Qantas – not so much because of their impressive service but because of the lack of real competition they had (you wonder what the criteria are to be a member of the One World Alliance).
Lima – you can have a bite to eat, a massage, or go shopping at 0200hours, even the post office is open 24 hours (the postal worker was having a small nap when we went to buy stamps)
Canoeing in the Amazon – paddling soundlessly through a flooded forest while observing and listening to the animals and soaking in the fragrance of the plants around us… heaven 🙂
Ipanema – NSW’s ocean beaches are nothing compared to Copacabana or our favourite. These are just huge, impressive sweeps of sand and waves. Why Ipanema? Because of its stunning sunset.
Paraiso Cano Hondo Eco Lodge, Los Haitises – A large, peaceful and beautifully arranged room on two levels, perched atop a hill overlooking the National Park and built with natural and reclaimed materials.
Casa Rosenau, Gerwisch – the 2 mornings we had breakfast with my parents my mum made the most amazing breakfast buffet… we could have eaten for hours.
Basilica di San Marco, Venice – No words can describe it. Imagine a cathedral full of iconic mosaics of colourful glass and gold.
Casa de la Trova, Santiago de Cuba – Great music, wonderful company, very enjoyable dances.
Carnegie Hall concert for the Rainforest Fund, New York – a spur of the moment decision as we bought the last two remaining tickets of the lowest category (still USD150 each mind you) when we did a tour of the hall a few days before the concert. It was great seeing Sting, Elton John, Bruno Mars and others enjoying themselves on stage for a great cause, particularly given we had been to the Amazon ourselves only recently. Besides being an enjoyable evening, it was for us a bit of giving back… to save this magical place for future generations.
, Romhild – My mum had asked me what I wanted to have cooked when I got home. One of my favourites is Mehlkloesse mit Pilzsosse (dough dumplings with a clear sauce containing little button mushrooms, bacon, and parsley). Promptly, my grandma made them. She also made Bananenrolle (a rolled cake made of chocolate biscuit dough filled with banana slices and buttercream, another favourite. Yummy 🙂
Daliana and Yonel, Baracoa – Both were so personable and friendly people. Their hospitality really made Baracoa even more memorable. We felt like visiting friends… genuinely welcome.
The street band in Santa Clara – We stumbled upon them by chance… just a bunch of neighbours who got together for a jam session, putting a few chairs in front of them one evening in a small street in Santa Clara. The elderly lady-singer even kissed us goodbye at the end.
The bar at the bottom of the hill that overlooks Santa Clara – we can’t remember the name of the hill. Che and his comrades watched the train they planned to derail from there. Anyway… they make the best mojito of ALL the places in Cuba we had one… and believe me, there were many 🙂
Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba – Graphically well presented, chronological, detailed and with good English descriptions.
Punta Cana – We flew to NYC later that day. The water was nice, around 28 degrees I’d say, a clear, turquoise. It was even more special as I knew it was my last ocean swim for a very long while.
Amazon – Words can’t do it justice. You’ll have to see for yourselves.
Otorongo Expeditions, Amazon/Peru – Anthony and his staff were absolutely amazing. They were looking after us from the moment we booked the trip, helping us with our flight booking, picked us up from/dropped us off at the airport, chauffeured us downstream/upstream to/from the lodge, cooked us 3 amazing meals a day, provided interesting activities, and most of all were friendly and passionate about the Amazon, its animals, and people. We felt truly blessed having had this experience.
Paul arranging an upgrade to Premium Economy and a song dedication to me/us during our flight from Sydney to Buenos Aires. What a beautiful start to our adventure 🙂
View from accommodation
Pousada Favelinha, Rio de Janeiro – Having a shower with a view over Guanabara Bay and the Sugarloaf Mountain… priceless.
American Airlines – I had flown with them once before, from Los Angeles to Hawaii in 2005. Their service was bad then already… and it hasn’t improved. Worst was the breakfast at the end of our overnight flight from New York. The flight attendant shouted breakfast while we were still asleep, then dropped a single cold croissant into our laps/onto our hastily unfolded tray-tables. We both looked at each other in disbelief.
Rio de Janeiro – the total opposite of Lima, nothing there, nothing open – and this is an airport that serves 19 million people.
Casa Gustavo Saenz, Buenos Aires – Our host in BA, a tango dancer himself is on world tour most of the year, so he’s got an elderly housekeeper couple looking after the place. They are both very nice people but none of the shared bathrooms was cleaned once in the week we stayed there.
Hotel Ristorante Mantova – on the ground floor with floor to ceiling windows, it was freezing cold. Advertised as two stars, but really should have been entry level with only a 1-star rating.
