy.
And the sign didn’t lie! The path got MUCH steeper from then on in. In fact, “path” might not be the right word. More like “marked off direction”. There was no path; there were just steep rocks that you had to scramble over and climb up. Way up. To the top of the mountain! But an hour and ten minutes later we pulled ourselves over the last boulder and made it to the top.
“We did it!!” I cheered.
Retrospectively it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was tough, and uphill, and I love to complain while I hike, but the views were worth hiking twice the distance! (And by that, I mean I would have given Mark my camera and he could have hiked it for me)
Wineglass Bay is stunning, and Mt. Amos has by far the best views of it. As many times as I said “damn you!” to Mark, I’m glad he made me hike it.
We stopped for some photos, a little snack, and then a half hour later started our slow decent (mostly sliding down on our bums) back to the bottom.
It’s frustrating really, that you have to come right back to the starting point from one hike before heading out on the next. Why couldn’t we just walk straight down from Mt. Amos to the bay?! Now we have to hike halfway back up the mountain to get over the saddle and once again down towards the bottom!
But the second three hour hike was much easier. The path was cut out and graveled, the ascent gradual, and we ended up right at the water!
The tropical looking waters of Wineglass were a little deceiving. The day was scorching, I was drenched in sweat, and the most incredible thing would be to jump in the ocean for a swim. But one toe in the water sealed that deal…
I’m not one for cold water to begin with, but this was freezing! No wonder only two people out of the hoards we saw down there were brave enough to take a dip. A shame really, no wine AND no swimming! What kind of a place is this?!
But it was hard to complain when we sat in the shade with a picnic lunch with some curious wallabies watching the sparkling waters in the bay. I kept thinking “this is so peaceful… Why the hell do I have to now hike BACK out of it?!”
“Hey Mark, wanna bring the car around for me?” I joked.
I guess the thing that makes Wineglass Bay so enviable is that it’s difficult to get to. It is a sparkling blue and white oasis, tucked away in an otherwise uninhabited national park. The people are sparse, the views are second to none, and the trek well worth it. The only thing that could make it better would have been a glass of wine!

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Orange River and Wine Country

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Our first stop in South Africa was right over the Namibian border at a place called Orange River. There wasn’t any spectacular activities to participate in, but the place was still breathtaking. The Orange River apparently got its name from the colour. However, I don’t see how. The water looked blue enough to me, and the surrounding hills were lush and green. Perhaps we hit the wrong part of the river…
We could hardly wait for lunch before it was time to jump in the river. “Careful of the current!” Manda warned. But how bad could it be? The river wasn’t very wide, and we were strong swimmers. Wrong.
The current was so strong that it was nearly impossible to swim the 10 meters or so to the middle to grab on to the paddle boards. You had to swim way upstream then cut across as fast as possible. By the time you’d made it that far, you were exhausted. Kelsi as Gina made the trek out to the paddle boards just to prove they could do it. I decided to lie on the deck with the puppies and get some sun. As with every campsite we’ve stopped at, this one had no shortage of adorable puppies wanting to play. So we spent the afternoon sunning ourselves and relaxing by the water.
The next morning we were up and driving again. For our last night out in the bush, we stayed at a lovely winery partway down the west coast of South Africa. The winery was beautiful (as most wineries are) and the owner Sparky was a delight!
We had a couple hours to relax, then all sat around on the patio for wine tasting and cheese and crackers. This is exactly what I wanted to do while in South Africa!
The winery had some really nice wines to try. My personal favourite was the Klawers pinotage. It went perfect with the cheeses, and we bought a bottle to have with dinner as well!
Sadly, this was the last night that Farai was cooking dinner for us. We all sat around in a circle while he did his final speech for us. All of his meals had been so incredible, and this one was definitely one of his finest. It was sad to say goodbye to Manda and Farai and Vincent, who had taken us through so much of Southern Africa in the past three weeks. But there’s so much more to explore, and I must admit, Kelsi and I were pretty excited about getting away from the confines of a tour and exploring on our own. We had two more weeks in South Africa to get into trouble, and we couldn’t wait for it to begin!
Next stop: Cape Town

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Malbecs in Mendoza

 

DSCF3937We arrived in Mendoza like giddy children in a candy shop. Wine: lots and lots of amazing bottles of wine at beautiful vineyards. This is where we were meant to finish our trip…

We stayed at a wonderful little hostel called Empedrado, recommended by Felicity and Aaron (thank you guys!), which was outstanding! Nice, affordable rooms, huge free breakfast, rooftop terraces, hammocks, lots of common areas to hang out in and free wine every night. It was every bit as wonderful as it sounds.
  We once again arrived on a holiday – go figure that the long weekend extended to Tuesday – so everything was conveniently closed. Luckily our hostel offered a 12-dollar, all you can eat, all you can drink BBQ that we took full advantage of. A group of twelve of us sat around for hours, chatting about our trips, eating meat until we wanted to throw up, and graciously accepting the never-ending bottles of vino that our host relentlessly brought to the table.
  Morning number one and I already had a red wine hangover… I see how this is going to go.

We made it to our buffet breakfast by 9:15; an excellent time considering we are now accustom to sleeping until 11 every morning. But the victory was short lived when Adam insisted on napping again before the wine tour. Whatever… We’re on vacation!
  It was a later start than expected, but we rolled up to Mr Hugo’s just before 1pm. For those of you who know Mr. Hugo’s, you probably just thought “Uh Oh…”. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Mr. Hugo’s is a well-known tour company for checking out all the wineries in the Mendoza area. You rent bikes from him, he gives you a map, and you leisurely explore the wineries at your own pace. Seems very lovely… Until you experience this yourself.

Adam woke up that morning and said “You know what I think about wineries Hilary?”

“What?” I asked.

“I think that some people need to be supervised when going on a wine tour… And I also think, that MAYBE you and I fall into that category.”
  We laughed… Turns out he was right.

After getting the low down on the various vineyards, Mr Hugo offered us some free wine. “wine’s always free at Mr. Hugo’s!” he boasted.
 How sweet…
 When we had finished, he filled up our glasses again. Uh oh. After our third refill we quickly jumped up, trying not to be rude, and hopped on our bikes. “Thank you, but we must be going!” We hadn’t eaten in 4 hours, and we were already tipsy from three glasses of wine. Good thing we only had SIX wineries to get through that afternoon. 
Firstly, I would like to point out that this biking situation would NOT fly in most countries. Not because we didn’t have helmets, not because we drove against oncoming traffic where buses sped by at alarming speeds, but because driving a bike, drunk out of your mind, is considered EQUAL to a DUI in most countries. Argentina has its own rules… And by that, I mean NO rules. Biking wine tour is totally legit.  
I also found out, that biking with a little bit of a buzz, and knowing that your final destination is a beautiful and relaxing vineyard, ACTUALLY makes biking a pleasant experience (mostly). I cruised along and, without knowing it, biked a half marathon easily without loathing my existence! Such an improvement!

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Our first winery was Tomasso: a family owned vineyard that has been open and operating since 1869, making it the oldest bodega in Mendoza! It is beautiful (as most vineyards are) and has a quiet restaurant in a shady area that overlooks the fields of grapes. We had a tasting of 4 of their famous wines and actually learned a lot more about wine than I had expected. The differences between Crianzas and Robles (6 and 12 months in the barrel respectively), the origin of the Malbec grape (apparently Eastern Europe) and some other minor facts I was surprised about! The guide was a wealth of knowledge when it came to wine, and since Adam and I were the only ones there, we peppered him with all our questions in rapid fire!

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After our tasters we figured we should eat something (see, we were trying to be responsible!) and sat out in the restaurant and ate a small platter of meats, cheeses and olives… With a glass of our favourite wine from the vineyard of course! And then we added our tasters to our rapidly growing wine log so as not to forget.

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From there, we cruised onward to the next winery: Mevi. Already a little drunk, we sped down the street singing “Mevi! Mevi!” in a high-pitched voice, imitating Elton John’s “Benny!” from “Benny and the Jets”. This should have been our first sign to just go home…

 

So into Mevi we went, and this vineyard was even more stunning than the last. We were led out back to the upstairs porch that looked out across the winery: an olive tree grove, acres of grapes and the mountains in the background. We lounged in the hot sunshine on a comfy white couch and picked our wines. Reservas (aged 15months) were the only way to go. Not only were they so much better than the regular wines, we realized that if you fork out the extra 10 pesos for the better wine, they will give you the cheaper wine tastings for free anyways. Win/win!

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The view at this winery was by far my favourite, but the lady working there didn’t have a clue about wine. When she tried to convince Adam and I that a Syrah and a Shiraz were not only the same grape (which I agreed with), but also the exact same wine, I lost all faith in any of her future facts. Am I a wine snob? 
Nevertheless, Mevi’s wine was excellent! I could have sat there all afternoon if there were no more vineyards to visit that day! 
A little way into our tour, Frederic, a guy from our hostel that joined us at the BBQ, arrived with a Father/Son duo from Ireland. “When in doubt, a bottle of Vino, right?” Yup… The five of us were going to get along famously. 
Adam and I drunkenly biked the 500m to the next winery, and minutes later Frederic and the Irish guys joined us. We sat down at a table, together with another couple, and each ordered the 4 wine, half glass tasters that they offered. This was, by far, the most wine I have EVER seen on a table at once. 22 glasses of wine were lined up along the table. All reservas (’cause we’re classy like that) and all delicious! It wasn’t long before the Canadian/ Irish banter came out, and we were good-humoredly picking fights with each other… This continued relentlessly for the next seven and a half hours.

Nonetheless, we kept drinking, and was particularly fond of this vineyard’s Syrah (something we haven’t given much thought to here in South America). 
Before we knew it, it was 5:30, and we remembered that all the vineyards closed at six. Three wineries in, we were in no way prepared to stop now. Our reckless group of five quickly biked the tedious 100m to our last winery: Tempus Alba. Unfortunately for us drunkards, this happened to be the classiest bodega on the tour. At this point, we were borderline disasters… We ordered another tasting set, and sat out on the balcony just in time for the sunset. This winery actually had my favourite of all the wines on the tour! Their 2006 Tempus Pleno was BY far my favourite wine in the past four months (and I’m hoping that wasn’t due to the extreme amounts of booze I had been consuming that day). Even at the winery it was a $45 bottle of wine and all of us were 100% sold on buying a second bottle. Unfortunately (or luckily) the winery had closed, and we were sent back to Mr. Hugo’s.
 This is where the night went downhill.

Mr. Hugo’s was packed! Everyone who had been on a wine tour that day was hanging out at the rental place. There were tables and benches and pitchers of wine set out among the guests… “wine is always free at Mr. Hugo’s!” 
Oh No!!  
We sat. And we drank… And we drank until we realized we hadn’t eaten in 8 hours and we’d been drinking for 10. Three or four pitchers of plonk wine later we decided to cram the five of us in a cab and head to a steakhouse in Mendoza…. To be honest, the rest of the night is fuzzy.
  We ate, ordered more wine, tried to get home, had some altercations with a cab driver and the cops, and hours later… I woke up covered in purple. Solid day.

We didn’t do much the following day. Missed breakfast, managed to walk the single block to the supermarket, failed at exchanging money (again) and went back to our room to watch a CSI marathon on TV. We did make it to a wonderful pasta dinner at Tommaso Trattoria that was fantastic! Another fabulous recommendation from our friends Katelynn and Scott! And then off to bed early.

On day three, we hopped on the bus and went BACK to Mr. Hugo’s. I know, we are crazy… But we had missed a winery, and we were determined to take it easy the second time round. We only had TWO glasses of wine at Mr. Hugo’s before setting out, and our first two stops served food instead of wine! 
We started at a little olive oil factory and got a tour of the olive oil making process. There’s not many things in the world I love more than stuffed olives, tapenades, baguettes dipped in a rich olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and all you can eat food. That is what this place had to offer. There were three tables all set out before the two of us. The first had olive oils, balsamic vinegar, puréed olives, chilies, mustards and a bowl of bread. We shoved our faces full of everything and cleared the basket of bread in record time. The second table was jams. Chutneys, jelly’s, marmalades. Some made with malbec wine, others with whiskey, each of them more unique than the last. These were good, but as soon as our guide turned her back to talk to other people, we were back at the first table, filling ourselves with spicy mustard and garlic tapenade like it was going out of style!
  The third and final table was liquors. A row of about twenty different ones, Adam and I got to choose four to try. We picked a spicy liquor that had a chokingly strong pepper aftertaste, a smoother Irish cream liqueur, Tia Maria (a rum mixed with coffee and tea) and a 75% Absinthe… Obviously. These were good, but mostly sweet, and after two stops of this we were happy to make it back to a winery.

Our third stop of the day was Trapiche: the largest winery in Mendoza. Trapiche vineyard also has the largest amount of exports, shipping their wine to over 70 different countries around the world. Here we tried, not the basic wine, not the Reservas, but instead, we had the luxury of trying the Gran Reserva wines! Aged 18 months in the barrel, gran reserva wines are supposed to be the best of the best… And they are delicious! We even tried a gran reserva Chardonnay, which was unusual and rare considering a huge majority of wines here are red, and to take the time to make a gran reserva white is a risky business. It was not bad for a white, but if I’m going to choose a white wine I’m probably not going to be looking in the Mendoza section of the liquor store. Their 120-anniversary blend was delicious and the Malbec was an obvious favourite for the winery. The tasting room at Trapiche was so beautifully put together. Dark wood bars with leather couches and a dim lighting. The room had a glass floor that looked down onto hundreds of stacked, French-oak barrels below. Glass cabinets lined the walls, displaying their most famous bottles. The place was very luxurious!  
But after Trapiche we decided we better be responsible and head back into town before we got stuck partying at Mr. Hugo’s again! We found a lovely restaurant near Plaza Independencia and shared a tapas platter over a bottle of Malbec. It was an early night once again, as we had booked our LAST, 16-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires early the next morning. We were so adamant about forgoing an overnight bus, in fact, that we chose the early morning, milk-run day bus that took an extra 2 and a half hours to reach our destination. Although there was no food served, and no exciting landscapes to be seen, I think we made the right decision… Buenos Aires, here we come!

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Valparaiso

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We had finally made it to the coast of Chile. Back at sea level and next to the wide-open ocean for the first time in months… I was ecstatic! You could smell the salty seawater as we drove through town in the taxi. Valparaiso is such a beautiful seaside city. It’s built into the natural hills of the landscape, has a massive port for the city’s fishing industry, and if you go just a few minutes out of town in either direction, there’s fresh seafood and sandy beaches!

 

We spent the first afternoon strolling the cities slopes. Valparaiso was the first place where we realized that it is actually autumn… In May! The leaves are changing a beautiful yellow colour, and crunchy brown leaves cover the sidewalks. The mornings and evenings were brisk, but the afternoons were still full of sunshine and heat! Personally I find this really neat, that autumn can happen in May. For Adam, it totally freaks him out. It’s been over a week since we arrived in fall weather, and he still can’t stop talking about how unnerved he is by the sudden change in seasons. I egg him on by stomping on every crispy leaf we pass with a satisfying crunch and then talking about everything fall related: the colours, the weather, the fall boots I spot at every shoe store… I find his weather frustration infinitely entertaining. But even Adam admits that it’s a great time to end our trip.

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Valparaiso, Santiago and Mendoza are utterly stunning in Fall colours!
  Our second afternoon in Valparaiso we went on a self-proclaimed graffiti crawl. The city is absolutely chock-a-block full of beautiful works of graffiti. Not just tags and amateur scrawling, but real works of unique and innovative pieces of art. The graffiti covers nearly every blank space of wall in the city, and we had a great time searching out our favourite pieces and photo-bombing the city.

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Near the end of our afternoon we ran across the Museum of Pablo Neruda, a famous poet and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I used to love reading Neruda’s work in school, so was eager to check out his museum. The museum was actually Neruda’s house at one point in his life. He lived for many years in Valparaiso in a gorgeous, 5-story house, high up on the hilltop of the city, with a fabulous view of the ocean. Of course it was interesting seeing where the poet lived, wrote, spent time engrossed in thought etc, but what was the most fun, was checking out the house itself. Firstly, the architecture of the place is beautifully unique: rounded rooms with large open windows, a floor to ceiling, urn shaped fireplace, a spectacular view of the city from every room in the house… This was prime real estate. But secondly, Neruda was the most amazing collector of antiques and artifacts. He was fastidious with his decorating, and when he found an object that he wanted, he stopped at nothing until he obtained it. Paintings, maps, statues, plates, desks, you name it! Each piece had a history and a place in Neruda’s home. We must have spent over an hour, listening to the audiotapes and exploring his home before finally moving on. We both walked out of the place wishing we could become antique collectors… Guess I’d need a house first.

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After our “exhausting” afternoon taking photos and exploring museums, we decided it was time to relax. We found this great restaurant by our hostel that overlooked the water, where we sipped on a bottle of chilled white wine and watched the sun descend over the water.

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At 6 we met up with Mark and Oli, who had finally finished their bus trip down from the North. It was their final night, so we decided to celebrate Adam’s birthday one night early and head out on the town together. We had some pre-bottles of wine at their stunning hotel with an awesome view and then went back to the restaurant we had found in the afternoon for some food. (Adam and I had the crab-stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce with truffles that was honest-to-God the best ravioli I’ve eaten in my life!). By our third stop I lost track of the bottles of wine. Although we woke up with pictures of each label, there’s no way I could have properly rated them in our ongoing wine log…needless to say, Adam and I both spent most of the next day’s afternoon in our room recovering.

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On our final day in Valparaiso we went to the beach. The forecast had called for rain, but when we woke up it was sunny and gorgeous! We took the metro out to Portales station and walked up and down the waterfront. From there you could see the entire city of Valparaiso; from the ports to the towering city behind them. The beach was beautiful and sandy, and covered with great looking, fresh seafood joints. After checking out the fishermen on the docks, and watching them feed the group of sea lions below, we picked a place to eat and decided to camp there ALL afternoon eating platters of seafood and sipping on wine. This was one of my goals since day one: seafood and wine on the coast of Chile. So that’s what we did!

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We started with a delicious seafood soup. It came out in a steaming hot, stone bowl, and the water was still boiling inside! The soup was full of prawns, muscles, scallops, and squid, and had fresh herbs and some veggies in it as well. We mixed in a couple scoops of their freshly, homemade, spicy seafood sauce and the thing was to die for! We had endless garlic bread to go with and a lovely bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. After we sat around and let the soup settle, we ordered prawns. A plethora of prawns!! We had one massive bowl of prawns, sautéed in butter and garlic, which came out as steaming hot as the soup. Then we had a cold, avocado shrimp cocktail which had slices of fresh avocado under a mountain of prawns, topped with a light mayonnaise dressing, displayed on a bed of lettuce. We picked away at these dishes for a loooong time, still indulging on the endless bread, before we realized that there was no way we could order a main dish. They did not skimp out on the number of shrimp they offered in each dish, and we were both stuffed by the end of it. We settled up, moved back outside to the beach, and lay down on the sand to let our stomachs digest and to watch the waves. I could not have though of a better way to spend our last day in Valparaiso. This was definitely vacation mode… And luckily, it is only a short hour and a half bus ride to Santiago!!

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Colonia Del Sacramento: Three Days in Paradise

Wow, where do I start?  Colonia is amazing! A little beach town in the West of Uruguay, Colonia is the perfect mix of touristy relaxation and local flavor. We came to Colonia on the 1hr boat from Buenos Aires and planned to stay for 1 night… Now here I am, three days later, writing on the bus to Montevideo! 
 Our first afternoon in Colonia we spent walking through town and checking out the long stretch of quiet beaches on the southern coast. Finally a taste of REAL ocean and not the decaying fish-infested waters of Buenos Aires.  After a stroll in the surf, it was wine time!  We chilled on the patio of this quaint little pub, looking out onto the ocean and watched the sun set on our first evening. 
 After a late sleep-in from too much vino the night before, we decided to have a beach day.  We walked through the cobblestone streets, checked out the more historical side of the town, then found a nice beach to suntan, read and listen to tunes.  What could be more relaxing?  It was such a great way to spend the day after the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. After the beach, we found a trendy lounge that had a beautiful shady deck out back that hung over the water, and we worked on our wine log once again – a Uruguayan Sauvignon Blanc that totally hit the spot after escaping the heat! 
 We then grabbed a late afternoon snack of cheese and baguette, picked up a few litros of beer and spent the evening playing cards on our hostel patio.  After several too many beers and being destroyed by Nikki at 27 holes of “Golf” (cards), we figured 11pm was an acceptable time to eat dinner.  So we dressed up and stumbled our way to a local all-you-can-eat Uruguayan BBQ where we stuffed our faces with all sorts of food for the next couple hours.  
Day 3 in Colonia was arguably better than the other two combined.  We met some fellow British Columbians at our hostel who had met a young local guy named Mattias who wanted to show us Colonia from a local point of view.  So we rented bikes, grabbed some cold Pilsen and trekked 4km out of town to a beautiful, and essentially deserted, lagoon. The cool water was MUCH needed in the heat!  We then found our way to a secluded little beach just a short walk from the lagoon and spent HOURS lying in the sun, playing Frisbee and getting to know our new-found friends. When I finally turned into a lobster around 6pm we decided to head back to town. Apart from the burns, we couldn’t have asked for a better day! We enjoyed our last evening over a couple drinks and our first home (hostel) cooked meal of the trip! 
It was definitely bittersweet checking out this morning, but it’s time to check out what the rest of the country has to offer 🙂