Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | January 5, 2019

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #4

So, after the last entry, it may have seemed like my last day in Napa Valley was going to be spent at my hotel. Instead, after a long sleep (eleven hours!), I decided to stop being a whiny baby and to Uber into Yountville after all. I’m incredibly glad I did!

Chocolates

Beautiful gem-like chocolates at Dollar Chocolates.

Yountville had the exact kind of charm I needed for the day, the small town with cute bistros and fun stores that I didn’t really find in Napa.  Of course, this may be in part because I started at the V Marketplace, and they have a little chocolatier. I browsed the art galleries then followed my nose – and my heart – to Kollar Chocolate, where they started by handing me a sample, so bonus points to them. The chocolates are beautiful, too; they look like little jewels, almost too good to eat. Of course, I absolutely will be eating the ones I took home with me.

Bistro

One of the cute little places on Washington.

Yountville’s information webpage says it is the kind of town you need to stroll through, so that is exactly what I did, and it was a lovely way to check out the main street (Washington Street) while getting some sun. There are lots of little wine tasting rooms and stores and coffee shops, and everything was really quite beautiful. There’s also a great deal of public art installations, which I loved seeing, because I think art is important and it also made the stroll more fun. I walked up to the end of the street at a leisurely pace, then back toward the market so I could have lunch at Bottega, which my friend had recommended.

Dinner

Yum!

Bottega is not cheap, but definitely worth the price.  I was not super hungry because I’d had a late breakfast, which my wallet thanked me for but was too bad because there was so much food I’d have liked to try, including the grilled octopus that the table next to me had dropped off, though after I’d already ordered so too late to tempt me in that direction. Instead, I had a spaghetti squash started dish, then followed with Tagliata, di Manzo, a which was a balsamic marinated skirt steak with rosemary scented potatoes and a lovely salad. It was marvellous.

I next made my way to the Hope and Grace wine tasting room, because they had a $20 tasting and I thought that might be a nice way to spend some time. It certainly was, and the sommelier was very nice, though I think I liked the wines at my other tastings a little better. Still good, though! I finished the day by picking up some dessert for later at Bouchon Bakery, a few macarons and a chocolate eclair.  Then I Ubered back to my hotel for one last soak in the hot tub and then a quiet dinner in my room where I packed my back.

Cask

Another pretty little spot on my Yountville stroll.

Yesterday was an Uber back to Sacramento, which was a lovely drive, since it was not dark and in the middle of the night like the way to American Canyon. With my bag checked, I went through security and ate in the Iron Horse Tavern, which was the only sit down restaurant in the terminal I was in that I saw. I had a Luau Chicken Salad, and it was good, but the prices were pretty expensive for what you get in terms of food and drink. Then it was a short flight to LAX, where I made my gate in plenty of time since I thankfully landed in the terminal my next leg was leaving from. I’d upgraded myself to a West Jet Premium Seat for the three hour flight to Calgary, and I’m glad I did. It was nice to have a little extra space for the longer leg, plus I got a dinner and a drink.  And now I’m back in the Ramada hotel at the Calgary airport, with my flights home to Yellowknife this evening. I’m glad to be back in Canada, where my dollar is worth a dollar, and soon to be in my own bed. It was lovely break, however, and I know it will help get me through the rest of the long, cold winter.

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Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | January 3, 2019

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #3

Guys, maybe it’s the cold I’ve picked up, maybe it’s just too much busyness over the Christmas holidays and beyond, but I have a bit of a confession to make: I’m not entirely feeling Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong – it’s perfectly lovely and charming, it just isn’t quite jiving. Without a car, everything is so spread out, and not everything is open over the holidays.  I also feel a bit obliged to DO THINGS because of the blog, when I really kind of just want to sleep in and then read in the sun or my hotel room.  I might just do that tomorrow, if I don’t feel like catching an Uber to explore up the valley.

Napa

Napa, California.

I did, however, make a point of exploring a little yesterday. I was going to take an Uber and have breakfast in Napa, but my App was showing no drivers. It wasn’t until I was already at the hotel restaurant for breakfast that I realized it was because I needed to log into the hotel wifi again. Whoops!  Oh well, it was a nice breakfast, and then I headed to Napa. I got an Uber to the Oxbow Public Market, which was kind of neat, with different stores from a book and paper store to an olive oil store where you can taste test.  I was full from breakfast, so I just poked about the market, then made my way up into the downtown area.

Ducks

Two ducks on the river I found while taking a stroll in the sun.

I wandered up and down the streets a bit, though much was closed for New Year’s Day, restaurants included.  After a while I found a Mexican place called Don Perrico where I stopped for a light lunch of a delicious salad in a taco bowl. Also margaritas, because to be honest I wanted to change things up after all the wine the day before.  I got to eat outside, which was my favourite part. I had been cold earlier, having changed out of a dress into pants and a sweater before leaving my hotel, but it was warm enough that I needed to take it off when walking about. After that, it was an Uber back to the hotel, because I wasn’t going to eat just to kill time.

 

Building

I thought this stone building looked interesting in the sunlights.

I thought about taking a swim in the pool at the hotel if it was warm enough, and lamented to my Uber driver that I wished the hotel had a hot tub. Well, lo and behold, it actually does, tucked away so I didn’t see it until I was through the fence area. And a good thing too, because the pool water was absolutely frigid, even for this Canadian!

I had dinner at the hotel too, truffle fries then scallop sliders which I didn’t realize came with fried breaded onions, or I’d have skipped the appetizer. It was good, but not as good as the first day’s dish. Then it was back to my room for the night.

White flower

A flower, because I don’t have any pictures from my spa day!

As for today, I barely left my room, but for good reason. When I couldn’t see any available appointments at the hotel spa on their app, I’d done a little research and found a mobile spa that comes to your rental. It’s called Mais Oui, and it is aptly named, because if you asked me if I would use it again, I would say “Mais oui!” – that is, yes, yes, yes. I spent 2.5 hours being pampered in the comfort of my room, with the Spa Pure Gold Gift Package I found on special. It included a gold face mask facial, full body polish, a honey foot wrap, a hot oil scalp treatment, a full body massage, and then a soak in hot mineral water with cherry mocktails and chocolates as my massage therapist Michelle cleaned up and headed out.  I might just be eating those chocolates right now.

I finished the night by finding somewhere different to eat. I walked to a Hawaiian barbecue place, but it turned out to be more like a fast food chain than sit down restaurant and I wasn’t feeling it, so I made my way down to the Junction Brewery. It’s a cozy little bar and restaurant, and I enjoyed my house salad followed by a pork belly and bacon sandwich with arugula and balsamic drizzle with fries. Then it was an Uber back to my hotel because it was too cold to walk and another dip in the hot tub because why not?  I’m on vacation.  Which is what I’ll be reminding myself tomorrow: I can do whatever I want, even if that means staying in my hotel and doing nothing at all.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | January 1, 2019

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #2

Happy New Year, readers! I hope you ended the year as well as I did, and that this coming year brings you much joy. I’d originally planned to post last night, but after a day of wineries (and wine at each!) and with a full belly, I was more than ready to crawl into bed by nine o’clock. So that’s what I did!

I’d booked myself with Dynamic Wine Tours by Beau, and my pickup time was close to 9:30, so I tried to get up early enough to be ready for breakfast at the hotel before heading out. I usually am not ready to eat for nearly two hours after I wake up, and I was pushing it, but I didn’t want to start wine tasting on an empty stomach. I ate at Table 29 again and chose their Healthy Breakfast, a bran muffin, yogurt and homemade granola with a banana. I also had several cups of coffee. It’s lovely when they leave you the thermos pot at your table, and I took advantage!

Vines

The beautiful view of the vines.

Once I was done breakfast, the chauffeur/tour guide, Jay, was already there to pick me up, so I got to climb into the back of the limo and ride solo for the twenty minutes to Napa, where the other people taking the tour were all staying. I felt very fancy! Once in Napa, we picked up Angela and Dre, then Kevin and Lisa, the two couples booked on the same tour, and Jay poured us our starter drink, a lovely champagne. As a group, we all clicked instantly, and I just feel so lucky to have been with people who were interesting and nice and fun. There was so much laughter and good conversation throughout the day, it would have been amazing even if the wine had all been terrible. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Not even close.

Wine pouring

The table was ready for us at Judd’s Hill! The wine in the back are different “personal” bottles, labeled with fun names like “No Idea” and “Foreplay” (a kiss on a golf ball for the image!).

The first stop on the trip was at a smaller family winery, Judd’s Hill Wine.  They don’t produce widely, preferring to keep to an intimate size of 3000 cases a year, and they do this neat thing where you can come bottle your own and do your own fun labels. This was by far winery with the most attentive and educational pourer, a woman named CJ who’d been in the business for 19 years and with Judd’s Hill for eight of those. It was a great way to start the tasting because I learned more about how to taste and what to do change the taste of the wine, such as ways to reduce the tannins such as using food flavoured with salt. CJ even poured us each a little salt so we could experiment and taste the difference.  She also does a food pairing and tasting course, which I think would be amazing to take. CJ was a riot, too, and the group had a lot of fun.  Angela and Dre ended up purchasing a membership to their wine club, which meant that our group’s tasting was free (they waive the $35US for members and up to five guests), which was pretty awesome. I might even have joined myself, but they don’t ship to Canada so it wasn’t an option.

Next, it was onto the Rutherford estate, where the wine was good, but after CJ’s attention, the new pourer was, to put it mildly, a bit disappointing. There was a wine and cheese option, which Angela, Dre, Kevin, and I chose, while Lisa did a wine and chocolate pairing. The platter of cheeses, nuts, chocolate and dried fruit was delivered to us, but it didn’t come with an explanation of which cheese was which, why certain things might pair, or any details whatsoever. We got a little detail about each wine before the pourer disappeared, and they were good wines, but no better than any other.  For $50US, I felt there should have been more effort made, and after how amazing CJ was, the level of service was strikingly different. They did let us eat our picnic lunch inside, since it was windy enough we would have blown away, so that was nice. Jay served us delicious potato salad, orzo salad, and sandwiches, and I had an amazing portobello mushroom one with goat’s cheese and roasted veggies. There was also yummy dessert!

Our next stop was Ballentine, where we had another $35US tasting, but this time with a much more present pourer, though CJ still sparkled as the star pourer of the day. The wines were really good, and I bought a bottle of white, since I enjoyed it and have been feeling more into whites lately – which is a bit funny, because Napa Valley is more of a red grape growing place, so I had a day of mostly reds! I like those two, so it was all good.

Inglenook

The manor house where the Inglenook Estate does their tastings.

We had a little extra time in our day, so Jay took us to an extra stop, the Inglenook estate. We were not there for a tasting, as you have to book well in advance, but you can wander the beautiful manor home that reminded me of my year in Edinburgh. It’s owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and you can even see an old fashioned car that featured in one of his movies! I think it was called Tempest. Jay told us, but after three wineries, all I can really remember is the movie started with a “T”! Dre bought Angela and I lattes at the coffee shop (seriously, everyone on my tour was so lovely, we’re already Facebook friends), which warmed us up nicely and got us ready for our final stop of the day.

Dre and Angela

The lovely – and photogenic! – Dre and Angela at Inglenook estate. I was very excite that there were lemons and oranges growing in the little group of trees!

The last winery was called Black Stallion, and it was buzzing with busyness.  The pourers were less attentive as a result, but you could at least see they were trying. I was delighted to find they had a white tasting for $20US, and I ended up liking the white blend so much, I bought three bottles ($22US each) because it meant my fee was waived. I’m going to have to drink two of the bottles before I go home, though, so I don’t have to pay to import a third! I have a few days left so I think I can manage. Lisa had a fancy red tasting, and let us all try, and the Transcendent bottle was AMAZING. Of course, at $150US, I wasn’t bringing one home! There was a glass of wine and cheese plate option, but they apparently only do that on the weekend, which was too bad. Instead, we got little crackers that were slightly sweet but mostly tasteless, and yet I couldn’t stop eating them! Our tasting done, it was time to go back to the limo and let Jay take us home, our purchases in hand. Kevin also apparently has Jedi powers, because he managed to sweet talk our pourer into letting him buy a bottle of member’s only wine without buying a membership. It is apparently his superpower, and we were all very impressed.

Limo

I could get used to the limo life!

After dropping off Lisa and Kevin to get ready for their New Year’s Eve wine train dinner and Angela and Dre for their Rutherford Grill dinner (unrelated to the winery, as far as we could tell), I once again had the limo to myself for the drive back where my own plans were waiting – a nice, hot bath then dinner alone in my room in my pyjamas, with a glass of the wine I brought back!

I had no desire to venture out in the hubbub, and my burger was delicious and it was nice to just kick back. I thought I’d stay up until midnight, and start the new year writing or dancing, but instead I decided I was going to start the day with a good rest.

I regret nothing.

 

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | December 31, 2018

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #1

Wedding Table

Family weddings are fun – at least in my family, because my family is a blast!

It just so happens that I’m on an adventure again, this time extending a family event trip to get a little time to relax in warmer climes. My trip started with a jaunt to a family wedding – my lovely cousin got married, so I flew to Calgary, picked up a rental car, and drove to Canmore. I stayed in a condo unit with my parents, a cozy little place with a loft bedroom for me and the master for them, and our own bathrooms for each of us. The wedding was beautiful and it was good to visit with the family that could go, and to dance even though I didn’t even come close to lasting to midnight.

The day after the wedding, I made my way to Banff to have lunch there with the family that came to the wedding. I didn’t realize one had to pay to get into the area just to have lunch, which can be a hassle, though it was only $10 and I managed to skip the line a little by realizing it after I drove through, calling my cousins to confirm I should have paid and then driving back to the kiosk to walk and get my ticket. I felt like a jerk skipping the line, but it was an honest mistake. Finding parking was a nightmare, but the food at the Maple Grill, where I met my aunts/cousins/partners was awesome and it was a nice quiet space to visit. The mountains in the area were beautiful too!

Banff Mountain Range

The light wasn’t great, but the Rocky Mountains certainly are lovely!

After that it was back to Calgary for an overnight near the airport, at the Ramada. The internet was slow because of some changes going on including upgrades to the elevators that left only one to my floor, but it was very inexpensive and slow internet isn’t a reason I’d cancel!  The food was mediocre, though; nothing particularly wrong just nothing to write home about either.

Yesterday was pretty much airport all day, on my way to Napa Valley for the sunshine and wine part of my break (not that there wasn’t wine on the first part!).  My first plane was delayed and I was already early at the airport, so I finally took advantage of the priority pass I got with my Mastercard and enjoyed the lounge, where it was comfortable and quiet, and there was free food and wine. My first leg was to Salt Lake City, Utah, and since the plane coming from there was delayed, I missed my original connection. Delta rebooked for a later flight automatically and was very helpful overall with boarding passes and questions, and the only thing that was difficult was that it meant a long day and a late night, because my plane didn’t leave for Sacramento until 10:25.

Hotel

My hotel, the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and Spa Napa Valley

I took an Uber from the airport to Napa Valley, and I have to say I’m loving it as an option. It was easy to find the designated pickup spot, it was cheaper than a cab, and I knew exactly when the pickup was happening. Renting a car would have not only been expensive from Sacramento, it would have meant trying to navigate myself and then also parking it anyway because I’m in Napa Valley, and there will be wine drinking, and wine drinking means no driving!

It was one in the morning by the time I reached the Doubletree Hotel, where I was greeted with warm cookies (which I saved because late at night) and a bed that feels like a cloud.

Bird

A little bird I ‘met’ on my walk today.

I’ve puttered about most of the day, taking a walk in the sun to the Wetlands Edge Road (I’m in a town called American Canyon) and eating at the hotel restaurant, Table 29, when I was done getting my steps in.  The food was very, very good – it’s tempting to just eat here forever. I went in with a headache and it was gone when I left, partly because I think I’d gone too long without eating. I had an olive and cheese plate starter, and that helped, and the Prosecco didn’t hurt either. Then it was a Capellini (angel hair pasta) with vegetable rags, with the perfect amount of oil and garlic. I followed this with creme brûlée and port, and now feel relaxed and glowy. And now I’m ready to head to bed shortly, because I’ve booked a wine tour and tasting for tomorrow. I’m excited to try the wine and take pictures and get some more sun, because we didn’t get much of a summer at home this year (nothing but cloudy days when it wasn’t raining for the most part), and this is going to get me through the long, dark winter.

So off to my cloud of a bed – seriously, well done, Doubletree – until tomorrow’s entry!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 21, 2018

Peruving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #7

Well, I’m back at home sweet home, which feels especially sweeter because it took three long days of airports and airplanes to get here. Northern Canada and South America are very far away from another!

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The charming little courtyard at the Esplendor Hotel.

My last full day in Cusco was lovely, and I achieved all three goals – I found chocolate, got an Inca massage at the Kantu Massage place I’d checked out, and I ate at Pucharas.  The last one was just a salad because the menu was less inspiring than I’d hoped- it was perfectly fine, just not as interesting as, say, Incanto, my favourite of all the eateries I visited. I purchased chocolate at Choco Museo, at the recommendation of a family friend who’d recently visited (and also had me bring her some back. She trained as a chocolatier, so she knows chocolate, and Peru apparently has some of the best because they use different cocoa beans. She wrote about it here better than I could explain: feel free to check it out!

I made my way back to my hotel, wishing I could take advantage of the hot tub again but knowing I didn’t want to pack a wet swim suit. Instead, I got my things in order, then made my way to Organika, a recommendation of another visitor at the hotel, for dinner. They grow their produce in the Sacred Valley and use fresh and organic ingredients, and it was delicious! They make their own pasta, so I had the sweet potato-stuffed ravioli with tomato sauce and one last Pisco Sour. It was great!  Then it was back to my hotel through the Plaza Des Armas. Some sort of parade was going one, but it was late and dark and crowded, three things that I’m not great with on my own, so I watched a little then went back to my hotel.

The next three days were a whirl of airports and airplanes, as previously mentioned. My stress and anxiety was high preparing for it, but I managed to calm myself enough to sleep. I was a little worried I wouldn’t get out of Cusco – it began to rain cats and dogs and there was thunder – but Latam Airline was good to go, so with my bag checked to Cancun, I got all the way to Lima, where I stayed at the Costa Del Sol again. It’s a nice hotel, if expensive, but you pay for the convenience.  I got a good six and a half hours of sleep this time – not bad for me on a travel day! – and I’d requested a quiet room and was definitely rewarded, as the constant horns of the airport were less heard on the fifth floor.

DSC_1904

I will miss these magnificent creatures.

Lima to Cancun also went fairly smoothly, though I was nervous my bag wouldn’t make it after all. It was borrowing trouble, as it came through just fine. In fact, I was much more prepared for the airport this time. I “noped” several pushy taxi drivers (and got confirmation that I was definitely had on the airport taxi before), confidently making my way onto the shuttle. I checked into my airline and found a place to eat a light, late lunch while waiting on my plane. The leg to Calgary wasn’t too bad either, for all that I wasn’t able to get an upgrade seat. I sometimes find Air Canada seats a bit more crowded than other airlines, but this plane seemed as fine as any other, perhaps because I sprang for extra legroom so the seat in front wasn’t so in my face.

In Calgary, I made my way through customs and then found my way to my hotel, the Applause by Clique Hotel. It was actually pretty fantastic. It was the best of all the hotel beds I slept in for comfort, and not just because it had some fancy LED light underneath than fortunately can be turned off to sleep. The room was big and well-decorated, and the shower was one with several different kind of sprays. I will definitely look to stay there again. It also came with complimentary breakfast and a complimentary drink at the bar, though it was too early for me to indulge in the latter since a mimosa didn’t count for the coupon and I wasn’t going to have a highball at 11 a.m., holiday or no.

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A happy Starfish in her own bed. ❤

The last leg to Calgary also went smoothly, though I went to the airport early for lack of anything better to do, and found there wasn’t much to do in the Calgary Airport domestic terminal either. I had hoped for more stores to poke about in or one of those Express Spa places, but it is mostly just Hudson News type places. Still, I managed to entertain myself until my plane to Edmonton, then onward to Yellowknife, where I got to crawl into the most comfortable bed of all: my own. I’ve had a great adventure but am certainly glad to be back in my own space, with all my clothes and books and near my people. Peru was wonderful – I definitely recommend going at least once in your life – but after all, there’s no place like home!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 16, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #6

It’s been two days since I wrote because, as previously mentioned, I spent nearly a full day on the bus on the way back to Cusco, and then yesterday I basically needed some decompressing time so didn’t venture very far. The bus ride wasn’t bad – it was a double decker bus and for the first time ever, I was on the top floor. The seats were big and comfy, too, so I basically dozed the entire way back. Considering my cold, more sleep is probably not a bad thing at all.

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I got to eat a lovely Peruvian meal in the centre of that balcony!

I was picked up at the bus station and, thanks to the excellent service of Machu Picchu Latin America tours, was able to fetch my stored bag at the Midori and move to my new hotel, Esplendor. Midori is lovely and I would have stayed longer, but it was booked by the tour company so I had no idea where to stay and used Booking.com to find Esplendor. It’s a lovely hotel, a little bit further from the central area than the Midori but still well within walking distance. I have a lovely king bed and the room is fairly spacious and the courtyard has a fountain. It is also quiet, which I like.  After getting my stuff put away, I asked the nice staff member at the desk for a restaurant recommendation, and she directed me to La Feria, where I had excellent Peruvian food. I was brought a complimentary broth for a starter, then my main course was chicken skewers with potato and salad. All very delicious. I had a beer with dinner, seated in the balcony overlooking the Plaza Des L’Armas, and it was lovely, but the lemonades my neighbours were drinking also looked super tempting.

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A lovely Plaza with a lovely fountain I wanted to dance in.

 

After that it was back to the hotel to crash.  I got up in time to catch the free breakfast, and it was very good, with lots of things to choose from. Then I went back to the room to chill for a bit, before heading out to the square to wander for a few hours.  I had hoped to just find a quiet bench to read and nearly did, but everyone is in business in Cusco, and people keep approaching to show their art or jewelry or weaving. I’m not rude about declining, but it gets exhausting.

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My beautifully-plated bruschetta, which was even more delicious than it looks!

Instead, I found my way to Uchu, a Peruvian steakhouse some of the members of the group I was in for Machu Picchu mentioned. They weren’t open yet, so I got to sit and read in their courtyard before ordering a delicious and beautifully presented lunch. I started with a bruschetta made with mango and peppers and cream cheese and deliciousness. Then I had the alpaca steak with salad and crispy potatoes (you can choose from the kind of meat as well as a few sides). The dish comes on a hot volcanic rock at medium rare, so you can cook your steak to your liking on it. While I normally like medium rare, I found alpaca tastes better closer to well done. And dipped in the excellent sauces that come with it – a garlic one, and two levels of spicy that I could both eat! I definitely enjoyed my meal.

After that, I had to go to the bathroom and didn’t feel like finding the public washrooms, so I walked back to the hotel. I chilled some more in my room before taking advantage of the hot tub in the Esplendor courtyard. Not all the jets work but it still was lovely.

I was supposed to have a Shaman come to give a blessing as part of my tour the next day, but unfortunately he was delayed with other group members. The tour group, Travel and Health, got a hold of me a little late, but they did kindly reschedule though after my trip today.  They also confirmed my ungodly hour pickup (3:50 a.m.) so I called room service, at dinner, and went to bed to try to get as much sleep as possible. The room is comfortable and the king bed is cozy, so that helped.

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Believe it or not, this Canadian had to take off her jacket AND sweater even faced with this climate!

At the scheduled hour, my little tour bus arrived and I bundled myself into all my sweaters and napped, since we had to drive nearly three hours to our breakfast location. Funnily enough, that was about the only time I needed my warm clothes – even in the mountains, since the sun was warm, I actually found it hot.  Breakfast was nice, some fruit and yogurt and a hot soup, plus bread and jam. And coca tea, of course! Then we made our way another hour up to the starting point for going to the Rainbow Mountain.

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My horseman, Sirilo, and my horse Negro. Not pictured: my sore legs!

Now I am fat and no longer in good shape, so I chose to take a horse there and back.  There was no way I could walk several kilometres at 5000 and upward metres. I’d paid in advance, but there was some confusion I think and I had to pay the horseman at the top, but the guide reimbursed me at the end, so it all worked out. I would definitely recommend taking cash just in case – with so many people with different plans, and a horseman in a rush to get more customers, you can’t always guarantee that your guide will be with you when the time comes to pay.

They can’t take you all the way up to the Rainbow Mountain, so I did have some high altitude walking to do. I took it very slowly (and my guides checked in on me a lot and loaned me a walking stick, I think because my cold meant I was raspy and panting and making things sound worse than they actually were). I did have a few moments of dizziness, but I just stopped and took in air and carried on, slowly.

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Rainbow Mountain, in all it’s colourful glory.

The view was totally, totally worth it. Breathtaking in a whole other way. And I even climbed a little higher up the mountain peak opposite (halfway, not to the top, because I know my limits) to get a good photo. It’s spectacular.  Truly amazing.

After that, there was a bit of a walk down then a horse ride back to the point where the tour bus was. I have to admit, I was scared of falling off a lot on the way down, as my legs were already tired from gripping the horse on the way up, and there’s definitely a feeling of less control. But I didn’t fall off the horse (though I did come close once but managed to catch myself until the horseman could steady me) or the mountain, so wins all around.

We had some time at the starting point where I used the bathroom (or the squat toilets, not a huge fan) then picked up the half of the group who went the long way back as part of their package through the red valley (I didn’t know about it, so I can’t tell you anything about it), though it wasn’t too long. We had lunch at the same restaurant as before, a lovely buffet. Then it was another few hours in a warm bus (the A/C was on but not particularly effective) before getting dropped off at the Plaza Des L’Armas to walk back to the hotel because traffic was too crazy to get us to our hotels directly.  I was going to go in the hot tub again, but was too tired! Instead, I chilled until the Quescan Shaman arrived.

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Bonus Rainbow Mountain photo because it is just so gorgeous.

It was a lovely little blessing ceremony, just in the hotel lobby. I was given some fragrant water to run on my hands, then pat on my face and body. Then I was given some coca leaves to press to my heart.  The shaman then said some blessings using a pillow with sacred flowers and other items related to the land inside. It was very lovely, and I am glad I participated. Bringing this Andean blessing ceremony is also good for the community the Shaman (his name was Raoul) comes from, as a way of contributing to their economy. The tour group Travel and Healing that I booked with does this deliberately, as one of their ways to give back.

By the time the blessing was done, it was nearly 8 p.m. I decided on another room service night, since it is inexpensive and also I’m not sure my legs would be willing to carry me as far as a restaurant, let alone back. Tomorrow I’ll venture out a little bit with a couple of goals in mind. One, get one of the inexpensive massages that is on offer (I’ve already checked out the place and it is clean and the massage therapist has a certificate on her wall so not totally sketchy). Two, find another restaurant that was recommended. And three, chocolate. Delicious Peruvian chocolate.

 

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 13, 2018

Peru-ving Myself a Traveler Again: Entry #5

I’m sitting in my cozy room in the Intiqa Hotel in Puno after a great day on Lake Titicaca. I woke up earlier than my alarm this morning, and was up every few hours in the night. Nothing to do with the hotel room – honestly, it’s comfortable and quiet and I don’t know what the blanket on the bed is made of, but it may be the softest thing I’ve ever touched. No, I woke up every few hours to blow my nose, because I definitely have caught a cold.  It makes it doubly hard to breathe at this altitude, but I made it.

My transfer came to pick me up and take me to the port for around 8 o’clock, where I made my way across a few boats to get to mine, a bit of a tricky feat if not for the helpful skippers on each who helped us step across. Then we were on our way on Lake Titicaca for our first stop, one of the Uros floating islands. They are very cool man-made islands, created by lashing together blocks of soil held together with reed roots, then more reeds stacked and restocked on top to keep above the water.

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Floating islands made of reeds, boats made of reeds, and yes, they let me row it!

We spent a little time with the families on the island, as well as some on the boat made of reeds (with empty bottles inside for floatation). It was very lovely to be on the water in the sun, and my vigilance with the sunscreen and shade seems to have paid off.  We learned from our guide, Alex, not only about how the islands were created, but also about Lake Titicaca itself, which is a salt water lake and the name means “Puma Stone” as the shape resembles a puma, he said, at least if you “use your imagination (or drink a lot of Pisco Sour”).

After that, we were back on the water again to another of Uros Islands for a quick stop where I paid 1 sol to have my passport stamped and grabbed a bit of bread for a snack. Then it was back on the boat toward the Island of Taquile, which is on the bigger part of the lake. It was about an hour and a half, and I’ll admit I napped most of it. At Taquile, we walked up, up, up for 15 to 20 minutes in the hot sun. Between not being able to breathe through my nose and the altitude, I fear I sounded quite pitiful, and it is a bit embarrassing to be passed by the local men carrying heavy loads on their back, but I wasn’t the only one breathing heavily and I took comfort in that, and in making it to the top. There, we got to drift around the square and see local handicrafts, as the Taquila people are known for their weaving.

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The women will weave for five to six hours in a day. Beautiful, intricate work, though hard on the back!

After that break, there was a little more walking to where we were treated to a textiles demonstration and a delicious lunch. There was bread with some spiced onions and tomatoes to put on top and quinoa soup, followed by the choice of omelette or trout. I normally don’t like a lot of fish, but though I should give it a try and am so so glad I did! It was incredibly delicious, with the salt and spice it was cooked in.

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Beautiful views like this were a reward for taking the long walk to the next harbour!

After lunch, the group had the option of taking the long way to the harbour by foot, or returning down to the boat and taking it to meet the rest of the group. If you guessed that I took the shortcut… you’d lose whatever you wagered. No one else in the group was going to do it, and I’d done Machu Picchu, so I pressed on. It was a long walk – a good forty minutes – but most flat or downhill, so I did just fine, though I did have to take it slowly and my knees weren’t too happy with me. After that, we were back on the boat to Puno. I reapplied my sunscreen and let it sit for 20 minutes then made my way to the top of the boat, where I sat the rest of the journey until we had to come in to go to the port, letting the wind and spray hit me. It was perfect.

After that, it was back to the hotel by taxi through insane traffic (and roads seem to be a bit of a guideline here), where I rested a bit before heading to dinner at a place called La Casona, which had a good Trip Advisor score. It was very good, though I was less adventurous with this meal. I had a margarita pizza and a glass of wine, then a Dulce de Kiwicha (amaranth) for dessert. It was marvellous – as was the starter bread I got, for that matter. Now it’s off to bed soon and then back to Cuzco by bus tomorrow.  There likely won’t be an entry tomorrow as a result – I’m heading back the way I came and with fewer stops alone the way. And I’m not sure what I’ll get up to the next day, but hopefully just as wonderful!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 12, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #4

For someone who spent a good part of today napping on the bus between stops on the way to Puno, I am pretty tired. This Peru adventure has been go, go, go… which is not a bad thing. Just a tiring thing, and of course the medicine I take for motion sickness, harder breathing from the altitude combined with a cold I seemed to have picked up mean I have a little less energy to spare. But I still have energy (and coca candy to supplement) so it’s all good.

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Some of the scenery from the bus window that I didn’t nap through.

I checked out of the Midori Hotel this morning, and they kindly are storing my big suitcase for me until my return on Monday. My ride arrived at 6:10 a.m., so it was another early day. Then I was boarding the Cusela tour bus with Maro the driver and Juan Carlos the knowledgable guide.  We departed at 6:45 a.m. for our first stop about an hour from Cusco, where we visited San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas Church, also known as the Sistine Chapel of the Andes.  It is gorgeous, with a baroque and Andean style baroque ceiling that shows you where the church expanded once they began preaching in Indigenous languages, with new art over older frescos. It is very gorgeous, complete with gold plated altar pieces, incredibly ornate overall.  You aren’t allowed to take photos, but they gave us a CD of them as part of the tour, though those will have to wait until I’m home to get, as my laptop doesn’t take CDs.  In the meantime, I can direct you to the World’s Monument Fund to get an idea of what it looks like inside. (I also bought a cute knitted sweater with Alpacas since I was cold on the bus, and it was only 40 soles!)

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The remains of a temple at Raqchi.

From there, it onward to Raqchi, an Incan archeological site, from the Wiracocha period. One of the things I learned on this trip is that Inca was the title of the leader, not the people, even though we now commonly call this ancient people “Incas”.  Of course, by then I didn’t need the sweater though I certainly needed the sunscreen I’d doubled up on. The sun is hot here. I’m trying to avoid more sunburn. We’ll see – it’s hard to apply on my own, though I’m doing my best.

Our next stop was not far from Raqchi, just a nice restaurant where we ate at a buffet. Unfortunately, nothing is really labeled so I can’t go into the neat traditional desserts I tried, including some sort of purple sauce on fruit (I think made from the black corn from which Chicha Morada is made) and something similar to rice pudding except it was definitely a different kind of grain, a bit fatter and rounder but no less delicious.

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The beautiful, snow-capped mountains that can be seen from La Raya.

From there is was onward to La Raya for a photo opportunity and yet another shopping stop. I did my duty and picked up a cute souvenir for my niece and nephew even though they got one already. We then went to a small museum of pre-Incan artifacts in Pukara (though no photos there either) and I had time to grab a delicious latte made with Peruvian coffee beans before it was back on the bus and onward to Puno.

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Some of the buildings along the way.

Though I missed part of the scenery napping on the way, I did see lots. It really is very beautiful here, with the mountains. There is also a lot of poverty, and I’d be remiss not to mention it.  It hurts the heart a little, to hear the plaintive cry of a older woman on the church steps just calling for “Papa, Mama” to put something in her hat. To see how differently some people live here, how hard they clearly work. But there is also happiness and playfulness and of course great beauty.

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A woman works in a field along the road to Puno from Cusco.

Tomorrow I get to boat on Lake Titicaca, and have two nights in a row in the same hotel, to which I’m very looking forward.  I like how much I’m seeing, but it is also nice to have a base camp. I’m staying in the Intiqa Hotel. I can hear machinery or something outside from the window facing out into the street area, but other than that, this place seems quite quiet so far. The bed is a double and comfortable, and there’s not just a shower but a bathtub. I’m not spending as much time in the room having down time as planned because, in true Starfish fashion, I managed to get turned around and had a hard time finding my way back to my hotel after a lovely dinner at a restaurant called Giorgio, where I had an alpaca steak which was delicious.

But now it’s the time to crawl into bed, I think, and get some good sleep for more climbing tomorrow. Did I mention I’m in Puno, where it’s more than 3,800 metres above sea level, so greater than in Cusco even? No? Well it is. So more adjusting to do – and more excuses for coca candies!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 11, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry # 3

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Why yes I did walk all the way up those stairs to the sun temple. 

I’m back in Cusco at the lovey Hotel Midori, which has internet access enough to do a post. I’m not sure how coherent it will be – I had a Pisco Sour at dinner and it hit me like a freight train. There’s also been so much activity crammed into a such a short amount of time, and I’m bagged!

Yesterday was my trip to the Sacred Valley, where I joined a lovely group and visited Pisaq and Ollantaytambo, a couple of ancient sites, as well as a few shopping sites along the way, including a place where there was a short silversmithing demonstration.  The altitude and my lack of physical fitness meant I didn’t go too far up at the first site, but I still pushed myself. In the Incan archeological site  Ollantaytambo, I went all the way up to the sun temple with the group, some 230 odd stairs up. I’m very proud of myself. I also got a wicked sunburn and am much less proud of myself for that.

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On a foggy day, one can’t see much-u picchu.

After that, my group caught a train to Aguas Calientes, the access point to Machu Picchu. The train was running a little late so we didn’t arrive until about seven pm, but the chia seed cookies offered by Inca Rail were divine. I grabbed some water and snacks for the next day, and a light dinner of quinoa tabouleh at a restaurant whose name I don’t remember and was fine but not excellent. Then it was back to the Hatun Samay where I decided I should hit the sack since my pick up was for 5:30 a.m. The hotel is a little more run down than the Hotel Midori where I’m staying in Cuzco, but it was clean and fairly quiet, minus a few voices in the stairwell incidents.

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The fog partly lifts, giving Machu Picchu a mystical, magical air.

Today, it was 5:30 to walk to the queue for the bus for Machu Picchu. It was raining and the poncho I’d bought came in handy (though honestly I thought the woman had said coca leaves and bought it by mistake) as the wait for the bus was about an hour. Then it was a windy road to Machu Picchu by bus for a half hour. The roads are so narrow that sometimes two busses can’t pass one another and one has to back up to a wider spot!

Machu Picchu was wet and foggy when we got there, but our guide, Erik, was very knowledgable and the fog lifted a little thought the morning, casting the site in a mystical sort of spell. Like the Sacred Valley, it too has many stairs, but I made it and I even walked up to a second temple even though I could have stayed behind with a couple other members of the group. I am quite proud of myself for that! The site was beautiful, and I would definitely recommend going, and I say that even though I slipped on some steps and went down on a metal grate. No blood shed, thankfully, though I did joke that there had almost been another human sacrifice.

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Llama! BABY LLAMA!

After meandering out (and saying hello to the llamas), I took a bus back to Aguas Clients, where I found myself kind of hustled into another not really memorable restaurant with the exact  same menu as the night before. I had the quinoa soup, and it was not nearly as good as the one I’d had at Incanto (nor really what the menu advertised).  I did get to write and send off my postcards, though!

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Different plants, minerals and insects create these awesome colours of wools. The baby alpaca wool is so soft, guys!

After that, it was a train back to the Ollantaytambo station, where I was picked up with two members of the group and driven by car back to Cuzco. We even stopped at a little market and got a very cool demonstration of how textiles are made by hand, from shaving the wool, washing it with a root from the jungle, spinning it, dying it, weaving it… My favourite was the red made by crushing a beetle or bug of some sort that lives in the cacti around the area. I even bought a cute tam in the colour.

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A Peruvian woman in traditional dress, with an alpaca. You can tell it is an alpaca because it is SO FLUFFY.

I had dinner at Incanto again because it was so great and I was too tired to check out something new (to the point the KFC looked tempting). It was wonderful, from the quick service despite my lack of reservation, the food (I had chicken stuffed with prosciutto and Andean cheese, like a Peruvian version of chicken cordon bleu with a side of creamy pasta) and the aforementioned Pisco Sour. I’m not sure what Pisco is, other than delicious, but it is kicking my behind!

Then it was back to the hotel to blog and change out my suitcase so I can take just the carryon to Puno tomorrow and have my big bag stowed. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure – and to sleep. So many stairs over the past two days! SO MANY STAIRS.

 

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 9, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #2

Though I wasn’t yet in Peru at the time of my last entry, after many days and airports and planes and a few hiccups, I have arrived in Peru. I am currently sitting on my bed in my cozy and cute room at the Midori Hotel in Cuzco, not far from the main square. But let me rewind a moment to how I got here.

From Calgary, I flew to Texas on Monday, where I arrived, got my bags, got checked into my hotel and quickly change so I could call myself an Uber (for the very first time) and make my way from Humble (where the airport is located) into Houston proper. There, I met up with a friend from my University of Edinburgh days. Katie suggested we meet at Picos, a “Tex Mex (Texan Mexican) Houston institution”, and I’m very glad we did. We an excellent catch up over fajitas and margaritas, since we hadn’t seen each other in person since September 2005! It was lovely to meet up and I definitely hope we get a chance to visit again in future!

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The busy main square in Cuzco, surrounded by mountains.

As ever when I have a plane to catch, sleeping becomes difficult, and I had to get up early to be at the airport for six.  I’d upgraded myself to business class for the leg to Cancun, so I had a nice breakfast and lots of room, but it wasn’t a super long flight and I didn’t manage to sleep. And then came the hiccups. I got to Mexico and filled out my little entry and exit form, but then it got lost, likely while my bags were being searched (I think my sunscreen looked like undeclared alcohol on the scanner or something.) But I didn’t find this out until I’d raced to find a shuttled only to be told the shuttle to my terminal had just gone and I was cutting it close on the three hour check in between countries. I let myself get hustled into a $50 US ride that did not, as advertised, take me 20 minutes to get to the terminal. It took five. I’m not sure if it is because of airport transport rules (only one company is allowed, not regular cabs) or whether I just was had, because that seems very steep. Regardless, the best was yet to come – I couldn’t check in without the exit form, lost somewhere in the other terminal.  My stress levels shot through the roof.

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A fun fountain in the square

Fortunately, replacing it was actually fairly easy, though the tiny slip of paper cost me another $32 US. And, as my lovely friend the Dolphin Whisperer has said to me a few times before, sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money. Between the heat of the day, the lack of sleep, the adrenaline crash, though, by the time I was through security and waiting at my gate (for a good hour, so there wasn’t a need for a rush), I felt miserable. I got by on ginger chews I’d stashed to stave off altitude sickness nausea and a bottle of water until I was finally in the plane, but by then my body had completely stopped regulating my temperature properly. I spent most of the flight from Cancun to Lima melting ice against my skin to try to cool down.

Arriving in Peru was a little better, though my bag was one of the last off the plane so I had a moment of worry there. But it came, so I happily patted it and booked it to check it in before heading to the airport hotel, fortunately right across the street, to the chagrin of the 10 or so people who asked if I needed a taxi. It was 10 o’clock by that time, and I had only four hours before I had to get up. I had to decline the complimentary drink at the hotel (Wyndam Costa Del Sol). It’s expensive but very nice and well worth it for the convenience alone. I’ve booked it again for the way back, and hopefully will get at least twice the sleep of this round, because it took me forever to fall asleep even though the room was cool and comfortable. Some of it was the honking (right across from the airport has its drawbacks too) but mostly it was nerves and not being able to cool down.

Fortunately, my check in to Cuzco went fairly smoothly, and I was able to nap on the plane so I wasn’t a complete wreck once greeted by Fredi of Machu Picchu Latin America Tours at the airport: part of the package of my tour was airport pickup. Fredi had been in contact and kindly booked me an extra day at the Midori Hotel, so after eating some of the breakfast I crashed for a few blissful hours before getting up and doing a little (slow) exploration around the city square. I’d had my coca leaf tea with breakfast and was feeling pretty good about the altitude and breathing, but didn’t want to push it.

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It’s just so pretty here, and so different from home.

Guys, Cuzco is so beautiful, I felt like crying for some reason. From the buildings rising up the mountain side to the incredible architecture – it’s so gorgeous. I wish I could describe it better, but I’m still not at 100% and feeling jet lagged despite being out just one timezone because of the mess I made of my sleep pattern this week. I went through a really beautiful church with a huge carved altar. No pictures allowed, unfortunately, so you’ll just have to take my word it is worth the 10 soles (roughly three Canadian dollars) entry fee to walk around the Iglesia De La Compañia De Jesús. After that, I had some soup (a quinoa broth with egg and veggies) at Incanto, did a little more exploring around the square, then went back to the hotel to drink more coca tea. I chilled here for a bit before making my way to dinner at Ceviches where I ate – you guessed it – ceviche. It was very, very good. I didn’t finish my plate (or my bowl of soup earlier, for that matter) as jet lag (or whatever this is) tends to throw my appetite off, but it was very good, as was the Chicha Morado I had at both places. It’s a purple corn-based drink, at it was delicious. I’ll be sure to try some of the other local drinks at some point, but for now I’m sticking with the non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated to help keep from getting altitude sickness. Cuzco is nearly 3400 metres above sea level, and I definitely felt it tonight walking back up the hill after dinner.  It will take a day or two to get used to the difference in the oxygen, but so far it isn’t anything I can’t handle. And if there’s nausea and a bit of a headache, well… I’m actually pretty sure my flights did most of the damage. Still, I’m taking it slow and making sure to rest tonight as my body adjusts. I have to go to sleep soon anyway so I can  have breakfast before my pick up to head on the first tour bit of this adventure – onward to the Sacred Valley! But first, onward to dreamland!

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