BA flight IST-LHR and LHR-SIN. There was a delay of around 1hour when we checked in in IST, so our transit window in LHR was only 30min. The check-in person refused to check our luggage through to SYD but told us we had to pick it up in LHR, then check in there for our flights to SIN and SYD. For those who don’t know LHR, it is a nightmare to go through border control (Paul waited 1.5 hours when we flew there from Berlin only days earlier). Anyhow, our protest didn’t help, he only checked us (and our luggage) in til LHR. When asked whether we could change our flight to SIN since we would now definitely miss our connecting flight he just said he couldn’t help. He did not mention once that there was a BA desk just around the corner at which we could ask for help. Anyway, I had seen the desk earlier so I dragged Paul there. After explaining our story in 3 different ways, the lady at the counter finally understood what we asked for and she did change our booking to a flight an hour later than our original one. She also said that the luggage tags could be changed for our luggage to be checked through. All we had to do was see the check-in person again. So we did. He gave us new luggage receipts, confirming our luggage was checked through til SYD. Strangely, he had booked our luggage on a QF flight number while we were rebooked on a BA flight number. Thus he refused to give us boarding passes for the connecting flights, telling us he could not do it as it was a Qantas flight. What a whole lot of crap… Anyhow, when we arrived in LHR (terminal 5) we had 1 hour to make it to terminal 3, queue for our boarding passes and get to the gate for boarding. By the time we reached the desk to get our boarding passes, the flight had closed (as they do 45min before take-off… that’s why we asked for the boarding passes in IST). Anyhow, they reopened the flight as we were not the only ones caught by the delay. They couldn’t print the boarding passes through so we had to pick those up at the gate. We ended up running through the terminal to our gate… of course the one furthest away… to make it just in time. Thank you, BA. You will see a complaints letter from us very soon.
El Ovejito, Camaguey – We went there on the recommendation of Lonely Planet to try their signature lamb dish… which turned out to be chewy and overpriced.
Fodor’s Dominican Republic – Paul had purchased it as there was no Lonely Planet or similar guidebook available for the Kindle. It is absolutely useless… Unless you’re an all-inclusive resort tourist who prefers to stay in the vicinity of the resort pool and bar, don’t buy it. We ended up scanning pages of the Lonely Planet print version and saved them as a PDF file.
Andreia @ Poussada Favelinha – The lady owner of the guesthouse was not the friendliest person. She didn’t seem to care much about her guests… best example: she went out on a Saturday night, only returning Sunday morning at 0600h. Did she make breakfast before she went to sleep or got up a few hours later? No… By 1100h we finally gave up and went to get our own breakfast.
Los Hermanos, San Telmo/Buenos Aires – This was our first lunch. We had arrived in Buenos Aires the same morning and were quite jetlagged. Paul had the idea to have lunch at a square near our accommodation. A tango dancing couple, touting waiters and European tourists under parasols, listening to their tour guide’s stories while waiting for their lunch… which was greasy just like ours.
Mobile phone for Wi-Fi
HTC Legend – The iPhone definitely wins this contest. My phone was really bad about picking up WiFi signals… I often ended up using Paul’s phone to check my emails, FB etc.
Paul’s black cotton pants bought in Harlem – At around $30 a bargain… or so he thought. It had its first rips/holes within a few hours. Paul finally threw it out in Istanbul.
Dinner at Pizza Express St Pancras – We were serviced by a girl in her 20s. It wasn’t busy that night yet she let her guests wait for ages whether it was to order food, clear the table or pay the bill. It seemed she preferred to stay as far away from her guests as possible. If I ran the restaurant she would have been kicked out on her first day… The only good thing: the pizza was nice.
We got 2 joint winners for this one – Casa Evora, Havana, room #3, and Kaya Hotel, Istanbul. The first because the shower was so small that my right arm touched the wall while my left arm touched the curtain… and my arms were not stretched out. The latter because someone obviously had no idea how to put up a shower curtain… it finished at knee-height, causing major flooding of the bathroom each time we had a shower.
Viazul Bus Station, Santa Clara – Station toilets are gross at the best of times but for this one, the word ‘gross’ isn’t even enough: cubicles where you could look across to your neighbour, no flushing, no water or soap to wash your hands. You just pee on top of whatever the person before you did and walked out… and all of that for CUC0.50.
A taxi ride from Santo Domingo to Las Americas Airport – We had to catch an early morning flight to Panama. As soon as we left the hostel around 0500hours, a person opposite offered a taxi. He was slightly drunk but Paul accepted his offer noticing that he made a call (that is, wasn’t driving himself). The car that turned up was totally battered, had only one rear mirror (inside the car). The driver was equally drunk as the guy calling him as his ability to react was significantly diminished. The car stank of petrol and had no seat belts. As soon as we got in, he headed for a petrol station. Paul made the mistake of mentioning that we were in a hurry… so the guy raced to the airport… clearly unable to stay in his lane. When his phone rang and he picked up while in the fast lane, swerving to the left, I thought we’d die. The whole drive, I prayed to arrive safely… and I am not religious! I was scared for our lives, and my knees were still shaking 1/2 hour after we arrived at the airport.
Value for money activity
Marilyn Monroe exhibition, Venice – We saw a poster at one of the palazzos along the Grand Canal, so we walked in. Turned out they charged EUR 7.50 pp! for 2 rooms of photographs of Marilyn, 1 TV showing movie scenes with her and another 2 rooms of art objects with a Marilyn theme. Mind you, it was the first time Paul had seen nude photos of Marilyn – this last note was Paul’s addition BTW 🙂
Feature photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash